The sound of metal grinding on metal like two lions fighting over a freshly killed meal rang in my ears as I descended into darkness. Darkness was the only thing I remember as I drifted in and out of its tidal pull. Sounds of twisting metal and glass shattering like a shotgun echoed through the empty void. My mind trapped there, a prisoner of the dark abyss. Just as I was about to become one with the darkness, everything shattered.
A searing pain tore through my hazed mind. Like an earthquake, it broke apart the endless expanse of darkness and light flooded my vision. Slowly, images took shape as a drawing surfaces slowly on paper. Trees crept into focus, their bright green leaves reflected the early morning light causing my eyes to ache. The melody of birdsong played my ears as a violin does to all who hear its call and the bubbling sound of water told me that a stream was hidden nearby.
Another wave of pain tore through me, making my stomach drop to my knees. My head felt as though a tornado had gone through it. “Or perhaps an earthquake,” I thought sarcastically as I gazed at all the pine trees surrounding me.
“Where am I?” I thought. I tried to remember....well anything, but my head was as empty as the cloudless sky above me. Who was I? How did I get here? Where was here exactly? It was like the darkness from before had taken everything from me when it receded and left me with nothing but a bruised body and the sounds of twisting metal and breaking glass. I would gladly trade those sounds for a clue as to who I was.
I groaned as I stood gingerly on my feet; my joints giving off audible pops in the process. I dusted myself off as I took inventory. I was wearing cargo pants with a plain white tee shirt with the words “Fallgate High” printed across the chest in big gold letters surrounded by a circular beige emblem. Where was that? I couldn't remember. If I had been wearing shoes, they must have come off somehow.
My head gave another sickening throb as if reminding me not to forget about it. I ran a shaking hand through my hair and gave a small yelp of surprise as I came into contact with a hot sticky residue. Blood! My hand was caked in my own blood! Oh god, I thought. No, this can't be happening! Not only do I not have a clue as to who I am, but my head is busted open like a freshly cut watermelon. I laughed at the situation; a high pitched laugh escaped my lips. I swallowed nervously, my Adams apple clicking with the movement. This was not good.
Behind me a steep hillside loomed over the meadow I was standing in; its shadow not yet stretching over the field as I shielded my eyes against the bright of the morning sun and looked out past the meadow to see any sign of civilization. Hills and trees as far as the eye could see greeted my gaze. Grunting with pain I looked in the opposite direction and the same scene meet my eyes like a trick mirror. I was in the middle of a forest.
Nothing but green trees and hillside surrounded me everywhere. Under normal circumstances the view would have been quite breath taking in the early daylight; the fresh green leaves played in the caressing breeze with birdsong being gently carried from hillside to hillside. Nor the sight not far from where I stood of two squirrels fighting over a single solitary acorn like a feuding old couple. But the circumstances were hardly normal, I thought darkly. What would normally bring peace and wonder only filled me with a growing sense of despair. I was out here alone. Bleeding. Scared. Alone.
The hypnotic sound of the nearby stream caught my attention. Of course! I could clean myself up and try to refresh my mind. If I just washed the blood out of my hair and my face then I'm sure things would start coming back to me. It was so simple. Why hadn't I thought of that before? My throat clicked dryly as if in agreement.
Following the sound of the blessed water, I rounded a patch of trees and shrubs near the edge of the meadow and came across a little brook a few yards across, sparkling diamonds in the early light. Dropping to my knees, I eagerly thrust my head into the water's cool surface like an ostrich sticking its head in the ground ignoring the now insistent throbbing in my head.
The soothing water felt cool against my scalp as I rushed to get the dried blood out of my hair, the strong, yet gentle current of the brook helping me in my errand. Scrubbing my hair, I felt something knick my finger. Surfacing, I gasped for breath and looked down at my palms, shards of kaleidoscopic glass glistened in the light. Glass? How did I get glass in my hair? Shrugging my shoulders, I dunked my head for a second time and scrubbed my scalp raw trying to get every last piece out.
Satisfied that I had gotten most of the debris out, I raised my head out of the water. By God did I need that, I thought exuberantly as the water cascaded down my face from my now drenched hair. I shook my head from side to side like a cat shakes its tail after a fresh bath. The pain in my head felt a million times better. The ache may have been alleviated, but no thought as to who I was returned; my brain still as empty as a just vacated apartment. Why wasn't the slightest trace as to who I was returning to me? Now that I didn't have the pain in my head to distract me so much as before my head still felt so utterly empty.
In frustration, I smacked the surface of the water causing ripples to spread across its translucent surface. I stared at the rippling reflection, gritting my teeth so hard that my jaw muscles groaned in protest. I felt so hollow. So empty. So inhuman. If a person's soul was shaped from memories and experiences, then my soul was just being reborn. My personality, my soul, my everything was erased and all I had was this new experience. This beautifully lonely morning beside a small creek. What did it all mean? What was I supposed to do? How was I to find myself?
The stillness of the water snapped me out of my thoughts. I stared down at a young face returning my stare. Wet autumn hair clung to his scalp like an octopus to a rock. Angry ivy green eyes glared back into mine as if accusing me that this was all my fault. His mouth was gritted in frustration just as mine was.
I stared at my reflection in amazement. Since I had no former recollection of myself it was like seeing myself for the first time as a newborn babe sees his reflection. Feelings of wonder and amazement that this is you. This is how you are perceived. This is the outward reflection of your soul.
The sound of glass and metal twisting and snapping was the only thing I remembered before any of this. It was my origin memory; my own memory of creation. It played in my head over and over again like a screeching record stuck in the same position.
The darkness I had been holding back flooded my mind. My senses washed away into its eternal depths. The memories that I wanted so desperately to have returned to me were not there. I couldn't think back to anything except this day. I still knew how to read (at least form words in my head) and knew what things were, but a hollow feeling was inside my head; a hole, as if something was taken from my mind.
I furrowed my brow with concentration; searching every nook and cranny of my brain, trying to “feel” my way to anything. But no thoughts, images, or feeling every came to me. It was like being stuck in a cave, with the darkness all around you; suffocating you, eating at your very existence until you and the darkness became one and the same. Then a single thought occurred to me. It came, lifting the darkness from my mind as the sun was doing to the remaining twilight of night off in the distance.
My pockets! Check my pockets! Of course my pockets! There had to be something on me that would give me a hint as to who I was. There just had to be.
I quickly stood up ignoring the quick throb in my head and the protesting aches in my body. I thrust my hands in my front pockets and found nothing. A little deterred, I felt in my back pocket and felt a small rectangular object. A quick smile spread across my face as I pulled out a small well-worn blue wallet. Peering closer at the wallet, there was an emblem on the front. “FH” was printed in the center in golden letters surrounded by the circular beige emblem just like the shirt I was wearing. Heart pounding in my chest like a bird in a cage, I opened the wallet and looked inside.
On the inside of the wallet, there was a “If lost return to....” card printed on the material, but it wasn't filled out. Sighing, I looked through the top of the wallet and found a couple of twenties. At least I had some money, I thought bitterly. There was only one pocket left of the wallet and I slowly put my finger through it.
My fingertip felt smooth plastic. Encouraged by what I felt, I pulled out a small laminated card. Heart pounding even more, I slowly glanced at the contents of the card. A picture of a young boy around fifteen or sixteen was smiling up at me. He had the same ivy green eyes as I did and the same autumn color hair as I did too, only his was cut shorter into a marine style, several inches shorter than my own hair. The boy in the picture looked so carefree and happy as compared to me. There were words written to the side of the picture.
Virginia Driver's License Learner's Permit
Nolan Dean Gunyard Age: 16
908 Grand Ave Blue Ridge Apartment #7
Fallgate, VA 24098
My name was Nolan? I lived in a place called Fallgate? I continued to stare at the learner's permit until my eyes started to water from irritation. Nothing was coming back. It was the same as before. No memories came surfacing up. No parents. No images of me going to school at this Fallgate place or family picnics. No childhood feelings of nostalgia at reading the address over and over. No creeping sensations of anything familiar at all stirred within me.
So what if I knew a name from a card and an address to go with it? What good would this do me if I had no idea as to reach this place? Part of me felt better. I now knew my name, Nolan Gunyard, and an address in a town called Fallgate, but I wanted more. I wanted memories and experiences to call my own. I craved a sense of self, of soul, but at least I now was armed with information that could help put some of the restlessness in me to sleep.
Slowly, as a flower blooms, so too did a sense of hope. It welled up, filling the void that had been eating at me. Washing the darkness away as a monsoon in a barren desert, fear became resolve. I peered up into the vast-less sky above me, its endless expanse stretching forever onward and at the rolling hills around me; the hills eventually turning into mountains in the distant sky. No longer did the land scare me, but it welcomed me and I welcomed it.
I retracted my steps back to the base of the hillside and started up the slope, breathing heavy from the exertion. As I wound through the trees, I noticed a track in the leaves going down the hill back the way I had come from. The tracks looked as if something had gone tumbling down the slope. Curious, I walked closer to the tracks and saw a brown flip flop in a nearby bush. I picked it up cautiously. It looked fine so I stuck it in my back pocket and continued onward. A few more paces and I saw another flip flop in the leaves. Comparing it to the other one, they matched. Suddenly I came up with an idea. I put them on the ground and placed my feet into both of them....perfect fit!
A slight chill went down my spine as I followed the track through the trees. I came around a large oak beside the track and saw what looked like blood drying against its bark. Looking closer, I saw fragments of glass embedded into the oak's hard skin. I touched the back of my head tenderly, it gave a friendly throb in response. Beside the tree, was what looked like the remains of a cell phone; its pieces scattered about like a jigsaw puzzle. Walking past the busted phone, I came across another path, going perpendicular to the path I had been following. This pathway was much bigger and broken saplings and branches outlined its perimeter across the hill.
With a growing sense of unease, I started following this new path. As the trail took me further, I started seeing bits of debris. What looked like part of a tail pipe, and then onward, a hub cap resting amongst shrubs. As I continued, glass fragments became more and more common, hidden in the leaves and grass like Easter eggs waiting to be found. I saw a broken headlight in another set of shrubs and then pieces of a shredded canopy top in the branches of one old elm tree.
I started sprinting, ignoring the thunder eruption in my head. A rear-view mirror went zooming by me as I ran as fast as my battered body would let me. Windshield wiper on the right! Don't look now; another rear-view mirror on the left. Tire at two o’clock straight ahead! Panting, I leaned against a tree and saw the trees thin out not far from the tire. My head throbbed with antagonism. Near the tree line, stood an enormous tree with a low hanging branch jutting into the path. The branch looked like it had taken a good beating since two metal bars were tied around it like a pretzel. This must be what the canopy top had been tied to, my dazed mind thought as I walked closer to inspect it.
Hanging from the bars was a backpack. Curious, I plucked it off the branch and unzipped it to find some more shirts with the same logo on them that I had on my shirt. I threw the shirts aside and saw a notebook at the bottom. Slowly, I took it out and leafed through the pages. Many of the pages contained various math problems and equations with little doodles on the outside pages. My heart gave a leap when I saw my name “NOLAN GUNYARD” printed haphazardly across the front of one of the pages.
This is mine, I thought. This is my backpack. A big smile spread across my face as I started to put all the shirts back into the pack. My smile faded as I saw what was behind the tree line. The hill descended into a bank with a huge river spanning at least a football field across meet my eyes. I stared at the river in amazement. The creek I had been at earlier must stem from this, I thought as I looked at down the bank to the water's edge. Sunlight reflected off of metal caught my eye as I beheld a half-submerged vehicle sticking up out of the water like a fallen log; its back wheels facing the sky.
I stared dumbstruck. The path through the trees led me to this. Slowly all the pieces fell into place. The smaller path diverging from the path that the car had made; the broken phone and the flip flops; the blood stain on the tree and my aching head. The glass strewn about the forest floor. The bits and pieces of the car itself and my lack of memory. Somehow I must have jumped from this runaway car and had rolled down the hill while the car had gone, on to its final resting place like a moth to a flame. I had saved my life in exchange for my memory.
The darkness bled out of me as if a leech were drinking it. If the car had come this way then that meant that......there was a road nearby. With a final look at the car grave sticking out of the water, I said goodbye to a past that I did not remember and ran back along the trail, headache and all.
Following the car's final route, I could see the sun reflecting off of hot asphalt through the trees. I burst through the tree line like a deer out of high grass and feel on my knees on the hot pavement. This road would be my way to finding the new life I so craved. Hefting my pack tightly against my back I started forward along the winding road when a honking sound made me almost jump out of my skin. I turned, seeing a vehicle coming toward me like a desert mirage. I started at its approach in wonder.
The red pickup came to a stop beside me, its fading red paint gleaming in the ever-climbing sun. An old man with an equally faded red hat sat behind the wheel. He peered at me from under his hat looking me up and down.
“Need a ride there, Son?”, he asked with a warm smile beaming from his weathered face just like the sun on his old pick up.
“Sure thing, Sir,” I flashed a smile. “Could you take me to a town called Fallgate?”
“Fallgate huh? That's a pretty little ole town not too far from here. Hop on in, Sonny”, the old man paused and let out a laugh eerily similar to a hyena. “Where are my manners? The name's Daniel Craniel. What's yours, Son?”
I paused, the image of my learner's permit came into my mind. “Nolan. Nolan Gunyard.”
“Nice to meet ya Nolan. Now let's get ya to where ya are a-goin,” he said as I crossed the vehicle and slid into the passenger sit beside him.
With a grunt and an answering groan from the pickup, Daniel's old truck started steadily forward on the road. Like the road, I had no idea what was waiting for me in Fallgate, but as the new day was just starting, so too was my new life. I rested my aching head against the window as the gentle rocking of the truck followed me into dreamless sleep.