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The Singer Elizabeth Hunter 2022/7/22 11:38:20

He stared at the whirl of stars overhead, feeling their loss even as the soft grass caressed his back. They danced, tremulous in his vision, as her voice floated away on the night breeze.

As the words drifted away, he caught flashes of another life.

Dark curls lifting in the breeze as the sun flashed on water. Rocking. Snatches of foreign voices and scents.

“Do you like to travel alone?”

“Am I not allowed to ask you questions?”

“Call me unusual, then.”

He closed his eyes to the stars. Another vision. Arms and legs tangled together. Sun-darkened skin against milky-white. She arched above him, her hand pressed to the carved wall of the cave as she sighed a name.

Her face flush with pleasure.

Gold eyes and fair skin. Her mouth parted. She was speaking.

Hidden in the shadows, he saw her. Surrounded by grime and the scent of foul water. Saw her eyes widen in horror. Then…

The man sat up with a gasp, looking around with wide eyes. The river was familiar. But not. The air didn’t smell as it should. There was an acrid tinge of smoke in the breeze and lights in the distance. He pushed to his knees, his legs feeling stiff and uncertain, as if he hadn’t used them in days. He stared down at his bare chest and arms, frowning. Something was missing. Something lacked. But he couldn’t find it in the jumble of his thoughts.

Everything was confusion.

He finally stood and, ignoring the rocks on the riverbank, made his way downstream. There were always humans if you followed the water. His father had taught him that.

He thought his father had taught him that.

The man walked for what could have been hours. He had no sense of the passing time. There was only night and one foot stepping in front of the other. The sound of water and the occasional low of a cow. Step by step, he made his way toward the lights.

The lights appeared from behind a grove of olive trees. As he approached, he realized it was a home, but not like any other in his hazy memory. A dog began barking at him, so the man hung back near the edge of the trees, not wanting to frighten the humans.

Humans would be afraid of his kind.

There was a slamming door, then a man walked out, calling something in a foreign tongue. He looked like a farmer, his pants were stained with the mud from the fields, and his grey hair was mussed as if he’d worn a cap all day. The farmer’s voice rose as he shushed the dog and looked into the dark orchard.

The man stepped forward, holding up his hands to show he wasn’t dangerous. As the farmer caught sight of him, he stopped. He shouted, gesturing for the stranger to go away, no doubt alarmed by the man’s nakedness.

The farmer couldn’t understand him, and the man knew that was wrong.

Shaking his head, he held out his arms, trying to make the farmer understand he wasn’t a threat. That he needed…

He needed to get back to the woman.

He didn’t know her name, didn’t know where she was or who she was…

Then he realized he didn’t know who he was, either.

I don’t know who I am.

He felt as if the air had left his lungs. His arms dropped, the farmer’s anger forgotten. The dog’s barks faded into the background as he closed his eyes and tried to control the panic.

Something in his expression must have given the farmer pause, because he stopped shouting and stepped closer. He said something else the man didn’t understand, but this time it sounded like a question. He ignored the human, clenching his eyes closed, trying to remember. Remember anything. Even his name—

“Malachi,” the woman had sighed.

Her soft voice had named him Malachi.

If he knew nothing else, he knew his name.

Malachi opened his eyes and took a breath to center himself.

The old farmer stepped through the gate. He’d grabbed a bedsheet from the line in the farmyard and held it out, speaking in a lower voice. Malachi took it, wrapping it around his body and cutting the chill of wind that had begun to bite his bare skin. The farmer motioned him closer, obviously concerned. He waved for Malachi to bend down, so he did. The farmer ran a hand along Malachi’s scalp, turning his head back and forth, muttering under his breath.

Malachi realized he was looking for injuries. Moved by the human’s kindness, he instinctively stepped away from the farmer’s hands.

He wasn’t supposed to touch humans. He did remember that.

The farmer spoke again, motioning Malachi through the gate and pointing at an outbuilding that looked like a metal-clad barn. Then he raised his voice again, shouting at the house until the door slapped open and a female voice yelled back.

There was a confused exchange as the old farmer led Malachi to the barn and flipped a switch on the wall that illuminated the interior with blinding false lights.

No, not false. Malachi knew what they were. They were the electric lights the humans had invented, fed by the manufactured energy they used to power all sorts of things. Lights. Musical players. Machines. Malachi caught sight of the machine at the end of the barn.