As I slog through deep snow towards the mysterious person, my boots become colder, wetter, and heavier with each step. My feet feel like they’ve been sitting in a bucket of ice for hours. These adorable boots were not designed for traipsing around in a tundra. Chooooo! I sneeze and pull my hands into my sleeves. It’s fr-ree-zing.
As the blizzard’s pace picks up, icy flakes pelt my face like tiny needles entering my skin. Every bone in my body aches and the furious chatter of my teeth sounds like Morse code. This terrible ringing in my eardrum, awful, most likely a side effect from the special drink. I dismiss it and move forward.
I fight through the elements of nature, malaise, and exhaustion from the transformation, until I stand over the stranger. A man! I attempt to catch my breath and fall to my knees next to his motionless body.
Inching my knees beside him, I ease my hands under his body, and slide him to his back. His face is full of cuts and dried blood. The color of his skin, underneath a thin sheet of blood and snow, is a light shade of blue. It’s obvious that he’d been wandering out here in the cold for a while. This man seems familiar. With my memories all but gone, I hope if I know him, he will recognize me and give me some answers.
First thing’s first – I try to lift him to his feet. He moans as his eyes pop open and wobbles to his knees on his own strength. As he reaches out a hand for support, it shakes with violent shivers. I throw my arm around his shoulder as we make our way back for the warmth of the cottage. It’s difficult to navigate our way back. The snowfall is so dense the trail to the cottage is all but invisible. I make a guess at the general direction and guide him as we hobble together hoping for the best. The man slips from my grasp diving face first into the snow. I grunt, groan, and muster all remaining strength to get him back to his feet. Through the blinding blizzard the vague outline of the cottage in the distance fills me with hope. Just a few more steps.
“You can make it, we’re gonna make it,” I encourage. “Almost there, pal.”
He wails, “ow.”
As we reach the doorway darkness falls. It happens so fast I can’t help but imagine God just flipped the light switch. With the doorway in sight I blast through it almost knocking the large wooden door off its hinge. I spend the last drop of adrenaline left tugging along this man who’s twice my size until we are under shelter.
The stranger collapses on the ground next to the fireplace. Fatigue wins over as I too drop to the hardwood floor. I notice firewood and crawl over to it and toss a few logs into the dying flames. Sprawled out across the wooden floor, I watch as the fire crackles back to life. I bring my knees to my chest and pull my boots off then chuck them close to the hearth.
Warmth from the dancing flames along with burning oak comforts my soul. I’m way too tired to make sense of these events. This peculiar house guest will remain a mystery, at least until morning. I shut my eyes for a moment, need rest…
With a blanket covering me, I wake up refreshed. I didn’t even know there were any linens in the cottage. A good sign perhaps showing he is a friend rather than a danger, assuming it was him. A flurry of yawns catches my attention.
I look around and notice the stranger sitting up as still as a statue. He’s sprawled out, relaxing, engrossed by the roaring fire. His bare feet are inches from the heat. He buries his face in his hands hiding from me. He’s wearing my original sweat pants and white t-shirt. The same clothing I wore when I first encountered that old witch. I pop up and try to say something but he beats me to it.
He says, “you truly are beautiful.” His deep voice is so damn familiar but I can’t place it. “Thank you,” I say. His flattery was welcome. Any pleasantry would have been, yet his words trigger doubt in my mind. Perhaps, I’m not used to receiving compliments. He lifts his head out of his hands and stares into the fire. I try to inch over to see his face but he looks away.
“Before you look at me perhaps we should talk first. Trust me, it’s for the best,” he responds again in a voice I’m certain I’ve heard before.
I hesitate, “Okay, if you’d like. Let’s start with who the hell you are.”
“Forget so soon? No doubt you recognize the voice,” he teases.
“Yes! Damn, it’s so familiar. I know you somehow, don’t I? From somewhere else, perhaps.”
His shoulders shake with jubilation. “Oh definitely, girl. You know me intimately. I’m certain we’ve taken showers together. Not as kinky as you might think though.”
“Are you making fun of me?” I question, taken aback. “I know my memory is bad, but it doesn’t feel like I know you that kind of way.” This game he’s playing stomps on my nerves.
“How soon we forget those so important to us. It figures,” he snickers.
“Cut it out. It’s not nice to make fun of people. Just tell me how I know you,” I demand.
“After what we’ve been through together, I’ve earned the right to mock you a little,” he responds without moving.
He refuses to let me see him. Why? “Enough of these games! Turn,” I screech, “You’re testing my patience, guy.”
“Listen to me, Raquel. You need to know some things first. Please let me explain.”
My jaw hits the floor. “How do you know my name?”
I recall prior to transition my deadname was Mark. Raquel is the name I chose for myself. There was no way he could know that. Only my closest friends knew this matter of fact, and he didn’t seem like one. I think. I didn’t even tell that witch my name. Perhaps they’re working together? She seemed to know more about me than I did.
“We picked it together. Then you came here to the old woman. The very same old woman who tricked you into drinking her little formula and played to our desires. It was for her own agenda I think. But I can’t be sure about that right now.”
“Who the hell are you?” I leap to my feet and storm around to face him once and for all. He doesn’t bother turning away this time. He looks me straight in the eyes and I feel woozy. My stomach bubbles and churns. I. I…
Repeated slaps to the face awaken me. I investigate his familiar mug again and nothing has changed. I place my hand on his cheek to make sure this is real life. Oh, it sure as shit is real. There’s no denying it now.
“But how can this be?” I say as he smiles.
“You fainted. I, well we never fainted before. It is me, it just is. Don’t ask me how or why? That lady did a great job, wow,” he says as I shake my head back and forth.
“What happened to your face?” I quiz.
“That old woman is not the friend we thought she was. She’s a straight up crazy bitch. Where are we?”
I raise my brows and say, “I have no clue. You tell me where we are. But how can this be?”
“I don’t know. I’m you before the transition. You know it, I know it. I’m Mark. Let that fact of matter just be for now. No need to question it.”
He has a good point. I let go of logic and try to reason with my former self. There was something slightly odd about his claims.
I can’t help but ask, “Mark? We never preferred being called by that name.”
“Well, there can’t be two Raquels. I submit to you referring to me as Mark, for now. Just use male pronouns too. I think it’ll be less confusing and I really don’t mind. Now, back to the old woman and her psychotic rampage.”
Once again, very peculiar. Brief memories return and I know for a fact I cringe when someone refers to me as a male. What is my malfunction? I guess the use of pronouns makes sense just between us, and I’m usually an easy-going type of girl.
“Why would she make our dreams come true if she was trying to hurt us?” I ask.
“I don’t know. She’s evil. Are you even sure there will be no consequences for drinking that potion?”
“How do you even know about the potion? You weren’t here.”
“But I was, when you transitioned we split into two people. That’s when I wandered outside until she attacked me. That witch tried to kill me, Raquel.”
His quick response left me no reason to doubt his recollection of these events. After all, she disappeared right before the transition took place. She could have easily snuck out and tried to kill me, or the other me rather. I gave Mark a hug and whispered, “I’m glad you made it. What do we do now?”
“Well, it seems like the winter has impeded our progress. But there is something more beyond those trees. It’s some sort of mirage or trick. They do not extend as far as we think. There’s weird shit out there. Maybe we’ll find the answers.” Mark plops his ass in front of the fire, awaiting a reply.
“What’s beyond those trees?” I ask as I too sit back down to enjoy the heat of the fireplace for however long we have left.
“There is a lake, Raquel. On our side of the lake – a dreary winter. Across the other side – looks like a clear summer’s day. I remember being mesmerized by its beauty. We could start there.”
“And the old woman?” I ask, wondering if he’s thinking what I’m thinking.
“She is the key to all of this. We must find her again.”
He was thinking the same thing, after all he is me.
“If she attacked you, how can we protect ourselves?”
“We fight back!” Mark raises his fist in the air.
“Right!” His answer was so unlike me. I hid from danger or confrontation all my life. Maybe this place can change more than just my appearance. The confidence boost is exhilarating. I nod my head in agreement and repeat, “Fight back!”