Go east, go east, on paths of knives, go east and go alone.
Like a storm in her head.
It was fine, it was fine, because they were still going east, with this strange woman first and Red 87 following. Still going east, and that was good.
Until they weren’t any more.
Then it was obliteration.
GO EAST GO EAST GO EAST.
Nothing else on her head but that. GO EAST. It hurt her, in her head, in her body, in her bones. GO EAST.
Something else, though, something smaller and quieter, barely there. No, it said, No. There’s no point if you die on the way. There’s no point. It’s OK. You can detour. It’s OK.
But it hurt too much, and she thought she was sobbing out loud. It hurt too much. Her hands were on the floor. She was on the floor. Thick blackish red dribbles landed on the dust. She was two people, or maybe more, and one of them was far away, noticing all the hurting with scientific distance. The other/s were in her.
It’s fine, you can break this.
“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!”
Shh. Shh. It’s fine.
GO EAST GO EAST GO EAST.
Then… something. In her head. Like the sound a car makes when it speeds past, only in a feeling. A swelling, a pressure, a diminishing. A rush and a fade. A pulling away.
Her vision went gray and blurry, her stomach went to acid. She vomited. She hadn’t eaten, so all that came up was a thick, gelatinous yellow stuff.
She wretched again, but this time nothing came up.
When she stopped, the pain was gone. It left whispers in her, a certain stiffness in her muscles – but it had vanished into nothing.
Go east go east –
The urge for the east was still there, but it wasn’t so overwhelming now, it wasn’t all there was. It was like hunger – desperate and yearning, but she could put it aside for a time, if she needed.
She got to her feet again, shaking, in a cold and grimy sweat all over. The woman was looking at her.
“No,” she said. “Not now.”
A pause, and the woman nodded. “You’ve got blood on your face,” she said.
Red 87 wiped the back of her hand across her nose and mouth. She looked at the blood for a little while.
“Do you feel like you can keep walking? Day will close up soon. Not good to be out here after dark.”
“Yes. I think.”
“Come on. We aren’t far.”
It wasn’t so bad, now. She felt… more real. Les disconnected. These things were happening to her, to her.
And she was working out who that was. One thing she knew about herself was that she could walk for hours. Perhaps it wasn’t much to know that, but she was glad she did.
There were things that should be sad, things that should be asked.
Her mouth stumbled on words.
“What,” she said, and coughed, and tried again. “Name. What…” She fought for it. Struggled for the words. “What is your name?” she managed at last, and, exultant, shouted it again, a victory cry. “What is your name?”
This, yes, this. This was one of the ways to be a person. She’d remembered it. Maybe not so mushy after all, maybe not so damaged.
“My name?” said the woman. Her eyes went down into slits again, her face grew even sharper. “Who gives a shit about my name?”
Red 87 pressed hard hands tight against her ribs, feeling the ridges of bones under cloth and flesh.
“I’ll be glad to get you to Rest Stop.”
“OK.” Red 87 looked down at the floor. Dirt and broken asphalt and weeds coming through. Her feet were hurting again.
The woman sighed. “People call me Fen.”
The woman paused. “Yeah,” she said. “Fen.” There was something poisoned in her voice.
“What is Fen?”
“Fucks sake.” The woman picked up a piece of rubble from the ground and tossed it aside. It clattered away.
“Red 87,” she said.
“Red 87. That’s what I’m called.” She was remembering the simple words again.
“That’s not a name.”
Red 87 shrugged. “It’s what I have.”
“Fen’s a bad word.”
”I won’t use a bad word for you.”
Pause, silence, a sideways glance.
It’s what I have.” She laughed, and after a second Red 87 laughed too.
“Fen?” said Red 87.
“Sure. It’s not so bad.”
Fen paused, and let Red 87 catch up. They walked slower now. The sun was high, and hot on Red 87’s head.
Fen glanced at her, frowned and looked away. Not so much later, she did it again. And again. By the time the sun was a little lower, the shadows behind them long and stretched, Red 87 had lost count. “What’s wrong?”
“You keep looking at me.”
Fen scowled and looked away. She didn’t look back again.
Time stretched, and compressed, like fabric. Fen stopped, shaded her eyes with her hand.
“Nearly there,” she said, and pointed. In the distance, not so far ahead, Red 87 could see a small pale
spot amongst the green and brown ahead of them.
“Rest Stop. They can get you sorted out, if you’ve got something to trade.”
“I don’t have anything to trade.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll sort it. I’ve got connections there, of a sort.”