Matt rubbed his hands over his eyes and blinked to clear his vision. A plain, white ceiling hung high over him. Out of the corners of his eyes, he could see cold white walls and a single frosted window with a pale wispy curtain that did nothing to block the sunlight. Matt groaned and tried to sit up, wondering just where he was. Where ever it was, it was clean. The strong, harsh smell of antiseptics made his nose itch and his eyes water. He swung his legs off the side of the bed and stood up, wincing when his feet touched the icy linoleum floor. His whole body felt sore as he stretched and scratched his stomach. The starchy material of his pajamas was uncomfortable. He glanced around the room again, trying to get his bearings. Two doors led out of the room. One had a coat hook on the back of it and the other was smaller and thinner. He tried the smaller door first, seeing that it opened into a small bathroom. Relieving himself in the toilet, he wriggled his toes and wondered if he might be able to find some shoes. He washed up at the sink and studied his face in the mirror. He had brown eyes and dark brown hair. Freckles dotted his face. He ran a hand over his face — he needed to shave. Luckily, a disposable razor, a can of shaving cream, deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a comb were on the counter near the sink. Deciding to go for broke, he pushed aside the thin plastic shower curtain and saw that there were wash cloths, soap, and shampoo stocked on the flimsy shelves.
“I have no clue who I am or where I am, but at least I’ve got some creature comforts,” he muttered to himself. He was surprised at the sound of his own voice. It was a pleasing tenor with just the barest trace of an accent that he couldn’t quite place. Stripping out of his uncomfortable pajamas, he padded back into the other room and folded them, placing them neatly on the bed. He spent a few minutes exploring the room but aside from the high bed with a thin mattress pad and stiff sheets covered with a thick blanket, he found nothing but a few towels. No other clothes. No identification. Nothing. The room was an exact mirror of his mind — blank and empty. He carried the towels into the bathroom, laying one on the floor outside the shower and setting the other on the counter. He then climbed into the shower and turned on the water as hot as he could stand it while he studied his body, hoping that it might give him some clues as to who he was and why he was here. Aside from more freckles and a light smattering of chest hair, he had no discernible marks. No tattoos — whatever they were — and no scars. Just hairy arms and thin, hairy legs. With a sigh, he set about washing himself off and then stood for several long moments, letting the hot water and steam warm him up. He hadn’t realized just how cold he was until now.
Shower finished, he reluctantly shut off the water and then stood on his makeshift bathmat while he dried himself off and then wrapped the towel around his waist. He brushed his teeth, shaved, and then combed his hair. Walking back into the other room, he was surprised to see his uncomfortable pajamas gone and replaced with a pair of baggy gray sweatpants, a pair of boxer-briefs, and a white t-shirt. He dressed quickly, relieved when he saw a pair of sandals under the clothes, and hung his towel up on the coat rack to dry. Just as he was about to open the door, he sprang back as someone opened it from outside.
“Good morning,” an unfamiliar woman said. She spoke with a brisk, professional tone. “How are you feeling today?”
“Fine,” Matt said carefully. “A little hungry.”
“Good. That’s very good,” she replied. “Now that you are up and about, I will take you to the cafeteria. Follow me.”
“Wait a minute,” Matt said, lifting his hand towards her, “who are you? Where am I? And who am I?”
“Do you remember anything?” she asked dispassionately.
“I know that my name is Matt,” he supplied hopefully.
“Your name is Matt,” she agreed. “For the rest, it’s best to let you try to remember it on your own. Now, follow me. And, if you get lost, simply tell any other nurse or orderly to find Sarah Friar — that’s me,” she added. “I’m your case worker. Would you like me to write that down for you, Matt?”
“No. I think I can remember that, Miss Friar.”
“It’s Mrs.,” she smiled. “Mrs. Friar. Have you found everything to your liking so far, Matt?” she continued conversationally as she led him down the corridor. Matt studied the signs hanging from the ceiling. He was glad that he had someone with him to guide him but the signage would make getting lost rather difficult.
“Everything seems fine,” he answered, his voice somewhat guarded. “It’s a little cold, though.”
“Oh, I’m afraid we can’t do anything about that,” she laughed. “We have to keep it cold in here. Keeps infection down.”
“Where is ‘here?’” he asked.
“You are at Saint George’s Home for the Terminally Injured and Impaired,” she told him. “Most people call it the Farm, though.”
“How long have I been here?”
“You arrived last week. You’ve been unconscious for several months, though, which is why you were transferred to us. Now that you’re up and about, you can participate in any activity that you like. Let me know if you start remembering anything, though. As your case worker, it is my responsibility to help you get well and remember who you are.”
“Who am I?”
“I wish I could tell you, Matt,” she said sympathetically, “but it will be best for you to recall it on your own. You’ve suffered severe trauma. My telling you would do no good and might do great harm. Here we are,” she said brightly, pushing open a pair of doors. “This is the cafeteria. You’re just in time for the last shift of breakfast. Lunch is served from noon until three o’clock. We have tea available from four o’clock until six. Supper is served at seven o’clock.” Smiling and reaching up to give his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, Mrs. Friar walked back out of the cafeteria.
Matt looked around the room. The tables were largely empty. A group of men sat at one table, their heads bent together as they spoke softly amongst themselves. Matt decided to ignore them for now as he headed towards the serving area. Bored looking men and women wearing hairnets and scrubs overlaid with thick plastic aprons and matching gloves over their hands stood behind the railed counter. Matt took a plastic tray and walked down, pointing at the things he wanted. He grinned with delight as one of the serving ladies, a heavy-set black woman with sparkling eyes, heaped several helpings of scrambled eggs and six pieces of crispy bacon on his tray. He grabbed a few biscuits and a large glass of milk to finish his meal. Heading back into the dining area, he walked right up to the only occupied table and sat down.
“Pass me the salt and pepper, please,” he said to the other men. He thanked them when the condiments were handed to him. Doctoring his eggs, he dug into his meal with gusto.
“So, what’s your name?” one of the men, a sandy-headed fellow with wide, thickly-muscled shoulders asked.
“Greg,” he said, holding out his hand. Matt shook it and nodded at the others. “This is Jack,” he pointed to a red-headed man, “George,” he indicated a brown-haired man with bright green eyes, “and Seth,” he pointed the last man, a slight, pale fellow with jet-black hair and startlingly blue eyes. “So, what’re you in for?” Greg asked politely.
“I dunno,” Matt shrugged as he bit into one of the biscuits. He moaned in appreciation. It was a delightfully crisp and light buttermilk biscuit. Why, he hadn’t had one of these since…his head throbbed. He couldn’t remember when he’d had one of these. “This is good,” he muttered, holding the biscuit up. “What’re you in for?”
“Dunno,” Greg laughed. “None of us do. Every single person here has one thing in common — they don’t remember shit about life before they got here. All’s we’ve got is our names.”
“I think Gwen knows something,” Seth whispered.
“Gwen don’t know shit,” Greg growled. “You leave her alone.”
“Who’s Gwen?” Matt asked.
“Oh, she’s hard to miss, Gwen is,” Greg chuckled. “She’s got every fellow here tenting his pants whenever she walks past. Not that she notices. Kid’s lost in a daydream most days. So, just leave her alone.”
“I will,” Matt promised brashly. “So, no one here knows why we’re here?”
“Naw,” Jack winced. He spoke with a thick accent. “Don’t nair’ a-one-a us know nothin’,” he drawled. “I jest ‘member wakin’ up in dis place. I done tried to get free a buncha times but I always get hauled back in here. It’s like da back enda beyond, this here Farm.”
“The back end of beyond, huh,” Matt muttered.
“They call it Saint George’s Home for the Terminally Injured and Impaired,” George sighed. “That means it’s a hospital of some kind. Maybe a hospital for those who don’t know who they are.”
“Wonder how we all got here,” Greg said flatly. “Do you remember anything at all?” he asked Matt.
“No, sorry,” Matt apologized as he polished off his eggs and started in on the bacon. “I’m guessing I’m not from any place close to you.”
“Yeah, you do talk diff’rent,” Jack nodded. “Makes me think of…shit, I can’t rem’ber.” Matt was stunned to see tears fall down Jack’s cheeks. “I done tried and tried ‘till my head pounds sumpin fierce but I cain’t recall a damn thing.”
“I’m sorry,” Matt said automatically.
“Yeah, we’re all sorry,” Greg sighed. Reaching over, he rubbed an affectionate hand over Jack’s shoulders. “Calm down, bud. It’s all right. Don’t no one here know nothing. Chill. One day we’ll figure it out and you’ll get outta here.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Jack whispered hoarsely, wiping his face with his arm. “I’mma git fer abit.”
“You do that, bud. Just stay away from Gwen. No sense riling her up again.”
Matt finished his meal in silence and then took his tray to a small window where he left it, letting the kitchen staff take care of it. The other men were starting to stand up from their seats when he returned. He spread his hands helplessly, uncertain of what to do but not wanting to be left on his own. Greg seemed to sense that. He lifted one of his meaty hands and clapped Matt on the back. “C’mon,” he said. “We’re gonna go out and get some sun. There’s a machine shop on the other side of the yard. I’m there most days. I’m good with my hands,” he sighed, holding them up. Matt nodded. Greg’s hands were well-callused with thick, strong fingers. “Jack likes to play the piano — there’s a music hall down the other end of the building. George here, he’s with me most days but he likes to draw. Half the time he’s out in the yard drawing something or planting. Plenty of people ‘round here work out in the gardens or in the fields.”
“Is that why they call it the Farm?” Matt asked.
“Yeah. There are animals, too. Horses, cows, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs. There’s even a river and a lake nearby. Some folks like to fish. I do that on Sunday.”
“Mind if I join you?”
“No, in the shop.”
“Sure. Maybe you’ll be like me. Good with your hands,” Greg said, glancing down at Matt’s hands. They were strong but delicate. Matt studied them as well wondering just what he had done with himself before waking up here at the Farm. “Or, if not, well, learnin’ new shit is fun, too. C’mon. Daylight’s burnin’.”
Matt stared down at his hands. He had several cuts along his fingers and his palms were blistered and raw. Luckily, there were several nurses stationed at the shop and they had patched him up. After a few hours of trying to use the machines like Greg could, Matt had given up and sat on a stool, content to watch his friend make things. It was amazing to watch Greg take raw pieces of wood and work them together into a chair. He had shadowed the blond man most of the day, listening and paying attention as Greg demonstrated how to use each of the tools. Still, it would be some time before Matt would feel confident enough to work the lathe, the table saw, or the drills. Greg didn’t tease him, though. The big man had just shrugged and said that maybe working with his hands like that wasn’t Matt’s thing.
At noon, Greg had led Matt back to the cafeteria for lunch. Lunch consisted of a few sandwiches, some salad, and tea. This time, though, the cafeteria had been crowded with other patients. Greg pointed out a few of them to Matt and made introductions. Generally, they were warm and welcoming, remarking on his accent and asking him if he remembered anything. They’d shared sorrowful but understanding looks when Matt responded that he didn’t remember a thing beyond waking up in his room that morning. Greg was right — no one here remembered anything outside of the Farm. After lunch, Donnie, a man who was more boy than man, had invited Matt to join them out in the fields.
“Go on,” Greg waved, “I’m just going to finish that chair and start on something else. Who knows? Maybe being out in the fields will help you remember something.”
So Matt had taken Donnie up on his invitation and spent the afternoon in the fields. He enjoyed being outside, feeling the sun warm his body. He enjoyed digging holes and planting seeds. He’d listened attentively as the other men out there explained about the different plants, the different trees, and even different kinds of farming. But nothing had jogged his memory at all. By the time tea rolled around, Matt’s shoulders and back were raw and sore and he felt as if his feet were ready to fall off his body. He’d begged off and headed back to the cafeteria where he’d enjoyed a light meal and lots of hot tea sweetened with milk. He was surprised to find the place so empty. Only a few dozen others were in there with him and only one had an accent anywhere close to his. Shrugging his shoulders, he decided to make his way to the music hall. He was invited to join in any number of games — none of which he remembered playing at all — but begged off. He wanted to try to find something familiar. He hunched, trying not to see the compassionate but pitying looks on the others’ faces. They had all gone through this themselves. They knew what it was like the first day. They remembered trying their hands at everything until they found something vaguely familiar. Still, none of them could recall anything about their lives before they woke up here at the Farm.
He’d spent the hour between tea and supper listening to music. Seth was a natural at the piano. The notes that floated from the instrument stirred something in Matt and he felt as if he should be able to name the tunes. But, nothing came to him. After a while, he’d joined Seth on the bench but the keys just looked like a mass of white and black sticks to him. He’d held guitars but couldn’t make them do anything other than raise an unholy racket. He had no coordination with the drums or the other percussive instruments. He’d even tried a fiddle for a few seconds before one of the other patients, James, he thought his name was, took it back from him with a dark look. Matt couldn’t get a sound out of the brass or the woodwind instruments. Still, in the music hall, he’d felt something. He had sung a bit, surprised to find that he had a pleasing voice. But still, even that didn’t feel right to him.
Settling down to supper, Matt willed himself to remember something. Had he been a singer on the outside? He couldn’t recall. The more he thought about it, the more he tried to force himself to recall something, anything, of what he had been, the more frustrated he grew. Greg, sitting next to him, clapped a meaty hand on his neck. “It’s okay, bud,” he’d whispered, leaning his head close to Matt’s ear. “We’ve all gone through this.”
“But I should remember!” Matt protested. “I had to have done something!” Vague recollections of work, of earning his way, of bills and worries, niggled at his mind. “Christ, why can’t any of us remember?”
“I dunno,” Greg shrugged.
“I have a theory,” George offered. “I’m not good at music or working with my hands either, Matt,” he said soothingly. “But I am good at reading. I spend my days in the Library.”
“Library?” Matt asked. An image of a room filled with books sprang to his mind.
“Yeah. I like to read,” George explained. “And, I’m good at teaching stuff. Math and numbers,” he blushed. “Nothing important but…it’s familiar, you know?”
“I know,” Greg answered.
“You can come with me tomorrow,” George offered. “Maybe you’re like me. You’re not good with your hands but you’re good with your mind. Lots of others hang out there in the Library.”
“All right,” Matt nodded. He still didn’t think that the Library would be his thing. He closed his eyes. He could feel something. It had to do with books and words…but he was talking. And there was clapping. He could almost remember becoming someone else. Flowers. Cheers. Signing his name. Women — oh, God, the women — they had thrown themselves at him. But one in particular…his head began to pound and his eyes watered with pain.
“You all right?” Greg asked, concerned.
“Yeah,” Matt nodded, the vague recollection slipping away. “I thought I’d remembered something there for a second,” he admitted, sounding defeated.
“What?” George pressed.
“I dunno. Flowers. A lot of people. And women,” Matt blushed. “Some of them naked and pressing themselves against me.” He felt a stirring in his pants.
“Oh, that,” George sighed. “I remember a woman. Black hair. Sometimes I dream about her. She’s under me, writhing and clawing my back. And I’m inside of her. She keeps shouting my name…” he shivered, his eyes narrowing. “But…who she is, I have no idea.”
“I remember women,” Greg chuckled. “Oh, women are great.”
“Women,” Matt said absently. He could almost remember one woman in particular. Golden blonde hair. Green eyes. Soft hands caressing and stroking him. Her face clenching as he moved on top of her. Her legs around his waist. He definitely felt a stirring in his trousers. He could remember warmth and wetness and tightness. Silky smooth skin that pebbled beneath his hands. The tangy taste of salt and heat against his lips and his tongue. Moans of pleasure…
“You okay, bud?” Greg asked, elbowing Matt.
“Yeah. Just remembering something.”
Lapsing into silence, Matt finished his evening meal. The other men were also silent. It seemed that evening time was a time of quiet melancholy as each tried desperately to remember something from before. All Matt could think about was that woman writhing under him, needing him to do something to bring her to completion. He shuddered uncontrollably before eventually excusing himself and walking out into the dark, cold night air. Everyone else was still inside, sitting in the warmth of the cafeteria. Matt welcome the chilly air. It cooled his blood and broke him free of the memory of that woman. Who was she? Was she his wife? Would she come to visit him? Or was she just a dream? Some idle fancy? Or maybe a stranger met during the dark of night when his lust broke free and he would submit to any willing woman? Shaking his head, Matt began to prowl the perimeter of the area. He couldn’t remember anything. These vague fancies were just that — fancies. He had no idea who he was or why he was here at the Farm. All he did know was that he didn’t know anything!
His strides carried him on until he came near a tree. He stopped, surprised to see someone sitting under the tree, her back leaned against the trunk. Dim lights from the buildings cast her in shadow. The setting sun showed only enough light to show that she was gorgeous. She had red-gold hair that hung down her shoulders in gentle curls. Her clothes hung off her as if they were a few sizes too large. He could see her collar bones standing out against her pale skin. She had long, thin legs. Her face was gently pointed with high cheek-bones and a very light smattering of freckles across her cheeks and nose. Her lips were full and pink. The sunset painted her skin bronze. She had a wistful expression on her face. He didn’t want to disturb her but she glanced over at him and gave him the ghost of a smile. Instead retreating to leave her in peace, Matt sighed and flopped down on the ground next to her.
“Hello,” he said, his voice hoarse.
“Hi,” she whispered, her eyes still closed. “New here?”
“No worries,” she sighed. He shivered listening to her voice. She spoke in a pleasant contralto. “No one remembers anything.”
“What’s your name?” he asked curiously.
“I suppose the others warned you about me.”
“I don’t know if they did or not.”
“I’m crazy, you know.”
“No, I don’t,” he laughed.
“Well, I am,” she said sadly. “I’m Gwen.” She opened her eyes and looked at him. Matt felt his breath hitching in his throat. Her red-gold hair and her body were beautiful enough but her eyes. God, her eyes. They were wine-colored. Nearly purple in hue. Matt stared at her, his jaw hanging slack in shock. Her eyes were the most remarkable thing he had seen in all of his life. He couldn’t help but stare into them. “I’m Gwen,” she repeated.
“Matt,” he said automatically. “I’m Matt.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Matt,” she sighed, closing those beautiful eyes again and laying down on the ground. “I don’t know why I come out here like this,” she whispered. “Just that…it’s like I should know them.”
“Know what?” he asked, desperate to keep her talking. Everything about her appealed to him. No, she wasn’t the woman from his thoughts but, dear God…
“Them,” she gestured towards the sky. Matt stared up. The stars were coming out. They looked like random points of light in the sky to him. “I feel like I should know their names…but I can’t remember anything,” she said softly, sadly.
“They’re beautiful,” Matt said after a lengthy pause. “Strange, though. It does feel like I should know something about them. But I can’t…”
“You can’t remember,” Gwen whispered. “I’ve tried to get the nurses to tell me something — anything — about them. About me. But all I hear is a lot of cods wallop about how I need to remember on my own.”
“Frustrating, innit?” he laughed.
“Incredibly so,” she chuckled. “God, it just makes me want to scream.” She sat up, pushing back with her hands and tilted her head up so that she could see nothing but the sky. “I try and I try and I try,” she whimpered. Matt watched her and noticed that her face was taut with strain. He could see the blood vessels on her temples standing out. They beat in time with her heart. “Every night, I try,” she gasped. He noticed tears trickling down her face. “If I could just remember…”
Suddenly, she heaved forward, her body jerking as she began vomiting. Matt scrambled, pulling her hair out of her face. After a few minutes, he felt her trembling, her muscles turning to jelly. Pulling her towards him, he laid her on the ground carefully. “Gwen?” he asked softly. “Gwen?”
“It hurts,” she moaned.
“I’ll go get help,” he said as she scrambled to his feet and then ran back to the cafeteria. As he pounded through the door, he glanced around desperately, looking for a nurse. “Gwen’s hurt,” he said loudly, his voice cutting through the din. “She needs help.”
Greg leapt to his feet and rushed over to Matt. “I thought I told you not to bother her,” he growled. “Everyone knows to leave Gwen alone.”
“I was just talking to her,” Matt protested. “She needs help.”
A pair of nurses ran through the cafeteria and past Matt and Greg. Matt pulled away from Greg’s vice-grip and followed them. Gwen was still laying where he’d set her. She groaned as the nurses hefted her up and carried her inside. Matt followed them, frightened. He’d only just spoken with her a few moments and she was in pain. Knowing that it was irrational, he still blamed himself. If he’d listened to Greg and left her alone, she wouldn’t be in such pain right now. She’d be laying out in the yard, alone, staring at the stars. “Is she going to be okay?” he asked Greg.
“She always does this when people talk to her,” Greg snarled. “Always. That’s why I tell people to leave her alone. If she doesn’t talk to anyone, she just wanders around with her head in the clouds. But the minute she starts talking to one of us, she starts trying to force herself to remember and this happens.”
“What do you mean? What happens?”
“Look, Matt,” Greg sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair, “you’re new here. You don’t know the score but you seem like good people. So, I’ll let it slide this time. Gwen…she’s different. All of us want to remember but with Gwen, it’s an obsession. She’ll rip herself to pieces trying to find something to remember. That girl never gives up. She’s stubborn. That’s why she gets those headaches.”
“Headaches?” Matt echoed. He rubbed his own head, recalling the pain he’d felt when he’d been close to remembering…something.
“Yeah,” Greg shrugged. “A lot of people…when they catch a glimpse of a memory, they get headaches. They still don’t remember anything and all they have is the pain from trying. The doctors and nurses say it’s got something to do with whatever it was that made all of us forget everything. Me, I quit trying to force myself to remember a while back. I just take each day as it comes. If my memories come back, then that’s great.”
“What did happen to us?” Matt wondered. “And why can’t we remember anything?”
“I dunno, kid,” Greg sighed. “I really don’t know.”
Matt sat out in the late afternoon sun. A book was on his lap. He’d been reading it for several days now. It was a book of plays by some person named William Shakespeare. The language had been difficult to wade through, at first. But, after a few hours, Matt felt as if something long-forgotten had come back to him and he was able to read the plays with ease. He’d even picked up some other plays. Part of him wanted to find others who might be willing to read through them with him and then perform them in front of the other patients. Whenever he read a play, Matt felt as if he could almost grasp a memory. He’d strained a few times to cling to something, only to find himself vomiting, his head splitting and pounding. He’d been sedated and given painkillers to relieve the agony. After two episodes, he’d begun to back away from trying to force a memory and instead just hoped that eventually things would click together in his mind and he would be able to recall something from his past without the pain.
Greg had been surprisingly gentle with him after the incident with Gwen. Matt was surprised by that. He’d thought that the bigger blond man would want to pound him into powder over upsetting the mysterious woman. However, the first time Matt had found himself confined to bed with a pounding headache, he’d woken to find Greg sitting next to his bed in a borrowed chair.
“Don’t try to force it, kid,” Greg whispered softly, aware of how much a normal speaking voice could hurt someone in Matt’s condition. “You’ll remember when you’re supposed to. A day at a time, right?”
“Yeah,” Matt gasped.
Matt shook his head to clear the memory away. It was strange. He could recall almost every moment since he’d woken here at the Farm but he couldn’t even get a clear glimpse of anything before that. Tears stung his eyes. He hated it. He hated not knowing. He hated not remembering. He felt like he should be able to recall something of his past. Anything. But he couldn’t. And he hated how weak it made him feel. It was as if something of incalculable value had been stolen from him without him being aware of it at all. All he knew was that something was missing and that he would trade his soul for the knowledge that was gone. Sighing, he bent his head back over the book and continued to read. At least when he was reading plays, he was at peace.
After a few hours, a gentle rustling sound pried him from his reading. He glanced up to see Gwen wandering the perimeter of the yard. Gwen definitely was the strangest person on the Farm. She had, apparently, tried everything already. She was no good in the machine shop — though Greg said she’d come up with some ways to improve the tools there. She didn’t have an ear for music at all even though she found it wonderful to listen to. She’d read every book in the Library, it seemed, but none of them could hold her interest for long. She’d planted the fields, helped with a harvest, but her heart wasn’t in it. Instead, the only thing she seemed to enjoy was reading and re-reading a battered book of myths and legends and staring at the night sky. No one else at the Farm gave two shits about the stars but Gwen was obsessed with them. She had even stolen a notebook and pencil from one of the nurses stations so she could note down changes in the sky. Not that she shared her knowledge with anyone. No one talked to her. Not even Matt. Instead, he followed her with wondering eyes wishing that there were some way he could get through to her without causing her pain. But, Greg’s warning held firm. No one bothered Gwen.
Matt was careful to keep his eyes lowered slightly so that if she happened to look his way, she would think he was reading instead of watching her. She wandered through the yard, her eyes glazed over and her fingers absently trailing along the sides of the different buildings. She didn’t seem to be aware of anything around her. Her gaze was turned inward. She really did have her head in the clouds. After several rounds along the perimeter, Gwen sank down onto the ground and rolled on her back, unseeing eyes staring at the sky. Matt glanced up then, wondering what it was about the white, puffy clouds that fascinated her so much. Every so often, her lips would quirk into a smile and her eyes would clear slightly. She seemed so at peace, left to herself. And yet, she seemed so alone and isolated, as if she were on a deserted island and could only vaguely see the shape of ships on the distant horizon.
Island? Ships? Where had that come from, Matt wondered. He’d never seen a ship or an island but yet he knew what they were. In his mind, he could see large vessels of steel floating in the water, dancing along the ocean and skipping over the waves. He could see bright blue water lapping against alabaster sand with the sun shining down brightly. He could hear a familiar laugh, full of love and teasing, as he stood in the warm, clear water, letting it wash around him and against him.
“Matt…” a voice whispered in his memory. He could feel warm skin rubbing against his own. Gentle fingers stroked his face and shoulders. Soft lips trailed along his chest. The sun was hot on his back and his own hands were reaching out to touch and savor the feel of silky-soft skin…
“Matt!” a loud voice pulled him from his thoughts. Matt shook his head. It was beginning to ache. Turning his eyes back to the pages in front of him, he tried to focus on his reading. This play was interesting. The characters were compelling but acted in completely insane ways. Couldn’t they see how foolish their actions were? This long feud between two houses — it was maddening. Yet, the story drew him in. He could almost see himself in the role of Mercutio — belonging to neither house but determined to stand up for his foolish friend Romeo. The lines burned in his mind. It was almost as if he could recall them before he read them. His head began to throb and ache abominably. His eyes watered. “Matt!” the voice shouted again. He glanced up to see Seth and Donnie walking towards him. With a sigh, he closed the book. “You’re going to be late for the talk,” Donnie chided gently.
“Talk?” Matt gaped. What were they on about?
“Oh, I forgot,” Seth grimaced. “Yeah, this will be your first session. Once a week, on Thursdays, we all get together in groups and talk. The nurses are there and they’ll ask us questions. Afterward, we have a free day of it. No work. Nothing. We can just relax and do whatever we want.”
“I thought we could do that anyway,” Matt said in confusion.
“Well…yeah. Sort of,” Seth sighed. “It’s like this — once you find out what you’re good at, you generally get asked to do that every day. If you’re not good at something productive — or at least, what the nurses and doctors consider productive — they’ll find something for you to do. But on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, we get to do whatever the hell we want, even if it’s not productive.”
“I wonder why that is,” Matt muttered.
“Well…some of us think that they take the things we do or make and sell ‘em to keep this place running. Those who are good with plants and all work out in the fields so we have food. Those who are good with animals — the cows, chickens, and pigs and all — they do slaughter them or collect eggs. It’s not enough to keep all of us fed, though, so probably the money they get from what we do goes to buy more food from outside. And, we all get a monthly stipend to use when the market comes ‘round.”
“Yeah. A bunch of people from outside come here once a month with things to sell. They were here last week. So, you won’t see them until they come back around in three weeks or so.”
Matt pondered this information quietly. He wanted to ask more — to ask why they weren’t allowed to leave the Farm — but he decided to hold his questions for now. Maybe they would be answered in this talk Seth was on about. He stood up, dusted himself off, and closed his book. Following Seth, he let the other man lead him back into the building. Seth took Matt down a series of corridors that the other man had never seen before and then ducked into a room. Matt blinked — the room was huge. Men were sitting in chairs that faced each other, forming a large circle. One man in a white coat sat among them. He held a clipboard in one of his hands and a pen in the other. “Ah, our newcomer,” the man said. “I’m Dr. Samson.”
“Matt,” Matt introduced himself. He already knew most of the men in the room but the few whom he had not yet met rose and introduced themselves and gave Matt a few quick words of welcome before settling back in their seats.
“I’m glad you could join us today, Matt,” Dr. Samson said warmly. “It’s nice to have a new face in the crowd.”
“What exactly are we going to do?” Matt asked Dr. Samson since it seemed that he was in charge of this talk.
“We’re going to talk about anything you fellows might remember, how you’re feeling, and whether or not there is anything we can do to help you deal with the condition you find yourselves in. We’ll also be dealing with any problems or general issues that anyone feels the need to discuss. Also, if you — or any of the rest of you,” he added, addressing the group in general, “find yourselves in need of a private session, we can make arrangements for that.”
A few more men filed in. Matt wondered if any of the women he’d seen around the Farm would be joining them. As the last fellow joined them and closed the door behind him, Matt reasoned that women must have their own sessions. Sinking back into his seat and crossing his arms over his chest, he waited to see what would happen. No one seemed eager to be the first to speak. There were several minutes of throat-clearing, not quite meeting each other’s eyes, before Matt, getting bored and restless, decided to say the first thing that came to his mind. “So, why the hell are we all here? I mean, how is it that we all lost our memories?”
“That’s a good question, Matt,” Dr. Samson said with a professional smile that made Matt’s hackles rise. “Why do you think you’re here?”
“Look, there are close to a hundred of us here at the Farm. None of us can remember who we were. If we were married. If we had kids. What we did. I think it has to be some kind of sickness that we all got.”
“That’s a good theory, Matt. Do any of the rest of you have any theories to add?”
“C’mon, Doc,” one of the men Matt had only spoken with a few times said. Matt remembered his name being Jason. “We did the theory talk months ago. We got nowhere with it. Could be illness. Could be some kind of accident we were all in. You won’t give us any answers other than ‘it will be better for you to remember on your own.’ And God knows we have. Poor Gwen’s damned near killed herself trying to remember. She walks around in a haze from pain medication most days because she’s trying to remember. And anytime one of us tries to do it, we get the worst headache we’ve ever had. After a few times of that, you quit trying unless you’re crazy as Gwen.”
“Gwen’s not crazy,” Seth said loyally. “Just leave her alone.”
“Seth, c’mon man. Any woman who tortures herself the way Gwen does trying to remember the names of stars has to be crazy.”
“She’s not crazy. Keep talking like that and Greg’ll pound you again. You’re just sore because she wouldn’t sleep with you,” Seth growled.
“What?” Matt interjected, confused.
“Yeah. Well, I’m not the only man she’s turned down,” Jason muttered. “Anyhow, she’s the only one of us who keeps trying even though it takes it all out of her. And she’ll keep trying even if your buddy Greg won’t let anyone talk to her.”
“Yeah, why does Greg not want any of us talking to her?” Matt asked. “She seems nice enough and she’s interesting.”
“Oh, Greg don’t want anyone talking to her because he’s hoping if we all leave her alone, she’ll give up trying to remember out of loneliness,” Donnie explained. “Not that it’s worked so far. That woman is stubborn. I swear, if I looked that word up in the dictionary, her picture would be right next to it.”
“At least she doesn’t give up,” Matt sighed. “It looks like all of us here have.”
“I’ve not given up,” one of the men, an older, almost fatherly-looking, man Matt didn’t know said. “I’m still trying to remember. I’m just not killing myself over it like that girl is. You need to talk to your buddy Greg, Seth. Him isolating that little girl isn’t doing her a lick of good. Now she doesn’t have anyone to talk to so she tries even harder to remember. Maybe if he’d give off threatening anyone who goes near her, one of us could draw her out and get her to quit her foolishness. Eventually, we’ll remember who we are. The lives we had. And we’ll be able to get off this place for good and go back home.”
“Not all of us are so sure about that, Jimmy,” another man, David, said. “I’ve been here three months and I still don’t remember a damned thing. Only Gwen’s been here longer than me. I don’t know if I want to remember, now. Karen and I have a good thing going.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to remember?” Matt wondered.
“What if I remember and I find out that I’ve got a wife and kids out there? What would happen to Karen? Would I be cheating on my wife if I couldn’t remember having one? What if my life was miserable before? I don’t know what I was before but I know what I am now and I’m happy with that.”
“And what if your life was wonderful before?” Jason countered.
“Well, we won’t know unless we start remembering and Gwen and I have been here almost from the beginning and neither one of us remembers a damned thing. I think that this is permanent, myself. That’s why I’m not going to kill myself like she is trying to remember. The past is gone. It’s dead and buried. The people we were are gone. We might as well just admit it and move on with our lives, such as they are, and quit trying to bring the dead back to life. There’s no one that can do that.”
“What do the rest of you think about that?” Dr. Samson asked, steering the conversation to that point. “Do you agree with David? Or Jimmy?”
Matt held his peace while the others talked. He didn’t know what he wanted yet. Part of him wanted to remember who he had been but David had a good argument. What if his life before had been terrible? What if he’d been some kind of horrible person? What if he was miserable and had no friends or family? At least now he knew he had some friends. Of course, his life could have been absolutely amazing. He could have been rich or powerful with a beautiful wife and children who were just waiting for him to remember them and come back home. Still, the one thing that kept floating through his mind was how all of them talked about the pain of trying to remember. The headaches. He’d had a few of those himself. The men in the room seemed so open about them, sharing freely the glimpses they’d seen before the pain made them back away. Matt decided, on impulse, to keep his knowledge to himself. After all, once it was out there, he couldn’t un-tell it.
“And what about you, Matt? You’ve been very quiet this past half-hour. Do you side with David or with Jimmy?”
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Matt admitted. “There are good points on both sides. For now, I dunno. I think I’m just going to take each day as it comes. If I remember something, fine. If I don’t, well, I’ll deal with that later.”
“Have you remembered anything? Any flashes like the rest of the men have experienced?” Dr. Samson pressed. Matt’s eyes narrowed slightly. He’d noted that the only time the doctor had written anything down was when someone mentioned a specific memory or image. “After all, we’re here to help.”
“I haven’t remembered anything,” Matt said flatly. “I’ve tried but…no images. Nothing. Just a headache.”
“I see,” the doctor nodded, noting that down. “Well, this has been a very productive session. Do any of you feel the need to meet with me privately?” Jason was quick to say he did but the rest of them stayed silent. “Very well, then. We are supposed to have another five minutes before this ends but I think we’ve done enough for this week.” The men started to stand up, chairs scraping noisily across the floor. They shuffled towards the door. “Matt, a word, please,” Dr. Samson said before Matt could duck out with the rest of the crowd. “Close the door and come back here for a few minutes. I won’t keep you long.” Matt did as instructed. “This was your first session,” the doctor continued, “and I notice that you aren’t quite comfortable jumping in.”
“I just like to sit back and observe,” Matt replied. “I didn’t have much to add.”
“No, but you did manage to set the session off. I was wondering if you’ve made many friends during your time here or, if like some of the others, you have a hard time connecting with anyone.”
“I’ve got some friends, yeah.”
“Are they all male or have you been introduced to any of the women?”
“I’ve met a few of the women, yeah. They’re all right. Gwen is probably the most interesting of them, though, but Greg wants us to leave her alone.”
“I see,” the doctor said, noting that down. “And what about what Gwen wants?”
“Gwen just seems to want to remember who she was. I can’t help her with that so I don’t bother her. If she wanted to talk to me, she could, I suppose.”
“I see. Very well, then. Thank you for your time, Matt. And, if you ever feel the need to discuss anything with me, simply mention it during a session. Or, if you need to speak with me outside of a session, mention it to your case worker. Mrs. Friar, I believe?” Matt nodded. “Good. Good. Enjoy the rest of your day, then, and I’ll see you again next week.”
Matt left the room wondering just what was going on and whether Dr. Samson really was there to help them all or not.
“Baby, you have to see this!” Matt laughed as he held a sheaf of papers in his hand. “You are not going to believe it!”
“What is it, Matt?” a woman asked as she walked in from the kitchen. She was wiping her hands off with a dish towel. “You look like you’ve got some good news,” she teased.
“Oh, Jennifer, you are not going to believe it. I got the part.”
“No way!” she laughed as she ran over to him. “You’ve been dreaming of landing that part since you were a little kid!”
“I know,” he sighed, setting the contracts down and walking over to hug her. He lifted her off the ground, his smile deepening when she wrapped her legs around his waist and lifted her face to kiss him. “It’s a dream come true,” he murmured against her lips.
“I knew you could do it,” she whispered back.
“Daddy! Daddy!” two young voices shrieked. Jennifer grimaced slightly and unwrapped her legs from around her husband so he could set her back on the floor. Matt was as reluctant as she was to postpone their celebration. After only four years of marriage, though, their two children did tend to make it difficult for the two of them to make love in the middle of the day. In the kitchen. Or the dining room. “Daddy, you’re home!” his daughter shouted, running through the kitchen and flinging her arms around Matt’s leg. His son, John, was still struggling to master the art of walking and was much slower than his older sister. Still, his face wore a grin of pure childish delight at seeing his father. “Daddy home!” he shrieked as he toddled unsteadily towards him. Matt bent over and scooped him up in his arms. John chortled with delight and grabbed handfuls of his father’s chestnut hair.
“Did you get the part, Dad? Did you?” his little girl pressed.
“I did, Michelle.”
“Oh, that is so cool,” the girl said. “You’re going to be a movie star!”
“He already is a movie star, Michelle. He’s just going to be an even bigger one, now,” Jennifer replied. “Honestly, hon, I’m so happy for you.”
Matt woke with a start. His head was pounding. His body was coated in sweat. He lifted a shaking hand to rub his forehead. He couldn’t recall the entire dream. All he could remember was that it was a happy time. He’d gotten something. Something that he had wanted for a very long time. And his wife — what was her name? — she’d been happy. They had two children. She had blonde hair. He tried to focus on the dream, tried to bring the details back. But, the more he tried, the more his head ached. Sighing, he laid back and glanced over at the digital clock. The large, blaring red numbers told him it was 2:43 in the morning. It would be hours more before he could really wake up. Muttering to himself, he forced himself back up and climbed out of the bed. He dug the notebook and pen he’d stolen from the nurses’ station out of his dresser and carried them into the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet, he scribbled down as many details as he could remember from the dream. He didn’t know why he’d started keeping this journal or why he felt the need to keep it secret. But, he had. And tonight was the first night he’d had a dream that had to be from his past.
By the time he was finished writing, his head had settled into a dull ache. He tucked the notebook and pen back in his dresser, went back into the bathroom to wash his face with cold water and to get a cold, damp cloth to lay across his forehead. Then, he climbed back in the bed and returned to sleep, praying that more memories in the form of dreams might come upon him, even if they did bring tears to his eyes.