Anyplace Else(3)

By: Kim Fielding

Only when he opened his eyes did he notice something strange about the tree he’d been touching. It was an oak; he knew that much botany, at least. He recognized its distinctive lobed leaves as well as the acorns littering the earth beneath it. But although he was certain that oaks were not supposed to grow in a tropical rain forest, this one looked ancient and exceedingly healthy, its broad trunk rising higher than he could see and its heavy limbs spreading wide in every direction.

“It is beautiful, is it not?”

Grant squawked, jumped, and spun around.

A man stood a few yards from the path, his feet hidden by the undergrowth. He was middle-aged and muscular, with long legs, broad shoulders, and a square face slightly lined by sun and age. His skin was so pale as to be almost luminescent, and his eyes were a mixture of green and light blue. Long straight hair, slightly veiling his face, was orange tinted with green, like copper going to verdigris. Between his startling coloring and a prominent nose, he wasn’t quite handsome. But then he smiled and became beautiful.

“You scared the crap out of me,” Grant said, his heart still beating wildly.

The man bowed slightly. “I am sorry. I was not going to disturb you, but then you admired the tree so much and I could not resist.” His accent was similar to Filip’s, although Grant couldn’t tell if he was Croatian too. None of Filip’s relatives could make it to the wedding, and this guy certainly didn’t bear any resemblance to Filip.

“I was just wondering what an oak was doing here.”

“A transplant, perhaps. Enjoying a warmer climate.”

“Like you?” Grant hazarded. Something about this guy made him want to banter.

“Exactly like me.” He cocked his head slightly before reaching into his tunic pocket. Holy shit! He wore a long embroidered tunic over weird puffy trousers and tall boots with pointy toes—how had Grant not noticed that right away? He pulled out a gold-colored ball. “Would you join me for a snack?”

“Are you, um, a historical reenactor or something?” Maybe the resort put on a show of some kind, although Grant would have thought they’d opt for something Polynesian instead of Eastern European.

The man laughed. “I am exactly that.” He held out the ball. “Would you care for some?” It wasn’t a ball, in fact, but what appeared to be a large apple, its skin as shiny and golden as fine jewelry.

“What is that?”

“Fruit.” The man walked out of the plants, onto the path, and over to a low wooden bench Grant hadn’t noticed before. He sat and cut into the apple with a small knife he must have also pulled from his tunic, and then he popped the slice into his mouth. “It is very good. Perfectly ripe.”

Grant had imbibed tequila before—on occasion a lot of tequila—but it had never made him hallucinate. Well, who knew what was in that green drink. Hawaiian shrooms, maybe. Anyway, it seemed like a benign hallucination, so Grant decided to enjoy it. He sat on the bench and, when the man grinned and handed him a piece of fruit, Grant ate it.

“That’s good!” he exclaimed. It tasted like an apple, but it had a kick like chili peppers.

“Some people believe my apple is a terrible weapon. Others believe it grants immortality. But I prefer to think of the apples from the Greek story of Atalanta. Melanion used three golden apples to distract her so he could win a footrace against her—and thereupon win her hand in marriage.”

Who the hell used the word “thereupon” when speaking? Hallucinations who had a thing for mythology, apparently.

“What are you distracting me from?” Grant asked, aware he was verging on flirting but unable to care. He could flirt with figments of his imagination if he wanted to.

“I am stopping you for a short while from continuing your walk. Do you mind? I am lonely.”

“I can spare some time to chat.”

“Very good. My name is….” The man stopped to think for a moment. “Today is December twentieth, is it not?”

Taken aback by the non sequitur, Grant had to think for a moment. “Yeah.”

“Then today I am Perun. Which is why I have the apple and also this.” He handed the rest of the fruit to Grant before tugging something else from his tunic. This time he held an oddly shaped bronze object with a wicked-looking blade.

The weapon should have alarmed Grant, but apparently he was past that. “What is it?”

“My battle-ax.” Perun stuffed it back into his pocket, which must have been very deep. “The ax of Perun. But tomorrow I will be Hors.” He pronounced it with the throat-clearing sound typical of Slavic and Middle Eastern languages.