The pain is distant when I wake the next morning, and with a little effort, I can get to my feet. I try a little walk around the cave, which is small, and find her things. She's not here, but she's left a roll-mat, a sleeping bag and a backpack near the remains of the fire. Next to them lies my own pack, unopened - she must have recovered it for me when she saved my life. The suggestion that she might have moved on without me arises in my mind, and I curse myself for not making the effort to stay awake and talk to her a little longer. If she's gone, I might not see anyone again for who knows how long. She might be the only person I ever meet. I stagger to the mouth of the cave and lean against the wall for support, peering outside. We're still in the forest. The cave seems to tunnel into the side of a hill, and the ground is bare, dipping down into a ditch as it approaches the entrance. I imagine a river may have once run down here.
Where the hell is she? I briefly consider calling out for her, but something roars in the distance, shutting that thought down straight off the bat. Another lizard-beast? Whatever it is, drawing attention to myself in this condition would be a bad, bad idea.
I decide to wait here a while, until she returns or I get the call. Perhaps she has some food in her pack?
I start to turn to check, but out in the forest, a twig snaps. I freeze. Something's out there.
I listen, intently, waiting for another sound and wondering if I might be able to run. I won't get far, injured like this, but I'm prepared to try. It's oddly silent – a bright, beautiful morning that should be full of birdsong, but all I can hear is my own heartbeat, pounding in my ears.
I reach for my knife, still in the pocket of my walking trousers, and retreat back into the cave with it in hand, ready for a fight.
The undergrowth parts.
Hayley emerges, a furry lump slung over her shoulder. She carries it to the cave entrance and deposits it on the ground with a satisfied grin.
"Boar," she proclaims. "Know how to skin one?"
I hide my relief and subtly pocket my knife, joining her as she inspects her kill. "Haven't had to yet." Which is strange but true. In my year or so of travelling, I've hunted rabbits, deer, dogs, things I don't even have names for, but I've never encountered boar.
"Takes bloody ages," she replies. "But worth it. Lots of meat."
She sits on her haunches and pulls out her own knife – longer and sharper than mine. With a jab, she hacks open the animal's side, and grabs a hold of the skin.
"How long have you been travelling?" I ask as she prepares the animal, wondering if it's as long as me.
"I honestly don't know, it's not as if the seasons are the same on each world. A year and a half? Two?"
"Longer than me then." I think. All I can do is guess.
"Where's home for you?" I have to ask. The coincidence of both her language and accent matching mine has been playing on my mind, and her answer only makes it even more staggering:
"London, before all this. I can hardly remember it sometimes."
"I'm from Surrey," I say. So we lived, what, an hour away from each other? "Look, don't you think that's weird?"
"Surrey?" she asks. "Nothing weird about that, it's nice enough."
"No, I mean... that you're English, like me, and not only that, but we're practically neighbours?"
YOU ARE READING
Lonely WorldsScience Fiction
Felix Aiden Lewis is alone. Somehow displaced from his home reality, he wanders from world to world, surviving however he can, never encountering another living soul - until today.