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

The truck came at dawn, the honk of the horn answered by the old farmer’s friendly yell and the smell of breakfast wafting from the house. Malachi dressed in the too-small clothes the farmer named Osman had given him, apparently left from a cousin who’d lived there briefly. The pants were too short and a little baggy, but the T-shirt fit him well enough. He kept looking down at his arms, sensing something was wrong… but they were fine. The skin was smooth and unmarred by injuries or scars. He shook his head and went out to meet the driver.

Osman’s friend, Ibrahim, was a delivery driver for a shipping company out of Ankara. He was taking a load of wool to Kayseri and bringing back finished textiles. As he was an old friend of Osman’s, he was more than happy to do the favor, though he couldn’t promise how fast Malachi would be delivered. They took off as the sun was rising, Malachi shaking Osman’s hand briefly, conscious of his growing strength, careful not to hold the farmer’s hand too long.

Malachi could sense some energy growing. It made him edgy. Uncomfortable.

Luckily, Ibrahim didn’t ask many questions; he mostly wanted an audience. Ibrahim liked to talk. Malachi sat back, amused by the humorous old man, smiling for the first time as he listened to the raucous jokes and fantastic stories of the truck driver. Two hours later, he drifted into a fitful sleep, only to wake when the truck jerked to a halt.

Ibrahim was smiling. “What was that?”

“That language you were speaking! I’ve never heard it before, even in Istanbul.”

What language had it been? Probably the language of his thoughts and dreams. The one he knew the humans weren’t supposed to know about.

Malachi decided to play dumb. “I have no idea.” He smiled. “How could I? I was sleeping.”

Ibrahim laughed. “Fair answer, friend! Well, we’re here.”

Malachi looked around the dusty town, but nothing seemed familiar. “In Cappadocia?”

“Osman said you had people in G?reme. I brought you to G?reme.”

Cars and pedestrians were scattered around a lively intersection, but Malachi could tell it was a very small town. Surely, once he was walking, he’d recognize something.

“Where are the caves?”

Ibrahim laughed again. “It’s G?reme! There are caves everywhere. Are you sure you don’t want me to take you to a hospital?”

“No.” Malachi sat up, spying something out of the corner of his eye that looked familiar. It was a restaurant with a balcony. Red umbrellas shaded the tables. There was something about the balcony… “No, I just realized where I am.”

He nodded, reaching for the door handle, suddenly eager to explore. He halted when Ibrahim’s arm shot out.

“Wait.” The old man reached for his wallet. “I like you. Take a little money, just so I’m not so worried, eh?”

“Please, take it.” He held out some notes. “I’ll give you my card. If you want, you’ll pay me back when you find your people. But Allah would not be pleased if I sent you away with nothing. Take enough to be safe for a day or two, okay? And you’ll have my phone number, too.”

Touched by the man’s generosity, Malachi smiled. “You are a good man, Ibrahim. And you tell very good jokes, even though I didn’t understand all of them.”

Ibrahim roared with laughter. “Well, you have brain damage! What can I expect?”

A few minutes later, Malachi waved as Ibrahim drove down the road, then he turned and searched for the restaurant. He walked slowly, hoping that, somehow, things would start to make sense. As he passed the restaurant, he caught the edge of a sign for a rug shop and knew he’d walked by it before.

She swung her arms as she walked, and Malachi let his brush against her. Just the brush of contact. Just so she knew…

He turned right, then right again at a cafe with a cracked window.

She stopped, her cheeks flush with embarrassment as she caught the tenor of his thoughts. Embarrassment, but desire, too. He knew she wanted him…

Up the hill he climbed, until he’d left the shops behind and the streets were filled with stone houses. A striped cat walked along the top of a wall, following him as he searched for clues. At each intersection, he’d see something.

An orange tree that tilted to one side.

A wall with colorful graffiti no one cared to paint over.

An abandoned cupboard with grass growing through the bottom.

Each turn led him up the hill and farther away from the town center, but with each step, his sense of familiarity grew.

She was chatting about something with a dark-haired man. Laughing at some joke he wasn’t a part of. He was irritated by their ease together.

At the end of the road, a house rose into the cliffs. Or, he should say, a group of houses. There were buildings stacked at the base and rooms carved into the cliffs with stairs leading up. A wall surrounded the old compound, but no graffiti covered it. Trees grew over the walls and he could hear voices whispering within. He didn’t recognize the language.

She was here. She had to be.

Malachi stepped up to the large wooden door in the wall and lifted the knocker, banging it down as the voices beyond the wall stopped. There were shuffling steps, then an old man opened the gate.

“Yes? How can I—sweet heaven!”

Malachi stood speechless as the old man’s face paled. His eyes were like saucers.

“It can’t be…,” the man breathed out.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, but I… I think I—”

“You’re dead.” The man stepped back, and fear rose in his eyes. “You’re dead.”

“I don’t know what you’re—”

“What?” Fear twisted Malachi’s heart. Perhaps he’d been wrong to come here.

The old man’s hands shook. “You wear the face of a dead man.”

“I don’t understand—”

Anger rose up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m not dead, obviously. I just don’t remember—”

“Malachi?” The awestruck voice came from behind the old man.

Malachi raised his eyes to see the dark-haired man he’d seen in his memories. “I remember you.”

The other man’s eyes were also filled with fear. But it was a fear mixed with hope. “They said you were dead.”

“Who did? I don’t know what’s going on. Who—”

“It can’t be.” The dark-haired man stepped forward, his arm raised. He reached for Malachi, confusion written wide on his face. “They saw you die. Your dust rose. She felt your loss…” The man’s fingers touched Malachi’s shoulder and gripped. “You’re real. How are you real?”