Curveball Issue 21: This Mortal Coil

Part Three: Esperanza Capitol Library

All the thirst and hunger and pain and desperation crash down on him at once. His eyes are open but unfocused, unable to perceive anything but the color of the floor, and all he hears is a strange grinding, croaking noise coming out of his own throat. His body goes rigid, the world fades to white, and he is dimly aware that his head is repeatedly striking a brick wall.

A different sound filters into his awareness—muffled, but agitated. Someone yelling, perhaps? The white-on-white vision darkens momentarily, then he can feel something pressing against his head, keeping it from striking the wall. The sound returns, less agitated, more soothing. It means nothing to him, but it is calming, and a part of him, the part that is trying to return to rationality, focuses on it. Eventually the seizure passes. Eventually his body calms down. And, eventually, the sounds he’s hearing start to make sense.

“…not sure I want to risk feeding you just yet.”

A man’s voice. Familiar.

“You need it though. What happened to you? I thought I was in a tough spot, but I had food…”

The policeman’s voice.

“Well, I’ve got some food with me. Water, too, which is probably more important right now. I need you to be a little more focused, though. I don’t want you to choke on it…”

The mention of water causes him to gasp, then cough.

“There we go. You with me? LaFleur?”

Artemis forces himself to nod.

“OK, good. Can you sit?”

Artemis nods again.

David grabs him by the shoulders and helps him sit, positioning him so his back is against the brick wall he’d been slamming his head against only moments before. Artemis’ vision starts to clear, a little. He can see shadows and outlines—an expansive room filled with large, rectangular shapes.

A shadow dances out of sight, and Artemis hears running water—what’s more, he can smell water, which is an unusual and altogether unpleasant sensation as the feeling of thirst that he’d managed to put off returns with a vengeance. The shadow—a man-sized shadow—returns, kneeling next to him. A cold, wet cloth is pressed against his lips.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” David says apologetically. “I think you’re supposed to be on fluids right now, but I don’t have any on hand and I don’t know what I’d do with them if I did. I’m assuming that as badly as you need food and water, you need to start slow. So… this towel is clean. I brought it from, uh, the place I was staying before I got here, and I haven’t had to use it yet.”

Artemis forces himself to patiently suck at the water, throat burning as he swallows.

“I’ve also got some protein bars, when you’re ready.”

Artemis nods, but doesn’t say anything. He keeps sucking at the corner of the towel. His head starts to clear, and in a minute he sees well enough to confirm he is, indeed, in the main lobby of the library. He’d been very fond of the place, once. He would alter his appearance and come here to read, and to watch people reading.

David watches him closely. Artemis raises an eyebrow as he notices how very different the man looks from his projected self.

“You have a beard.” His voice is raspy and harsh, and he returns his attention to the towel.

“Yeah…” David scratches his chin sheepishly. “We’ve been here for a while. Ten months to a year and a half, as near as I can guess.”

“Slightly more than a year,” Artemis says.

David unhooks a canteen from his belt, unscrews it, and hands it to Artemis, who abandons the towel and starts drinking greedily.

“Somewhere along the line I got the idea to grow it out,” David says. “I’d figured out what was going on—wrote a note to myself and everything—and told myself not to cut it, to make it easier for me to accept the situation next time.”

Artemis lowers the canteen for a moment. “You’d forgotten,” he says. “That was a risk.”

“Got myself another concussion somewhere between the plane and the island,” David says. “That didn’t help. I’ll have to be careful about that. They’re easier to get after the first.”

Artemis nods. “How are you now?”

“Oh, I’ve had plenty of time to heal,” David says. “I found an abandoned house, fully stocked. It was a very comfortable twenty-four hours.”

Artemis screws the cap back on the canteen and sets it on the floor. “On that note… I’d like to try some food.”

David reaches into a vest pocket and produces a wrapped bar. He unwraps it for Artemis and holds it out for the older man to take.

Artemis breaks off a small piece of bar and puts it into his mouth. Almost immediately he tries to throw up, but he’s regained enough self control that he puts a stop to that.

“Tell me how you escaped,” Artemis says.

David shrugs. As Artemis eats food for the first time in a year, he describes how he woke up on the beach, made his way to an empty house, and gradually learned that he was trapped in time.

“I figured my best shot at getting out was to stay awake during the reset.” David looks away sheepishly. “I didn’t really know if it would work. I don’t understand how any of this works, really… but I figured if the island didn’t want me to stay awake, staying awake was something to shoot for. It worked a lot better than I thought it would.”

“Yes,” Artemis says. “It appears you have discovered something new.”

“It can’t be that new,” David says. “I mean, all those stories about ‘astral projection’ have to come from somewhere, right?”

Artemis shrugs. “Perhaps. But being able to interact with magic while you dream—I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of that.”

“Maybe it’s in one of your books.”

“Yes,” Artemis says. “The books. Now that we are both free of our prisons and in the same place, we have the luxury of planning how to get those.”

“Your friend isn’t going to raise the alarm?”

Artemis smiles thinly. “Come tomorrow, Artigenian won’t even know who I am.”

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