From the very first moment he opened his eyes, he knew he was lost.
It was the first thing that came to him, which ended up being the only thing he could resource himself with since there didn’t seem to be much else. The world around him was grey, muted colors that looked like they’d been drained from what had once been full of color and life. A layer of frozen grime laid beneath tossed papers and discarded waste as a thin sheet that decorated what would otherwise be cold and ill-fitting concrete slabs.
He was in an alley between two dark streets, leaning back against a dank and solid brick wall as if someone had simply propped him there and left without a word. Everything seemed to hurt, but after taking quick stock of himself, he knew it was nothing serious. Head was pounding, breathing was slightly labored, but otherwise, nothing was out of place.
Not that he knew why anything would be out of place to begin with.
He was dressed in a casual suit and what had once been a brownish looking coat that reached past his knees if he were standing, both of which were in tatters and barely holding together by the threads that had made them. He was missing one shoe, and his clothes were dirty and stained with what looked like dried blood. A half burnt tie fell haphazardly in a line down his chest, also stained and long past its intended use.
He wasn’t sure if it was his own blood, but the stains looked old. If it was his, he’d apparently survived.
If it wasn’t his, he didn’t know if that should concern him.
There were strong smells all around, and it was very cold; the winter air filtering through the tunnel of the alleyway and finding every little nook and cranny between his ruined clothing to chill across exposed skin. He shivered, pushing himself away from the wall and getting to his feet slowly, taking another quick look at himself but finding no wounds that could possibly have made the stains. It was a good sign, he supposed.
But on the other hand, he also knew that he was lost, which wasn’t such a good sign.
And that pretty much encompassed the last of what he knew.
Where was he? A city, perhaps? How did he know that? He ran a hand across his forehead and back into his hair as he tried for a moment to collect his thoughts. There were a few vague hints that seemed like they were memories floating just out of reach in the back of his mind, but his head hurt so much that he couldn’t access them. His hair was short, choppy and dirty, also caked with dried blood, and he had the vague sense of possibly getting hit in the back of the head. Injuries like that could cause confusion, he knew, though he wasn’t sure why he knew that.
Someone had told him?
He moved past the dumpsters and the steaming manholes of the alley before slowly approaching one end of the street that opened out into a sidewalk. It was quiet for a city, but not enough so that the sounds of life could not be heard. He wasn’t sure if it was really late or exceptionally early, and whether or not that made a difference. A car or two drove past, a dog barked. He could hear music thumping with antagonistic rhythms somewhere to his left. All things that he could identify and name as he heard or saw them, but he still had no idea where he was or how he’d gotten there.
He stumbled, tripping on his one shoed foot before catching himself on the brick wall beside him. His feet hurt, he recognized, one of them tucked into a fairly uncomfortable shoe while the other limped along in a cold and soaked sock that was quickly going numb. He knew that he needed something more; that it would be wise to find clothing that was warmer and not wet, but he didn’t know how he knew that.
A man walked past, his shoes clacking rhythmically on the sidewalk, but didn’t look at him.
He made his way to the other end of the street, slowly having to come to terms with the fact that he either needed to make a decision of where to go, or continue to simply wander and possibly get nowhere. The only problem was that he didn’t know what he was looking for.
Warmth would be good, possibly a place to lay down and rest, although he wasn’t sure if he felt tired. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Food would also be good, he knew. He also felt the odd desire to find a weapon of some kind just to have it on him, but that seemed more out of reflex for ‘just in case’. It was a strange feeling, however, as he wasn’t sure he knew what to do with one if he had it.
But food seemed like something foreign as well, and that didn’t make much sense.
There was another alley that opened up a little further down the street, next to a dingy and dirty looking bar that sat across from a twenty four hour liquor store. He glanced in, expecting to see nothing more than what was in the alley he’d come from, but was surprised to see the addition of a faintly glowing fire coming from an old rusted barrel.
A single, elderly man stood beside it, his gloved fingers holding both a cigarette and a bottle of some unidentifiable drink that was being nursed languidly. He was gazing into the flames as if they were speaking to him, and he couldn’t help but be drawn into the alley towards what promised to be warmer than what he’d seen so far. If there was anything he should have been afraid of by approaching, they didn’t seem to occur to him.
He shivered again, but for some reason, it felt forced.
The man looked up as he approached, a dark beard growing heavily down to his clavicle and eyes that were dulled, but alert with age and wariness. He was dressed in layers that didn’t match, but looked suitably comfortable enough with a knitted hat that rested over scraps of black hair and covered his ears. Thin and cracked glasses sat upon the end of his crooked nose and his skin was weather worn and leathery. A man of the street.
He shuffled towards him silently, his tattered appearance no doubt bargaining ill news, but leaving very little in the way of offense. He meant no harm, and one grey, grim face spoke to the other without words as the old man silently shuffled to the side with a silent invitation. He approached eagerly, frozen fingers reaching towards the flames but not really understanding why he knew them. Why he recognized that touching them would be hazardous, but reaching towards them would be ok. Why they felt so achingly familiar but foreign at the same time.
There was someone that had taught him this, but he could not see their face.
“You look like hell, friend.” The voice was gruff, seasoned and tinged with the taste of alcohol and bitterness. But it was open, as well, and promised conversation if only to avoid the obvious. There was no roof and no salvation for those who dwelled these streets tonight.
Hell was something he knew, so the statement was incorrect, but he did not argue, instead glancing down at himself and wondering why it was that he knew that. This man was speaking English, but he knew that that was one of many languages. He wondered if he knew any others, but didn’t dwell on it for very long, as thinking made his head hurt more. He disliked pain a great deal.
“I believe something serious happened to me, but I don’t know what that is.” He responded honestly, hearing the sound of his own voice but not really recognizing it. His gaze was drawn to the hand-made looking scarf around the man’s neck that appeared to be far warmer than the wasted collar of his own coat. He wished he had one, but wondered why he needed it.
“Looks t’r me like you were in a fight ‘er sumthin’.” The response was matter of fact, but spoken carefully. Distrust still lingering along with a faint curiosity. “Fall on bad times then? You from the Heights?”
He shook his head, not knowing what or where that was.
“I don’t know. I don’t…think so.”
The man grunted, his eyes narrowing as he stood for a few minutes in silence, staring quietly at him in contemplation. He stared back in return, holding his fingers out before the fire and shivering as a few small flakes of snow started to fall gently and quietly around them.
The old man turned suddenly, setting his cigarette into a groove around the rim of the barrel before reaching towards a pile of weather worn, broken down, cardboard boxes behind him. They were assembled strangely, in a way that almost looked like it was a nest made of garbage and cloth that had been discarded from use. It was this man’s home.
He yanked at a bit of fabric until it pulled free, revealing a dirty and mangy looking coat with patches for sleeves, more than half of the buttons missing and a partly ripped hood all in black. It looked like it had once been beautiful, but had long since lost its charm from those who’d loved it; just like the old man.
He offered it to him with a questionable, furry eyebrow, and he in turn reached his hands to take it without hesitation. This seemed to remove the distrust from the man’s eyes and he watched in satisfaction as arms were pulled into the sleeves and the front was yanked closed as if it was the only thing he’d been looking for all night. It was already warm.
“M’names Eaton, what’s yers, kid?” He asked him, hands moving back to pick up the cigarette, but not the bottle, and take a slow pull of smoky air. A car rumbled past with its music turned up to indefinable levels that echoed through the alley way. He looked towards it, his eyes unblinking and his fingers still slightly shivering. Then the sound was swallowed into the city, ground into the asphalt and concrete of a large and unfamiliar place that was familiar yet not with its oversized buildings and sleeping occupants that he did not know and could not identify.
He knew all of this, recognized it in tiny bits that fit into a large picture that had no name. Understood that he recognized it all, but was missing one very important piece that, more than anything else, told him that he was well and truly lost.
“I do not know.” He said, and that frightened him.
Eaton spoke to him for hours afterwards, explaining to him things that he had already been able to surmise on his own, but did not interrupt to tell him so. He liked the sound of this man’s voice, liked hearing what he had to say even if it didn’t really help him. He had given him a coat, and although he had no other shoes to offer, his socked foot was now dry and wrapped securely with a long piece of fabric that was part of a cloth tarp. He didn’t mind, it was warm and that achingly numb feeling had soon faded.
They were in a city named Detroit, but he wasn’t sure what that meant.
It was December, and hazardous for anyone on the streets to be out without some kind of warmth, so Eaton was happy to share his fire. His life had been long, and he missed his family, but he’d lost them a long time ago. He explained that there was a soup kitchen just around the corner that the two of them could go to in the morning to get something to eat, but that they had to wait until it was open. There was also a community center nearby that didn’t mind when a few of them dropped by for a service or two to warm up. It was a place he seemed to speak highly of.
Eaton complained that it was too bad he didn’t have a name, as he was having a hard time referring to him, or asking him questions.
Not that it mattered what he asked him, seeing as there wasn’t much he knew. Eaton said he had amnesia and he wondered quietly if he should be more concerned about that than he was. It didn’t seem like it was as much of a curse as Eaton claimed it to be. He was in no hurry, he couldn’t remember if there was something he should be doing, he was just there. Keeping warm was important, so it was his priority. Eaton told him he was funny for thinking that way, but he didn’t laugh at him.
Which was interesting because he knew you were supposed to laugh at things that were funny. Someone had told him that, once. Someone important.
“D’ya remember yer home?” Eaton asked him as they pulled together more newspaper around his haphazard bed.
“No. I don’t think so. I remember… light.”
Eaton laughed. “That was prolly yer noggin gettin slapped, not yer home kid.”
He wasn’t sure why Eaton called him kid, he didn’t feel younger than him. But he didn’t argue or correct him, it didn’t seem necessary.
“Someone’s prolly out there lookin fer ya though. We got the whole day ter look round before the snows start hittin, or so I heard.” He winked before he smiled, his beard and mustache curling in a warm grin that was more beautiful on him than any fine suit or expensive metals ever could be. He had been a father, a brother and an uncle for a long time, and if not for ‘them damn debts’ or ‘that damn fire’, Eaton would've been nowhere near this place.
“You have a good heart.” He said simply, and it made Eaton laugh.
“Yer sumthin else kid, aintyou ever gonna smile? Or’s this ol man just not funny ‘nough anymore, eh?” He joked, slapping him on the arm jovially before settling himself into his bed wrapped in dirty clothes and newspaper that were warmer than the largest comforter. Or so Eaton claimed.
He sat down across from him, doing the same before wrapping the scarf around his neck that Eaton had handed him without letting him argue. He sat there for a moment, feeling the chill ebb and listening to the sounds of the street beside them before turning back to Eaton and smiling.
“Now aint’ that sumthin. You ain’t a robot after all.”
It sounded so achingly familiar, but he couldn't place it. He let himself smile instead and tried not to think about it, it was easier than he thought it would be.
Eaton told him later that he reminded him of his son, then right before falling asleep he called him Daniel and said good night.
When he woke up the next morning, he was covered in snow.
The world was achingly cold, and almost surreally quiet beneath a blanket of white, but he didn’t freeze to death and he knew he had Eaton to thank for that.
He leaned over to wake him, but paused, knowing just by looking that Eaton had passed on.
The soup kitchen was right where Eaton said it would be, and he informed them that there was a man who had frequented there that was two alleys down the road and had died in the night. A young, frazzled, but kind looking girl let him know that they’d take care of it and offered him food. She had recognized the name, and her tears assured him that Eaton would be taken care of, and missed. He thanked her, then decided he should eat, so accepted what she had to offer him. He wasn’t sure if he was actually hungry, but she was very kind.
He sat down at one of the many tables inside, glad to be out of the new fallen snow of the already bustling city. He was across from a woman that couldn’t see him, but seemed to know he was there anyway as she smiled when he placed himself there. Her name was Georgette and she used to be the most beautiful thing this side of the city, or so she told him. Her hair was bushy and wild, and her eyes were a milky covered blue, but she was harmless, so he sat and spoke to her.
She asked a lot of questions about where he was from, but they were answers he didn’t have. It concerned her, she said, but not for very long as she was more than happy to fill up the space in between with her long life as an actress on the stage. He didn’t know if this was true, but he didn’t argue.
Georgette’s smile was cocky, covering for the long years of hardship that went unspoken and the burden of guilt that had settled on the edges of her worn eyes.
It reminded him of someone, but he didn’t know who.
More than once she reached for his hands, and he let her, unafraid despite how little he actually knew of the world at the moment. She told him he had the hands of someone who wasn’t used to being confused, and he wondered if he should correct her. She also told him that there was something about him that was very different from everyone else. That he didn’t belong there and needed to figure out what he was missing. He couldn’t have agreed more.
By the time he was ready to leave, Georgette had moved herself on to someone else, telling the exact same story the exact same way. He liked listening to her, she was similar to Eaton but hadn’t once offered a word about whatever family might be missing her.
As he stood, she seemed to notice. He wasn’t sure how.
“What’s your name, son?” She asked sweetly, her words a drifting song along the edges of a forgotten life.
“Daniel.” He answered, and thanked her for the conversation before turning to walk back out into the cold.
Daniel wasn’t sure where he was heading after that, but he now knew more about the strangers he had met than he did about himself. His chest ached for the death of Eaton, but he didn’t know what to do to relieve it, if anything at all.
His head was throbbing after a few miles, and he probably needed more rest than he’d had, but he was fed and didn’t want to push his luck. The snow was just deep enough that it was getting into the tarp wrapped around his foot, and his other shoe was useless for snow. So wandering the streets just wasn’t going to be such a good idea after all.
“You got any smokes?” A man asked him that was standing idly beside a bus stop.
Daniel shook his head, assuming the man was looking for cigarettes.
“Ah well, you wouldn’t be the first. Where you headed?” He was smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes and Daniel didn’t feel like he could call the man’s expression friendly. He looked back down to the road, at his soaking feet and his bared hands that were red and frozen. There was nothing that he had to offer to anyone else that could be of any use.
The other man was clad in much more proper clothing, but it didn’t look to be anything expensive. A heavy coat that looked like military wool, with no holes and all its buttons, but it was far from new. Boots were laced up his feet and there was a hat on his head that didn’t cover his ears. His face was young, but not young enough to be afraid of men twice his age.
“If your intent is to rob me, I assure you, I have nothing of value.” Daniel said simply, still standing with his shoulders slightly slumped and shivering in the snow. He must have looked a plain sight then, because the man looked slightly taken aback at the comment. Then he laughed, and Daniel saw his eyes light up with more amusement than he’d previously had.
“No, no, I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention at all. What’s your name?”
“I don’t actually know…but I like Daniel.” He replied honestly, which earned him raised eyebrows and a question that went unsaid.
“Nice to meet you Daniel, my name’s Kiefer. Are you lost?”
He wondered if it was obvious.
“I think so. I don’t know where I’ve come from and I don’t know where I’m going.”
Kiefer laughed, but it wasn’t mocking him. He was pretty sure he recognized the difference, but couldn’t recall why.
“You’re very honest, you know that? There’s somethin’ about you though…listen, I actually work at the church community center up the road, you lookin for a job or something?”
Daniel thought about it for a second, but didn’t weigh his options any further than whether or not he believed Kiefer. He had nowhere else to go, and it wasn’t like he could remember why he was there to begin with. A job meant money, something indoors out of the snow, and possibly the ability to find clothing that wasn’t stained or tattered.
“Yes.” He answered simply, to all of the questions. He followed Kiefer through the snow and up a short hill to a large, flat, one story building that announced on the sign out front that it was a community center. Once inside, and finally out of the cold that had nearly seeped into his bones at that point, Kiefer led him to a room where people had donated clothing in order to help the homeless. He said that Daniel qualified, and since he couldn’t really remember if that was true or not, he said nothing.
He was allowed to pick through and find something in his size, and after a swift and grateful thanks, he did so without any argument or hesitation. Searching first for something to cover his feet in place of the wrecked footwear he was more than happy to discard.
Daniel smiled at Kiefer, thanking him twice more afterwards as he pulled on a sweater that was warm and thick without holes or blood stains. He’d gotten a few curious glances when he’d peeled the ruined fabric from his pale skin, but Kiefer didn’t ask and Daniel was grateful.
“I’ve never seen someone so happy to get new pants before.” Kiefer grinned, his dark brown eyes smiling more than his lips were. “You really can’t remember what happened to you?”
Daniel shook his head, pulling a belt through his new pant loops and cinching it as far as it would go to keep up the pants that were just a little too big for him. He stopped for a second, his eyes unfocused for a moment as he felt a few images flash in the back of his mind that were scattered and unorganized. Someone’s face, yelling at him, worried, smiling. A bright flash of light, pain on the side of his head before there was screaming, then nothing.
“I’m not sure. It’s all broken pieces. Like a puzzle I should be piecing together, but without a picture.” Daniel said simply before looking down at his hands as if they somehow weren’t his own. He could feel the ghost of someone else’s hands on his, strong fingers that held fast and secure. It was all such a confusing mess, though, that he didn’t know where to make heads or tails of it.
“Well then, I guess it’s a good thing I asked you for a cigarette.” Kiefer replied, as if it was all he could think to respond with, and really, that was all he needed to. Daniel wasn’t asking for any more help than he was already being offered. And it made him smile.
“Except that I had nothing to offer you.” And it was that, more than anything else he could remember of his two day existence, that bothered him the most.
Kiefer gave him a job cleaning the floors and windows of the building. It was something that he would do himself along with a plethora of other things that were more than a single man should have been doing in the first place. Or so he explained. It was simple work, keeping something clean that would spend the day being touched and run through and played upon throughout every normal day.
Seeing as Daniel had nowhere else to go aside from where he was, the pastor who was charged over the nearby church had granted him special permission to sleep there. It was something he was more than happy to accept, especially since the alternative meant spending another night on the street. That and the only payment they allowed in return was his service in assisting to keep the place clean.
He didn’t think he was a stranger to work, or following orders, as he did them rather well regardless of what was asked of him. Working diligently and without question, he found a steady beat to his daily tasks that eventually became more and more consistent and involved more and more responsibilities. Daniel didn’t mind, taking every request with an honest opinion to whether or not it could be done and then keeping his promises. In return, he was fed, housed and befriended by regulars who weren’t afraid to approach or speak to him.
After two weeks, Kiefer stopped trying to figure out who he really was and started to accept him for how he appeared. The bloody clothing had long since been forgotten, though Daniel had stored it away somewhere instead of pitching it, and it was never brought up in question again. He began to smile more, to show more expression than he had, even with a tendency to yell whenever someone was doing something he knew they weren’t supposed to be doing.
Kiefer poked fun of his odd, detached emotions, but Daniel argued him off saying that a very wise man had once proclaimed that he wasn’t a robot.
“How wise of a man could you have met when you only have memories of the past two weeks?”
“I didn’t even need two weeks. Met him on the first day I can recall, where he clothed me from the cold and told me that it was not what I was forgetting that was important, but who.”
“But he couldn’t tell you the answer to that, could he?”
“No, he couldn’t. So instead he gave me my name and a place to sleep so that when I woke up the next day, I could walk to find you.”
Kiefer laughed. “Alright then, you win and I agree, he sounds like a very wise man indeed.”
And for the first time that he could ever remember, Daniel laughed with him.
He dreamed every night, or he assumed he did. It was hard to keep track when sleeping by itself felt like something he didn’t really need to do. He would see things when he dreamed, disjointed and shattered memories or creations that his mind tried so feverishly to feed to him, but were so achingly confusing that it was hard to retain.
There were flashes of places that it was impossible for him to have been. Deserts of sand and wastelands of ice that stretched into civilizations both of modern and ancient times. Languages he shouldn’t have known, people that were long since dead and places that didn’t even exist anymore. All of it flooding through him, but never allowing him to hold onto it enough to give him any sort of clue as to why he had them.
The only constant was a man that seemed to walk beside him everywhere he went. Through all that he saw and experienced and tried to remember, the man was always there. His face was impossible to see, but Daniel remembered his hands. Remembered touch. So familiar yet just out of reach as if not even his own head wanted him to complete the picture.
He would speak sometimes, but Daniel couldn’t hear anything more than what sounded like cries for help. Asking where he was, and why he’d left.
He’d wake from nightmares sometimes, alone in his small room and single bed in the far corner of the building where no public activities ever reached. The meager space he called his own, but was thankful for each and every night where he didn’t have to wake up buried in snow.
The thought terrified him; remembering Eaton and the way that the snow had seemed to snuff out his life just as easily as it had taken the warmth of the fire that had introduced them.
Daniel remembered this, and for the first time he could remember, he wept.
Not for Eaton, but for someone else.
It wasn’t so much that Eaton had been more than a friendly stranger who’d lived to a decent old age, despite a life of hardships. It wasn’t that Daniel had been all that attached to him either aside from being grateful for his help and his wisdom. He wasn’t sure why, but as each night ended, it was all reminding him more and more of something important he should remember. Something terrible that had happened to someone he’d once known, or cared for, or even loved.
Cold arms wrapped around themselves and he shivered, drawing his knees into his chest in his rumpled bed sheets as he tried hard not to think about it. He wanted so much to know what his life had been before this, but at the same time, the thought was terrifying, and so heartbreakingly sad.
Something about him was wrong and different from everyone else, he could feel it but he had nothing to compare it to. What was natural to others, to Kiefer, to Pastor Robert or to the friendly woman named Beatrice who gave him cookies and played that beautiful organ every Sunday…what they did on a daily basis, what was normal and easy for them, seemed so difficult for him. So forced.
Was it supposed to be like this for some people? Daniel didn’t think so, but he wasn’t sure what that very large thing was that he was missing.
Or why the man in his dreams made him miss someone that he couldn’t name.
He continued with his day as he always did. Cleaning the floors after a basketball game and wiping the windows that a few of the younger, kindergarten children had decorated indiscreetly with crayons. He stacked the chairs that had been pulled out for a short, praise team concert practice and re-wrapped all of the wires they’d used for their instruments, putting them neatly back into the storage closest they’d come from. The front door needed its hinges fixed, the front step needed more salt so that no one would worry about slipping on the ice, and that was all before the afternoon volleyball game.
Carpets were vacuumed, shelves were dusted and he was greeted quite often by the regulars that knew him by name. All the while, Daniel ignored the nagging sensation in the back of his head that he seemed to feel every single day that he was still lost.
Kiefer relieved him around five with his usual smile and small conversation before Daniel found a quiet place to sit and eat his dinner alone, still not ever really feeling hungry.
Everything changed the day that the inebriated man had wandered into the community center, one cold day in April.
He looked like Daniel had, on that first day months ago, wrapped in clothing that didn’t match that was soiled with unrecognizable stains and possibly burns. He was stumbling, yet trying very hard not to as he kept himself to the walls for support with shifting eyes and a look of confusion as he glanced around him wildly. There was a dirty satchel on his back, and a paper bag in his hands that was the suspicious shape of a bottle. He was leaving heavy footprints as he moved and a small, dribbling trail of blood.
Daniel saw him first, informing Kiefer before the two of them together tried to decide what the best course of action was to do. It was a place that was more than willing to welcome those in need, Daniel being a prime example of that, but at the same time the man appeared to need more help than they could offer. It was thankfully early enough on a Monday that there were only a few people inside, but it was still a concern that the caretakers of the center would need to approach quickly. Keeping the place clean was in the standard job description, but the both of them had a general understanding that they were also there to keep the place safe.
They split up momentarily, Daniel moving to phone the authorities as Kiefer approached the man. It was a decision that made sense, seeing as Kiefer was much bigger and broader than Daniel, giving him the advantage of being more authoritative. He was quick, making sure to inform them that the man had both been drinking and was injured, before rejoining his friend in the lobby of the church facility. A few people had gathered in the main hallway, but were thankfully keeping their distance.
“Hey man, I know it’s cold out, but this ain’t the place to go if you’re lookin for help.” Kiefer offered diplomatically, his hands in front of him in the universal sign of peace. Daniel stayed between them and the rest of the guests, not really sure where he should go but refusing to leave his friend, his comrade’s, side.
“Ain’t this a church?!” The man bellowed, his deep voice echoing in the small space and angering Daniel as he watched with trepidation. Men on their own were creatures of many emotions and conflicting thoughts that often led them to lapses in judgment. Alcohol only made everything worse.
“A place where aaaaalll men should be welcomed?! Am I right? I’m here fer some prayin padre, don’t pass me off already!” His speech was slurred and he emanated with the striking smell of chemicals and street as his voice raised with mocking invitation.
“This isn’t a church, friend, it’s a community center. The church is just a little bit down the road if that’s what you’re looking for, but I’m afraid this place is more for sports, bingo and kids. There isn’t anything here that can help you, I’m sorry…” Kiefer was good with his words, and although Daniel knew he was probably nervous as hell, he didn’t show it. He had a wife with no children of his own, but he loved kids anyway and wasn’t about to let anything dangerous happen to them. Daniel respected that about him.
“What’s with yer lyin padre, you ain’t suppost ta lie…”
“I’m no priest, padre or pastor, I’m just a janitor. God’s honest truth. Did something happen to you? You look like you’re hurt…”
“Ain’t nuthin gone wrong! I got everythin right here and no one but me ‘n God’re gonna take care of it now!” The man laughed with a singsong, a loud guffaw that made Daniel shiver as he swallowed thickly with an unblinking stare. The man turned his attention on him suddenly, staring coupled with a staggered gait as he took a few steps in. He was bleeding heavily.
“Whatsup with yer friend here, eh padre? You Canadian er sumthin, kid? How come yer glowin all the way o’er there? You got a light on ya? Gonna set me on fire again, eh? I see how it is…”
Daniel’s eyes widened, the man releasing his bottle to let it shatter onto the linoleum. It puddled where it lay in a reddish orange soaked liquid upon the recently scrubbed floors. There was no light anywhere near where he was standing, so it appeared that the man was inebriated far more than Daniel had originally thought. Bad news all around.
“We do not wish for trouble here. You require medical attention and we must please ask you to leave…Authorities are on their way.” Daniel replied for himself, his voice more convincing than he thought it would be. The man smirked at him as Kiefer backed up towards them and tried to keep as close as he could without endangering himself. Daniel didn’t blame him.
“You called da cops on me? You worthless little glowy piece o’ shit, what the fuck?! Da fuck I ever do ta you, eh? Who’d I ever hurt, ain’t never hurt nobody…” The man was lurching on his feet, starting to slide sideways. Kiefer reached a hand out, anticipating the man’s fall and hoping to be helpful as the man suddenly jerked back in surprise, brandishing a knife from his pocket and swiping it at Kiefer with dangerously wide arcs.
“Dontcho fuckin touch me padre! Dontchoo EVER fuckin…Get BACK!”
But it was clumsy, and ended up pulling the both of them in the wrong direction as the man grabbed a hold of Kiefer’s shirt at the same time he was trying to push him away. The knife swiped dangerously close to Kiefer’s face and Daniel cried out in sudden fear, running forward without thinking and reaching his hands out to try and pull the two apart. Get them separated, take the knife, knock the man out, it didn’t matter so long as he was doing something aside from watching it happen.
Kiefer screamed at him, as did the man, and it was all mixed in with the sound of sirens blaring from just outside the door as Daniel felt the air get knocked out of him. His gaze suddenly unfocused and he fell backwards from the two, landing badly on his backside. Eyes were wide with shock and his hands moved to a suddenly distinct pain in his stomach that soon began to blossom into a red stain on his clean clothes and spread quickly.
The drunken man froze, dropping his knife with a clatter and stumbling back into the wall as he cursed and mumbled before sliding to the floor. Kiefer had glanced between them for a split second in case the man would leap again, but then quickly moved to Daniel once it was obvious he wouldn’t get up again.
Daniel’s breath was hitching, his heart racing and pounding in his head as he tried hard to hear what was being said to him. The world seemed brighter than it had been before, and he looked down to his hands that were now soaked with a brilliant red. It was beautiful, and terrifying, clashing horrifically with his pale skin and giving him such a horrible feeling of déjà vu that it made him gasp.
“Stay with me Daniel…can you hear me? Stay with me! Don’t close your eyes!”
“Don’t close your eyes Dean…stay with me!”
Daniel cried out, hearing the startling crash of glass shattering before collapsing backwards into Kiefer’s arms. The door slammed open and more people ran in than he could keep track of, their footsteps loud and squeaking with rubber on wet floor. Hands were on him, gentle but forced, flattening him to the ground and pulling his fingers away as he tried hard to keep them there.
He had to keep pressure, he had to stop the bleeding. Humans could die from these kinds of wounds. They were painful, deadly, especially when it was done with a knife…or a bullet…
“Daniel? Daniel can you hear me?”
“Don’t go…please Dean…just stay alive…”
Daniel opened his eyes slowly, and all he could see was white.
The world was no longer spinning, nor was it loud and filled with nervous voices or screaming sirens. It was blessedly slow and quiet aside from a steady beeping sound to his left. He turned his head, realized gladly that the white was a ceiling and came face to face with someone he recognized.
It was the first time that had happened.
“Hey Danny, you ok?” Kiefer asked him quietly, and his concern made Daniel smile. His friend looked nervous, and was barely making eye contact, which made him feel guilty for scaring him.
“You’ve never called me that before. It must be bad.” He joked, hands moving before he noticed that there was an IV leading out from the top of his hand. He couldn’t recall ever having one before. Daniel moved his other hand to his stomach, wary enough not to touch yet as his fingers hovered over where he knew he’d been stabbed.
“I’m sorry.” He said simply, the past events colliding in his head and ending with him running into something he should never have gotten involved with. It had been stupid and reckless, despite the fact that the very sight and chance of his friend getting hurt had made him react as if on impulse. Anything to make it stop, he hadn’t even thought about it.
Kiefer let out a small huff of a laugh that didn’t sound like it was out of amusement and Daniel met his gaze curiously. He felt strangely pain-free, despite what had just occurred and wondered what kind of drugs they’d had him on.
“Kiefer? What’s wrong? Is it…am I that bad off?” Daniel asked in confusion, his voice tightening as his fingers shook slightly in trepidation. He didn’t like pain, that was something he’d learned from day one.
“No…no Daniel, you aren’t…it’s not bad. Promise.” His friend stated honestly, but he wouldn’t meet his eyes anymore. Daniel swallowed, staring hard at his friend but waiting patiently for what came next, if anything.
“What happened?” He asked softly, trying hard to ignore the nagging feeling in the back of his head that told him he’d missed something. Something important. He reached his hand towards his friend, but stopped suddenly as Kiefer started to pull his own hands away, as if there was something about his touch that frightened him. Daniel’s eyes widened and he pursed his lips. What was going on?
“When…when that guy stabbed you…when everything went to hell, Dan…I dunno, maybe, maybe I just wasn’t seeing things right.” Kiefer started, brown hair falling into his eyes and shadowing them as if it would be some kind of personal shield. His face was alight with conflicting emotions, age lines drawn along a stubbled chin. Daniel waited, listening to the external sound of his own heart.
“You fell, and then you cried out someone’s name…and all the windows just…Jesus, I don’t even know. Daniel, I’m not even sure what the hell really happened back there but…”
Daniel moved his hand again, this time finding the warmth of his friend’s fingers without being denied them.
“Please.” He said and Kiefer finally shifted his gaze to match his own, a look of hesitation and nervous indecision lingering there that Daniel had never hoped to see. Not on someone he could call friend. The beeping of his heart monitor started to go faster.
“He stabbed you, Daniel. With a pocket knife, I saw it…I saw it go in you… I saw the blood and I watched the ambulance guys come in to help…but you…damnit, you ain’t even got a scratch on you man.” Kiefer shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe the words he was saying once they’d passed his lips. “You ain’t even got a bruise.”
Daniel’s hands quavered as he stared at his friend in disbelief, the beeping speeding up faster before he finally forced himself to move. Shaking hands reaching for his stomach, and Daniel pushed himself upwards as the blanket fell, fingers exploring and pulling at the fabric before he finally lifted the hospital smock he’d been dressed in. It didn’t hurt, none of the quick motions he’d just made and there were no bandages or stitches or anything that should have been evident after such a wound.
Clear, unblemished and pale skin greeted him in return and Daniel stared down at himself in confused horror. He gasped in his breaths, ignoring the angry sounds from his heart to stare back at his friend in disbelief. As if Kiefer would perhaps have the answers. As if anyone would…it was just impossible.
But there was nothing to respond to. Nothing more than unanswerable questions and no other sounds but the telltale beeping of an impossibly saved man’s heart.
From then on, the world was different.
What Daniel had learned in the small few months of memories were now meaningless because no one looked at him or treated him the same as they had before. His new home wasn’t a home after all, and with far too much to deal with already, Daniel decided he should probably continue on.
“Where will you go?” Kiefer asked him, his friend still there despite it all. The hint of distrust and confusion was there whenever he looked at him, though, and Daniel found that he was saddened by what this had done to their friendship. What his strangeness had done.
“I’m not sure. It’s warm enough now that I won’t freeze to death on the streets, but maybe south would be a better option.” He collected his things together in a small bag that Pastor Robert had happily provided, though there wasn’t much in this world that belonged to him. It was something else that gave him that strange sense of repetition. Something he’d seen before, even if he hadn’t done it himself.
At the bottom of the pack was the stained and tattered clothing he’d been wearing when Kiefer had first found him. It seemed important to hang onto. He was dressed simply, old and faded jeans beneath a warm, collared shirt that was layered appropriately. On the bed beside his bag lay the coat that Eaton had given him, so many months ago, now sewn up and laundered courtesy of one of the kind and talented church quilters. It had made Daniel happy; he really liked the coat.
“Do you have any hint, or memories, or anything of some kind of a family? Someone you could go out and find?”
Daniel knew in his heart that he wanted to do just that. There was someone he wanted to find, but he couldn’t remember just how or why. It gave him pause as the memories he’d pulled from that terrifying and eye opening affair had lingered in the aftermath of his panic. Something he could finally keep after so long of being cursed to hold nothing.
“I’m not sure.” He said honestly. “When that man stabbed me…when I saw the blood on my hands…it gave me a memory. Albeit a small one, but something that had been important, I know it. Maybe one of the last memories before I ended up here…” He released the bag onto the small bed and moved his open palms up in front of his face, staring down at them as if they held the answers he sought.
“I was holding someone…someone very important to me. He was bleeding, but…but I don’t think I saved him.” Daniel turned to glance at his friend, knowing his expression was saddened by these memories. “I think he died in my arms.”
Kiefer mirrored that look of sympathy, but Daniel had no way of knowing just how much he terrified his friend anymore. Whatever luck, or power that he had, it wasn’t something that good people like Kiefer had any reason to deal with.
“I will miss you, my friend.” He said, and it was an honest statement. More than Daniel could have asked for.
He pursed his lips, hugging his friend in return before hefting the small bag of his small existence up over one shoulder and grabbing his coat. It gave him pause to think that he was leaving the only true home he could remember, but at the same time, there was relief deep within him that he would no longer be stationary. There had to be some higher purpose that he was meant to be doing, but working in the small Detroit community center just wasn’t it yet.
“And I you. Thank you…for everything. I hope our paths cross again.”
And Daniel left, ignoring the curious glances and stares as the short week he’d been out of the hospital had already spread rumors like wildfire. He would miss this place, but it would not be the tearful kind.
It wasn’t like before; not like walking through the streets hurt and confused with barely enough to keep him warm and no memory to aim his path.
Daniel had a name now, and even though something in his heart told him that name was now gone, it gave him purpose to find it anyway so that he might then perhaps find himself along the way.
“Dean.” He said quietly, and smiled as he pushed open the front doors, and walked out into the sunlight.