A primal scream ripped through the woods—the kind that made your blood run cold. I clutched my left side. Pain lanced like a dagger between my ribs, but when I looked down nothing was there. The pain was so excruciating that I could only take short, stilted breaths.
It was a few minutes later before I could process whom the scream came from.
It was dark and I was alone in the rain with my long black hair plastered across my face and breasts. I swept my hair back and looked down at my body. The raindrops pelted my naked brown skin. The world around me slowed, and the sensation of each droplet that hit my flesh rippled violently through my entire core. I shivered in the cool mud—every sensation amplified.
My legs buckled under me when I attempted to stand. The prickling on my skin, the throbbing and ringing in my ears from the remnants of something I couldn’t remember, and the pain in my ribs was overwhelming. Still shaking, I knelt in place and waited. It took several minutes for the sensations to calm and stabilize until it became bearable.
I reached for my ribs again, the pain now a dull ache.
Once more, I tried to stand, slowly pushing myself up using a nearby tree for support.
Go somewhere safe.
I hadn’t a clue where I was, but I knew that I couldn’t stay here. Plodding forward, my bare feet squished against the mud and I held my arms out in front of me for balance. Where was I trying to go?
My mind could reconstruct no memory prior to this. My entire existence began this very moment, in the mud and rain.
I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but it must have been close to an hour of aimless wandering and stumbling until I reached a place that was brighter. I tripped again but managed to grab hold of a pole and catch my balance. Its touch cold and smooth.
I looked around, trying to locate the source of the brightness. Not far from me was another pole—a streetlight. My gaze slowly panned up the pole I was holding until I saw a sign. I couldn’t read what it said.
The growl of an animal—a loud guttural sound—from a distance around the bend caught my attention. I positioned myself behind the pole like frightened prey.
Then I saw it. The large, dark creature bounded toward me at full speed. Was it a bear? I turned to run but I slipped in the mud and my legs crumbled beneath me. I shut my eyes and braced myself for impact. The heavy weight of the creature’s paws was now on my shoulders, then a warm tongue slimed across my face. I pushed its large head away from me to halt the barrage of slobber.
It had ears that flopped down against its wide jaws, where a pink tongue protruded out of sagging skin. It panted heavily and stared at me with its friendly, beady eyes.
“Otto! Otto come back here!” cried a voice. A woman with straight black hair and pale skin came jogging around the bend. With one hand, she held an arched, rain-shielding object over her head while her free hand was across her mouth. “Oh my god!”
The giant dog sat down in front of me, his tail wagging on the ground, and let out a deep bark as if he was trying to tell the woman to inspect me.
The woman held the rain shield out toward me and positioned it over our heads. “Hold the umbrella.” I took the hook from her and held it over our heads. She then slipped off her coat and draped it across my shoulders. “Are you hurt?”
I shook my head—the pain from my ribs had subsided completely.
She wrapped one arm around me, and I allowed myself to lean against her for support. “I’m Dr. Doris Lin. What’s your name?”
A wave of panic enveloped me. I had only one thought—only one name I was compelled to say.
“You’re shaking,” she said, rubbing my back to comfort me. “Do you speak English? What’s your name?”
“El—” I choked on my words. “Ellis Ann Moore...”