Standing up! Now there was an idea. I hadn’t been out of a wheelchair since just before New Year’s. I clambered to my feet and felt the wind in my hair, blowing thick locks that I’d lost months previously to the chemo that hadn’t worked. More evidence for this being a dream. There was much too much wind for a sheltered spot like this, which meant... which meant that something was coming and I probably ought to stop gawping like an idiot and
The speaker was a girl about my age. I had the chance to peek at her when I was flat on the floor, my face turned to the side, as an enormous metal dragon thing passed overhead. She didn’t look like anyone I had ever seen, because I didn’t usually talk to girls wearing clothes made out of pieces of fabric that didn’t match each other, or anything else for that matter, with tattoos all over their face. Admittedly, I didn’t usually talk to girls full stop. I frightened them with my skin-and-bones face and the wheelchair.
“What the hell was that?”
She looked bewildered. “What are you saying?” she said, in an accent that I didn’t recognise, and then repeated it in another language. I couldn’t identify it.
“No, I’m English,” I said.
She frowned. “Inglish?”
“From England? I speak English.” I enunciated as clearly as possible in the hope that that would help.
“Ah!” She pulled off the multicoloured bandana holding her brown hair out of her face and smiled at me. “A traveller?”
Wherever I was and however I’d got there, I wasn’t in England any more. I nodded.
“That explains,” she said.
“Explains what? Where am I?”
“You are lost?” She held out a hand. I felt pretty stupid lying on the floor, but as I began to get up she shouted that I should stay down. Again, I tried and failed to place her accent. I settled for army-crawling over to her, and only when I was safely on the springy grass beside her did she allow me to get up. “There is a post drake soon,” she said, as though that would mean something to me.
I frowned. “Great,” I said. “Cool. Post drake. Whatever.” If this was just a dream, I didn’t really need the fiddly details. “So, what’s your name?”
“You talk so quickly,” she said, marvelling.
“I haven’t spoken in days,” I replied. “What is your name?”
“Natesa,” she replied. “And you are?”
Somehow, this seemed like a formal enough occasion to give my full name. “Anthony Matthews,” I said, and she frowned and tried to repeat that after me. “You can call me Tony,” I added hurriedly.
“Tony,” she said, hesitating. “That is a strange name. We should not be here. This path is not for people.”
“For animals?” I guessed.
“For the drakes. It is not safe to stay.” Natesa took my hand and began to lead me along the path, sticking to the grass verge on the edge. I tried looking down to my left once, and on seeing the almost sheer drop, turned back abruptly. “Yes,” she said, seeing this. “Do not fall off.”
“But where am I?” I said.
“I am taking you to see where you are,” she said, and then looked more closely at my face. “You are clean.”
“I... I was in hospital.”
“Hospital?” Something seemed to dawn on her, and her hair swung over her face as she said, “Oh! You are not lost. You are newly arrived.”