Before he opens his eyes, he thinks, My head hurts and What happened? and Who am I?
That last thought stutters and trips all over itself.
Because he shouldn’t be thinking Who am I? He should be thinking I am—
Tries again. I am—
He can’t finish the thought. It’s there. It’s right there, but he can’t hold on to it. It slips through his fingers like it’s water, and he wants to try again. He does. He does.
He hears the sound of glass shattering. Metal crunching.
He opens his eyes.
He winces at the bright sun overhead against a perfectly blue sky.
He’s outside… somewhere. On his back. And he thinks, I am I am I am, and it’s a mantra in his head, it’s getting worse because he can’t finish it, he can’t fucking finish—
His head hurts. It’s a heavy ache, buried deep inside. He wonders how much he drank last night. He’s hungover. He has to be. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
Except his stomach isn’t rolling. His tongue doesn’t feel thick in his mouth.
He wonders how he can know what a hangover feels like but he can’t remember his name.
He doesn’t think he’s ever seen a sky this blue before.
He rolls to his side before pushing himself up with his hands. His head throbs.
He’s on a two-lane road. Trees line either side, their leaves swaying in a faint breeze.
The road itself looks freshly paved, the asphalt shiny and black, the painted white and yellow lines vibrant. There are no cars coming from either direction, and if he stops and listens, really listens, he can hear birds in the trees, hear the sounds of the branches moving in the wind, like bones knocking together, hear bees buzzing in the violets that line the road.
He’s not in any pain, aside from the throbbing in his head. His limbs are intact. His feet work just fine. He’s wearing a pair of dark jeans. A white shirt. Gray sneakers with white shell tops. He’s clean, his clothes are clean. His forearms are thick, covered in a thin layer of reddish gold hair on top of pale skin.
And isn’t it funny, then? Isn’t it?
Because he can’t remember his name.
And he also can’t remember what he looks like.
He laughs, and it’s slightly hysterical, a tinge of panic filtering through, and he knows he should stop. He knows he should stop before he can’t, and now’s not the time for this. Something is wrong, and he just needs to find someone, anyone, and get this sorted. It’s not as if he can’t—
He stops himself from going further.
“Okay,” he says, and he’s so surprised at his own voice that he takes a step back. The word comes out in a deep croak, rusty and broken. He clears his throat. He tries again. “Okay.” It’s better. “Okay.” His voice is deep. Foreign. There’s that panic again, whispering, You don’t even recognize the sound of your own voice, but he pushes it away. He can’t right now. He just can’t.
He says, “Okay,” and that throb in his head lessens slightly.
He doesn’t see a single cloud in the sky. It’s odd, he thinks, because he doesn’t know if he’s ever seen a cloudless sky. But then he remembers that he can’t remember, and he doesn’t want to think about it anymore.
What’s the first thing a person should do if they don’t remember who they are?
They should find out who they are.
“Simple,” he says aloud, and he marvels at the sound. He rumbles when he speaks. “Simple. I find out who I am.”
His heartbeat slows. His breath evens out.
It’s good. He’s good.
A wallet. He should be carrying a wallet. That would tell him who he is.
Except he doesn’t have one. He checks his back pockets. And the front. Nothing. He looks down at the ground, thinking maybe he dropped it.
There’s nothing there, either.
Okay. He doesn’t have wallet. That’s okay.
He doesn’t know what to do.
He looks down the road one way. He thinks it’s east because the sun is coming from that direction and it feels like morning, like it has to be morning. The road stretches for as long as he can see, and there’s nothing but trees and asphalt and those birds calling out.
He looks west and it’s more of the same, except it’s not, because there is something in him, something that’s telling him yes yes yes, that west is the way to go, that he should beat feet, should put the pedal to the metal, make like a banana and split.
“Go west, young man,” he says, “and grow up with the country.”
He doesn’t know what that means.
He looks east again. That feeling fades. His headache intensifies. A curl of nausea flits through him.
The sun is bright. He brings his right hand up to shield his eyes and—
There’s something on his wrist.
It’s written on his—no. Not written.
Tattooed. There’s a tattoo on his wrist that he doesn’t remember ever getting.
He doesn’t understand what it means.
It reads 4221552082 in black ink.
He runs his thumb over the numbers. Too long for a date of birth, not that he’d know what his was to begin with. Too long for a social security number, not that he’d remember it anyway. He tries to break it down, to split it up, and it’s 422 and 15, but that means nothing to him. It’s 52 and 082, but there isn’t anything there. He could be reading the combination of numbers wrong. It could be 422 and 155 and 2082 for all he knows, because it’s useless. It means nothing to him, no matter how hard or how long he stares at it.
He doesn’t have any other tattoos, at least that he can see. He supposes there could be others underneath his clothes, but he doesn’t think trying to find them now is a good idea. Someone might come along, and he doesn’t want to be naked when that happens. They might not help him then.
He thinks about walking east, but there’s no question that he won’t.
East makes his head hurt.
It’s probably because the sun is so bright.
He’ll go west.
“It’ll be fine,” he mutters to himself and takes the first step.
IT’S TWENTY minutes later and everything is the same.
The trees are the same, the violets are the same, the goddamn road is the same. He feels like he should be whistling while he walks, that it’s a beautiful summer morning and his headache is almost gone. He should be fucking whistling because he should be fucking jolly now. It’s not too hot. The breeze is nice and cool. The air smells sweet. He sees robins and hummingbirds and summer tanagers, and the thought that he knows the names of birds crosses his mind, but it falls away when it feels like he hasn’t actually taken any steps because everything looks the same.
The road doesn’t curve. There is no grade to it. It’s flat and straight and he’s just taking a summer stroll, so of course he should be whistling.
He tries to whistle.
He knows how his lips should form. He knows the puff of air that should follow, and he does it, because why not?
Except he blows and no sound comes out.
He tries again.
He can hear the air, feel the stretch of his lips as he purses them together, but no sound comes out.
He thinks, I’ve lived for however long I’ve lived and never learned how to whistle.
He thinks the first part again.
I’ve lived for however long I’ve lived.
He feels some disbelief. He may not know how the world is supposed to work, but he’s sure this isn’t it. There is supposed to be an order to it, a definition in the chaos.
He tries to whistle again. He’s just blowing air through his lips.
I could learn, he thinks. Teach an old dog new tricks, but then he laughs because he doesn’t know if he’s old or not. He doesn’t feel old. His bones don’t ache. He’s strong. He’s big. He needs a mirror. He needs to see what he looks like. Just to be sure.
He’s going to learn to whistle, he decides. He’s walking down the road in only god knows where, he doesn’t remember anything about himself, but he’s going to learn to fucking whistle.
He licks his lips, getting them wet.
He takes in a breath.
He puckers right up, not caring how ridiculous he looks.
Two things happen at once:
He whistles, a short sharp blast,
a horse walks out of the tree line and onto the road.
He is surprised at whistling and so surprised at the sight of the horse that he stops walking without realizing it, still exhaling.
The horse’s hooves clop against the pavement. It’s a deep chestnut brown, with white on its forehead shaped almost like a star. It eyes him curiously, tail swishing, right eye blinking against a fly that buzzes around it.
He says, “Hello,” because he’s unsure of what else to say. The horse is large, its chest muscular. It doesn’t have a saddle on its back or a bit in its mouth, and he knows that there are still wild horses in the world, but he doesn’t know if they are skittish or violent. He catalogs it away as something else his mind can supply without being able to give him his name.
The horse nickers at him quietly.
“Easy,” he breathes, unsure of what to do next. Part of him wants to turn and walk back the way he came. Maybe even just lie down on the road right there and wait until he wakes up, because he’s halfway to convincing himself this is all a dream. The sky is the bluest he’s ever seen, there are no clouds, and every color around him pops harshly, like everything has been soaked in a Technicolor haze. Everything is perfect and wonderful, and he can’t remember his name, and here is a horse, a horse, just happening by right when he learned how to whistle.
“I’m dreaming,” he tells the horse.
The horse doesn’t agree one way or another, but then he didn’t expect it to because it’s a horse. Or maybe he did, because then that would prove this was a dream and that he could soon wake up.
He doesn’t want to walk back the way he’s come. His head hurts just thinking about it.
And he doesn’t want to lie down, either, because that would mean he’s given up.
He doesn’t know much about himself—or really, anything at all—but he doesn’t think he’s the type to give up, to quit just because things got hard. It doesn’t feel right, deep in the core of him.
That doesn’t help him with the horse.
“Easy,” he says, because even though this is probably a dream, he doesn’t want to take the chance that it’s not.
The horse doesn’t move aside from its slow, lazy blink against the fly, and the flick of its tail.
He takes a step toward the horse, hand outstretched, fingers twitching and palm sweating above the tattoo. He wonders at it again, but now his fingers are close to the horse and its nostrils are flaring, as if it is trying to catch the scent of him.
“Easy,” he says again, because he doesn’t know what else to say to a horse that might be part of his dream. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Which might not be true, because if the horse comes after him, he’ll do what he needs to do to protect himself. He knows this just as sure as he knows anything.
His fingertips touch velvety-soft hair on the horse’s muzzle, and for a moment, he thinks himself electrified, but it’s so quick that he can’t be sure anything happened at all. It doesn’t hurt. The hairs on his arms do not stand up. The horse feels as real as anything, small hairs and skin under his fingers warm to the touch. The horse bows its head just a little, letting him run his hand up its muzzle to its forehead and forelock. Its ears twitch side to side and he can’t be sure anymore if this is a dream, because he can’t remember a dream ever feeling this real. There’s a weight to it, a heft, and even though he can’t really remember anything at all, somehow he’s certain he’s never dreamed like this, not with such startling clarity. He can smell the horse this close, something wild and musky, and he can feel its breath exhaled onto his arm, its lips pulling back to show teeth.
His hand is shaking as he touches the mane, and he has to pull away, has to take a step away, because if this isn’t a dream, if it is real, he can’t remember anything.
“Shit,” he mutters, and the horse snorts as if in response.
There is panic again, but the horse begins to walk away, distracting him from his clipped breathing, his sweating brow. Its hooves are loud against the road, sounding almost cartoonish, and it pays him no mind as it crosses into the trees on the other side. He watches it until it disappears from sight.
He pushes himself to keep walking. The first step is hard, but the ones after come easier. He looks over his shoulder every now and then to make sure the horse doesn’t try to sneak up behind him.
And that doesn’t make him feel any better.
IT’S ONLY another ten minutes before he sees it.
For a moment, he’s not sure what he’s seeing, not sure that it’s truly what it looks like.
He quickens his pace, just short of running. But he won’t run, because running implies panic, and he doesn’t need to panic, because it could be just a mirage, okay? It might not even be there; it might just be something his mind is conjuring up just because he wants to see it.
He fully expects it to fade away the closer he gets.
But there it is, set in front of him off the road to the right when he comes to a stop in front of it.
It’s large and warmly painted, curved at the top. There’s a sun cresting a horizon, with rays coming out of it shaped like thin triangles. He almost expects it to have a face drawn on it, with big eyes and an even bigger smile, but it doesn’t. It’s just a funny-looking sun, and below it are little trees and a little path that leads to a little town with little houses.
He thinks quaint and sweet and where am I what is this words, there are words.
This is where he learns the next thing about himself.
He can read.
Because underneath the sun and the trees and the path and the little houses where he’s sure little people live inside, there are six words:
J Welcome To Amorea J
Happiness Lives Here!
He doesn’t understand.
He’s never heard of Amorea.
You don’t actually know that, a little voice whispers.
Which—okay. Yes. That’s true. For all he knows, he lives in Amorea. For all he knows, he has a life here where people know his name, people who love him, people who will say, “There you are, we’ve been looking for you, we were so worried, but now we’ve found you. This is your name. This is who you are. This is your life. Welcome. Welcome home.”
Maybe his happiness does live there. In Amorea.
(And underneath all of this, underneath the burgeoning hope, the sharp sense of relief, there is something else, something more, and it’s saying, Are you sure? Are you sure this is where you’re supposed to be, because something doesn’t quite fit, and why can’t you remember, and who are you, who are you, who are you? but every step he takes past the sign, that voice trails off quietly until it’s like it wasn’t there at all.)
The little road changes. There’s a hill ahead. It’s not steep, but it’s big enough that he can’t quite see over it, can’t see what’s on the other side. He knows it’ll be Amorea, and in his mind, he’s already imagining what it looks like, and he thinks it’ll feel like home the moment he sees it and maybe something will click. Something will click and it’ll all come back to him. He’ll see people he knows and they’ll laugh about it later on. He’s tired, and he just wants to go home and lie in his bed, and how nice would that feel right now? He’ll take a shower first, because he’s sticky with sweat, but then he’ll curl up under the blankets, and it’ll be nice. Everything is going to be just fine.
And if it isn’t, well. He doesn’t want to think about that part.
If it isn’t fine, someone in Amorea will know what to do.