(( )) - double brackets indicate flashbacks.
In a narrow alley deserted and dark, a man huddled shivering amidst blankets ragged and torn. The stench of rotting garbage filled his senses, but he paid no attention to such discomfort. His mind was far away from the alley he inhabited. Even the decay of a decomposing animal nearby meant nothing to him. Once in his life, he had lived on the streets, fending for himself, eating the scraps that others threw his way. He knew he had experienced far worse than that even. Although how he knew this... Well, that was the great enigma.
How did he come to be here? Barely did he remember the rides he had hitched from truckers as he made his way to Seattle. Nor could he recall how he had slipped unseen through police check points along the way, as if such skilled evasion was natural to him. It made no sense. For untold years he had lived on a farm. His only knowledge of stealth lay in tracking the roaming dogs which would at times attack the cattle in their desperate hunger.
Thinking now of these stray, starving animals -a legacy of the Pulse, he realised that he understood their desperation. He felt it too. The hunger. The primeval fury building up within himself. The closer he had come to Seattle the stronger these feelings grew. And with it, a feeling of horror he could understand least of all.
The icy caress of winter forced nimble fingers through the cloths that covered him, and stroked his skin with its sharp and cutting touch. Violently the man began to tremble as he pulled the blankets tighter around himself. He hated the cold. He hated winter. Although he had no idea why. Only that the shivering numbness brought with it memories he swore were not his own.
These unbidden memories forced themselves upon him now, assaulting his mind with the intensity of a lifetime’s worth of forgotten thoughts. He didn’t want to remember someone else's life. How could this be happening? Why was he being tormented like this?
((Snow. Images of snow plundered his mind. Always there was snow.))
Why? No, better not to tempt his mind by asking such a question. Better simply not to know.
The man squeezed his eyes tight and fought to block the images out. For not the first time since these visions had begun to plague his conscience, he wondered if he was truly going mad. It was the only answer to what was happening to him. And yet he had left the safety of the farm, to wander these strange city streets as a mad and homeless man - what had he been thinking?
Shrinking back further into the wall, the blonde-haired man with the tortured eyes buried his face into his knees as he tried to overcome the uncontrollable shivering which racked his body, and block the world out of his sight. Out of sight, out of mind. That phrase was a lie. The problem was his mind! How could he escape something that resided within himself?
There was no way to run from himself. Nor could he escape the echo of marching boots that plundered his head like an army of ghosts. Sometimes the sound was deafening and he'd clutch his head and drop to his knees, keeling over in frustration and anger.
What if these images that flashed before his tightly shut eyelids were indeed his own memories? If so, what the hell had he once been? Where did he belong? If he tried hard enough, perhaps he could forget his own existence as he had forgotten everything else? Perhaps then he could cease to exist altogether?
Crazy thoughts, birthed from a crazy mind. How else could he explain the pictures that filled his head? How else could he justify why he was here now? In a city he had never been to, yet somehow - he remembered.
((A face now. A face pushed itself into his memory. Dark eyes, dark hair, coffee coloured skin...))
Nails dug into flesh as he held in a cry of frustration. Always this face haunted him, tempting him to dig deep into his memory, and discover the name. The closer he had come to Seattle, the more this woman's face had haunted him. And it was her face that angered him the most, filling him with an irrational fury. Causing him to hurt…
Who was she! Why had he memorised every contour of her body? Every detail of her face? She couldn't be a figment of his imagination. Could she?
"Who are you!"
The man lifted his head and bellowed the question to the snow-filled sky, feeling the words torn from his lips by the icy wind and carried away. Crazily, he wondered if the wind would deliver them to the person whom the question was directed at - so that she could know to expect a visitor.
Just as soon as he figured out who the hell she was.
((A group of frightened faces flashed into his mind, staring up at him with eyes too old and too serious to match their age. Silently they waited. For him? His eyes scanned the woods around them. Snow surrounded them, and in the distance, the sound of pursuit.))
Always in his memories there was snow. Always the faces were those of children
An anguished moan escaped the lips of the man who now slammed his head back against the concrete wall. The sharp, blinding pain did nothing to rid him of these scenes, if anything, the memories were only enhanced.
Soldiers marching in unison. Their faces void of all emotion. The incredible pain of a lazer, burning into his eyes. Searing his very soul. Scarring him. Words flashing upon a screen. A voice telling him -))
“Hey! What have I told you huh?”
Rough hands grabbed the homeless man and pulled him from the ground. He allowed his body to be lifted even as a voice within him whispered protests, telling him to fight such humiliation. Such weakness. But instead he allowed his eyes to continue staring lifelessly at his feet. Apathetic. His body unresponsive. The blankets fell away as the hands shook him back and forth. In time to the voice that filled his head with a torrent of abuse.
"Filthy vermin! That's all ya are! Stop drivin' away my customers with ya diseases ya stinkin' bum!"
The voice was harsh, as if the owner had spent his life time smoking Marlboro. The sound grated on the nerves of the young man who eyes remained averted. Subservient.
"Next time I catcha ya round here I'll blow your fuckin' head off! Got it!" Calloused fingers grabbed his chin, forcing him to meet a pair of deep set brown eyes darkened by fury, and over lapped by heavy black brows. "Fucking scum. That's all you are."
The final words were thick with contempt and at last something sparked within the young man who had until now, hung his head with such defeat. The brown eyes staring back at him turned from rage to shock, and then fear, as the blonde man awoke from his self-induced stupor and wrapped cold fingers around the throat of the store owner. Obscenities were cut off by an iron-vice grip, and replaced by gurgles.
"I'm not scum."
The blonde uttered the words through clenched jaw before he threw his aggressor to one side, his body flying limp through the air like a rag doll before slamming into the wall with a sickening smack. Stepping out of the tattered blankets that had pooled around his feet, the homeless man looked towards the street at the end of the alley, ignoring the looks of fear on the faces of those who had witnessed his unusual show of strength.
It was time to move on. But where could he go without a sense of purpose to lead him in any one direction? What made one alley any different to the next? How could he seek refuge when each house harboured people who looked to him with hate and suspicion?
You're damaged goods. The voice of contempt scorched him, as if the words were a sharp wind whispered across exposed nerves. The voice lied. He was strong. Those who he worked with on the farm, had even feared his strength. Therefore why would he be damaged goods? Was it his mind that was damaged? Had he always been this way - even before the accident?
Aware at last of the store owner groaning as he laboriously found his feet, and of the people who continued to stare through fearful, half-averted eyes, the young man stumbled forward, down the filthy alley and towards the busy section of Seattle‘s South Market.
Out of the alley’s shadows, the piercing morning light struck his eyes and he held up a hand to shield his sight. People swarmed around him, their faces looming before his eyes, their expressions curious, fearful, disgusted. He shrank away from their stares, overwhelmed with a sense of panic he couldn’t explain. They were the enemy. All of them. He was surrounded by enemies. And sooner or later, one of them would realise what he was... And they’d take him back...
Faltering in his steps, exhaustion and terror causing his body to feel like a quivering mass of frayed nerves. Once again his body was racked with tremors, as if it were seizing up on him. Shakily he reached out his hands, blindly grabbing at the edge of a rubbish bin as he tried to stop himself from falling.
Blinking away the darkness that threatened to choke him, his fingers tightened on the edge of the bin. A terrible pressure closed in on his mind, crushing him beneath its weight, or so it seemed. He felt his body swoon, every remaining fragment of energy was channelled into holding himself up and holding himself still. But as the contents of the bin suddenly appeared right before his eyes, as his arms refused to comply with his efforts to pull himself back up, he realised he was failing - that this was how his story was going to end. Trash. Scum. Just as the store owner had predicted.
And then a hand gripped his shoulders, and suddenly he was no longer the only one trying to stop himself from tipping forward. The struggle was joined by the power of two now, and although the pull of unconsciousness was strong, the assistance was enough to draw him back, and groggily he leant allowed himself to be held, despite the fact his very being cried for him to deny such admittance of weakness. Such contact with another human.
A voice murmured in his ear, warm and soothing, coaxing him out from the darkness. He opened his eyes to find his head resting on the shoulder of a stranger. Groggily he lifted his head, first looking beyond the shoulder, and at a world that no longer swam before his eyes. The shakes had subsided. For now.
Finally, he shifted his vision to the stranger who held him.
Oval eyes, wide with concern, stared back into his own. Grey eyes, he dimly noted. Not brown as he had half expected. A woman. Why would she care for the fate of a homeless man? A mad man at that? He began to pull back, suspicious by her intentions. No one had good intent in this world. Especially where his kind were concerned.
Shaking his head, disturbed by both the continuation of these nonsensical thoughts, and this woman who had no business caring for his fate, he pulled back, rocking slightly as his body groggily tried to respond to the wishes of his brain. But her fingers dug into his biceps, her concerned expression turning to one of determination as she tried to hold him in place. Her mouth uttered protests. Wait, I can help you. Suspicion mounted within him.
And then her eyes darted away from the connection they held with his own, and moved beyond him, turning fearful. A voice whispered over him. Come on, come with me!
He swayed against her, the world beginning to shift and heave once more. He nodded, no longer caring what her intentions were just as long as he could get away from here. Slowly he forced his body to turn, no longer fighting her hold as she clutched him protectively and held one his arms around her shoulders as she slid her own spare limb around his waist, her grip firm upon his flesh.
Together, they staggered forward, beyond the rubbish bin he had nearly come to know as intimately as if he were a scrap of garbage himself. Down the road she led him, laboriously.
He gave up on making effort to trace their steps, the roads weaved - or perhaps that was simply his own perception. It seemed forever that they walked. In the back of his mind, the echo of boots continued their ghostly march.
Finally the woman guided him into an alcove, through a doorway, along a corridor, and bringing them to halt at last before a battered door that barely seemed to fit its hinges. The man leant against the wall as she fumbled in her pocket for keys. A part of him dimly wondered why she bothered. Anyone wanting to break in would merely have give the door a damn push.
The rusted lock at last decided to turn and as the door swung open she looked to him and smiled. He made no effort to return the expression. Instead he stared back at her with distrustful eyes, wondering if this was some kind of trap, and half not caring anyway.
She spoke to him, her words seemed so far away. Come on in, get some rest. At least, that’s what he thought she’d said.
He slid along the wall, inching towards the doorway. She reached out to help but he shrugged her hand away and lurched into the room. His balance unsteady as exhaustion forced the darkness upon him with renewed intensity.
Even as he grappled to retain consciousness, his mind’s eye still took in his surroundings. Walls stained and peeling - once white, now a tarnished yellow. A wooden table against the opposite wall, with a set of matching chairs. Worn and unpainted. A mattress to his right, opposite the window set in the wall to his left. And a door, beyond the mattress...
But then blackness closed in; sweeping away his observations and erasing all previous effort to stave it off. He weaved towards the mattress but felt his knees buckle beneath him. He fell. Arms wrapped around him from behind, the woman battled against her own weakness to lift him, but he slumped forward, slipping through her hold. A dead weight.
There was nothing left within him - the fight was gone. His willpower had fled. The abyss called to him, reaching out fingers composed of shadow to brush his eyelids, closing out the light at last. The darkness brought with it a warmth, sliding over him like a blanket.
Relief washed through him and as his mind slipped away into the chasm of nothingness, he realised it wasn’t so bad after all - letting go. Releasing at last the burden of conscious thought. The knowledge brought with it contentment, as he felt himself slip further from the room he was in, even as his body remained on the floor, even as a name suddenly loomed out from the darkness - a name to match the coffee coloured skin, and brown eyes that haunted his dreams.