The examination was brief, confirming Dr. Toure’s prognosis. The burns were healing. Her right arm was still fairly painful, but the redness was gradually fading. “So that’s it, then?” she asked.
“That’s almost it,” he smiled. “I’d like to give you one more treatment of the burn cream for your arm before you go. A little time should take care of the rest, provided that you rest.”
She sighed audibly. She’d been forced into an awful lot of resting lately. She was getting tired of it. The sounds of a group of people passing outside the door reached her. They were talking; one of the voices sounded subtly familiar, but she couldn’t place it.
“How long do I have to …” she trailed off, her head filling with a familiar buzzing, prickly dizzy sensation. She lost her balance and slumped where she sat on the edge of her bed, catching herself with her arm. Dr. Toure reacted with admirable speed, catching her by the shoulder to steady her, face a study in alarm.
“Ms. Rush. Jo! What is it? What’s wrong?”
She felt both drained and suffused with energy, the room around her transforming. She was in her room in whatever facility it was she’d been sent to, but she also seemed to be deep in a forest she didn’t recognize. It was very old growth, if the size of the trees was any indication. She could see them super-imposed over the room, over the doctor, over everything. She clutched at Dr. Toure’s hands; they were reassuringly solid. “Do you see it?” she half-whispered, gaze wandering up the trunk of a massive tree that must have been four feet around; nothing like it grew anywhere near the city.
“See? See what, Ms. Rush?” He tried to get her to lay back down again. She didn’t resist at first, thinking it a fine idea, until she saw him.
It wasn’t Archerd, of that she was certain. Nor was it the young man she’d seen under the ironworks. He was dressed wrong; he looked like he was from the present, her own time. He wore dark clothes, a t-shirt, black jeans and boots. His hair was dark brown and somewhat ragged and spiked. Her gaze was drawn to him like a magnet. He stood out clearly to her against the backdrop of the forest. His back was to her, but he looked familiar. A name danced on the tip of her tongue, frustratingly close but out of reach.
She sat up, pushing Dr. Toure’s arms aside as though he wasn’t there. He was shouting something behind her, but her attention was all on the young man ahead of her. He was looking around, apparently trying to get his bearings.
She tried to walk toward him, but slammed into the wall of the lab room and grunted in pain. Okay, that’s still solid, no matter what it looks like, she thought in a corner of her mind. She started making her way around the wall toward the door. On the way, she slammed into one of the trees of the forest; they were quite solid too. Dr. Toure tried to restrain her, but she slipped his grasp and darted out through the door and into the hallway.
The hall beyond was surprisingly long. She started running but was forced to slow to a walk when she found the forest floor uneven enough to protrude above floor level in places. She nearly tripped several times on tree roots and branches and simple unleveled ground. The young man was several dozen meters ahead of her, but not moving terribly fast; it still took her more time than she’d have guessed to catch up to him. “Hey,” she called out.
He turned, startled, and faced her. As he did, his head brushed a leafy tree branch; he knocked it aside. His eyes widened in shock. Hers must have done much the same. He was like a younger version of Gran, his face several years younger than hers but already weathered with scars and signs of hard living. “Philip?” she gasped.
At the sound of his name, he turned and bolted. She stood and stared after him, emotional confusion overwhelming the light-headed feel of her altered state. The forest faded around her; she settled back to the hallway floor off the root she’d been standing on. What was Philip doing here? He’d been moving like she had, seeing both the hall and the forest at once. He’d touched that tree branch. “What IS this place? What’s going on?”