This story was written in 2011 for Wanderlust Stories, a locative storytelling platform. You were meant to unlock each new scene on a smartphone as you stood in the types of places described in the story: a club, a diner, a parking garage.
1. Music Venue
You were just about to leave when you saw her. Your friend already ditched you for somebody they’d just met, and anyway you were flushed and sticky from too much dancing, and it was really getting to be too late anyway, and then—
She is alone on the dance floor, eyes closed and moving as though she were the only one here. And she might as well be — nobody else seems to notice her, even though her tats and her vinyl pants and her choppy hair are screaming for someone to look at her.
Her ink is impressive: dark sleeves of chains and barbed wire covering twining ivy, artfully faded away. They reach up to her shoulders, then under her tank top. You wonder how far they go.
She opens her eyes.
She sees you watching her.
She stops dancing and stands where she is looking back at you. Her eyes are steel ringed by thick black eyeliner. You try to look away, but find your eyes pinned in place. She doesn’t smile.
After a moment, she walks over. An acrid scent curls into your sinuses, something industrial, but it is gone before you can identify it. “Do I know you?” she asks you. “You seem familiar.”
You shake your head.
She sizes you up, and you can’t help but feel she’s found you lacking. Still: “You here with anybody?”
“Come outside with me for a smoke.”
You shrug, noncommittal, but all the same…
You follow her outside.
She pulls a clove from a tattered pack and lights it, then takes a long pull, staring up at the sky. There are no stars tonight. It’s been a long time since you’ve seen stars.
You search for at least the glow of the moon hiding behind clouds. When you give up, you find that she’s been watching you. “I do know you,” she said. “You don’t remember, do you?” She still isn’t smiling.
The smoke curls around you. Something about her and the night and the scent are tugging at you, but you might as well try to catch the smoke.
“Don’t you remember who you are?”
You do, of course — who doesn’t know that? But suddenly you doubt.
“Let’s get some coffee and talk.” She walks away without looking to see if you’ll follow.
And of course you do.
The coffee here is corrosive and dark as old motor oil. She takes it black.
The diner is brighter than the club, at least, and now you can see the red rimming her eyes, the grease in her hair. When she was dancing, she might have seemed celebratory to the casual eye, but now she looks like someone who has been abandoned by joy.
She looks out the window. There are no passers-by. “You are like me, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
She sips her coffee and won’t meet your eyes. “I — I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong.”
There is a voice in your head telling you she must be delusional, but there is another one, a deeper and more desperate one, that wants to hear her out.
“Tell me what you mean.”
“If I have to tell you,” she says, “then I — I wouldn’t know where to start.” She is hoarse from bitterness. “You just have to remember.”
She pulls out another cigarette, ignores the dirty look from the waitress. You spot a poppy blossom on her skin, indistinct and covered with black barbs. And then you do remember, at least something small.
“Those leaves used to be greener,” you say, nodding at her twining ivy. “And those chains — those are new.”
Her eyes grow a a little wider. “Damn, I knew it. You are one of us.”
You’re still not sure there’s anything to this, but: “I want to remember more. Can you help me?”
She nods slowly. “I haven’t met anyone else in, in years now. But it’s been even longer for you, I guess, if you’ve forgotten… everything.” She pulls a few dollars out and leaves them on the chipped table.
“Let me take you somewhere,” she says. “Maybe then.”
3. Parking Garage
“Here. This is where you were from, once.”
How could you be from this expanse of cement, painted lines, faint oil spots? This isn’t the sort of place that people are from. Definitely not.
“You have to remember.” Her voice is infinitely sad.
But this place used to be wild and green, for all it’s been overtaken by steel and concrete. Just like her. Just like—
And then she throws away caution and artifice. She unfurls her wings. And that’s when you understand what she is.
Once they might have had feathers or iridescent scales like a butterfly’s, but now they are mechanical things of broken glass and half-corroded copper wire. “Look at me,” she says. “Trying to fit in to a place I never belonged. Can’t you remember?”
Those wings are beautiful. The thin illumination from the streetlight sparks and shatters off their edges.
Memory flickers just out of focus. You reach for it.
This place used to be wild and green, just like her. Just like you. Memory of tens of thousands of years gone by crash into you at once, memory buried under a sarcophagus of asphalt and agony.
You remember what it was like to be a spirit of this place, and you remember a time before loneliness. And then, and then…
Trees came down, and stone went up, and brick, and then metal. The things that sustained you, the earth and rain and sky, were poisoned or no longer enough. One by one, the others of your kind died or left or changed.
And then there was only you, and your only choice to change, too.
You remember shedding your whole being of pine, birch, oak, and then—
—Like a hermit crab, you took a new form of steel and plastic and concrete. A metamorphosis like the world had never seen before, creatures of the wild becoming creatures of the industrial age. But it was too late for you to find the others of your kind; they had scattered into the world of men, beyond hope of retrieving.
So you lived ages on, and you forgot the eternity that had gone before. Until now.
You say her name.
Now, for the first time, she is smiling. “We don’t have to be alone anymore,” she said. “Not now that we’ve found each other.”