The first time I saw them I was fifteen years old. I wasn’t a typical teenager; I didn’t play video games or participate in sports. Even if I’d had a phone, it wouldn’t have been glued to my hand, like the kids of today; an extension of their chaotic social life. I would have gotten lost in the mire of online communities.
I’ve always been different; set apart from the rest. Not in a physical sense. I’m neither tall nor short, handsome or unattractive. I can go unnoticed in a crowd. I don’t stand out, and I like it that way.
My parents are a regular couple. Back then that accounted for a stay at home mom, and a hard-working dad. They didn’t do anything wrong; they didn’t force me into a life of solitude. It’s the way I’ve always been. A relative ghost among my peers, yet adjusted enough that it didn’t become an issue. Not for long.
The day I met them saved my life in more ways than one.
I had ventured a little too deeply into the quarry behind our house. I’d always been drawn to the place. My mother had long since accepted my obsession, and allowed me to wander freely as long as I didn’t go too far, or take too many risks.
The quarry had been abandoned years before. There was talk of filling it in, or using the land to improve the local area by landscaping around it – making a feature of the mineral enriched lake.
For whatever reason it stood untouched by man and nature alike. It was as though it had been frozen in time, the moment man and machine left it in peace.
I used to fantasise it held magical powers, because, whoever ventured down towards the large body of water, rarely dallied long. Nobody could explain why, just that it somehow repelled them.
For me, it had the opposite effect. I felt at home beside the water, gazing upon the patterns of degraded limestone and wondering at the beauty of it.
That day I’d decided to explore a little further, climb between the rugged surfaces of rock, which had formed ledges large enough to support a small structure.
I can’t really explain what happened. Not even now. One moment the stone was solid beneath my feet, and the next it dissolved like quick sand and I was falling through a hole unfit for the human body.
When at last I stopped falling, I hit the bottom in a tangle of limbs, and though nothing was broken I had badly sprained my ankle. There were scratches, long wounds down the right hand side of me, as though I had fallen at a forty-five degree angle.
I couldn’t see the damage, not right away, but I could feel it; raw and sensitive to the cool air in the hole.
I don’t know how long I sat on the ground, shocked and frightened by what had happened. The most frightening part was that the top most point of the hole had sealed up again, plunging me into darkness.
After a while I became aware that light was slowly funnelling back in. The walls around me took on a soft glow; a mineral the likes of which I had never seen.
When a face started to appear in the rock I thought I was hallucinating, that I’d hit my head without realising it.
Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t afraid, or why I watched the peculiar sight in front of me with growing curiosity.
Soon the face became three-dimensional, protruding from the rock like some animation from a children’s cartoon. Its eyes were as dark as the night sky, and its elongated jaw was sculptured and gravelled into a point.
I searched the face, trying to find a mouth within the smoothed out contours. There was a peak in the centre which was most certainly a nose of some description; formed hurriedly and not for any real purpose.
It fluctuated then, the hard lines quivering until they finally settled and I was looking back at my face.
I laughed, forgetting that stone wasn’t supposed to behave in such ways, and just enjoyed the show.
“It’s fun. Isn’t it, Master Baker?”
I froze at the words, the humour dying on my lips as I tried to find the source of the voice.
The glow emanating from the stone grew brighter at one particular point, like a spot-light on the new visitor.
My eyes tried to adjust to the new information. Stood before me was the strangest, and yet the most breathtakingly beautiful creature I had never seen; real or imaginary.
She was like smooth marble, with eyes so green they were like twin versions of the lake somewhere above us.
The shape of her face was at once oval and flat, because although she had no hair to be heard of, a dusty, strobing light encircled her head, intertwining with the smooth edges like a weave.
The energy source settled around her like a cloak, disguising her true form, though I could see the outline of legs and her shoulders before they tapered away beneath the strands of cascading light.
I said the first thing that came into my head. “How do you know my name?”
A softness settled over her face, and despite a darkening to her skin, below the centre, no mouth opened in answer.
“You’re our most important visitor, it would be remiss of us not to learn your name, or your language.”
The response echoed inside my head, trickling like water; as smooth and beautiful as she was.
“There are more of you?”
The softness came again before the subtle movement of her head, and like she’d flipped a switch, a dozen more creatures appeared around her. They were magnificent.
I watched her head move again, and realised she was communicating with her people.
“They have so many questions about you, but I know your head is full too. Ask what’s on your mind, Master Baker.”
It was weird to hear her using my surname, and in such a formal manner. “I’m Adrian,” I ventured.
“We know. You are Adrian, derived from Hadrian; lover of land and sea.”
I’m not sure what I said then, but it wasn’t anything intelligible.
“We are the keepers of the land. We are all around; seen and unseen, and it is our pleasure to welcome you.”
I was a little overwhelmed. Until that point I’d forgotten all about my injuries, and when I stood, drawn closer to them, a pain shot through my foot, bringing me to my knees.
It took me a moment to realise the ground was vibrating, and longer still to understand it was getting warm. The heat spread throughout my body until I felt so energised I was back on my feet again before my brain had time to engage.
“Thank you,” I croaked out, though I wasn’t sure what I was thanking her for. One thing was for certain, I was no longer in pain.
“Come, Adrian. Let us go somewhere more comfortable and we
can answer all your questions.”
It’s odd, looking back, but I didn’t hesitate. I trusted these people, whoever they were, and without giving it a second thought I followed them down a corridor. A corridor I was certain hadn’t been there a moment ago.
My contribution to the What if writing challenge two-fer. What if you discovered a lost civilisation?