I nod. I shouldn’t be hungry, but I am. I want to go inside and have something to eat, maybe research our symptoms and see if we’ve come in contact with some brain-eating bacteria that’s stolen our memories. A house like this should have a couple of laptops lying around. Silas turns into the driveway and parks. We climb out timidly, looking around at the shrubs and trees like they’re going to come alive. He finds a key on his key ring that opens the front door. As I stand behind him and wait, I study him. In his clothes and hair he wears the cool look of a guy who doesn’t care, but he carries his shoulders like he cares too much. He also smells like the outside: grass, and pine, and rich black dirt. He’s about to turn the knob.
He turns around slowly, despite the urgency in my voice.
“What if there’s someone in there?”
He grins, or maybe it’s a grimace. “Maybe they can tell us what the hell is happening…”
Then we are inside. We stand immobile for a minute, looking around. I cower behind Silas like a wimp. It’s not cold but I’m shivering. Everything is heavy and impressive—the furniture, the air, my book bag, which hangs off my shoulder like dead weight. Silas moves forward. I grab onto the back of his shirt as we skirt through the foyer and into the family room. We move from room to room, stopping to examine the photos on the walls. Two smiling, sun-kissed parents with their arms around two smiling, dark-haired boys, the ocean in the background.
“You have a little brother,” I say. “Did you know you have a little brother?”
He shakes his head, no. The smiling in the photos becomes more scarce as Silas and his mini-me brother get older. There is plenty of acne and braces, photos of parents who are trying too hard to be cheerful as they pull stiff-shouldered boys toward them. We move to the bedrooms…the bathrooms. We pick up books, read the labels on brown prescription bottles we find in medicine cabinets. His mother keeps dried flowers all over the house; pressed into the books on her nightstand, in her makeup drawer, and lined up on the shelves in their bedroom. I touch each one, whispering their names under my breath. I remember all the names of the flowers. For some reason, this makes me giggle. Silas stops short when he walks into his parents’ bathroom and finds me bent over laughing.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “ I had a moment.”
“What kind of moment?”
“A moment where I realized that I’ve forgotten everything in the world about myself, but I know what a hyacinth is.”
He nods. “Yeah.” He looks down at his hands, creases forming on his forehead.
“Do you think we should tell someone? Go to a hospital, maybe?”
“Do you think they’d believe us?” I ask. We stare at each other then. And I hold back the urge once again to ask if I’m being pranked. This isn’t a prank. It’s too real.
We move to his father’s study next, scouring over papers and looking in drawers. There is nothing to tell us why we are like this, nothing out of the ordinary. I keep a close watch on him from the corner of my eye. If this is a prank, he’s a very good actor. Maybe this is an experiment, I think. I’m part of some psychological, government experiment and I’m going to wake up in a lab. Silas watches me too. I see his eyes darting over me, wondering…assessing. We don’t speak much. Just, Look at this. Or, Do you think this is something?
We are strangers and there are few words between us.
Silas’s room is last. He clutches my hand as we enter and I let him because I’m starting to feel light-headed again. The first thing I see is a photo of us on his desk. I am wearing a costume—a too-short leopard print tutu and black angel wings that spread elegantly behind me. My eyes are lined with thick, glittery lashes. Silas is dressed in all white, with white angel wings. He looks handsome. Good vs. evil, I think. Is that the sort of life game we played? He glances at me and raises his eyebrows.
“Poor costume choice,” I shrug. He cracks a smile and then we move to opposite sides of the room.
I lift my eyes to walls where there are framed photos of people: a homeless man slouched against a wall, holding a blanket around himself; a woman sitting on a bench, crying into her hands. A gypsy, her hand clamped around her own neck as she looks into the camera lens with empty eyes. The photos are morbid. They make me want to turn away, feel ashamed. I don’t understand why anyone would want to take a photo of such morbidly sad things, never mind hang them on their walls to look at everyday.
And then I turn and see the expensive camera perched on the desk. It’s in a place of honor, sitting atop a pile of glossy photography books. I look over to where Silas is also studying the photos. An artist. Is this his work? Is he trying to recognize it? No point in asking. I move on, look at his clothes, look in the drawers in the rich mahogany desk.
I’m so tired. I make to sit down in the desk chair, but he’s suddenly animated, beckoning me over.
“Look at this,” he says. I get up slowly and walk to his side. He’s staring down at his unmade bed. His eyes are bright and should I say…shocked? I follow them to his sheets. And then my blood runs cold.
“Oh, my God.”
I toss the comforter out of the way to get a better look at the mess at the foot of the bed. Smears of mud caked into the sheet. Dried. Pieces of it crack and roll away when I pull the sheet taut.
“Is that…” Charlie stops speaking and pulls the corner of the top sheet from my hand, tossing it away to get a better look at the fitted sheet beneath it. “Is that blood?”
I follow her eyes up the sheet, toward the head of the bed. Next to the pillow is a smeared ghost of a handprint. I immediately look down at my hands.
Nothing. No traces of blood or mud whatsoever.
I kneel down beside the bed and place my right hand over the handprint left on the mattress. It’s a perfect match. Or imperfect, depending on how you look at it. I glance at Charlie and her eyes drift away, almost as if she doesn’t want to know whether or not the handprint belongs to me. The fact that it’s mine only adds to the questions. We have so many questions piled up at this point, it feels as though the pile is about to collapse and bury us in everything but answers.
“It’s probably my own blood,” I say to her. Or maybe I say it to myself. I try to dismiss whatever thoughts I know are developing in her head. “I could have fallen outside last night.”
I feel like I’m making excuses for someone who isn’t me. I feel like I’m making excuses for a friend of mine. This Silas guy. Someone who definitely isn’t me.
“Where were you last night?”
It’s not a real question, just something we’re both thinking. I pull at the top sheet and comforter and spread them out over the bed to hide the mess. The evidence. The clues. Whatever it is, I just want to cover it up.
“What does this mean?” she asks, turning to face me. She’s holding a sheet of paper. I walk to her and take it out of her hands. It looks like it’s been folded and unfolded so many times, there’s a small, worn hole forming in the very center of it. The sentence across the page reads, Never stop. Never forget.
I drop the sheet of paper on the desk, wanting it out of my hands. The paper feels like evidence, too. I don’t want to touch it. “I don’t know what it means.”