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When the Silence is Sound Enough

Taking a breather to let out the strangeness in my head. Welcome to my world.

I

A layer of dust lay thick in a faintly glowing square. Her finger moved languidly over its surface leaving behind a scar of nebulous light in its wake, releasing a lusterless beacon into the cell-like room. The pale beam stabbed the floor, causing her to flinch at the sudden intrusion of daylight that brought temptation as well as a sense of disquiet.

Already she could feel the lure and the pull of the world outside as it called to her to join with it in its slow downward spiraling dance. With a wrench she called forth images, fragments and scraps of remembrances, and examined them in a wide-eyed mix of horror and wonder. Soon the beam of stolen daylight dimmed until there was nothing left of it but memory.

She lay there in the dark, oblivious to the tumult that lay just beyond her four walls, until a seeping hunger - not that of the body, but rather that of the mind - forced her to rise and make his way slowly to the door. There she hesitated, and that hesitation turned to minutes, then to hours as war raged within her psyche. Eventually she turned away in bitter triumph and made her way to the stale mattress where she lay, pulling the blanket that smelled faintly of perspiration and - strangely enough - roses, over her and slipping into the sleep of the innocent.

When eventually she awoke, it was to a room of dull shadows and even duller silence. She lay beneath her thin covering and wandered through the events of the day before like Theseus. Finally arriving at the present she made a quick meal of bread gone hard and relieved herself in the far corner of the room before crawling to her station just to one side of the single window that graced the room and commencing her ritual of waiting. As always she knew that the day was gravid with possibilities, never mind that she had lost count of the months she had sat here waiting. Her finger moved tentatively toward the pane, but hesitated mere moments from the filth that coated its surface as she remembered the recoil of emotions that the penetrating light had brought with it yesterday. Thinking better of it, she withdrew her finger and, resting her chin upon her knees, she continued her vigil in silence.

Shock roiled through the concrete jarring her from her watch and sending her thoughts into a skitter scatter of disjointed emotion; fear giving way to curiosity, which in turn became a giddy joy that something had finally happened to break the monotony of her existence. She didn't doubt that whatever was occurring was a miracle, albeit more than likely an inconsequential or minor one at best. She became even surer of it when a sharp jolt threw her to the floor just in time to protect her from the explosion of shrapnel that her window had suddenly been transformed into. She cowered beneath arms not quite up to the task of protecting one such as her from the spray of deadly glass that rained down upon her and once again fear became the reigning emotion, now powered by a sudden surge of pain and adrenaline. When it had become clear that once again muscle, flesh, and bone had failed her she took refuge in memory - hazy events shaped, colored, and twisted by distance and perspective and drowned in emotions not necessarily fully realized until days, months, perhaps years later.

She awoke from her reverie to the chill of thinly disguised metal on her bare back and a swirl of confused motion seemingly centered upon her. Strange machines and people swam in and out of focus and random surges of pain shot through various parts of her body until she wished once again for the serenity of slumber. Screwing her eyes shut she tried to relax her body, hoping she would drift off to sleep but it was not to be. She had been transported to a strange and unfamiliar land where she had no control of the world around her. She had no recourse here to the safe haven of her memories, no easy escape into the universe that inhabited her mind. Panic set in and she tried to make her body move, tried to get off the moving table on which she lay, and run until she could find security in some lonely refuge. But her body betrayed her, too battered and weak to even struggle, so she simply lay there despairing as warm tears coursed down her face.

She couldn't remember slipping away, but somehow she had lost all recall of how she had arrived in this sterile room, so much like her own, save that here everything was a relentless shade of white and smelled of alcohol and cleanliness. Above her tiny red and green lights winked just at the edge of her vision and tiny strands of clear liquid seemed to be attached to her arms. She wondered if maybe they had been pulled from within her flesh and hung there for some unfathomable reason, but soon dismissed that thought as absurd. After only a few moments of being awake a person came in all dressed in white and examined her arms, her chest, the machines above her, her face, her lips moving all the while in that strange dance that she vaguely remembered as talking. She tried to recall a time when she could translate the funny lip shapes into ideas and words, but to no avail. She had forgotten where she had placed that particular memory; perhaps it had wandered off and gotten lost somewhere in the land where all the thorny briars grew and where she could hear the beasts prowling about in the dark whenever she got to close to its borders. Possibly it had become prey and therefore lost to her forever. She hoped not. It always made her sad to lose them that way.

Letting her eyes close she willed the strange woman to leave her. Eventually she got her wish, but her relief was short lived as a second woman soon entered, examined something that was apparently hung from the foot of the bed she lay in, and approached her, her lips making the same funny shapes as had her first visitor. The woman moved around until she leaned over her face, a question in her eyes. She met those eyes with questions of her own, but the strange woman didn't understand; she simply nodded and touched her arm gently before leaving her to her own thoughts. Thoughts that turned towards escape, for the memory of where she must be had just surfaced filling her chest with a thick knot of fear that threatened to suffocate her if she let it. First things first, she thought closing her eyes. She needed to regain her strength. She needed sleep.

She lay quietly, thoughts and questions spinning in her head just out of reach, the memory of blood acrid on her tongue blotting out all other senses. Ghosts swirled about her head, before her eyes, even when she closed them, whispering to her. She'd had that dream again last night, or was it night now and she had slept through the day. No. Sunlight flowed through the window into her room and her memory told her that sunlight meant daytime - not that it wasn't possible that her memory was faulty, for she also remembered skiing down a snow covered slope, the chill wind biting her cheeks and she was sure that she had never even seen snow anywhere other then in a picture in a magazine or on the TV.

Thoughts of the dream invade her head again. In it she sits in a chair surrounded by golden flowers in the middle of an endless field. Sometimes she wears a blue dress and other times she wears black pants and a white shirt, but always she is barefoot and holding a paintbrush and an empty canvas in her hands as if she was preparing to paint the scene before her. As she sits birds swoop down, one or two at a time, and gather before her like an audience until hundreds of them stand before her; silent and watchful, their eyes full of doubt. And as she waits - for what she is never quite sure - it begins to rain small red rose petals that land upon the flock, burning their feathers and skin like an acid rain. And as they die, one by one, their eyes plead with her to save them.

One of the women in white comes in again, talking to her - for she has finally found a name for the lip movements that her captors use - as she slips a strange plastic rod into her mouth, examines the tube that runs into her arm, and all the other incomprehensible things that have been repeated without fail every two or three hours. She just stares at the woman who goes briskly about her business of fiddling with a small plastic box the size of a notepad. After smiling at her and gently brushing hair away from her face the woman leaves her alone and she drifts off into sleep again.

The dream comes again. She is wearing a faded blue dress and sitting in the middle of a huge field that stretches from horizon to horizon. In her hands are a paintbrush and an empty canvas and she is surrounded by golden flowers. From the sky birds swoop down, landing before her until there are hundreds and hundreds of them. They stand and watch her, their eyes full of doubt. Soon a gentle rain of rose petals falls, landing on the birds and burning them. They die in silent agony, their eyes pleading with her to save them. She is helpless to do more than just watch. Soon their corpses litter the field.

Confusion weighs her down as her eyes flutter open. Her body tells her that she is moving, and that is soon confirmed by the sight of the ceiling overhead drifting past her. A face above her catches her staring at it and smiles - she can't tell if it is a woman or a man at first. Man she decides, and from somewhere unbidden comes the word 'angel'. Indeed he is beautiful, skin of smooth chocolate and eyes that are large and full of laughter. She wonders if she has died and is being taken to heaven. He smiles at her again and she ties to imitate it, not quite sure if she has it right. She lifts her head, just a little, and sees that his hand is on the bar just above hers. Sudden impulse fills her and she painstakingly lifts her hand so that her fingers brush his. As she closes her eyes, worn by the effort, she feels her arm being squeezed gently.

That night her dream is different. For 6 years it has never changed until now. She sits in a chair in the middle of an endless field, dressed in black pants and a white cotton shirt. She is holding a paintbrush and an empty canvas. Birds are dropping from the sky to encircle her, silent and doubting. It is as before. But this time, instead of a gentle rain of rose petals, glowing embers fall among the silent flock and soon the entire field is aflame. The fire rushes towards her. She wakes, a cold sweat covering her skin, just before it reaches her.

II

It's been a week since I was brought here to this strange place where the strong smell of chemicals almost overshadows the smell of death and despair, this prison where the angels are my jailers. One thing I don't remember, or can't, is someone, anyone much less a stranger, caring about me as much as the angels do. So why is it then, I wonder, that they keep me here? I must have done some terrible evil. I just wish I knew. It's nice to be warm and to have enough to eat. It makes me sad that I can't understand when the angels talk. It seems to me that there was a time when I could. Yesterday (I think it was yesterday, although I'm not really sure) I was visited by one who could talk with his hands, but I couldn't understand him any better than the others. And some of them have tried writing but I can't read what they write. It makes me feel bad to see them try so hard when it doesn't do any good. I try searching through my memories to see if there was a time when I could talk to the angels, but I come up empty every time.

The man with the dark eyes came in again today. I wanted so much to talk to him. When he touched my hand I was flooded with images of fire and I knew if I closed my eyes I would be in the field again, so I didn't. I wanted to tell him that it would be all right, but I didn't know how. It made me so angry that I started to cry. He pushed the hair from my face and I saw him holding me tight against him as he ran, the air thick and hot searing my throat and my eyes and my lungs and all the while I'm trying to scream, but nothing comes out and I'm clinging frantically to this huge creature with huge eyes and a hard black skin and a trunk like nose and it's - his - heart is beating against my head, I can feel it as if it were my own and suddenly there was light, not the fiery light of the fires that raged inside, nor the cold light of neon tubes, but the dreary light of the sun as it relentlessly tried to break through the smoky behemoth that poured form what was left of my former home and he set me down so gently and pulled his face off to reveal eyes dark with fear set in a face that had shut off all emotion as if to be dealt with later.

Today was the second time he's come to visit me and I can tell his face is getting tired of keeping so much inside. I can't help but wonder if it will break soon. He looks so fragile to me. I wish I could bring him with me to the bridge. The bridge. I'd forgotten all about it. I wonder how long it's been locked inside, patiently waiting for me to remember again. However many years I've been silent. I smile at the memory, losing myself in the image of the small stone bridge as it crosses the quiet stream, it's arches and supports buried beneath a wealth of dense foliage. Tall grass and bushes rise up from the waters edge - if you look carefully you can see pathways in the air that wind deep inside the darkness behind the rustic jungle, pathways traversed by bright blue and orange kingfishers and mottled brown sparrows as they forage among the vegetation for a meal of nourishing insects. I found a dead mouse - a victim of a cat's hunter instinct - discarded against the short wall that I would often use as a seat while I watched the birds live their lives.

And once, in the height of summer I found a bright red glass bead that I coveted away behind a lose stone at the foot of the bridge. Every day that summer and many summers after that I would walk the short distance to that bridge and pull my bead from it's hiding place. I used to make up stories about how it had come to be there. I try to remember the stories but they are lost to me now. I do know that I'd like to go back someday and see if it - the bead - is still there. I wonder if maybe something precious of mine is locked up in side it, waiting for me to return so that I can retrieve it after all these years.

There is another woman in my room. She is old. There are always people with her. Not angels - just people. Friends or family I guess. There are never any people with me, except the man. I try to remember a time when I had other people in my life, but I either didn't or I just can't pull those times from my memory. I prefer to believe that I've just forgotten them. I don't want to have been alone all my life.

III

I like watching the rain come down. It's so soothing, the sound, the way it makes everything less harsh, more... safe. It hides things so well. It will be my ally tonight when I leave this place. Thinking of leaving brings to mind an image of me walking across a bridge, not a small stone one like those of my memories, but a monster of steel and concrete with cold waters far below. Unlike my memories this picture seems unreal, as if it hasn't really happened. Maybe it was something I was going to do, or wanted to do, or maybe it's someone else's memory.

Do our remembrances truly belong to us or are they thrown up into the air haphazardly to be scattered like leaves in the wind until they find their way into someone else's head were they take up residence for a time? And what color are they, I wonder. The dull gray of towering buildings filled with worker ants and the intelligence of the collective mind? Or are they a cacophony of senseless color, randomly splashes and dribbled over a canvass of purposeful shapes, soon obscuring the original meaning, often changing it to mean something altogether different? I have a memory - which escapes me when ever I try to form it as a concrete image, but whose essential meaning I seem to know intuitively - which leads me to believe that memories are blue. Maybe my life puzzle is to remember that bit of wisdom and make sense of it and until I do I will float forever lost in the scraps of flotsam and jetsam that are memory. I think that dreams are memories that have evolved to sentience.

Two metal arks torn and twisted, the metallic pull of immortality guiding them, crash together. What remains is silence – wide-open empty silence that rings and ripples outward until there is no one unaware of the vacuum created. And when it hits the walls built over a lifetime it returns, destroying all sound in it's wake, like a twisting ribbon of energy arcing as it cuts through shadow and light without prejudice, painting the beginnings of war maps upon blank faces...

I am the center, waiting for the waves to leave a center of chaos where once I stood... Cleanse me with white moonshine, cleanse me of all fear. Drop a pebble upon sheet metal, or a thousand pounds of gravel. Just remember to listen for the sound as it hits and never forget that moment.

I stand here, bathed in the cleansing rain, trying to recall that moment and I can't. I am blind in this. Deaf, dumb, and blind. Instinct draws me once more and I slip through the night like a virus, seeking a place that is void of the cold unnatural light that dogs my trail. There is a darkness not far away that is clean and pure and promises salvation from the bitter thoughts that roil about me, rising like steam from the sewers and falling like acid rain to slide down the faces of pitted concrete buildings. There is a name for this haven, and it is just in reach. This time I manage to get my tongue around it before it is gone. Home.

Memory is an egg, a fragile little life kept warm and safe within it's hard shell until one day it breaks free into the world. Only in my case, the egg was dropped, shattering into millions upon millions of irretrievable splinters. I walk through the mist grasping tiny fragments from the air and every time I recover one it seems another one frees itself from the captivity of my head to join the others. It doesn't seem that long ago, so I must not have been a child, but still I see images of a merry-go-round, swings, sand, a slide... a lake where ducks fought over bread crumbs and turtles floated just beneath the dull green surface watching, passing silent judgment upon us. A band shell with an orderly audience of thick ugly trees and a monument praising violence. Wading in a small fountain under a cool sun, and best of all the deep dark silence of the night upon stone circles remembering those who had died of some terrible disease. If I could retrace my steps, then maybe...

I pause, listening to the shush of the metal insects as they glide past, their glaring eyes focused only on the scared and pitted path before them, the gentle rain frozen for a moment as their gaze captures it. I step carefully over the outstretched legs of a sleeping giant. I wonder briefly whether he's dead, but his breathing, thick and harsh, assures me that the shadows haven't yet claimed him. I want badly to find a place where I smell only the clean rain, and not the poisonous scents that are clinging to the back of my throat, choking me. I can't even differentiate which are mine and which aren't, clinging tick-like to me, sapping my strength with the confusing images they bring. The pungent smell of urine clings to my belly.

My body shakes, no longer in my control, as fever rushes through my veins in a hot rush that leaves me both blissfully oblivious and at the same time sick with fear. Every time I try to close my eyes my world is plunged into oil coated puddles beneath which I can barely make out the trio of sickly orange moons that demand my attention. White-hot pain bursts through my head, leaving my teeth throbbing and sore, my eyes dry and brittle. I take a deep breath and I am back to the present - unless this too is a memory. I look around, trying to re-orient myself, grasping the threads of reality that lay scattered about, surrounding me, just out of reach... Reflexively I turn a full circle, taking in my surroundings. Every corner a peril of strange creatures, starring coldly at me, unmoving and unblinking, their faces slick and reflective of the unnatural lights that are as hurtful to me as if I was staring into the bright lights at the Institute.

A vision slips through my fingers, eluding me as always, washed away as the rain begins to fall in earnest, tearing at my face with the a studied relentlessness akin to fury. I take cover in a recessed doorway, my back against the wire grid of the gate that guards the door beyond; just close enough to touch if I reach my arm through unmindful of the skin that is left to decorate the rough imperfections of the blackened iron. A young couple sleeping, full of dreams of each other as they lay wrapped, entwined, naked like caterpillars soon to become moths. An elderly man, sleeping in fits as the sound of the traffic reaches his dreams though the tiny bedroom window above his head, his ancient cat huddled against his chest, coveting the warmth of his body. A desperate woman clad in a once virginal white night shirt, her lips puffy and her eyes bruised, staring with unseeing eyes at the ceiling as she lies on the chipped tile floor of her bathroom.

The images flash through my head then leave me feeling dirty as if I've violated a sanctuary of privacy somehow. I withdraw my arm with a jerk, scrapping even more skin from the soft underside, and flee down the street forgetting for the moment my search for the park, the hurtful rain, the trembling of my body as it reminds me pleadingly of its frailty, as a deluge of memories suddenly fill my head with a surge of pain so sharp and tearing that I'm sure I cry out in terror as I run blindly past dim windows and pale shadows, all the time fighting desperately to push them back to where they won't hurt so terribly - I'm in a cold, dark room - a vague remembrance of green walls and then it is lost again. I could beat my head with my hands in frustration. Instead I lean against a cold, color smeared wall, my breath coming in ragged gasps, little ghosts of the almost memory slipping from my lungs and between my lips into the chill night and mingling, eloping, with the steam that rises from a nearby sewer drain, leaving me behind bewildered. Instinctively I retreat into the landscape of dreams, knowing that therein lies safety. Comfort. Survival.

A single guttering candle burns on a table besides my bed and gentle fingers caress mine. Dancing, entertwining, teasing, their movements symmetrical as my hand wanders past his wrist, the light covering of hair on his forearm, the smooth skin over relaxed muscles, the hardness of the ball of his shoulder, his strong neck, the roughness of his cheeks, feeling the fine strong features of his face. I feel his hands trace the outline of my breasts though the knit of my dress, feel them on my throat, his fingers slipping between my damp lips as I pull them inside one by one and baptize them with my desire. He traces my breasts with his hands, reverently at first, then with careless abandonment, as my hands slide up beneath his shirt, over his soft stomach, lightly teasing his nipples, two islands of flesh in a bed of grainy hair...

The rush of another of the dark insect creatures in the rain slick street draws me out of my dreams and sets me ungently back on the sidewalk, unsure of where these thoughts originated, my breath coming shallow and quick, my body aching to return to the pleasures that I held for such a brief moment in time. I turn to an empty shop, seeking my reflection in the blank window and finding empty eyes staring back at me; a strangers eyes, full or fear and confusion. I watch as the woman in the window raises her hand to touch her face questioningly, as if to ask are these my cheeks? My lips? My nose? Her image is blurred, distorted. She regards me with sad, night stained eyes almost hidden beneath a misery of rain-darkened hair, and I silently wish I could unlock her secrets. She shrugs at me, turning away, and I watch her wander away, wet and lonely, a frightened ghost. I let her go, knowing that for the time being I am needed elsewhere. Soon, I promise in a whisper. Soon.

I am in my kingdom - the queen of flowers. The rain has stopped and the sun washes me blessedly free of the stray thoughts that had invaded my head last night. Not mine, I am certain. Lost memories that found a place in me to rest before being on their way - I am certain that I have never known a man - never been in love - although how, I can not say. So many things are returning to roost in my pigeon house, though - I recognize daisies, ivy, dew on the absently kept grass... I am waking up at long last. Last night, after finding the woods, I dreamed - I think I must have been asleep, but then again, I'm not really sure... Anyway, I dreamt I was dancing in a huge room, the floor all black and white checkered squares. I was in the arms of a tall man - I remember looking up to see his face and not being able to - and I was dressed in a bright golden gown that swept the floor as I moved. We were alone at first, but later a woman dressed all in scarlet - she was so beautiful! - came hesitantly down a flight of cream colored stairs.

She paused on the last step, unsure of herself, as the music of the orchestra suddenly turned dissonant and distorted. If music was something you could see, I would say it swirled about her angrily, beating at her china white features, blowing her raven hair away from her face, pulling at her gown. As I watched, she slowly dissolved, broken into small pieces and scattered by the wind. I watched her face, her expression one of helpless frustration - it seemed to me she struggled to tell me something, something terribly important, but I couldn't make out her words above the merciless cacophony of wailing sound.

I try to stand but I am so weak from the trials of the previous days - with hunger as well, my belly reminds me - that the best I can manage is to sit up and lean heavily against the tree trunk that served as my guardian through my sleeping hours. If I am queen, then it's a beggar queen with a crown of paper and a scepter of twigs. I smile inwardly at the thought. The smile fades as I realize how cold and wet and lost I am. I could almost wish to be back in the angels' care, but I know that had I stayed much longer I would have lost myself forever. How I know that I cannot say, but I recognize and accept the truth of it. I try in vain to remember what it is I've remembered over the past few days and can't, so I stop trying. With a shiver I lay back down and let the sun's thin rays warm me as much as they may. Perhaps later I will get up, but right now sleep pulls me far away from where I lie...

Twisted dark orange wings yanked from her body. I screamed at him. "Stop it!" but to no avail. The smell of wet grass cuttings left in the sun, stains on my knees and elbows. I hit him and he hits me back - tells me to run home. I'm crying. "Girls." He snarls, like it leaves a bad taste in his mouth and then he pushes me hard. I fall, my arms akimbo, the breath knocked from me in a grunt. My voice lost in the hurt. The betrayal is the worst part. That and the laughter. I had thought they were my friends, but looking around at the circle of cruel faces I suddenly know loneliness as I had never before. I put my hand in my pocket, needing the reassurance of my secret treasure - my red bead, red as a drop of fresh blood from a thorn prick, squeezed from my thumb in a spring garden.

The image of a garden leaps unbidden to my mind. Suddenly it seems so important that I find that walled sanctuary where the flowers bloomed brightly like a million innocent souls. A stone wall, short and stout and falling into disrepair ringed it. Moss wove through it like the blue veins in my hands and arms that lie just beneath the pale flesh. They look so fragile and small - my hands, that is. If I hold them up to the light I bet I could see clear through them to the sky beyond, see the butterflies as they flittered and swarmed in exodus, striving to find a leader to take them to a new Eden, in desperate need of salvation. Driven by instinct as much as conscious thought. Driven by genetic memory passed through a thousand thousand generations since the beginning of time.

IV

She is in her garden, statues of stone rise around her in a lopsided circle and she is shrouded in black from head to toe, her face veiled so that only her eyes are exposed to the brilliant sun. She walks from form to form, examining the statues carefully, memorizing their every detail as if her life depended upon being able to recarve them from memory at a moment's notice, her fingers taking notes of flaws and subtle details that her eyes might miss. In her head are thoughts of what these silent carvings might have talked about, the quality of their voices, whether they spoke in somber tones, or merrily, or with barely repressed anger, and what their eyes might have shown when they smiled when they were still flesh and blood. This one might have been a father, this one a poet, this one a god, now all stone. One more piece of the puzzle that holds her to this place. One more door to be unlocked.

She smiles as that strikes a chord somewhere within her mind and sits down upon a plain wooden bench that graces the garden, her back to the mossy wall. Somewhere a dove coos her name, but too distant to make out what it is. She fights down the desire to go in search of the winged creature, instead concentrating on calling up the images that lie so tantalizingly just out of reach in her memory. She wants to weep and wail, but past experience tells her that is no solution, so she tries to quiet her mind of all thoughts, all emotions, all consciousness of being. And in that small moment of clarity where she succeeds, a voice, a whisper of a memory really, breaks the silence. She recognizes it fleetingly, only knowing that it's owner is searching for her. Desperately she opens her mouth, looking for the words to come out of her before it's too late, before she is once again alone in this peaceful, quiet place. Finally she finds them, but with the realization that she is too late and the presence is gone, and she could weep in frustration as she looses her words too late to save her...

"I am here."

V

The sound of distant bells sound. I know that sound, familiar and comforting as I lie here, the angels watching me intently; I can feel their gaze, even though my eyes are closed. I want to tell them that it hurts me, it's too soon, but I lack the knowledge of how to voice my need. I escape them the only way I know how.

It is winter, and the apple trees are bare of leaves and fruit, their bark-skin frosted white and sugar shiny in the brightly cold air. The sun spreads her pale light over the frozen ground and over me, dressed in my finest winter clothes; a virginal white smock, woolen socks, and boots, the fancy lace up kind. My hands are clumsy, dressed in fur lined gloves and I am holding a fur hat, ermine, between them as I stare at my toes. I think I smell woodsmoke mixed with cinnamon, but I am not sure, and I smile at the touch of a snowflake landing on my cheek. Behind me is a small thatch cottage, and I know if I go inside I will find a familiar room with a small bed covered with a beige and orange patchwork quilt. Quietly humming a joyful little tune, I go to the window and wipe the frost from the pane with my gloved hand. Peering inside I start to shake, rooted to the ground, too frightened to scream.

When I open my eyes again he is standing over me, his dark eyes filled with a hungry longing. What does he want from me? Suddenly I am frightened. I try to sit up, but the best I can do is to lift my head a little ways. A stray thought flits through my head, leaving an ugly feeling, but it is gone before I can put a name to it. I close my eyes again, fighting the panic that suddenly surges through me. Maybe if I think of something happy, something peaceful, it will go away. I frantically search my memory, but come up empty. I’m trying too hard. I give up let the fear take control.

I remember now. I had hidden it in a rusty old can, nestled beneath a narrow bridge on a rarely used road. It will be safe here, or so I had thought at the time. I would come back to check on it whenever I could. Sometimes weeks would go by. Other times I would be mere minutes before I felt the need, the call, to touch it, hold it, make sure it was safe. I remember when I first found it. It was on a Sunday. It must have been summer, for I recall the warmth of the sun on my bare arms and legs. I recall birds singing, too. It must have been out in the country. It’s nice to know I haven’t always lived in the city, surrounded and trapped by concrete and steel and so many voices. It’s strange. I keep remembering things this way. I remember singing to myself. There must have been a time when I had a voice, that I could understand the language the angels use. Maybe I was an angel too, once a long time ago. That makes me smile bitterly. I could never be so beautiful, not even in these fragments of dream memory.

If only I could remember why it was so important to me. I recall now what it was. A small red glass bead. It might even have been a ruby, save for the hole drilled through the center of it. Anyway, it was more precious then any jewel, at least it was too me. I don’t remember where it came from or how I came to be its guardian. I just know that it was everything to me. And then, as the man who smells of fear and smoke stands looking down at me, I remember losing it and a flood of fear and hurt fills my head, hurting me. Suddenly I know, I am filled with the sure knowledge, that I am dying and that nothing the angels do or say can save me and I am not ready to die yet. Please don’t let me die. If only I had my bead. It kept me alive once before. It might do so again.

I had a name once. I’m not sure if it’s important for me to remember it, but it would be nice. Maybe I could make one up, just for me to use until I remember my real one. I start thinking of a good name, but each one I come up with belongs to someone else. Soon I am remembering vague features of the people who belong to the names. Not the people themselves, just hazy faces or facts that belong to them that last for as long as the sound of their name lasts in my head. I think ‘Joseph’ and I smell orange blossoms while ‘Valerie’ brings me dark, tear filled eyes. ‘Diana’ brings the sensation of a chill on my skin while I’m skating over ice, and ‘Tony’ calls forth the image of a crooked grin and sparkling blue eyes. But as soon as each one comes, they fade again. Soon I lose track of how many of passed through my thoughts. I wonder if these are people I know or just lost souls like myself? I wonder if perhaps someone else is doing the same thing I am and my face appears for a brief moment as they think of my name.

I am about to give up when I think ‘Michelle’ and it lingers with me like something familiar. Something inside me tells me that I am not this Michelle, but I can’t help think that she is important somehow. Maybe if I repeat it over and over to myself I will remember more. Michelle, Michelle, Michelle, Michelle…

And finally, I remember everything.

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