Day 22: Seabird
“Are you familiar with the myth of the halcyon bird?” the man at his bedside asked.
Clawing his way from hibernation-sleep, all James could do was blink at the man. Blink again. The man didn’t disappear.
“No? Shame.” The man said it pleasantly, like a teacher who knew a student was lying to them. His fingers stitched into an origami shape over his crossed knees. “I’m certain it makes the rounds on Earth. Greco-Roman. Though, come to think of it, this world has its own version. You might be fond of Dúrevan myth, James, its dragons are splendid.”
The man’s words were buzzing. James worked his tongue, trying to make it fill less of his mouth. A sick, moaning sound came out of his throat.
“A little too early, I see. In any case, call me Halcyon for now.” The man watched James another moment, then disentangled his long fingers and rose gracefully from his chair. James tracked the back of his vibrant green coat as he moved to the window.
White pain screwed through James’ forehead when he looked towards the block of light–the hell was he, concussed? The man glanced back at him over his collar’s spangling embroidery.
“The current is slow, so we’re hardly drifting. Take your time. We can start on today’s job once you wake up properly.”
James’ skin shrank from the man’s eyes. They roiled with a live brightness, blue as fire. Draca eyes only looked like that when their dragon was close to the surface, but James didn’t know what was under this man’s eyes. He was grateful when the man turned to the window again.
This was a dream. A hallucination? Ánraí had definitely taken some things he shouldn’t have in the past. Maybe James had agreed to try them this time. Or not agreed—you couldn’t know with Ánraí, sometimes.
James cycled back, unjumbling everything the unreal man had said. This world, something about birds, a job. He twisted his head from side to side; squeezed his eyes closed. His fingers experimented clumsily over…a cot? Rough. The kind Uncle Kyler used when he bothered to actually camp for a while.
Maybe he was out with Kyler. That made sense; trust his uncle to drop them in something weird. The comforting, real smells caught in his hoodie had him half-convinced. Pine, wet dog fur, mud Grandma Mi-Hi’s perfume, her bird’s egg dumplings—
Shit. The winter solstice. The lake. The direhounds.
James’ lungs tried to escape. That man. How could James have forgotten? He bolted to his feet, or tried to.
“Who—who the hell are you?”
The magic-eyed man made no move to stop James’ topple from the cot to the floorboards. Coarse wood stung James’ palms. Salt and resin. All wrong.
“I told you,” the man said patiently. “Call me Halcyon. Now please be careful, James, you’ve never been to sea before.”
I finally managed to retrieve a chunk of the book’s first “well, now we’re in it” scenes from my notebooks. I think I might have another, wildly different version of the chapter this takes place in somewhere, but it’s hard to know after the Great Computer Crash of Late April. I’ll get it back eventually!