As requested by Professor V.J. Duke and icedmocha34, here it is. My latest endeavor, and my first attempt at sci-fi/psychological thriller. It’s also my first attempt at first person POV, so don’t expect it to be perfect. This isn’t the whole book, though, and be forewarned: It’s not even a “complete”, coherent short story, just a sample chapter. It will not explain itself. It’s only meant to whet your appetite…
That much said, carry on, brave reader. >:-D
When you’re an amnesia victim, the only thing that’s certain is that life won’t be easy. Because when you have amnesia, nothing is certain.
For a victim of amnesia, life is full of uncertainties, undecided variables. Do you remember nothing of your past? Fragments? Up to a certain point? Or are you able to remember everything in your past, but are unable to form any new memories?
My past is a blank slate, one that won’t ever be written on. It’s hard when you can’t recall your childhood, when you don’t know who taught you to read, your parents, the little lessons you learned… the skills remain, but you can’t remember learning them. You can’t remember who taught you. Some days, I just stare blankly at the pages filled with my handwriting, which is familiar, and at the same time subtly wrong, as if it should be different, somehow.
There are other people in the support group, people who still have their families, the identities they have built up over the years. They tell me about the strange feeling they get when looking at photographs in the albums, pictures of them at places they can’t remember ever going; they tell me about similar happenings when a casual acquaintance who doesn’t know comes up to them and makes small talk, and their smiles remain frozen on their faces as they try to recall where they have met—and more difficult still, what their names are.
Myself, I can’t rely on any of that. I had to create myself, because when they found me I was alone. They’ve never been able to identify my family. I had nothing on me to tell who or what I was before. The first memory I have after waking up in the hospital is looking down at my personal effects. A polo shirt—a rusty brown color. Faded jeans. A belt. Nothing more. There was nothing in my pockets when I was found, battered and bruised and unconscious after being struck by a hit-and-run driver. They weren’t sure how long I lay there before I was found and rushed to the hospital, but it was long enough that I should not have survived.
Somehow, against the odds, I did survive.
Sometimes, I remember scraps—bits and pieces. A glimpse of color. A smell. The corner of the rain-washed sky, such a vibrant, lovely blue, with brilliant white, fluffy clouds scudding across it. The waving branches of trees. A chalkboard, with one equation written on it, that’s somehow significant, but I don’t know how or why.
Try as I might, I’ve never been able to find that equation elsewhere.
There are things lurking just beyond conscious thought, waiting for me to uncover them.
And then there are the dreams. Sometimes they’re simple flashes, like the memories. Sometimes they are simple words, isolated from both meaning and circumstance, sounding stilted and strange severed from both execution and consequence. “Anomaly” is one that comes back over and over again, with never an explanation. Sometimes they’re complex chains that I can never remember afterwards, though I can remember the impression that they were vivid, and complex. More than once, I have racked my brains and come back with nothing after such a dream. It is the most frustrating thing in the world, to feel that the mystery of your past is finally within your grasp, yet to feel it melting away, not fully comprehended. The second most frightening fate an amnesia victim has to face—every day—is the possibility that they might never remember.
The absolute most frightening is coming to terms with it.
“He forgot his umbrella today.”
The ceiling fans rotated slowly, moving the air around despite the fact that the temperature had dropped just after the downpour started. Outside, things were colored blue and gray and streaming watery, like half-finished watercolors sprinkled with vodka on a tilted canvas, but inside the colors were bright, well-coordinated, dominated by sunny lemon yellow; unusual for a coffee shop, but unsurprising, considering that the building had started life as a small café, before being bought by a different owner.
All eyes turned toward Nell, where she sat in her regular seat at the second of the two tables by the window. She, in turn, was gazing out the full-length windows that faced the sidewalk and street. Kara and Leslie shrugged it off and went back to their earnest conversation at their table in the corner, like the stereotypical pair of checker players in a country store; but Justine, though her expression remained bored and she did not look up from her newspaper, perked up enough to ask, “Who?”
Nell leaned her head sideways against the glass, the better to watch the blurred figure through the storm water streaming down the other side of the glass and the sheets of rain. “That man. He passes by here at exactly five-seventeen each day. I suppose he takes the bus home.” Justine shrugged, apathetically, and went back to her newspaper. Nell stared out the window with a slow sigh.
The figure was of medium height, its only distinguishable feature through the water-hazed glass. His features were a vague, indistinct smear of dark juxtaposed on light. Indeed, Nell had identified him by posture alone. He walked along the sidewalk in exactly the same way each day; now, at the end of summer and beginning of back-to-school madness, he carried the briefcase in one hand, the jacket he had worn in the morning slung across his other arm. He always walked upright, unusually so, giving the illusion that he was taller than he really was. His gait was much brisker than the other people traversing the sidewalk. Nell frowned. There was something vaguely different today, something that could not be attributed to just the rain…
Her train of thought was interrupted as the bell over the door jangled—someone really needs to tune that thing, Nell thought, wincing—and someone entered, accompanied by a gust of wind and veritable sheet of rain. The person had to throw all their weight against the door to close it again, despite the spring-loaded catch. The bell clanged again as the door closed, and the stranger stood inside, dripping on the patterned tile floor.
Before she looked, Nell knew instinctively that the person was the man she had been watching a moment ago. She stared at him, bored out of her mind, and thus interested in the smallest of details. Tousled brown hair plastered close to his head dripped onto his shoulders; his dress shirt was soaked through, the material becoming transparent and clinging to his skin. He was lean, not overly muscular, but looked slightly out-of-place in the formal outfit. The trousers had to be uncomfortable, as wet as they were. His thin, slightly angular face sparkled with water droplets; darkish eyelashes clung together over mild brown eyes.
Realizing that everyone was staring at him, he laughed, self-consciously. “The weather man is proven wrong, yet again,” he said, and walked up to the counter to order a hot chocolate, his shoes squeaking wetly and squishing with each step. All the eyes in the coffee shop followed him, some curiously, others absently. After waiting a few minutes, he received his drink and went to a corner to sit down. The others stared at him for a while longer, rudely, but eventually all of them went back to what they were doing. Nell finally looked away, uncertain as if she should say something or if she should leave the matter alone. At last, she decided to leave it alone. Eventually, the stranger finished his hot chocolate and got up and left the shop as a brief respite from the rain allowed him to exit, still only partly damp.
“How are you doing today, Connor?” Mr. Aglana asked. I sat up very straight in the chair, hands folded on my lap, my postured correct, but guarded and tense. There was something about him that always made me uncomfortable, put me on my guard.
“Very well, sir,” I replied. Perhaps it was the office. The décor had always seemed ostentatious, yet at the same time, depressing to me. The colors were all dark, the upholstery ornate. A huge painting in a gilt frame adorned the wall behind the desk, but I could not distinguish any details. I had never been able to see the painting. It had always been in shadow from the draperies. I tried to keep from glancing around, instead gazing fixedly at a spot a little to the left of Mr. Aglana’s balding head.
“And how was your week?” I fought the urge to fidget or shrug.
“Uneventful,” I said, casually. In the silence, I could distinctly hear every sound in the room. The soft wuff-hiss of the air conditioning. The soft squeaking of Mr. Aglana’s fine office chair as he leaned forward. The dynamic rap-tap-tap as he drummed his fingers lightly on the desk. He eyed me with some asperity.
“You know that won’t do, Connor,” he said.
“The job… is going fine,” I said, haltingly. Somehow, I felt uncomfortable, discussing my life—my private life, what was left of it—with Mr. Aglana. “I began two more articles but for some reason I can’t access the business search engine from the apartment any more. I’ve had to do all my research from the office. Everyone is doing their best to not pressure me too much—thank you for that, sir—” I did owe him that much—“and Mr. Clark said he’d move the deadline back, due to the fact that the Wi-Fi in the apartment is acting up again.”
“What about your personal life?” Mr. Aglana pressed. I shook my head.
“I still haven’t made any friends yet,” I said. Mr. Aglana raised an eyebrow. “I don’t want to tell anyone I have amnesia,” I said, unwillingness almost choking me. “I don’t want pity. I want people to interact with me normally. Still, I’m too—too—”
“Socially awkward?” Mr. Aglana put in. I opened my motuh. The words sounded like they should be right, yet they felt so inescapably wrong, as if there was something off, something that I was missing. I wracked my memory for the word I was searching for, then settled for a simple nod when I couldn’t locate it.
Well, it was close enough, anyway.
Seemingly satisfied, Mr. Aglana rose and offered me his hand, and I took it. As always, his grip was not very firm, and his hand was icy. Strangely enough, as my fingers touched his, a chilly current ran through me, like a cold thrill. Something buried deep in my psyche strained for the surface; I grasped desperately at it.
Bright lights in my eyes, making it hard to see. I blinked. Snatches of a conversation, not meant for me or directed at me. “Failed—try one more time—” Pain. I struggled, fighting against unseen demons seeking to drag me down. Something—there was something I needed to see—to hear—to remember. Scraps of a face, bits and bytes incoherently blended, broken apart. Something raked across my memory. I fought. I didn’t fight long. Oblivion.
I blinked, and the flash was gone. Mr. Aglana’s secretary was already escorting me out.
Meh. Why do I always label my chapters with Roman numerals? It’s certainly not intentional, to look classy… hmm.
Who cares, anyway!?