Stumbling from the mouth of the cave, he shaded his eyes from the blinding blast of the harsh sun. It wasn’t enough. Sitting, he closed his eyes, letting the light filter through the lids, slowing seeping in until he could open them a crack and see where he was.
The mountain above was jagged, hard, rocky. Below, down a slope strewn with miniatures of the peak above, was a flat plain.
On the flat plain was a dwelling.
Between him and the dwelling, a small figure sat, doing something on the ground.
He stood, eager to go down. Not because he was curious about what the small figure was doing, but because that figure would see him, speak to him.
The heavy boots he wore were perfect for the terrain, as were the dungarees and light shirt. More than a few sleeps ago he’d stopped wondering about the clothing. It simply was, like everything else in his confusing existence.
A young girl, more than half his height, but young. Seven, perhaps eight, if he had to put a number to it, but then, how would he know?
There was another curiosity. Had language never changed? The few people he spoke to understood him, in fact, spoke so exactly like him that he’d begun to assume he was being adapted, somehow, to each successive encounter.
“Are you a stranger? I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”
He crouched down, to be on her level.
“I don’t think I’m a stranger, but of course, you should always mind your parents.”
The young girl stood from her play, pushing figurines of animals around in a dusty menagerie.
“Do you want some lemonade?”
“I think I might like that. But still, you should ask your mother—”
“That’s what I’m going to do, silly. I’ll tell her you’re here to play with me, and that we need some lemonade because it’s hot.”
He smiled. “You make sense, young lady. I will wait.”
Shortly, she returned with two glass bottles filled with lemonade. A woman stood in the doorway, drying a plate and smiling.
Yet another unusual thing. Strangers trusted him, as if he wore a special sign from God that he was no danger to them. She simply smiled and went back inside to her cleaning.
He and the little girl moved the animal figurines around in what struck him as outlandish situations and circumstances. Her inexhaustible imagination would have worn him out when he was younger. He wondered at his own immaturity, selfishness. Was it part of the point of his situation, part of the cause, perhaps a remedy?
The lemonade was gone. The animals were, apparently, tired, and needed to be stabled for the night. The sun was, in fact, sinking behind an even bigger mountain across the valley.
He knew, but he asked anyway.
“Do you know what year this is?”
“Course I do.” Her answer sounded like she was saying two different numbers, twenty, and ten.
One-hundred and ten years. A new millennium.
“Will you come play with me again tomorrow?”
He wanted to touch her, to ruffle her hair, but he didn’t.
“I’ll see. If I’m still around tomorrow, I’d like that.”
He would not see her again. He knew that. He did not know where he would wake up next. He only knew when.
Then, some child, it was always a child, would answer with another unusual pair of numbers, or rather, the same number twice, twenty-one twenty-one, each sleep a year longer than the previous.
His climb back up to the cave to sleep was the same stillness it always was.