Ercel (memory 2)

She said she was among the first generation here, having arrived as a child. She had a number of stories to tell, but I don’t think she was very lucid with respect to things that actually happened. I think she made things up. She said she had traveled to the deeper west when she was a child, to places that hadn’t been settled yet. The “deepest west,” she called it. Her parents had gone as far as anyone at that point, to where the prarie rose into high desert plains and the heat by day was unbearable. Had to travel at night, she said. She said she was eight years old then. The stars and moon were always out at night in the west. Never a cloud. Never a tree to block your view or run into. Just dirt and dust and a dead desert plain heading westmore. Some of these places still have not been mapped. Or if they have, no one’s ever brought the maps back. She said the desert ended eventually and became grass again, dipping back down into valleys and forests and huge hills of grass that were always green or golden brown. It was like the land had spit up circles because it was so much like the eastmore country. Except without the travelers. And in reverse. Something like that.

I can never make sense of the names and places she mentioned, though I wrote them down. The names can barely be spoken in our language. They were all in the other language, the tongue of those who were here first. Most of those places have been renamed now. Many have been burned and rebuilt. Some just left to ash. She would stare off, say names, name places, smile, shiver. She told me she had seen the first of the strangeness and those afflicted by what we see on the roads here. She mumbled things. She once went quiet for a long moment while staring off. Then she whispered this:

“By something, I was deprived all power of resistance. I was astonished. Mutes and blind men do no wrong. The king and queen promised me assistance, but custom soon made life of the careless ease that led here. It was impossible to distinguish new ones from those who had left. They came by stealth at night. Off with their heads. The dead hearts, their appetite. They saw me, but after a minute they quite forgot all thoughts of me.”

She came to a few moments later, without blinking. She turned to me and asked if I had known any dead hearts. I don’t think so, I said. A cold wind blew through the camp just at that moment on a humid summer night. You will, she said.

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