Neither Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, Stargate Atlantis
, or any other recognizable elements in my story are my property. They are being used solely for my (and I hope, your) amusement.
Author's Beginning Notes:
Some elements of the opening sequence were inspired by the books Barefoot Sisters: Southbound
and Barefoot Sisters: Walking Home
by Lucy and Susan Letcher (otherwise known as Isis and jackrabbit). The story concept itself is something I've been thinking of for quite a while, but I couldn't figure out a plausible opening until I read the Barefoot Sisters
books. You don't need to have read them, though I felt the need to give them mention here. (I'm not using the characters, mind, just a few details and ideas.)
As for the main character, I am intentionally concealing (for now) who it is, so please, no begging and no guessing; it will come. There's clues in the story, and it will eventually be obvious (but not in chapter one, of that I'm certain). There will also be no other characters crossing universes (the story concept will not allow for it). Please, trust me.
Chapter One: Alone
She woke up, feeling like she'd been hit by a freight train while drunk. Not that she'd ever actually been hit by a freight train, but that was the closest analogy she could come up with.
She reached up and brushed some of her hair - slightly singed, she noticed - out of her face, then tried to sit up. A weight across her shoulders softly, but firmly held her down for a moment, until she realized what it must be.
Reaching down to her sides, she pulled on the buckles, loosening the shoulder straps of her backpack, enough that she could wiggle out of its harness. That done, she unbuckled the hip belt, squirmed out of the backpack's shoulder straps, and clambered to her feet, looking around.
First things first, she didn't see the Appalachian Trail, or its white blazes. Or any trail at all, in fact. Just a small meadow on the side of a hill, surrounded by what looked like fir and pine trees. The meadow was about the size of a baseball field, tilted toward one corner at what she guessed was about a six or seven degree slope. A small spring-fed pond, no bigger than a jacuzzi, occupied the downhill corner, and its outlet stream bubbled over some rocks and down the hill into the woods.
Turning a full circle, she spotted a couple downed logs that might make for a decent seat, and one large enough to hide behind, along the edges of the meadow, but no sign anyone had ever passed this way before. Indeed, the only sign of humanity in the meadow was herself and her pack and her trekking pole.
She went to the pack, turning it upright. Nothing seemed to have been obviously damaged by her fall. At least, she presumed that she fell. She didn't remember how she'd ended up on the ground, much less, at the edge of this meadow. She pulled a compass out of one pouch, and got her bearings. Okay, the pond was the south end of the meadow, which would mean it was in the shadow of the trees all day, and the uphill corner, that was north. She pulled out her map for a bit, but without more landmarks or a trail, she didn't really have anywhere to start.
Picking up her pole, she decided to head uphill and try to find a ridge to scout from. On second thought, she better take the pack, too, since she didn't know if she'd need to come back to this meadow. She balanced the compass on a log while lifting the fifty-pound pack and slipping back into the harness, then picked up the trekking pole and the compass, checked her watch, and headed uphill.
Two hours later, she'd reached the ridgeline, to find just a strip of rock a couple dozen yards wide, breaking through the seemingly endless forest. Still no trail or blazes, not a human trail anyway, though she thought she'd seen a couple game trails. Setting down her pack, she pulled out her trail map and climbed up the biggest boulder she could find.
Beyond the ridge, it seemed, was just more forest. She could see a couple clearings down the slope, including one that was almost rectangular. From this distance, she couldn't tell how big it was, mainly because a lot of it was probably hidden by trees, but she kept it in mind.
The problem was, there were no obvious roads, no landmarks other than the landscape itself, in fact. No power lines, no bridges, and no buildings that she could see. There were places that remote, even in 21st-century America, but she wasn't supposed to be in one of them. There was supposed to be a marked trail, at least.
Turning back the way she'd come, she saw forest disappearing into a range of jagged, bare-peaked mountains. Deciding that she must be in the foothills of a mountain range created by the collision of continental tectonic plates, and knowing that such mountain ranges could be hundreds of miles wide and contain peaks of literal breathtaking altitude, it was obvious she should not return that way. She sighed; the trail map was useless, as there were no mountains like that in Appalachia.
Shrugging, she turned back to the northern valley, which seemed to confirm her theory. While there was yet another ridgeline on the horizon, it appeared lower and less rugged, and she decided to take a bearing on the largest of the meadows and head in that direction. If nothing else, she could use downed branches to start a bonfire or lay out a signal for passing aircraft.
There was a thought, and she stilled herself, turning so that her back was to the wind. That was a little trick she'd learned from the Weather Channel, of all places, letting her ears shield themselves from the wind. Still, she couldn't hear any sounds that seemed manmade, no sound of engines or helicopter blades, just the call of a few distant birds and what might have been a moose.
She shrugged, checked her watch against the sun, and frowned. Either her watch wasn't keeping time like it should, or something was definitely very wrong. The watch was showing that two and a half hours had passed, yet the sun had hardly moved. Shrugging, she gave it up for now as an optical illusion; she was, after all, mostly a city girl, and it was nearly midday.
Turning back to her compass, she got the bearing of the biggest meadow, and then started making her way down the northern slope of the ridge.