Memory Found

Kerri watched as the bedroom door eased open and a man’s head popped into view.

“Kerri, honey, are you alright?” He inched in slowly, as if afraid he might startle her, like she was a rabid animal.

She breathed deep and nodded her head. She couldn’t bring herself to speak, because she could not recall his name or his face for that matter. Where was she? Who was he?

The man nodded and flipped a lamp on in the bedroom and turned the hall light off. “Sorry you didn’t find me when you woke. I just wanted to get my things ready for tomorrow.”

Kerri tilted her head in confusion.

“For my trip? Remember, I’m leaving for a conference?”

Still, she couldn’t remember what he spoke of.

He let out a sigh. “Maybe this was a mistake. You’re not ready for this yet.” He turned to leave the bedroom again. “I’ll just call and cancel, tell them I can’t make it.”

“No, wait.” Kerri reached out a hand. “It’s okay. I’m fine. Just had a nightmare.”

He looked back at her, as if unsure if she spoke the truth.

She swallowed hard and smiled. “Really, I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.” She still hadn’t responded with his name. Though she had no clue who he was and where he was going, she felt they must have had a close enough relationship that her vague reassurances would be enough to ease his mind.

He settled back into the bed beside her and nodded. He leaned over and kissed her forehead, and the gesture made her smile. Whatever memories were missing, the sensation of familiar intimacy hadn’t gone.

“Get some sleep,” he whispered in her ear as they lay back down.

Kerri watched as this man that gave her a feeling of warmth at the very center of her chest closed his eyes and fell into a restful sleep. She couldn’t help but watch as he breathed evenly, the tension from before slowly fading from his face. After a few minutes his breathing turned into a soft snoring, and the sound made her giggle.

Without thinking, Kerri reached a hand out and ran it through his hair, a gesture that felt so familiar and practiced, and yet in that moment seemed alien to her. She worried at her lower lip as she struggled to find his name and face in her memory.

The energy of worrying finally got to her. Kerri drifted into sleep, her hand still on the man’s head in a gentle caress. As the world around her turned black once more, a single word popped into her head: Tom.

She tried to jerk awake at the revelation, but instead of finding herself in the bedroom, she found herself in the topsy turvy dreamland once more. This time though, she remembered what she needed to know. Tom awaited her whenever she returned to the real world.

For more of Kerri’s adventures, see part 1 and part 2.

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I Hear You’re Asking All Around

Catching up on my 52 week writing challenge. This story inspired by the prompt “a tragedy that ends in romance.” Enjoy!

WARNING: Profanity ahead! Proceed with caution.

It’s one of those dumb moments we have as kids. Well, not kids, but not adults yet either. Almost though. Old enough to know better, but still young enough to not care.

Donny and I had played a few rounds of beer pong over at the Castillo twins’ house. Just a typical Saturday night out in the middle of nowhere USA. Shooting the shit with friends we’d known since we were in diapers. Downing cans of the cheap shit with chips and salsa. Nothing we hadn’t done before.

At close to two in the morning Donny and I stumbled over to his jeep, giggling like idiots, because we were. Even in the dark I could tell the ground was spinning for me. “Donny, you sure you’re good to drive?” I hiccupped.

“Ah, no worries babe. I’m barely buzzed. Besides, it’s late. Won’t anyone be on the roads. There never is.” He waved a nonchalant hand and beckoned me into the passengers’ seat.

I nodded and jumped in the jeep. He turned the keys in the ignition and leaned in to kiss me. He had the goofiest smile and his breath smelled like beer, but he was my Donny. I grinned and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “C’mon, pendejo. Get me home. I gotta work in the morning.”

He bit his lower lip and leaned in further, his breath on my neck. “You sure you’re ready to go home.”

I pushed him back, laughing. “Yes, Romeo. Time to go home.”

He made a show of sighing and rolling his eyes. I turned the radio up and sang along, off key as always.

The cold night air soothed my feverish, drunk skin. The crunch of dirt road under the jeep’s tires lulled me into dozing off. It was just another stupid, peaceful night, heading home after a bout of nothing special with people we’d seen all the time. Another night taken for granted.

My neck jerked forward and my eyes flew open. I heard Donny yelling, “Fuck fuck fuckfuckfuck…”

My body jostled side to side. I planted my feet, trying desperately to gain control over my body as Donny’s hands struggled back and forth with the steering wheel.

“Donny, what—” The jeep dove over the edge of something and my head banged the dashboard.

I don’t know how long I was out. Maybe only a minute. Maybe longer. Didn’t matter. The feel of cold and wet seeping over my legs woke me. It was dark, but I realized it was water, which meant we’d crashed into a canal.

Groggy at first, but made alert by the rising liquid, I scrambled with my seat belt, struggling to undo it and get out. The clip was stuck and I couldn’t wriggle out of the strap.

I looked over at Donny and found his head leaning against the wheel, blood dripping down his forehead, eyes open and unblinking. Bile rose in my throat but I shut it down.

I reached out a tentative arm, already knowing I’d find no response. “Donny? Donny?” I shook more vigorously then, hoping the motion would shock him back to life. It was useless though.

The water was at my waist now. Everything seemed to spin at warped speed as I shook and kicked and wriggled and screamed. I banged my hands against the dashboard and choked down a sob. Donny was dead and soon I’d be dead too.

Somehow, out there, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, someone heard me and found me. The bright headlights of another car shined into my eyes and I had to raise a hand to block it. “Help!” I managed to squeak out the word.

I couldn’t see who had come into the water for me, but he had strong arms and a Swiss army knife. He cut the stubborn seatbelt and pulled me out so that my legs floated in the water as he dragged me to dry land.

My chest heaved and my whole body convulsed. I barely heard the stranger talking to me, and I mumbled something about my boyfriend. And my name. “Thalia.” My voice came out as a croak. Then I felt my head loll to the side and my eyes closed.

***

When I woke up next, I was in a hospital bed, hooked up to wires and an IV and beeping machines. My nostrils and throat ached. So did my lower back muscles and legs. Everything hurt. I blinked away the bright light of the sun shining through a window.

My mouth felt like I hadn’t had water in…water. That was the last thing I remembered. Rising water. Then someone pulled me out. And Donny…he was gone. Did they pull him out? Did they revive him somehow? I tried not to cry.

“Hey sleepy head.” My mom’s voice, soft and full of worry. I knew that voice. That was the you’re in so much trouble but I’m so glad you’re alive voice. She was all sweetness now, but I’d have it later once I got home and felt up to it.

“Mami, what happened?” I started coughing immediately after speaking. It must’ve been a few days since I’d talked.

“You were in an accident, mija.”

“Donny,” I whispered.

She looked down and squeezed my hand. “I’m sorry, baby.” I saw tears fall from her eyes. My mother shedding tears over Donny. Never thought I’d see the day.

I couldn’t stop it now. I let it all out. I cried until I couldn’t breathe and began dry heaving. My mother had to call a nurse to help calm me down.

It went by in a haze. Explaining how they found us. How Donny had died on impact. How I got pulled out and passed out from exhaustion and trauma. How I’d slept for three days in an induced coma. How lucky I was to come out with barely a scratch. How I’d need to do some mild therapy for a couple of months for slipped discs, but other than that, I was fine. How it was okay if I wanted to join the grief group therapy sessions they offered.

I only had one question though. “Who saved me?”

“Oh, it was a local boy. Uriah,” the nurse answered.

I snorted. I didn’t know how I could find anything funny in that moment. The nurse smiled though. “Yes, his mother didn’t do him any favors with that name.”

“But how—” I couldn’t finish the question because another round of coughs started but the nurse supplied the answer anyway.

“He happened to be driving down that way after a late shift working here. He’s doing his clinicals with Dr. Vega.”

I shook my head. Unbelievably lucky.

Knowing that my savior worked in this very hospital I resided in, I spent the next week asking for him at every turn. I wanted to properly thank him. As luck would have it, no one ever quite knew where to find him when I was awake or walking out and about.

I’d just about given up on the notion when on my last day, as I pulled on my sweater and prepared to leave my hospital bed behind for the last time, a light knock on the open door startled me. Before me stood a tall, broad young man with a shy smile. “Uh…hi. I heard you’ve been looking for me.”

I sat there, mouth agape. The moment had finally arrived to show my guardian angel my utmost gratitude, and I had nothing to say.

“You are, Thalia, right?” He looked around and over his shoulder as if expecting someone to steer him away any moment.

I finally unfroze. “Yeah, yes. That’s me. I’m Thalia.” I stammered and then laughed. “I’m sorry, I just wasn’t expecting to see you. Uriah, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me.” He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, It’s just me.

I managed to get up from the bed, a little wobbly at first, but able to take a step forward. “I just. I wanted to say—actually, I’m not sure what I want to say. How do I say thank you for saving my life?”

“Well, I guess you just kinda did.” He chuckled.

“It doesn’t seem like enough.” My voice was barely audible.

He shrugged again. “It’s okay. I mean, it was just dumb luck. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

I shook my head. “Yeah, but I mean. I’m alive because of you. No one would have—could have found me, but you did.” We stared at each other in silence for a minute. “I’m sorry, it’s still hard to wrap my head around it all. I’ve been looking for you for a week just to say thank you and now I’m just sounding like an idiot.”

We both laughed. I took another step forward and reached out a hand. “How about a proper introduction. Hi, I’m Thalia.”

He took my hand and shook it. “I’m Uriah. It’s a pleasure.”

“Listen, hospital food sucks, so if you’ve got time, can I at least buy you lunch.” I felt my cheeks go warm, but I didn’t care if it seemed forward. I just wanted to know this guy that had saved me.

He looked down with his hands in his pockets now. “I’m actually off all day. I just came by to find you before you left. So yeah, I could go for lunch.”

I grinned a mile wide. “Good, because I’m starving for some real food and I’ve been dying for some ropa vieja.”

He tilted his head. “Ro—what?”

I let roar a big laugh. “Ropa vieja. It means old clothes in Spanish.”

He raised an eyebrow. “That’s an odd thing to crave.”

I shook my head. “That’s the literal translation. It’s really just shredded beef. Delicious. C’mon, I’ll buy you your first plate.”

He smiled and held out an arm. “Lead the way.”

I bought Uriah his first taste of good Cuban food that day. I hadn’t forgotten Donny. I never could. Donny was gone though, and in time, it would be okay for me to move on. This lunch with the guy that saved my life, it was a start at going forward and learning from my mistakes.

Hitchin’ A Ride

I’ve been doing this 52 week writing challenge all year long, and I fell behind for a bit, so here’s my short piece of fiction for the category “a story with only one character.” Enjoy!

I don’t know how long I’ve been out here. The sun’s brutal and beating down on my bare back. Had to take my ragged and torn shirt off. It just wasn’t working anymore. My mouth is as dry as my aunt’s meat loaf on Thanksgiving. A little rain right now wouldn’t go unappreciated.

No cars have passed through here yet. It’s hard to believe I’m the only soul out here. I’m not sure where here is exactly because I woke up in the woods and stumbled my way to the highway somehow. I’m not sure how I knew which way I was going, but I did. Now whether I’m going somewhere or away from something is a totally unknown variable.

The air is still, but more than that, the world is still. There’s not even a single bird in sight or chirping cricket. It’s dead of day, but that doesn’t mean it should be dead. I’m bent over now, heaving and throwing up nothing. Around me not even a light breeze stirs to calm my sweat and chills.

My arms shake as I grip my knees, trying to keep steady. I don’t know how long I’d been passed out without food or water, and the heat only added to the misery. The back of my throat burns for a minute, but I manage to get over this bout of dehydration. My head spins a bit and my vision starts to double, but I’m still standing.

As I zombie walk along the side of the road, even though I haven’t seen a single car, I put my hand out with a thumbs up. A delirious laugh bubbles up out of my mouth and I descend into a mad cackle. No one’s around to hear me go insane, and it almost feels freeing. Almost.

The laughing turns to coughing and I’m bent over dry heaving again. The back of my neck stings with its raw sunburn. My knees quake and I feel like I’m about to pass out when I finally hear something. It’s distant at first, but it’s rough and it’s there. Like a chugging machine pushing down the hot asphalt.

I look back but only see a shimmering horizon. I turn, squint and see the same thing ahead of me. I must be imaging the noise. I’m so desperate to hitch a ride out of here I think there’s a car coming for me, somewhere on this eternal stretch of road.

Somehow, I keep walking in whatever direction I was going. My feet feel like lead and my head feels like it’s full of helium, but I keep walking. My chest rises, slow, then goes back down, as I try to keep oxygen pumping through my lungs.

It’s been at least two hours since I started walking, and it doesn’t look like the sun’s moved from its original position in the sky. If time has been passing, it should be at a different angle by now. I stop, look around, and try to call out, but my throat is too dry. I start coughing again.

Faint and distant, I hear the thrum of a machine again. I hold my breath, trying to keep the coughs down so I can listen for the car. If it’s not on the road, it must be coming from the woods. But it should have caught up to me by now. Maybe it’s not a car. Maybe it’s a machine on a farm somewhere.

For some reason though, I turn and turn and turn but can’t find my way back to the woods. I keep seeing the trees from my peripherals, but every time I try to look at them head on, they disappear and all I see is road.

I tilt my head and stand with my hands on my hips. I blink rapidly and take a deep breath, thinking it must be the heat stroke and dehydration not allowing me to orient myself. I swallow hard, trying to find any kind of moisture to relieve my dry, stuck throat. Fighting off the wave of nausea that threatens to knock me out, I turn back to the road.

It’s all like a mirage, just shimmering air and a black path that doesn’t appear to come to an end. And a sun that doesn’t move. And trees that keep evading me. A wrack of coughs overcomes me and I can’t stop it. Blood eventually streams from my mouth and the panic rises. The taste of copper is strong on my tongue and it brings back a memory of white hot searing pain in my stomach. That’s when I remember…

I’d been in the woods running from a man who was trying to kill me and ran straight into his partner, into his knife. Then I woke up again in the woods that I can’t find my way back to, because I didn’t wake up at all. This is death. This is purgatory. This the highway to hell.