June 5th, 8:00 p.m.
Asphalt everywhere. Pain…so much pain. Grass. A hot wind. Pain. Where am I?
He tried to stand and his legs greatly protested. Trying to roll over sent a pain up his back and into his neck. His head screamed in protest, threatening to split open. Distantly, his fingers could feel the loose pieces of asphalt clinging to his skin.
Dizzy for a moment when he sat up. Looking around he couldn’t see anything but darkness and grass for miles. Wait…
There was a low billboard on the right side of the road that said: “We’re sorry to see you go. Come visit us again!” and under that were the words “Redemption, KS”.
Where is that?
This was the only source of light before him. Perhaps there was some sort of light twinkling in the distance, but he couldn’t tell.
Legs underneath. Stand up. Stand. Head is hurting worse. What’s that wet stuff?
It looked like blood on the ground. Couldn’t be sure though. He was too dizzy to stoop back down and check. He retched…or did he? He was too worried about falling to remember.
Pushing his hair out of his face, he looked behind him.
Light. There were lights. Plenty of lights. That meant something. I should walk to the light.
He wasn’t sure how far off it was, but he couldn’t care less. That was the only purpose he had right now, to reach the light. Wherever he might…wherever here was…he lost the thought. The light was comforting enough.
As he walked he noticed that his shoulders hurt. There was a big smudge of black dirt all over his white shirt. Something red was showing through too. How did his shirt get so dirty? Not to mention his jeans. There was a tear in the side…small, but pink skin tinged with red was visible.
Rubbing the side of his face brought an eruption of rocks spilling forth from the hair there. His beard was a mess.
Time passed, though it was hard to tell how much. Probably a little bit. The lights were bigger now, and more distinguishable from each other. A bunch were coming off of a gas station. Some more were farther down the street. Even more came from the opposite side of the station, down a ways. A short while later he received a better view. Looked old. Maybe a di…diner? Yeah that sounded right.
There were some cars parked to its side and around the back. Some people were here. Good. Maybe they could tell him some more about this place.
It was hard to get up the steps without stumbling. It was even harder to open the door without slamming it. He more fell into it.
Every eye in the diner was upon him; he could tell that even before he looked up from the black and white checkered floor. People in the booths looked worried to see him. People sitting on the stools in front of the counter looked at him questioningly over their shoulders. Outsider. That was the unspoken word to him.
There was a waitress behind the counter who looked at him strangely. She wore the apron and the skirt, just like old times. Old times? Or now? It looked too odd to be clothes for now. Besides, no one else was dressed like that.
He stumbled over to the counter between two men, both of which stared at him. It didn’t matter to him; his head was hurting too much.
There was a burger on a plate near him, and just by looking at it his stomach started to rumble. It ached…that deep ache when you haven’t eaten in a while. So tempting to take it…but he knew he shouldn’t.
“What’s wrong with you?” one of the men asked.
“I need…some help,” he rasped out, trying to stay standing while his head spun.
“Honey, have you been drinking tonight?” the waitress asked him.
“Yep, listen to him,” the man to his right said. “Slurring words and saying crazy things.”
“Please, water…or food,” he begged, looking at the woman before him.
“We don’t do charity here honey, I’m sorry,” she said as politely as her sweet voice could. “We can get you something for pretty cheap though. Some soup or something?”
Instinctively, he reached into his back left pocket and pulled forth something leather. A threefold wallet. How did he know it was there? What else did he have in his pockets?
Opening the thing with shaky hands took a second. When he did he saw one, two, three…ten twenties. That’s…
“You best be careful keeping that on you; a man’s liable to come after you,” the man on his left said. “Or did they? What’s that on the back of your head?”
“What man would attack someone and leave him-” the other man started, but his voice was sparking more pain in his already throbbing head.
“Well Shirley give the man something to eat on my tab!” a man said from behind him. “Look at him! He looks like he fell out of the sky! His head’s all bloody!”
A rough hand escorted him to the stool before him; his body easily slid onto it with no complaints. Everything hurt too bad to stand anyway.
“What’s your name sir?” the man asked over his shoulder.
He closed the pouch in the back and looked at the ID in the middle fold.
“Paul Tarson?” he said uncertainly as he read the name.
“Tarson…is that a uh…” the man to his right said, fumbling. “Well heck, that’s a simple enough name.”
“You sound like you’re surprised at your own name,” the waitress said as she placed a small cup on a saucer before him.
Paul could only purse his lips and look at her, unsure of what to say. The ID said his name was Paul, but he couldn’t quite remember that now. It didn’t necessarily sound wrong or right.
The cup before him was brimming with red and marked by tomatoes, beef, and beans. There was a massive mound of cheese on top and plenty of oyster crackers on the side. Paul was still sitting there with his wallet in his hand, as if unsure of what to do next.
“Don’t worry about that now sir,” the man said from behind him. “I’ll pay for you, then we’ll get you checked out.”
“Yeah you had best do that Andy, he don’t look so hot,” Shirley sat. “Here honey, let me get those crackers in that chili for you…there we go…”
It was spicy, but that didn’t stop Paul from eating it. Through mouthfuls he gasped for cool air. In a minute flat he had finished the chili. He hadn’t even noticed that the man to his left had traded seats with the other behind him.
“Slow down sir, you don’t want to throw up now,” Andy said. “Here, have something to drink.”
Paul didn’t know it was soda until he choked on the carbonation. His stomach threatened mutiny, and bile surged up the back of his throat. With a couple coughs and surprise slaps on the back from Andy, Paul managed to keep it down.
Studying the man to his left, he noticed that he had a red and white plaid shirt and jeans. A large buckle with a stallion on it made his belt apparent, as well as the knife in his right pocket. Around his neck was a thin black cord ending in a cross.
“Is he okay daddy?” a kid asked, appearing from somewhere behind Paul.
“Yeah Petey, come have a look at him,” Andy said bringing his arm around the kid.
Son. The word for that was son.
“He’s down on his luck here and we’re gonna help him,” he continued, looking at him with a bright smile on his face.
“What happened to his face?” a little girl asked, appearing once again from behind him.
Paul was afraid that if he turned around, there would be hundreds of people there. They simply kept appearing from the side. This girl was obviously the boy’s older sister, and the older boy who followed her was definitely their brother. A woman, the mother, appeared as well, hissing something at Andy, but Paul’s head was throbbing too much for him to hear what she said.
“Now listen here, he needs some help,” Andy said to her quite loudly. “This is a poor soul in need.”
“Well he can go to a soup kitchen or a shelter Andy,” she said, attempting to whisper while eyeing Paul with wide, fearful eyes. “We’re not taking in strangers.”
“Well Paul here can only come in if he swears he’ll go to church with us and hear the Lord’s word,” Andy said with a small chuckle.
“Andy!” his wife hissed.
“How can we do the Lord’s work if we don’t reach out?”
“Mister, is that dirt on your face?” the girl asked him.
Paul rubbed his beard again, dislodging more asphalt. He was slightly bewildered at all the attention so he chuckled.
“I guess so,” he responded quietly.
Andy apologized; his family wanted to return home. The kind man vowed that he would return for Paul as soon as he dropped them off. Their home wasn’t too far off anyway.
Paul started to get drowsy over the course of the next few minutes. The waitress told him that it wasn't a good idea to fall asleep, though she wasn't sure if she remembered that correctly or not. Soon enough though, Andy returned.
“I believe that the good Lord let out church late for a reason,” he said as he gently escorted Paul to his minivan. “After all, we were almost done with our even later dinner here! If we had been dismissed earlier, I wouldn’t have found you.”
That was more than good luck Paul supposed, but his thoughts were getting blurry again. Or was it dizziness? It was hard to tell what he was feeling. Even during the drive, he found it hard to stay awake even while talking.
“Now don’t you do that here sir,” his escort cautioned. “If you’ve had one of them concussions, you shouldn’t go to sleep.”
“Is that why my head hurts?”
“Sir, you have no idea what your head looks like right now,” replied Andy.
Paul was almost sure that he was asleep, or something, before he had found his bearings on the road earlier. He had no recollection of the events before that. Was he on a casual drive? Was he headed home? Did he have a car? A home? So many questions, yet no suspicions or answers lurking anywhere in his memory.
Somehow he managed to stay awake during the drive to the next town. Andy didn’t bother to park the car when he rolled into the emergency lot. He simply put on his hazard lights and escorted Paul inside.
“We need to get this man checked out here!”
Even with his shouting, the only people that looked up where the other patients waiting nearby. The lady at the registration desk was too busy clicking on her computer to look up at Paul.
“What's your social sir?” the lady asked.
“Date of birth?”
“Well go on now!” Andy urged.
“Uh…” Paul had no idea.
Finally, the lady looked up at him. A worried look crossed her face and she called out to a man in scrubs that was behind her. That man’s eyes widened, and he hissed something to the woman seated at the desk next to him. Probably a nurse. Her eyes were just as wide when she saw Paul.
“Take him back now!” she commanded.
Before Paul could even realize what was happening, he was shoved into a wheelchair and rushed back. Someone was shouting for an EKG, another for help in room one, and still another for a nurse. One such nurse protested, but when she saw Paul of her complaints evaporated.
The tech was helping Paul to his bed, while another was stripping his clothes off very roughly. It hurt Paul’s shoulder and legs, summoning forth grunts of pain. Even with his shirt over his head, the pain intensified from just a simple brush with the fabric.
“What’s your name sir?” the nurse asked.
“Have you ever been here before?”
“I’m not sure.”
The doctor burst forth from behind a pulled curtain, rambling off questions as he inspected the back of his head. Gloves snapped on and stinging sensations pelted him as pieces of matted hair were slowly pulled from the big red mess.
What happened tonight? Where was he? How did you hit your head? Paul only knew that he was on the road when he woke up; he was proving to be a very bad historian. Have you had any memory loss or loss of consciousness? Paul wasn’t sure. Did you vomit? I think so. What year is it? Silence. Who is the president? Silence. What’s your date of birth? Silence. When read to him from the license in his wallet, Paul wasn’t sure if that was right or not. The doctor’s countenance didn’t change, but his tone of voice was enough to tell that he was worried. He ordered a CT scan.
Shortly, everyone left the room almost as soon as they had entered it. Now Paul was alone with Andy in a room, with glass doors serving as the only window out of the room.
Somehow he had made it onto the bed and out of his clothes. The only thing that shielded him from the eyes of others was a very small white robe with blue flowers on it.
He could see people talking about him in the nurse’s station through the glass, but somehow he couldn’t hear a word they said. The woman he assumed was his nurse seemed very worried, and extremely eager to take out her fears by yelling at other people. She made an effort to point at him, as if he was responsible for whatever she was talking about.
“Now you’re safe Paul,” Andy said with a great smile on his face. “They got some good doctors here.”
“I hope so,” he answered. “I don’t remember a thing before…I just remember getting up on the road and walking into town.”
“Not a thing? Not where you’re from? Your mother’s name? Your favorite color?”
“No…nothing,” Paul admitted. “It’s like there’s a wall of blackness between me and my memory.”
As Paul was talking, he noticed that there was another patient’s room opposite to his, just past the nurses’ station. In there was a man, similarly gowned. Two police officers stood near the glass door of the room, and a nurse was talking to the patient. Instead of focusing on her, the man was staring straight at Paul. He did this for many moments, slowly dispelling doubt that he was looking at something else in the same vicinity.
“That’s the weirdest thing,” continued Andy. “You remember your name though, right?”
“No,” Paul noticed that the man had one hand cuffed to the bed’s rails. “I actually didn’t until I pulled my wallet out. I didn’t expect to find that much money in there either.”
“Well…I can tell you this…you don’t talk like folk around here. You must be from out East or something.”
“It’s a start at least,” Paul said with a grin, now trying to avoid looking at the handcuffed patient.
“It’s a blessing that you fell into our hands though.”
Soon, someone came to take Paul to the radiology department. When there, he answered all the questions honestly. He wasn’t sure if he had ever had cancer, or a fever, or anything else leading up to the moment on the street. The tech wasn’t satisfied, but the test continued anyway without any more problems. Paul was simply hoping that the scan would bring some answers to the surface for him, and he focused on the whirring of the machine. It became his comfort.
Paul was returned to his room to await his results. Andy was watching the news when he entered.
Paul spent quite some time talking to his new friend, who was still trying his hardest to help summon forth any shred of his memory. Though the nurse had cautioned him to rest, the man was doing no such thing. His eyes flicked from the television to Andy as he tried to focus on both.
“Your license says you were born in on June 29th, 1972,” he said. “So you’ll be…forty-two here in a couple of weeks.”
Paul chuckled. “I guess so.”
“You can’t even remember your favorite present from an old birthday?”
“I can’t remember any presents sir.”
“Well…what about this?” Andy said, pointing emphatically at the television screen. “Tell me you’re aware of President Obama.”
“He’s president? That makes sense.”
“What about the Olympic runner that disappeared?”
“That’s interesting. I wish I was a runner. I suppose we could find out here once we get out,”
Paul continued to laugh and stay lighthearted about the whole incident. The only thing that bothered him were sudden bouts of dizziness and the persistent headache. All counted, that wasn’t much to worry about considering that he was still alive.
The screen flickered on to another news event about a body being found somewhere in New Jersey. A picture of some girl appeared, and the newscaster said that she was linked to a string of murders that had happened there.
“I suppose that there’s one good thing about losing your memory,” Andy said, shaking his head at the television. “You can forget how evil the world is. Thirty-two dead people that they’ve found so far. There’s a special place for people like that.”
Hearing about it made something twist in Paul’s gut. He would have remembered something about this; it was a disgusting tale. But again, nothing. Everyone in the country was aware of what was on the news…and Paul couldn’t even remember the president.
The doctor was actually fairly prompt about returning to the room with answers.
“Well…it seems you’ve had a fairly serious concussion,” he said.
“So I hit my head, yeah that sounds right,” Paul said with a wide, sarcastic smile.
The doctor seemed unsure of whether to laugh or not, but when Paul nodded he smiled.
“Its funny doc, come on.”
“I’m actually quite impressed by that injury there on the back of your head,” the doctor continued. “You hit it so hard that you scraped through your epidermis and hit…pretty deep actually. You could’ve fallen out of the sky and done less damage to your head, but I’m exaggerating of course. I’m honestly surprised that you didn’t die out there…but it does explain the severe retrograde amnesia.”
“What’s that now?” Andy asked, crossing his arms and covering his mouth with one hand.
“Well, he’s forgotten everything leading up to the incident of his injury.”
Andy just made humming sounds at the end of every sentence, nodding his head in thought as the doctor explained Paul’s predicament. He was actually following it quite closely as well. Somehow he had hit his head hard enough to lose his memory. That was fortunate considering what could have happened. The rest of his body was just a mess of bloody scrapes that needed to be scrubbed and washed carefully.
Soon, the doctor and a tech had a tray of instruments out. Paul’s head was numbed and cleaned, and for the hair they couldn’t remove they cut it off. He wasn’t too happy about that, but in order to sew him up it had to be done.
“Now doc, I know I have some money on me, but I don’t have near enough for this visit or surgery,” said Paul.
“Well I’m not sure if you need surgery yet but you definitely need some serious sutures or staples here,” the doctor said as he worked.
“Now hold on a second Paul,” came Andy’s input. “I might as well help you out here. I’m already devoted to helping you, so there’s only one way to do that. All the way.”
“I appreciate it but-”
“Just until you get on your feet and all that,” the man continued with a grin. “You can stay in my home, eat warm meals, and rest your head on a nice soft pillow while you recover from this. Just promise that you’ll go to church with me and my family.”
“Are you sure?” The offer was quite tempting to Paul, but he didn’t feel right taking all this help and giving next to nothing back. It would mean invading Andy’s home and forcing him to pay for quite a lot more than he was used to.
“It’s just money Paul, your life is more important than that.”
“I would say take it,” the doctor said with a light laugh as he grabbed a needle and thread. “My advice is to stay rested until you feel one hundred percent again.”
After quite a long while, the doctor deemed his work finished and rubbed on a light coat of ointment. The tech slapped on—lightly of course—a bandage that covered up the sutures and sealed the antibiotic on it.
Now, Paul was set to return to the world he no longer recognized.
“Now I know its late Paul,” Andy said once they were ready to leave. “But no sleeping in tomorrow. I’m cashing in on my end of the deal.”