He smelled autumn, woodsmoke and rain when her hair fell over her shoulder to brush against his cheek, and the scent was stronger still when she took him by the hand; she wore a length of faded leather twined around her wrist, kin to his own, though at the time he didn't recognize the symbols etched into the black, and still he doesn't, though sometimes he sees them in his dreams. They slipped out from the crowded room, unseen because no one cared to look, their eyes on each other or their glasses or the screens high above the bar, playing old games from a world that all of them swore existed, though none of them had ever seen. Tell me about it, she'd said, her eyes dark as she sat across from him in the smooth-polished booth carved from knotty pine, and he'd never been one to turn down the opportunity to tell a story, so he did.

He'd told her first of the road, of the places he'd been. He'd told her of the way the light cuts through snowy New York City air, and he'd told her of kudzu, of swamp lights and alligator teeth. He'd told her of highways, of blacktop and asphalt; he'd told her of adventure. He'd told her stories, and when the cigarette smoke wafting over from the bar had made his throat raw, she'd brought him another glass and sat beside him, her body small and warm. He'd told her of his sister and his father and the way they'd folded origami of the bills they couldn't pay, when she pulled her legs up onto the bench and crossed them; she'd slipped off her shoes and her feet were bare. He'd traced slow circles above her right talus as he told her of the truest things he knew, the things he'd always wanted and the things he kept safe 'round his heart and didn't let himself think about, the things he took out only on the worst days and the very best, and when at last his voice had broken, she'd laid a finger across his mouth and leaned close to whisper in his ear. The soft rustle of her skirt across the wood should have been inaudible, but he'd heard it as clearly as he had the thrum of his blood, or the pulse of his heart.

She led him through a twist of trees, and gladly, unquestioningly, he followed; she led him to the edge of the lake glittering like silver, where the rushes grew tall and there were glints like stars in the thick of the forest on the opposite side. He was dizzy when she kissed him, and he cupped her face in his palms, supping at the heat of her mouth. He knelt and touched the soft skin behind her knees. Slung between the shelter of land and the quiet water, she lay on her back and his thumbs slid across the hollows of her shoulders as she drew him into her. Behind closed eyes he saw the road unravelled before him; when he opened his eyes, he saw her own, and the lake within them, and the stars, and their voices when they cried out were one.

He smelled autumn when he awoke in the chill of his bed, in the motel room he'd rented, the walls of which, once-white, had gone dingy and dull with age. He tasted smoke when he swallowed, and the thick dark taste of the beer he'd drunk the night before, and so faintly he thought he might have imagined it, he tasted her, but only for an instant. He got out of bed and looked at his reflection in the mirror over the sink, and brushed broken pieces of grass from his hair. The sky was still dawn-silvery when he packed his bags, and the neon of the motel sign was the faded pink of sunset in the rearview mirror as he pulled out of the parking lot.

He couldn't tell you the name of the town, if you were to ask him now. It hadn't seemed to matter at the time; he'd only been passing through. He'd needed only a place to sleep, something to eat, somewhere to stop, for a few hours, to be grounded, to be something other than on the road, on the run. He couldn't tell you her name, either, and in truth, she might have never given it to him. That, too, hadn't seemed to matter.

But sometimes in his dreams he sees the lake, the stars, and the shadows of all of the things that were not stars; in his dreams sometimes he sees the sprawl of wild wood, and the ragged spires of trees, and the fog that clings to them at earliest light. He sees all of these, and he knows what it is to run free among them, and to smell of woodsmoke and rain. He knows with the logic of dreams, and sometimes still for an instant upon waking, that at times now she sees the unbroken curve of road, the fatal grace of metal and chrome, the ragged map of a world in which she has never walked, and never will.

He remembers her, as she does him, though he doesn't speak of her – as, he knows without really knowing how, she does not of him. When the headlights of his car cut through the tangled woods beside the highway in blackest night, his sister is asleep against the window and so does not ask why, for a moment, the car seems to slow, as though its driver is looking for something, or searching for a place that he hasn't once been before, a place that calls to him like home, though he has never breathed its air, nor have its branches ever once drawn blood from his arms as he slipped amongst them.


a/n: an answer to nevermore199 challenge; prose, somewhere between 500-1000 words, must include the words "cigarette," "origami" and "silver." probably the most experimental thing i've ever written.