The Fisher Princess III

The Fisher Princess I / The Fisher Princess II

The stranger lies on their two-seater sofa, a wrinkled cream-colored bed sheet tucked neatly around her body. Her hair, still damp to the touch, has been arranged so that it falls over the edge, pooling on the corded rug. Max kneels down, a plastic comb in her hand. She begins very slowly carding through the fine strands, stopping only to delicately pick through the worst tangles with her fingers. The stranger doesn’t stir.

“How you doing?” Cal asks, bringing a wooden chair over to sit by them. 

“Plummy keen,” Max says, an old inside joke. Cal feels relief then, clear and warm. In the truck headlights, arms wrapped around her chest, in a state of partial undress and shivering furiously, she had looked not fragile, but frighteningly unfamiliar to him: alien, threatening. He’d had to push past the feeling to rush to her, peeling his fleece jacket off as he jumped out of the truck, but still it had lingered—a ripple of fear in an otherwise placid mind.

Now, secure in the cabin, he feels the last of that emotion release him. He eases into the chair, resting his chin in his hands as he examines the stranger’s face, studiously, methodically, as though searching a craggy mountainside for a foothold. Her oval-shaped face is completely, unnervingly still. Every muscle is relaxed, pliant, freed from the burden of expression. A pallid canvas. But underneath purple-veined lids, her eyes move feverishly, unnaturally.

Cal gets up to fetch his favorite nibbly blanket from a closet. He casts into the air so it falls over her, descending like a slow wave, covering her from chin to toes, before returning to the chair. Max smiles appreciatively at him, already behaving, he notices, like the stranger is her adopted charge.

Palms gritty with sand from the stranger’s hair, Max braids the dark, thready mass into a thick rope. The night that shelters them is uncharacteristically quiet: free of wind echoing off the hills or rustling from the underbrush, as though the forest had receded far past their windows. Max stands and moves by Cal’s chair, instinctively seeking closeness as the remedy for an eerie world.

“Feeling warmer now?” he asks, gesturing toward his jacket, which she still wears. She nods and starts to remove it, stopping when he protests.

“Hold onto it,” he says. “It’ll be cold tonight. You can return it whenever.”

They finish the remaining tasks. Max brews a strong cup of coffee, readying herself for the nightshift in the cabin. Cal slides a pillow underneath the stranger’s head. Before turning off the lights, he lowers his ear to her chest to listen for her breathing. 

In the middle of the night, Max wakes. Her head feels painfully heavy, a lump of lead lolling against her forearms. Groggily, she lifts her gaze and sees the cup of cold coffee, half-empty. The darkness holds her in a close, but uneasy embrace. She looks quickly to the back of the couch, where the stranger lies asleep. Except, she knows, as clearly as though the knowledge were delivered via a messenger from God, the stranger is awake.


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