“You look like a James.” I don’t mean for it to sound rude, but it comes out that way.
“That doesn’t sound like a compliment.”
“Take it how you like.” The rain has stopped and we trudge down the middle of the road, looking for help. The dotted yellow line is barely visible in the murky darkness. “You didn’t find a purse in the car? Or anything else?
My shoulders slump. The weight of my own body is too much, but I trudge on. What I would give to know my name. “I should have checked the car myself. I don’t know what I was thinking. I can’t believe I’d leave home without ID or a phone.”
“I looked everywhere—”
“The car keys!” I turn back but James grabs my arm. “It had to have been my car, right?” I plead with my eyes. “The key ring might have had something on it to help identify me, or where I live.”
“The key busted off in the ignition and I couldn’t find a key ring anywhere. Except for the wallet and license on the floor, the car was empty. If you had a purse with a phone or ID, it must have flown out when we slammed into the pole.”
I yank my arm out of his hand. “Did you look?”
“I looked. I went all around the car, but without a light I didn’t find anything.”
“What about you? I’m sure you had a phone?”
A furrow forms on his brow. “If I did, same thing. We could go back and look, but wouldn’t find it in the dark if we tried. Wouldn’t work anyway—not in this rain. It’s probably buried in the mud. We can go back tomorrow, in the daylight.”
He’s right. It’s no use. We’ve already walked at least two miles. Turning back now doesn’t make sense. And there’s got to be a house on this road somewhere.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” I shiver in my wet clothes, despite the sweater. My head still throbs, and the more we walk the more my boots dig into my calves.
“No, but based on the skid marks and position of the vehicle, this is the direction we were headed.”
“Right. But were we driving toward or away from civilization?”
We’re two strangers, lost on an old back-woods highway. For all I know, we could die out here and no one would find us for days. I wrap my arms around my chest and squeeze. James puts his arm around my shoulder but I swipe away his unwelcome attempt to comfort me.
“Have you been able to remember anything else?” He asks. “Name, where you live, favorite food?”
“I don’t remember anything.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“It’s not that.” I drop my head. I have trouble finding the words. My heart aches and I don’t know why. “I don’t know. I’m just sad. Like my dog died or my boyfriend broke up with me.”
James stops. “So, what… that makes me your rebound?” He furrows his brow. “I mean, you and I were going somewhere together. Your skirt and knee-high boots suggest we were on our way to dinner or a club, or something like that.” He points to himself. “And aside from the mud, I’m not exactly slobbing it either. If your boyfriend broke up with you that makes me your rebound.”
Is he for real? “Maybe you can stop thinking of yourself for a minute, James. Look around. We were just in an accident out in the middle God knows where. We’re wet, cold, and neither of us has any idea who or where we are. Short of dying, could it get any worse? And to top it off, I’ve got mud and rocks in my boots digging into my leg.”
“Would you like me to help you get them off?”
“I can’t. They’re wet. If I take them off, I’ll never get them back on, and I’m not walking barefoot in this weather.”
“I guess we can just be grateful to be alive. Things can’t exactly get much worse, now can they?”
I turn and glare at him but he’s staring off into the distance.
“Check that out.” He points. “A light. C’mon.” He grabs my hand and yanks me along. We trudge forward keeping an eye on the light. It’s periodically blocked by a thin forest of trees between us, but we never fully lose sight of it. “There’s got to be a driveway somewhere,” James says.
The clouds part and moonlight illuminates us. It’s almost as if God himself is showing us the way. Just as quickly, a cold wind blows, passing through my wet clothes and sending shivers throughout my limbs. Cruel trick, God.
“I see a mailbox,” James says.
If he weren’t pulling me along, I would have frozen in my tracks. A new fear shakes me to my core. What happens if I get my memory back and I’m not the person I think I am? Maybe I’m not even who I think I think I am.
“There it is.” James leads me over to the mailbox. He squints trying to read the words painted on the side. “McCallum. Hey, that’s me. That’s my last name.” He releases my hand and digs into his back pocket, pulling out the wallet he found in the car. He moves it around in his hand until the moonlight illuminates the reflective letters just right. “Same numbers on the mailbox. What are the odds we’re on the same street, too?”
“This is your house?” My voice cracks, and I back away from the mailbox. I expected we might find a house, but I didn’t expect it to be his house. Trusting a memory-less stranger while looking for help is one thing. I wasn’t prepared to trust him in his home, especially when I don’t know where I am. I scan the road and woods for alternatives. There are no signs of human life. We truly are in the middle of nowhere.
Another shiver surges through me, but this time it’s not from the cold.
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BONUS: 5-Author collection of short stories titled “Dead Memories”.