Saturday, January 16, 2010
Amnesia, Chapter 2 - Awakening
Edward Anthony Masen.
I glared at the name on the I.D. card in my hand as if staring holes through it would somehow make it mean something to me. The picture next to the name was clearly me, or at least I thought it was. I had no mirror nearby to check and be sure. And even if I had, I’m not sure I would have recognized the face. I sure as hell didn’t recognize where I was, nor have any idea how I got there. I had awakened flat on my back next to the thick, gnarled trunk of an ancient Sequoia in the middle of the woods. Something told me that I was very, very far from home.
Home. Apparently that was someplace named Burlington. There was no state printed on the student I.D. I’d found in my shirt pocket, only the words “Burlington Community High School,” and the year 2009-2010. Well, at least I knew what year it was, that was something. And I was a high school student somewhere. That should mean that I had friends and a family out there. People who would be looking for me. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember who they were.
If only I had a wallet on me. Surely I’d had a driver’s license or some other identification at some point, right? Unless someone stole it. My addled brain started to put a few puzzle pieces together. Maybe I’d been hiking and was knocked out and robbed. That would explain the strange place in which I woke up, and why my body felt so stiff. And yet I also felt oddly energized, like I could run a marathon and never get tired.
I got up and looked around for a backpack or any other belongings besides the piece of laminated plastic in my hand. Nothing. The thieves had been thorough. I listened for signs of civilization in the distance, but was met with only the chirping of birds and squirrels in the trees. There had to be a highway or a lodge somewhere around here, or how else would I have ended up in this place? I sighed uneasily and started walking in the direction of the sun, though it was sometimes hard to see in the cool shade of the enormous trees forming a green canopy overhead. I tried not to let fear overtake me as I strode purposefully westward. Instead I wracked my brain for details. Faces, names, places. Anything that would tell me who I was and where I came from. But the past felt like a black, empty hole, as if there had been nothing to my existence before this day, in this forest. And if I thought about that long enough, I’d be too freaked out to get myself out of this mess.
I checked my wrist for the time, but there was no watch. It seemed that my mugging theory was a certainty. The sun was getting higher in the sky, and I could feel hunger gnawing deep in the pit of my stomach. The thirst was much worse. My throat became more parched as I hiked through the endless brush. It seemed I was making good time though, moving quickly through the foliage, branches snapping like matchsticks when they met my limbs. I never tired or lost my breath. Adrenaline and anxiety seemed to propel me forward without need for rest.
Hours passed, and the forest never seemed to thin. The terrain became rockier but I pressed on, desperation creeping over me as I still saw no signs of civilization. I would have to find water soon. My throat and mouth felt like a desert, and I would have drunk out of a muddy stream if I had only stumbled upon one. Where the hell was I, anyway? The questions continued to pepper my mind and my anxiety began to build. I wouldn’t let hysteria overtake me. There had to be answers, and a way out of this miserable goddamned forest.
That’s when I saw it up ahead, nestled in the trees: a small hunting cabin. I breathed a sigh of relief as I approached, hoping that someone was there, and that food was inside. It appeared to be an elaborate deer stand, with small windows and a weather-stained oak door. As I got closer, I noticed a padlock hanging from its rusted iron latch, and I sighed in frustration at the sight. Absently I yanked on the lock in the vain hope that it might magically open. Surprisingly, it snapped right off with a loud crunch. I looked down in amazement at the twisted scrap of metal in my hand. It must have been rusted clear through to give way so easily.
The door groaned in protest as it swung open, alerting me to the fact that this place had been abandoned for awhile. I quickly cased the joint, taking in a small cot and blanket, a gun cabinet, a wooden chair and a few small cupboards. Thank God. In seconds I had all the cupboard doors open, feverishly searching for something to eat or drink. Bingo! Several jugs of bottled water and a few cans of beans and soup greeted me. I grabbed a water bottle and hastily yanked it open, swallowing half its contents in a few greedy gulps. It felt cool and wet, but the burn in my throat was still severe. Apparently it was going to take me awhile to get hydrated again.
My stomach gurgled strangely, and I figured I’d better find a can-opener so I could eat something. I combed through the meager shelves and came up empty. Who the hell has canned food in a place with no can opener? I thought to myself in frustration. A hunter who carries a fancy Swiss army knife on him, that’s who, I answered my own question. The gun cabinet came up empty as well.
“Damn it!” I exploded into the silence, and the sound of my voice startled me. It sounded strangely lyrical. Musical, almost. Then again, since I had no recollection of how my voice was supposed to sound, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I could have sounded like the freakin’ New York Philharmonic for all I knew.
I grabbed a can of pork and beans out of the cabinet and angrily whacked it on the edge of the counter. To my utter amazement, the wood countertop cracked and splintered straight down the middle as if I’d karate-chopped it in two. Geezus, this place must be rotted clear through from the weather, I mused.
My stomach growled again and I turned my attention back to the can of beans in my hand. There was a large dent in the side of the can where it had shattered the countertop, but that’s not what made my jaw drop in disbelief. The top of the can had a giant hole gouged through it…by my thumb.
It took me a moment to register the impossibility of it, but there it was. My thumb, clearly puncturing the metal and stuck in the bean slop within. I gingerly pulled my thumb back out, expecting to see all manner of blood and gore from the accident. But my perfectly unharmed digit slid right out, with nary a scratch from the jagged tin lid.
I stared, dumbstruck. First the lock, then the cabinet, now this? Experimentally, I grabbed the half-shorn lid of the can and tried peeling it back. It came off the can as easily as if it were a daisy petal I’d pulled off of a flower. I imagined that the shock on my face must be fucking hilarious. Because this, right here, was a physical impossibility. What, did I wake up in the woods as Superman this morning? Was this some kind of twisted dream? I sure as hell hoped so, because I was ready to wake up any time.
I bent the lid between my fingers and it folded in half like a piece of paper. Incredible. I began to wonder what, exactly, my current physical limitations were, since it seemed I had been imbued with superhuman strength since waking in the wilderness. I scraped the spiky edge of the lid against my other arm and waited for the scratch to appear. The redness never showed. I repeated the motion, pressing harder. Still no reaction. The third time, I slashed it firmly against my wrist with enough pressure to cut through skin and veins. Instead of breaking the surface, the tin crumpled against my skin like an accordion.
Suddenly the tiny cabin felt like it was stifling me, and I ran outdoors into the fresh air, my breathing quick and ragged. I found a patch of dappled sunlight and stood there, holding my hand close to my face for further scrutiny. To my amazement, my skin shone in the sunlight like alabaster. I had fair skin, but in the sun’s bright rays, my hand appeared as if it were polished marble. I quickly pulled off my jacket and pushed up the sleeve of my thermal shirt, rotating my arm back and forth, watching the light dance off my skin in tiny rainbows of color. It was as if a million microscopic diamonds had been embedded there, giving me an unholy glow that was so far from what I was sure was normal human skin that I could only gape in baffled horror.
What...the hell...had happened to me?
I stood panting, panic beginning to set in. I had no idea what to think or what to feel. Again, the need to test myself rose to the surface, and I began to grab at tree branches, amazed as they broke away from their trunks with no effort. I kicked aggressively at a boulder and watched it crumble into pebbles. I put one of the pebbles in my mouth and bit down, feeling it turn to dust, which I spit from my mouth. The tiny shards shot from my lips and embedded themselves like darts into the nearest tree trunk.
My panic rose to a fever pitch, and I opened my mouth to scream. Instead, a high-pitched, hysterical laugh came out…one of those crazy, Jack Nicholson “Shining” or “Cuckoo’s Nest” kind of laughs, tinged with madness and desperation. I couldn’t remember who I was or where I came from, but I was pretty sure that I’d been a normal guy before. Before what? There were no clues to tell me what had happened to me or how I got this way. All I knew is that I was reincarnated as fucking Superman. And Superman was starving.
A sickening feeling overcame me, my gut growling angrily for food. My mouth still burned and my throat was raw. I stumbled back into the cabin and grabbed the can of beans, tilting my head back and letting them slide down my throat. They were cold and unappetizing, but they filled the emptiness. I washed it down with more water, easily finishing off one bottle and tearing open the next, but no amount of liquid seemed to quench my thirst.
I slumped on the floor and sat with my head in my hands, fingers nervously working through my hair. I tried to calm myself and think rationally. There was no road leading to this cabin, but there had to be one nearby, or at least a trail or some worn tire tracks near this place. If I headed out and traveled in widening circles around the cabin, eventually, I ought to be able to find some signs of life other than birds and animals.
I rose to my feet, and a wave of nausea hit me so hard it nearly knocked me back to the floor. I barely made it a few feet outside the cabin before the bile rose and everything in my stomach came back up. I wretched violently, my body shuddering, and the dryness in my mouth became overwhelming. I instantly felt hungrier and thirstier than ever.
No. This was unacceptable. I had to be able to keep something down. Maybe the beans had been bad. I sprinted back into the cabin and grabbed a can of soup, briefly enjoying the sensation of being able to rip it open with my bare hands before downing the cold contents. There was no time to wash it down with water before my stomach heaved and I raced out the front door, vomiting until I was empty again.
I fought the urge to cry like a baby as I hunched over, arms hugging my empty middle, rocking back and forth in fear. What good was it to have superhuman strength if I was going to die of starvation? Because I knew instinctively that there would be nothing I could ingest that my body would accept. Whatever had turned my skin to living stone had apparently turned my insides as well.
I sat still for a long time, sifting through a million thoughts like Hamlet. I tried to figure out where to go, what to do. If I stayed here, I would perish like that poor misguided fool in “Into The Wild,” who withdrew from civilization to the point that he accidentally fucking killed himself by starving to death in the Alaskan tundra. If I sought help, I would be studied like a lab rat by scientists trying to figure out what I had eaten or been shot up with to make me into a modern-day comic book character.
Die alone in self-pity, or die trying to figure out how to save myself? I chose the latter.
I filled my pockets with the pebbles from the rock I’d annihilated and began walking in ever-widening circles from the cabin, leaving the rocks as breadcrumbs. Clouds began to roll in and I smelled rain in the air. The sky darkened as the day waned and a storm moved in. Still I walked as heavy rain drops began to fall. I noticed that my eyes seemed to adjust easily to the dimming light, yet another of my newfound talents. But my throat and mouth grew impossibly parched and my stomach growled in increasing protest the longer I went without food.
Panic was my enemy, and it was beginning to win. So was fatigue. Though part of me was sure I could walk for a hundred years and never tire, my limbs began to feel oddly strained, pulled tight like rubber bands being stretched. The hunger was overtaking everything, and I could no longer think or walk straight. I stumbled along, desperate for any sign of humanity to appear.
That’s when I heard the blessed sound of a car in the distance.
I turned hard to the left in the direction of the sound and picked up my pace, though my legs felt like lead. If I could just get to the road and flag down a car, maybe I could save myself. Maybe someone could help me, though I had no idea how.
Gradually the trees thinned and led to a steep embankment. My brittle legs barely carried me up to the top, where I stopped and groaned in relief. Just yards ahead was the soft shoulder of a paved two-lane road snaking through the forest. I nearly cried with joy as I stumbled toward it, beginning to walk along the edge of the road, listening for the next approaching car. The rain had turned the shoulder to mud and my sneakers sank in with each step. I shifted onto the highway and my footsteps made a satisfying sound on the wet pavement.
But my hope began to wane as I trudged on through the storm. No more cars had come, and I felt no closer to rescue than I had when I was in the thick of the forest. The irony of the cool, wet rain hitting my face was not lost on me as I tried to swallow through the desert that was my mouth. Suddenly, my legs buckled and I sank to my knees. I had to rest. I was so hungry I couldn’t think about anything but food. And yet I could think of nothing that would assuage the hunger that cut me in two.
I listened hard for the telltale sound of a motor in the distance, letting out an exasperated sigh when I heard nothing but droplets hitting the road. But then my ears detected something different…a sloshing noise, quiet at first, but getting louder. Wet, soggy footsteps. I turned my head and saw a figure in the distance, walking toward me, hooded head bent purposefully forward. A girl. I could tell by her slight build and the vague outline of her hips under her shapeless beige coat. I was filled with a mixture of relief and anxiety. Here was my savior…but what if I scared her? I didn’t know what I looked like. I already knew my skin was freakishly sparkly. God only knows how my face appeared.
As she came closer, I deliberated what to do. I wasn’t sure I could lift myself on my ruined legs to go greet her. I was afraid to speak and frighten her. I couldn’t afford for her to run away. I sat frozen as she came closer, heading right toward me. It was as if she couldn’t see my figure crouched there under the darkening sky, though I saw her plainly as if it were noon with my new-and-improved eyesight. I waited for her to notice me, but instead she pulled out her cell phone, turning her head away to look at it, and walked right into me, pitching forward with a soft cry.
I grabbed her arms to stop her fall, careful not to squeeze too hard. I shook my head incredulously and asked her what she thought she was doing. What was a young girl like her doing alone in the rain on a night like this?
Suddenly a bolt of lightning flashed in the sky, illuminating her face in a halo of white light. She was pretty in a natural way, with a heart-shaped face and a faint smattering of freckles across her pale, poreless skin. Her clear liquid-green eyes met mine, widening in some emotion I couldn’t place, and her pink lips took in a sharp breath. I blanched, wondering what my face looked like to her in that instant. She gazed at me as if in a fog, and I shook her shoulders slightly, wondering if I was so hideous that she couldn’t pry her eyes away.
She blinked a couple of times and began telling me that her truck had broken down further back, and she was trying to get a signal on her cell phone. Her breath tickled my nose as she spoke, and the scent was intoxicating. Her smell began to permeate the air around us, right through the rain, and my gnawing stomach growled in response. She smelled like lilacs and freesia and something I couldn’t define. She smelled…delicious. My parched mouth began to water strangely.
I must have looked like a complete wreck, because she asked me if I was okay. She thought I might be hurt, and did I need an ambulance? Before I could stop it, that goddamned hyena laugh burst out of my mouth, mirthless and hysterical. She looked at me warily like the nut job I was. I wanted to tell her that I could break trees in half with my bare hands, and that the chances of me ever getting physically hurt again were about a billion to one. And yet with all my macho-man abilities, I was so wracked with hunger and thirst that I could only shake my head and tell her to go on and find help without me. I half-hoped that she would come back for me, and half-hoped she’d run away and never look back. This sweet, innocent girl couldn’t help me. No one could.
She tried to get up but slipped in the mud and fell against me. I caught her in my arms and held her there, her face mere inches away. Lightning crackled through the sky and lit the green pools of her eyes on fire. Her breath came out in quick gasps, and the heady scent overwhelmed me again. Strange sensations trembled through my body as the desperate hunger and thirst filled every fiber of my being. I could hear her heart beating fast, and the pounding of it seemed to get louder and louder in my head, like a sledge hammer dully knocking conscious thought out of me. Something terrible was happening, and I felt every ounce of self-control being stripped away with each breath I took of her tantalizing scent.
My conscience made a last stab at regaining control. “Please help me,” I begged her, searching her beautiful eyes for the answer. “Help me.”
But there was no help to be had. She tried to get up but the prison of my arms refused to release her. I clutched her closer to me, eyes squeezing shut as I lost the internal struggle and the fiery need won. Her heart pounding in my brain and her scent filling my lungs, I pulled her to me and sank my hungry mouth into the warm, wet pulse of her neck.
She struggled feebly but was no match for my iron limbs. I held her as gently as I could, caressing her, as her warm blood washed down my throat. All thought was obliterated by the thrilling sensation of my unbearable thirst finally being quenched. This was what my body had been desperately craving, and relief so sweet filled me that I groaned in ecstasy as I drank the heady liquid deep inside. For the first time today, I noticed my own heart beating, joining the rhythm of hers in a slow, sensual dance. I couldn’t remember if I’d ever had sex, but if I had, it couldn’t have been better than this. Every fiber and nerve in my body stood erect and alive, filled with the smell, the warmth, the taste of this perfect girl.
“Beautiful,” I murmured into the soft skin of her neck, my lips silently singing the praises of this angel of mercy come to save me. I wanted to hold her close like this for eternity, our hearts beating together in perfect time, like some sappy old-time movie where the hero and the damsel live happily ever after.
But I was no hero, and this was no fairytale. An ugly gurgling noise came from the sweet mouth of my damsel, and it was most certainly a sound of distress. My brows furrowed as I pulled away, dazed, to look at her. Several nasty gashes in the shape of my teeth spewed a river of deep red blood from the side of her neck. For a sickening moment, I was overwhelmed by the desire to lap the blood up and drain her dry. Then the horror of what I had done seized me and I cried out “No!” in despair. I rocked her gently, kissing her pallid cheek, begging for forgiveness that I could never earn nor deserve. I didn’t want her to die, not at my hands, and certainly not so I could live. Because the hideous truth of what I had become hit me full-force in that moment. I was a predator, a parasite, a monster of the worst kind. The impossible word branded its name into my brain like a sick joke.
The girl’s eyes closed and a loud sob escaped my lips. I was so lost in my anguish that I didn’t hear the sound of the car approaching. Its headlights cut through the night and momentarily caught us both in the harsh glare as I clutched her body to me. The unmistakable red and blue lights swirled atop the vehicle as it slowed to a halt several feet away. Thank God, help had finally arrived. For her, anyway. There was no help for me.
As I heard the car door open, I stared at my angel’s face and memorized its every line and curve. I gently kissed her cheek and swept my hand over her damp hair as I lowered her to the earth. By the time the cop rushed to her side, I was gone.