An unseasonable rainfall ensured the campus walk was all but abandoned. Any students left on the slick cement hunched their bodies, protecting expensive textbooks against their chests as they hurried to the shelter of class.
Terre pushed down the hood of her sweatshirt and let the rain trickle down the back of her neck. She couldn’t see a damn thing with it up, like blinders on a horse. Bleak sky, soggy eucalyptus groves, and weathered cement buildings surrounded her. There was still no sign that anything was amiss. Terre figured she had the rain to thank for that.
A few students looked up as they trudged onward, perhaps noting her indifference to the pour. Terre didn’t even notice them as she jogged across one of the congested campus streets. The cars were all blurry grey mass and bleeding red lights as the rain gathered on her glasses. Horns went off, annoyed at her inattention to the don’t walk sign.
The transit center was blessedly open air, and thus equally bereft as the rest of campus. Terre wended her way through the empty drop-off lanes, and newly installed benches. The scent of ancha peppers found its way through the sharp smell of wet asphalt.
Terre breathed in the spice, her pulse quickening. A single very full bus pulled away from one of the stops, damp students pressed to the windows. No one wanted to wait for the next bus. The bus stop was empty aside from one hunched finger cowering under the measly overhang.
Thin pale legs poked from beneath a white coat. He was barefoot and the man’s shoulders shook violently under the soaked white fabric. Terre shook her head, no wonder everyone had taken that bus. She doubted anyone had been willing to get close enough to really see him.
Terre took a breath and approached through the rain. The man didn’t look up at her footsteps. He remained curled over his thighs, arms crossed and lank brown hair fell before his face. Dry panicked breaths wracked his frame.
She sat down, rain water pooling around her from drenched clothing and hair. He didn’t look up.
“Henry?” Terre said softly.
Filmed over eyes snapped to her with alarming intensity. He was still curled in on himself, but he peered at her like a corner animal, quivering in the cold. The taste of ancha peppers burned Terre’s throat. “I’m here to help.” She managed, though the words were rough.
“Help?” His own words were strangled due to dry vocal cords. He didn’t blink. “I don’t know where I am. I don’t know how I got here. I smell like chemicals–” He turned away and leaned farther in on himself mumbling. Anger thickened his already clumsy speech. “No one looks at me.”
Terre glanced around the transit station. It wasn’t surprising, people shied away from uncomfortable things when they couldn’t ignore them. An unnaturally pale, naked, sobbing man wasn’t welcome anywhere, much less on an affluent campus like this one. Still, students would be arriving soon for the next bus and Terre couldn’t depend on their avoidance. “I am looking at you. It’s okay. I can answer your questions, we just need to get out of the rain.”
Henry’s face twisted awkwardly, stiff muscles working into suspicion. “Do you know why I woke up in a bag in the middle of a chem lab?” He demanded, snapping the words out. He hugged the white cloth tighter around himself.
It hadn’t been a chemistry lab. But most people, living or dead, didn’t know the difference. They saw the stations and sinks and remember high school science classes.
“Yes. And so do you.” Terre put a gentle hand on his shoulder. His flesh was still cold from the freezer beneath the coat’s fabric. He relaxed under her touch. “Come with me, I know this is terrifying. But the first step is to get somewhere safe.”
For the first time he looked at her without wide-eyed energy. “You’ll explain this?”
“Yes. I promise.” The weight of the words settled into her skin and she felt unnaturally warm surrounded by the rain and slick transit center. He felt it too as his hairless brows came together in temporary confusion.
“Alright.” Henry nodded.
Terre stood and helped him to his feet as he held the coat closed over himself. “You know my name.” He stated, taking surprisingly stable steps over the wet cement.
“Yes I do.” Terre said and left it at that. By the time the next bus pulled into the flooding transit center they were gone.