Sometimes you go to the Zansasi Highway. Sometimes it comes to you. And when it comes to you, it can bring the most unexpected of adventures.
Thus opens this tale of a mystical stretch of land that connects you, not with the rest of this universe, but with alternate realities that used to only exist in your imaginations and dreams.
In this introduction to The Highway, two strangers from impossibly distant worlds arrive on Earth to consummate an age-old ritual. But when one leaves immediately afterwards and the remaining female chooses me as her companion, it becomes an adventure I could have never anticipated. The Zansasi Highway may be able to take you to anywhere you can imagine, but sometimes you don't even have to travel it in order to have your life changing adventure.
Chapter 2—Forest Man
Today I'd barely settled in for my first afternoon of viewing before Wilma came down and sat beside me. It's not that she and Sam aren't tight—they're as close as any couple I've ever known—it's just that they're secure with each other and they enjoy their wide circle of friends. Whatever I told Wilma today Sam would know by the next time I spoke with him—which is a great timesaver.
The Highway was empty at the moment and I was preparing to ask Wilma my standard opening question for the real details—the sort that never made it onto the television broadcasts since they don't have any observers like Wilma—of the good things I'd missed since my last trip. Just as I opened my mouth it seemed as though everyone along our segment all took in a breath together.
It took me a moment to realize what had happened. Followed by another one to locate him. Then I was fumbling for my binoculars to get a better look.
Even from this distance I could tell this man was magnificent. He easily stood two meters tall and was dressed head-to-foot in the finest deerskin outfit I've ever seen. One so expertly tailored that there were no visible buttons, ties, or zippers necessary to fit it.
His dark hair showed under his peaked cap. His smoldering dark eyes, while wary, burned across the distance as he surveyed this segment of The Highway like a king who owned it. His boots gave the impression of one who has traveled far and easily.
He might have been a huntsman, but he carried no obvious weapons, except for a knife at his belt that looked like a long antler prong. His only other visible possessions were the Map now held down at his side, and a matching pouch hanging from his waist. I imagined it contained lumps of gold, a few jewels, or some other universal medium of exchange.
He had the alertness of a wild animal as he seemed to sniff the air for danger, becoming one with his surroundings before proceeding.
After what could only be described as a dramatic pause, he strode down the dead center of The Highway in a ground-eating stride that covered the distance quickly and efficiently. He walked it as though no one dared dispute his right to be here on it. He would clearly traverse this Segment in mere minutes.
I was prepared to watch him make the entire transit. This wasn't because The Highway was devoid of other traffic at the moment. If it had been wall-to-wall he still would have had my complete attention. I wondered what his story was.
Then Wilma tugged at my arm. Actually she'd been tugging at it for several seconds, finally giving it such a hard jerk that I couldn't ignore her any longer.
"What?" I snapped in half-annoyance, as I had to take my eyes off of Forest Man, as I'd already dubbed him. Naming travelers is a sport we all participate in here. It's a Seinfeld kind of thing, and fascinating to compare the labels we've all come up with afterwards to seek out a consensus. It told a lot about how each of us saw Highway travelers differently at times—and so much the same at others. Now I interrupted my watching to see what she thought was so darned important.
Instead of speaking Wilma just reached up and pushed my head around to face the other direction.
It took a moment to realize that there was a woman there, also striding down the center of the highway. Then I had my binoculars back up to my face, determined to ignore any further interruptions regardless of their source.
* * * *
Feral Woman, as my mind immediately dubbed her, was not as tall as Forest Man. She only appeared to be about six feet of strong, healthy female. And unlike Forest Man, Feral Woman's outfit, in addition to her own boots, only covered her from crotch up to the tops of her appropriately sized breasts. It was cut very high on the sides, leaving her arms, strong legs, hips, and upper torso bare. Her boots and outfit looked like they were made of a coarse salt and pepper fur that matched the coloring of her thick mane of short hair. Her eyes were clearly yellow even at this distance and caught the light causing them to glow. She carried a Map as well, and was a sight to make you forget all of the other sights.
In what seemed like slow motion Feral Woman approached Forest Man. Although my eyes were exclusively on Feral Woman, the fine hairs on the back of my neck informed me of Forest Man's approach. As each strode down the middle of the segment, I wondered who was going to have to give way to the other.
They met in the absolute middle of the highway segment and everything around them seemed to pause. Even the wind seemed to hold itself now, and there wasn't a word to be heard from any of the observers.
They stopped a single pace apart.
She looked up into his eyes, not something she likely often does given her impressive height.
He tilted his head slightly to look down at her.
They each appeared to be using all their senses—the five normal ones in addition to one or two additional extrasensory ones—to evaluate the other. Most of all they seemed to be sniffing for each other's scent. The tension was so thick that even a knife would have had trouble cutting it. They could be the best of friends—or the worst of enemies, waiting to attack each other.
After long moments of evaluation he suddenly seemed to exhale, and we all let go of our collective breaths as well. A moment later he nodded his head once.
With that approval she took the final step that merged their personal spaces. They were so close now that I don't think you could have inserted a playing card between them.
He reached down to take her hands, with their dark painted nails, and lift them shoulder high.
Then she somehow moved even closer, leaning against his body.
He bent down for what I—and probably everyone else—thought would be their first kiss. Instead they touched noses for a long time. Then she bent her head down and licked his hand once, before returning to gaze at him so intimately once again. He did the same to her other hand a moment later.
They held their gaze on each other so long that I afraid something would come out on The Highway and run them down, but nothing did.
Finally she bowed her head to rest it on his strong chest.
That seemed to be the signal he was waiting for. He released one of her hands to view his Map. She didn't bother consulting hers.
After a quick glance at it, hands still joined, he led her off towards my side of The Highway, angling towards the taxi line waiting there for a visitor who needs a ride.
I'm not sure it's proper to say he led her, however. She matched his steps by his side as an equal partner, her head comfortably on his shoulder.
They strode to the taxis, yet didn't take the first one available. Instead he picked one that suited him out of the line. After one look, none of the other drivers protested.
Helping Feral Woman in first, the door closed after him and the taxi headed off towards the nearest town a half-hour's drive away.
Only then did everyone start breathing normally once more.
I looked at Wilma, but she gave her head a tiny shake. She didn't have any understanding to add to what I'd already witnessed. During the time this all played out nobody, including Forest Man and Feral Woman, had uttered so much as a single word.
* * * *
Forest Man and Feral Woman returned by taxi three days later. Again they held each other in tableau, touching and gazing at each other from closer than some people ever get in an entire lifetime, this time at the side of The Highway. I had the best view of all since they were right in front of 3a.
For minutes they stood like this, as if they would never see each other again and wanted to remember this moment forever.
Then Forest Man raised their hands together again. Once more Feral Woman licked his hand once, feeling his tongue on hers in return. Ritual completed, Forest Man consulted his Map and stepped onto The Highway.
I expected Feral Woman to follow him onto The Highway, but she didn't. Not even to leave in the other direction she'd arrived from. Only I was close enough to see that her Map—which any wise Highway traveler never lets far out of their grasp—was still blank in its main area. Other travelers have informed me means it's not time to depart yet.
As Forest Man strode down The Highway back the way he'd come three days earlier I thought Feral Woman would at least follow along the boundary, but she didn't even do that. Her eyes remained locked on him for the entire distance, but her feet remained firmly in place. Clearly if Forest Man was the alpha male, Feral Woman was an equally alpha female.
As he reached one of the invisible portals at the far end of the segment Forest Man looked back over his shoulder once. Feral Woman made a sound with her throat I would have sworn no human could have possibly uttered. It was like the mermaid's song, but much deeper and throatier.
Although I would have sworn he was too far away to hear what even I could barely hear this close to her, Forest Man nodded once in acknowledgement, then stepped through the portal and disappeared from this world—and probably this Universe.
Chapter 3—Feral Woman
Feral Woman didn't seem to mourn the loss of him for long. She glanced at her Map for a moment as she stood before me at the foot of 3a. Despite the altitude difference, I felt we were equal — if not having her a bit above me. I almost missed that glance because we locked eyes an instant later in a sensation that can only be understood by one who has experienced it. It was as though we could suddenly speak to each other without the need for words. I felt my body flushing for no reason I could understand.
She held her gaze on me for a moment—or was an age—before breaking it and moving on.
I felt so close to her at that moment that I thought she was going to come right up to me here in the stands. I even started moving the pile of stuff that accumulates by any dedicated observer to make room to stand up and accommodate her.
Instead she finished her sweep and started walking along the border of The Highway, glancing back and forth and giving the once-over to each person along her path.
I can't say I'm disappointed that she left since I wasn't expecting anything more, but I'd felt we'd made a connection. Maybe everyone feels that way about her.
I followed her progress as she worked her way entirely around the highway segment. She was in no apparent hurry and spent nearly twenty minutes making the journey. Everyone else was watching her progress as well. Dressed like that especially, she's the kind of woman you can't take your eyes off of.
Finally she arrived back where she'd started right below me, where she didn't even pause as she turned and started up the rows of 3a.
I'd already decided with her around time seems distorted. Now it was slowed down to a crawl as she continued to approach where I was sitting, yet hadn't reached it yet.
I knew that just because she was approaching me didn't mean she was coming to me. She could stop, turn around, and depart before she ever arrived. She could walk right past me without breaking stride. She could change her direction any other way before she got to me.
She did none of these things.
Somehow I knew she wouldn't.
Instead she walked right up to me.