He woke and looked up into a husky's eye cerulean sky and saw only the long fingertip of a conifer, upraised as if to call some temporary halt. Fir? Spruce? He wished he'd learned the names of trees and sought out secret things. But what was stopping him? He lay on his back, warmth on his face. The flat scaly leaves of the tree—cedar? Yes, he thought so—were moving strangely, waving and undulating as if underwater. Was this the ocean? Not unless he'd grown gills; he felt and could see his chest rising and falling, and the warmth had to be the sun.
There was a strange ticking echo, like tiny pebbles trickling down a mountainside, then the music of water as if from a small fountain, and a faint spray. This was a peaceful place. A Tibetan sanctuary. A Japanese garden.
So why did he feel so odd? Like winter's ice was breaking into the hot vault of summer.
A red bird sang in the topmost branches of the tree. Why did he not know the names of birds? What was wrong with him? He'd never heard a bird with such a deep song, as if it were being played at the wrong speed.
There was something wrong with his eyes. He thought of his photo editing tool and the words edge blur came to him; the bird was flying now and he could see each crimson feather—cardinal?—but the tree to one side was bleary, clouding.
He thought of random things: carjackings, jade figurines, terraced riverbanks, lotus flowers, a woman's hands, beach kelp, heart murmurs, spreadsheets, Viking funerals, hammerheads, fretless bass riffs, smoky suburban nights, two fingers of Laphroaig in a tulip-shaped glass.
Another sound now. Familiar. Rhythmic. Shoes on pavement; people running. Running toward him. Again, he felt that chill and closed his eyes as if, like a child, he could never be seen if he could no longer see. But he could hear, and the owners of those urgent feet were nearby now, pulling up after running hard, and he smelled trauma, a hot ferric tang.
A woman screamed then.
And, in the sluggish voice of a fairytale troll, a man said, "Oh my fucking god, don't move him."
Someone moaned appallingly, and he realized it was him.