She awoke slowly, fighting to cling to the foggy remnants of her dreams. Dreams of warmth and safety. Of bright colours and smiles. Dreams of a city in the clouds, radiant and sparking with life and light. It was so clear, she could almost taste the salty air from the sea that surrounded the tall towers. So much water. Clear blue and perfect; it covered the horizon in every direction.
But the misty dream evaporated, leaving her to the cold and uncomfortable tilt of the crooked bed that was the here and now. Gone were the clouds and sunlight. And gone was the man with the dark eyes who reached for her. Called out to her using a name she couldn't remember... A name she couldn't hold on to.
She opened her eyes and looked around the small room. Bare walls and empty floors. The only furniture a bed and a chest of drawers holding a few items of clothing.
This was reality.
Not the dream.
Sighing, she sat up on the narrow cot. She stared at her hands, glowing in a narrow beam of sunlight arcing in from the window high above her head. The golden light made her desperate to hold on to the picture of the tall towers of her dream city, but the images were almost completely faded. All she had left was a feeling of loss and sadness. An urgency of something gone forever.
Squeezing her eyes closed, she willed the images to return. Nothing remained now but two strange shapes that meant nothing to her awake. They were important. She knew that. She just didn't know why.
She traced the patterns on her palm with her index finger, etching them into her memory, willing herself to remember even if she would forget the rest. An arched peak with a small circle hovering above it, and a darker symbol. Three dots. A single line. A winged line.
Sounds outside the door announced the arrival of a visitor. The metallic click of a key in the lock accompanied the twist of the handle and the door swung inward.
An older woman stepped inside, a scowl dominating her wrinkled face. She clomped a small bowl onto the dresser and huffed, “Get dressed. There is much work to do." Then she turned and left, closing the door with a forceful slam.
Alone once more, she rose from the bed, placing her palm on the wall to fight off the momentary dizziness. As room grudgingly settled its spinning, she stepped forward. Her bare feet protested the sting of the cold wooden floor.
She removed the smock she'd slept in, and dressed quickly in a simple skirt and sleeveless shirt. The material was rough and scratched her skin, but she knew she wasn't supposed to complain. She didn't know how she knew, but she did. So, she left it at that.
Next to the dresser sat a bucket of water. She lifted a folded cloth off the handle and dunked it in the water, using the cloth to wipe down her face and arms. It was chilling, but helped clear the fog from her mind.
The bowl on the dresser contained a thick slop of liquid. Soup or stew. It smelled horrible. Something in her mind screamed at her not to touch it, but her stomach pained with emptiness. She knew she needed to eat. Her body needed the fuel. That and the soup made the dizziness go away. A fact she remembered from the day before even though most of her memories from yesterday were foggy and distant.
A side affect of her condition—the injury that kept her from remembering.
They said she'd fallen in the woods during a rainstorm. She'd taken a tumble and hit her head. It had left her bedridden for many days.
Or so they told her.
It was only yesterday she had finally been able to get up and move about. That much she could remember. Starting in the morning, and at various points through the day, her memory was clear. A few places were distant and hazy, but for the most part she had a solid image of her passage through the day from the moment she'd awoken until she'd gone to bed last night.
It was the before that was blank.
Her life was a blackness. A complete blank. She remembered nothing of her self. Her home. Her family.
Not even her name.
They called her Calara. Whenever she tried to say it, her tongue would trip over the word and they would have to say it again. Repeatedly. It was as though her mind wasn't willing to help her either.
She touched her hand to her temple, feeling a pinch of pain as she prodded the scraped area along her hairline. She examined it beneath her fingers, lightly tracing over the scabbed skin to the bruised area under her hair. It was healing well. A fact she new from the touch of her own fingers. Yet she had no understanding of how she could know. Staring at the blank wall above the dresser she wished for a mirror so she could have a better look. Not that she would know what she was looking for. Or looking at.
Giving into the urge to be out of the claustrophobic little room, she lifted the bowl to her lips. The soup was barely warm. She closed her eyes and drank it quickly. A sharp bitter taste followed the bland mixture of root vegetables. It made her tongue tingle.
Her stomach protested as she set the empty bowl back down. She held her breath until the churning subsided.
Exhaling slowly, she slipped her feet into a pair of worn leather boots. They fit loosely, too big for her feet, yet she'd been told they were hers. She tightened them as best she could. Perhaps she preferred them this way? It wasn't as though she could remember if she didn’t.
After running her fingers through her hair to pull out the knots left from sleep, she opened the door.
The hallway outside was narrow, lined with a half a dozen closed doors. Rooms of the other members of the household. Rooms belonging to people she was supposed to have known her whole life. Rooms of her family.
Family whose names and faces were completely blank.
She walked down the hallway to the open area at the end—the kitchen, spacious and bright, lined with cupboards and shelves filled with cooking supplies and plates and utensils. A fire burned in the fireplace, heating a pot of the foul-tasting soup. She could smell it from across the room.
She stopped as soon as she realized she was not alone.
An older man, well dressed in a fitted dark jacket, was seated at the table, finishing a breakfast of cheese and bread. He looked up from his meal and pushed his still full plate aside. "Good morning, daughter," he greeted, his voice low and warm. "How are you feeling?"
Daughter. She studied the man who was her father, seeking recognition or any sense of family or connection, yet past a brief memory of him from the day before there was nothing but emptiness. His hair was short, silver at the top and temple, the colour matching the trimmed beard covering his jaw. His skin was dark from the sun, creased around his eyes which were watching her. Studying her.
She held her place, waiting for him to make the first move.
After a moment, he stood and smiled. The pleasant expression removed the harshness from his stare and allowed her to breathe once again.
"Do not worry yourself," he said with a nod, holding his arms wide and beckoning her closer. "Your memory will return. We just have to give it time."
Guilt washed over her. The man was her father yet she thought no more of him than a perfect stranger. She stepped forward and accepted his quick hug, but it felt awkward and wrong. A shudder shot down her spine and she tried to pull away.
He didn’t fully release her, choosing instead to hold her at arms length. "Now, I'm afraid I have a favour to ask of you, daughter."
"A favour," she whispered, fighting off a sense of dread.
When he frowned, she cleared her throat and tried to sound more cheerful. More agreeable. "Of course," she said with a little more bravado. "Father."
His smile returned. "Tomas needs your help in the store right away. Thea has gone to run some errands today."
He watched her expectantly, and she nodded, connecting the two names with people. "Thea," she repeated. The name of the grumpy old woman who'd brought her breakfast.
"Your grandmother," her father confirmed. "And you met Tomas yesterday. Do you remember?"
She nodded. She did remember Tomas, now that her father had mentioned the name. He was a heavy-set man with narrow eyes and a sharp nose. Clean shaven. Short dark hair. She didn't think he was much taller than she was, if she was indeed remembering the right man.
"He wears glasses?" she asked.
Her father smiled. "See? You're doing better already. But I'm afraid Tomas needs you to start right away."
"I don't know if I will be much help to him."
"Nonsense. You do it all the time. It will be second nature. Just like walking and talking." He placed his arm over her shoulder and guided her towards the side door. As they rounded the table he snagged a piece of the thick yellow cheese and handed it to her. "Here," he whispered conspiratorially. "This will help get rid of the taste of that horrible soup."
She smiled hesitantly and accepted the cheese. She chewed slowly, letting the sharp taste fill her mouth and cover up the acrid leftovers of her breakfast.
They stepped through the door and into a long hallway. There were no doors other than the ones at either end. Light streamed through a collection of glassed slits along the ceiling. She looked up, catching sight of the clear blue sky high above. Small fluffs of clouds floated aimlessly, making her yearn to be up there with them. Sailing about in the sky. She wanted to touch them, to float with them, not be stuck behind the weathered glass of the ceiling windows.
"Come." Her father tugged her arm, drawing her attention back to him.
She followed him to the door at the other end of the long hall. He held it for her and she stepped through, nearly bumping into the man on the other side.
Yes. Now that she was seeing his face she could remember meeting the man the day before. But aside from his name, anything else she knew about him was gone along with the rest. She felt a slight flicker of guilt and disappointment. Tomas had told her yesterday they'd been friends since childhood.
Tomas stepped back, giving her room to enter. "Good morning, Calara. Thank you for coming."
Her father gave her a quick pat on the shoulder and stepped back into the hallway. He turned away with a wave, closing the door behind him.
The click of the lock sounded drilled into her like a blade.
She turned back to face Tomas, but shied back when another man loomed out of her peripherals. He was big and bulky, wearing ill fitting trousers and a jacket that was stretched to near busting around his large girth. He cradled a black barrelled rifle in his meaty arms.
"This is Maron," Thomas said. He followed her gaze to the gun Maron carried. "Do not worry." Tomas reached for her wrist and pulled her towards the front of the store. "Maron is here for your protection."
"Protection?" she asked, worried about what she needed protecting from. Her father hadn't mentioned anything. Or perhaps he did and she didn't remember.
She rubbed her temple, wishing she could have her mind back.
Tomas lead her in behind a long counter, guiding her towards a locked box and a pad of paper. "I will assist the customers finding their items. I need you to keep track of their purchases."
He pointed to the paper.
"This is where you record everything that is purchased."
She nodded, willing to help, but not believing she would be able to.
Tomas showed her a sample of previous records, tabled with a neat description and the value beside it. Then lifted a key from the pocket of his coat and unlocked the small metal box. Inside was a collection of coins. He explained the values of the coins.
She repeated the values back to him.
He smiled. “See? You do remember.”
She almost told him that it wasn’t that she remembered, it was that the numbers were an easy to use base 10 system, but had no idea how she even knew it, much less what it meant.
Taking her silence as agreement, Tomas left her behind the counter and walked to the front of the store to open the door and let in the first customers.