I walk down through the ferns on the wrong side of the mountain. The sun is level and glints in my eyes. Sometimes it's more important to lose elevation fast than to know exactly where you are.
There's a little watercourse, and the rule of thumb -- don't try this in Alaska, but it works here in the Willamette Valley -- is, if you follow the flow of water, you'll come to human dwellings eventually.
I have nothing but a certain gift for entering other people's worlds. It's all I ever had: it's what God gave me to make my way with in the world. Some were given a gun; some were given a gift of song or dance; some an agility with numbers; some a way with words or syllogisms, with clay or paint, with giving orders or taking them.
I was given a pale gray pebble. My gift. It warms when another heart is near and sends me words, pictures, bits of song. It tells me what they've heard in the past, and what they long to hear now.
It comes at a price, of course. I must be below the tree line by nightfall, or the mist people will take me. I see them now, beginning to show themselves, cleverly using thorn branches to accentuate their thrawn, bony arms, using the pale lichen to draw their beards, peering through the clinging beads of the recent rain to make their eyes. I never know if they're what I came from, or what I'm fated for, but someday I'll find out. Someday I'll linger too long on the mountain top, and those cold fingers will coil around my ribs and thighs.
I haven't learned much, in this little jury-rigged life, but I have learned this: you pay for gifts.