Copyright © 2012 by John Wiber
Shakespir Edition License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
My name is Paul.
I live with my mother.
My father is dead.
My brother is dead.
I’m twenty-one years old.
I have brain damage.
And there are people watching me.
These seven things he knew for sure. The rest of his identity was swarming amidst the hazy cloud of his consciousness, vague images of potential realities blending together so that often times he felt as if he were dreaming. Every morning the same sense of loneliness and foreboding washed over him. Paul looks at the picture on the nightstand, standing with his mother in front of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. They had taken a trip there… or, it could have been where Paul used to go to school, he wasn’t sure – but he knew those were the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, and he knew the two people in the picture were him and his mother. He couldn’t get worked up about missing details, not unless he wanted to bring on a migraine. ‘That’s another thing I know,’ he thinks to himself, pulling his body up from the bed and stretching in the faint morning light. ‘When I get too stressed out, I get headaches.’
He stops at the window before heading into his private washroom, peering down at the gravel driveway below. We live on a farm. That was another thing he knew. His mother’s old minivan sits unused behind the barn, all rusted and discoloured. Crops of light green weeds are sprouting all around the wheels, thin strands swaying absently in the summer wind. Past the circular gravel turnaround, a man with dark complexion stands with his arms crossed at the edge of the cornfield. He is looking directly up at Paul’s window, his eyes like icicles. Who is this man?
…they grew corn, rye, strawberries, peas, onions, tomatoes, and peppers. Some years they did pumpkins, but it had become too much work the past few times, and so the pumpkins were no more. My mother keeps a five-man rotating staff of Temporary Foreign Workers throughout the Spring and Summer, and sometimes into the Fall. They are from Mexico…
Archaic whispers echoing inside his skull; these men work on the farm.
‘Okay, fine,’ Paul thinks to himself, ‘but what in the hell is he looking up here for?’
He couldn’t be sure, but somewhere inside him there was a stirring, like the fin of a shark slicing up through the shallow waters of a family beach, the feeling was unwanted and menacing. Another Mexican man approaches the first from beyond the corn field, and after the two share an extended look up at the window, both disappear behind the wall of green stalks.
The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs causes Paul to whirl around and tense up. His mother (the woman from the picture) pokes her head inside his room and says, ‘good morning, sweetie. I’m heading into town. Your breakfast is sitting on the table.’
“The doctor is stopping by today, he should be here within the hour. Are you okay till then?”
“I’ll be fine… what day is it?”
“Check your mirror, sweetie.”
Paul enters the bathroom and reads the message written across the mirror; YOU ARE PAUL AND IT IS TUESDAY.
“And don’t forget to take your pills!”
“I won’t, Ma.”
Looking at himself in the mirror, he notices the jagged scar running along his forehead, travelling from the bridge of his nose all the way around to his left temple. The flesh feels hot when he touches it, tracing his fingers along the scar, feeling how the skin is slightly raised and felt smoother than the rest of his forehead. You were in an accident. Your father and brother are dead. You injured your head in the accident, but you didn’t die. These thoughts drift in and out, faint images of half-broken memories clouding his mind.
After eating his breakfast (along with his medication, two tiny white capsules), showering, and changing into some loose fitting flannel, Paul heads outside to feed the chickens. The fruit and vegetables are all portioned out into little baskets and sit waiting on the rack at the side of the barn. You like to feed the chickens. And he had to admit he did, even if he wasn’t sure if he actually did like feeding the chickens on other days, at least today it was soothing, the calmness of the clear blue sky above, the soft whisper of the wind as it bends and twists the stalks in the field. After a little while, Paul hears the sound of tires crunching over gravel and sees a truck coming down the narrow dirt road towards the house. He finishes with the chickens, shaking one last handful of feed onto the ground and brushing his hands off on his jeans.
A middle-aged man steps down from the driver’s side door and begins walking over towards Paul. He is here for the vegetables.
“G’day, son,” the man says.
“Hello there,” Paul replies, speaking softly.
“Name’s Danny,” the man stretches a hand out.
“Paul,” he says, clasping Danny’s hand in his own. He notices the way Danny is looking at his head, his eyes hanging on a bit too long, and for a moment Paul forgets why… the scar. You have a giant scar on your forehead.
“Nice to meet yah, Paul,” the man continues “and you’re mother’s Miss Cheryl, am I right?”
“Great girl, really sweet. Been through a lot, that poor old bird. And you’re her…?”
Danny’s face twists up and he gives Paul the once over, studying the young man with his beady eyes.
“But I thought Cheryl’s son was dead?”
“That was my brother.”
“Oh, sweet Jesus, where are my manners? I’m sorry I brought it up. At least she’s still got you, eh?”
“Yea, I guess so.”
“I’m fairly new at the store, been there almost a month now. I spent most of my life living in Kincardine – I used to work for the Power Plant, you know?”
“I’ve heard of Kincardine before,” Paul says, pausing then as he tries to remember exactly what he had heard about it, or when. “It’s… by the lake… right?”
“You got it,” Danny says smiling.
Paul silently wonders how he knew that.
“As a matter of fact, you look real familiar.”
“Yeah, do you have any relatives there?”
An icy shiver crawls its way up Paul’s spine and he can feel sweat breaking out on his forehead.
“No, I… errr, I don’t know.”
“It’s just, you look so familiar, and when you said you knew Kincardine…”
“Well, I d-d-don’t actually know Kincardine,” Paul stammers, “I’ve never been there or anything. I think… someone must have told me about it.”
Danny nods and kicks at the dirt awkwardly with his steel toed boot.
“I’ll show you where the fruit and vegetables are,” Paul says, leading the man over to the backside of the barn.
Paul helps Danny load up all of the baskets into the back of the truck. The sun beams down on the farm, feeding the corn and the rye and the vegetables. Paul wipes at his sweaty brow and looks up into the sky, wondering if the birds have memories. They load the last basket into the truck and stand together in the gravel turnaround.
“Do you want a glass of water?” Paul asks.
“A glass of water would be just swell,” Danny says, smiling at Paul as he wipes his brow with his forearm, leaving a slight brown streak upon his forehead. ‘Like a brown scar,’ Paul thinks to himself.
Inside, as he pours water into the two cups filled to the brim with ice, Paul tries to silence the tiny voice in his head; Kincardine… by the lake.
Outside, Danny is leaning up against the truck with one foot tucked back between his opposite leg.
“Here you go,” Paul says, holding out the glass of ice water.
“Thank you young sir,” Danny says, taking the glass briskly. He tilts his head back and drinks down the water in exaggerated gulps. The cup is empty all but the ice within seconds. “Water never tasted better,” he says, smacking his lips.
“You’re sure you don’t have any relatives in Kincardine, eh? I can’t shake this feeling like I’ve seen you before…”
“I’m sorry sir, but I think you must be mistaken. I’ve lived here my whole life.”
“Fair enough,” Danny says, turning and opening the driver’s side door. “I’ll catch you on the flip side,” he grins, “I’ll be out here again tomorrow.”
“See you then,” Paul says, waving good-bye. He notices the Mexican man standing at the edge of the cornfield, staring at him with his hat pulled down low over his eyes. He is holding a dead stalk of corn in his one hand, broken in half and hanging limply down towards the ground. A sneer flashes across his stony face, and then he disappears again into the wall of corn.
Paul heads back inside, looking over his shoulder before closing the door behind him.
There are people watching me.
Paul goes to the kitchen sink and washes his hands, splashing cold water on his face as well.
The sound of a car door slamming startles him, and he rushes to the living room window to find a man approaching the house. He is wearing nice clothes and has a brown leather bag with him. The sun reflects brightly off his glasses as he climbs the front steps.
Paul rushes to the front door and opens it before he can knock.
“Hello there, Paul,” the man says, smiling softly with his hat in his hands. “How is your head feeling today?”
“Hi,” Paul replies, “its okay.”
“No,” Paul shakes his head.
“Do you know how I am?”
“Very good, Paul. Let’s go have a seat, shall we?”
The two enter the living room and Paul sits down on the couch. The doctor sets his bag down on the coffee table and pulls out a folder, taking a seat on the chair across from him.
“Let’s continue with our exercise, do you remember the last time we met?”
Paul searches the dusty catacombs of his mind for the memory, like a lighthouse blinking through the fog, he knew there was something behind the cloud, he just couldn’t quite make it out.
“I, err… no, not really.”
“That’s okay, Paul. That’s fine. You might pick up on something once we get started again.”
The doctor pulls out a picture from the folder and holds it up for Paul to see.
“Do you remember this?” he asks.
The picture is of a car crash, a red sedan lies crumpled in a ditch, sitting upside down with the frontend all smashed in. Paul’s mind races, sparks of lightning explode behind his eyes as he struggles to find meaning in the images.
“My father, he died in that crash.”
“Yes, that’s correct,” the doctor nods.
“And, my brother, he died too.”
“What else do you remember?”
“I was… in the car too. It’s how I got my scar.”
“Good, very good.”
“But I can’t actually remember it,” Paul says, looking up at the doctor with a contorted sort of look. “When I see that picture, I know what I’m supposed to say, but I can’t actually remember the crash.”
“That’s to be expected,” he says. “You suffered severe brain trauma in the accident. Your left Temporal Lope was damaged, badly. Do you know what our Temporal Lopes do?”
“They… help us to remember?”
“So when will it start getting better?”
“Soon,” the doctor grimaces, “we hope soon. Brain damage is tough, it’s hard to say when and what will bring you completely back. Until then, we just have to keep working at it. These exercises will help.”
“Can you remember your brother’s name?”
Charles, a voice hisses inside his head; your brother’s name is Charles.
“Good, very good,” the doctor says, quickly noting something in his folder. The sound of the pen scratching against the paper makes the inside of Paul’s head itch.
“And where are we?”
“My mother’s house.”
“Yes, but where is that? What town?”
Paul tries to remember; Kincardine, the voice in his head whispers.
The doctor, who was writing something at that moment, stops suddenly and looks up at Paul with eyes blazing. “No,” he says, “no, we are not in Kincardine. Why did you think to say Kincardine, Paul?”
“I’m… I’m not sure.”
“We are in Alliston, Paul. You must remember that we are in Alliston. Forget about Kincardine.”
You look so familiar.
That night Paul sits with his mother at the dinner table, a bottle of red wine rests in the center of the table, and both of their glasses are filled with the red-blood liquid. The roast glistens in the candle light, along with the roasted mini potatoes, asparagus, and garlic bread. It was far too much for just the two of them to finish, but Cheryl enjoyed cooking for four, and Paul could have the left-overs for lunch throughout the next couple of days.
“I’m sure your brother would have loved this,” she says, taking a long sip from his glass.
Paul stares at his own glass, still untouched by his hands. He looks up towards his mother and she returns his gaze, both of their eyes eventually falling upon the glass of wine. She was pretty for an older woman, her long brunette hair and a smile that could melt ice. Paul takes a sip from the glass and feels the tingling rush move down his throat, settling in the top half of his belly and making him thirsty for more. After his second glass of wine he begins to loosen up.
“Mom, I’ve been thinking a lot about university. I think I’d like to go.”
“Well, technically, we haven’t finished your home schooling yet,” she says. “And I just don’t think we have the money right now…”
“I’ll work a job while I’m in school, Mom. I can do it, I know I can. And I think it would be good for me, you know, if I could see some of the world outside this farm.”
“Oh, there’s nothing that special out there, believe me,” Cheryl says. “Nothing but pain and loss.”
It was all she could do to keep herself sane, to help her preserve the last few things in her life that still mattered. She felt opaque, like her insides were no longer made up of blood, guts and organs, but of cold concrete. She felt as if she had been robbed, and so in her mind, everything she had now was more than deserved, and she did not intend on giving up anything else. She kept Paul near the house for his own good, to protect him from the many evils in the world. She saw no imperative rush to send him off to University in some strange, far-away city. No good would come from it. The universities were different now, and she did not like the chants she heard on the news coming from the different schools, promoting underage drinking and unprotected sexual intercourse. It was a world full of savages; a cold world full of unknown strangers, waiting to take hold of you.
“Still,” Paul says between bites, “I would like to go.”
“Maybe when you’re head gets better, sweetie. Wouldn’t do you much good going to university if you can’t remember anything.”
“But I feel like it’s getting better…” Paul says, slurring his words as the wine causes his head to spin.
Cheryl nods and takes another sip from her glass. Paul has another gulp too and they finish their meal in silence. The sun is beginning to dip below the tree lines, sending a reflective glare through the window. Paul watches the toothpick shreds of light dance upon the table, moving over the ceramic plates and crystal stemmed wine glasses, and he wonders if a ray of light has memory. Does it know where it’s been or where it’s going? Or was everything chaotic? He didn’t care to know.
That night, Paul dreams he is trapped in a maze. The walls are made up of cornstalks and the sound of them brushing up against each other, the subtle scratching sound, causes him much distress; like the sound of a giant truck backing up; beep – beep – beep. It gnawed at his consciousness like a hungry dog. There are people watching me. Paul begins to jog, too afraid to look behind him because somehow, somewhere deep inside him, he knows he is being followed. The unseen eyes burn hot against the back of his neck, and the sounds grow louder, twisting and turning through the maze, he can make out the sound of earth being unturned, digging, but where? He had to find it, he had to get to the middle – to the source of the sounds. In his sleep-induced terror, a frenzied arm flails out from the side of the bed, knocking the picture of Paul and his mother to the ground where the glass frame smashes into thousands of tiny diamonds. Paul fails to notice the noise and continues his way through the maze, trying his best to get away, to run faster, but his feet seem to be weighed down by invisible anchors, and it takes every ounce of his strength just to lift each one. On the floor, the picture lies in two separate pieces; the one side still shows his mother standing in front of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, her smiling face beaming back up at the ceiling, and her arm slung around the shoulders of another boy, a much smaller boy, a boy who is clearly not Paul. The cut-out image of Paul that had been inserted beneath the frame lies a few feet away on the floor, suddenly exposed for the empty room to see, sitting awkwardly on it’s own. Cut-off from it’s prior state of existence.
The next morning, Paul awakens covered in a cold sweat, the sheets damp against his flesh, and he can hear noises from below him.
“Morning, sweetie,” His mother says form beside the bed where she is currently stooped over with a broom. “I’m just cleaning up your little mess here. You must have been thrashing in your sleep. Were you having bad dreams?”
“I can’t remember,” Paul says frowning. He looks over at the nightstand where a new frame has been placed, the picture of him and his mother in front of the Parliament Buildings staring back at him again.
My name is Paul.
I live with my mother.
I live in Alliston
My father and brother are dead.
I have brain damage.
And there are people watching me.
“I’ll go fix you some breakfast,” she says, smiling as she stands from the floor, the dustpan filled with tiny shards of glass. “Are you feeling okay today, sweetie?”
“Yes, I’m fine. What day is it?”
“Check your mirror, sweetie” she says over her shoulder as she leaves the room.
Paul gets out of bed and checks the mirror: YOUR NAME IS PAUL AND IT IS TUESDAY.
Before heading downstairs, Paul stops at his bedroom window and peers down at the driveway, his eyes drifting further along until they come to the cornfield, where three Mexican men are standing. One of them is holding a spade, a lump of chewing tobacco protruding out from his bottom lip, while the other two stand with their arms crossed over their chests. All of them are staring up at Paul through the window.
Downstairs, his mother serves him pancakes along with his pills.
“The doctor will be coming by today,” she says. “He should be here before noon. Do you need more syrup, sweetie?”
“No, I’m good.”
“Remember anything new today?” she asks, standing over him with a spatula in her hand.
“Have we ever been to Kincardine?” he asks, looking up at her.
“No,” she says, her face twisting, “no we’ve never been. What made you think of Kincardine?”
“I’m… not sure,” he says. “The name just keeps popping up in my head.”
“Well, that’s where your father used to work.”
“Oh… I, I guess I knew that.”
“Well, that’s good then!” she beams.
“When did we go to Ottawa?” he asks her. “Was I in school there?”
“Yes,” she nods, “yes, you were in school and I came up to visit. That’s where we took that picture together.”
“I know,” he says.
His mother leaves for work and Paul decides to feed the chickens. It’s a hot and muggy day outside and the sweat drips from his brow and down the sides of his torso in cold streaks. He studies the cornfield, all the stalks bowing and swaying in unison with the wind, and he wonders if the field is alive. If it had a consciousness. Could it remember?
A sense of déjà vu sweeps over him as the sun beams down and the tiny birds continue to peck at his outstretched hand. He hears the crunch of tires against gravel and sees a truck driving up the dirt road towards the house.
A man jumps down from the driver’s side door and rushes towards him.
“Paul! Paul! You’ve got to come with me,” the man says, grabbing Paul’s wrist with a tight grip. “Come on, get in my truck!”
“Let go of me!” he yells, yanking his arm free. Neither of them notice the group of Mexican men gathered at the edge of the cornfield, watching the scene unfold with curious eyes.
“Don’t you remember me, son?”
“No! I have no idea who you are.”
“That’s okay, never mind that for now. I have something you need to see, something that might scare you…”
“What is it?” Paul asks.
Danny rustles something out of his back pocket, unfolding a crumpled up newspaper clipping. “Here,” he says, “look at this.”
Paul stares into the eyes of his own face, an identical headshot in black and white. MISSING, it reads in big, bold letters above his head. Paul looks up desperately at Danny with tiny eyes.
“Go on, keep reading,” Danny says.
The search continues for Charles Dewitt, local Kincardine boy who has been missing for over two weeks now. His parents last saw him leaving for University on September 5th, two days before the start of regular classes. He was driving a red Pontiac Sunfire, and was heading for Ottawa. When he didn’t call that night to confirm he had made it, his parents naturally thought he was out with friends. ‘I wasn’t worried at first, because, you know, a 21-year-old boy doesn’t always think to call his mother right away.’ After a few days of not hearing back from Charles, Shelly Dewitt called her son’s roommate, who explained to her that Charles had never showed up for the first day of school. So far, police have no leads as to the whereabouts of the young man. ‘There’s been no crash sites reported, no sign of the car. It’s like he completely vanished off the face of the earth,’ Constable Wilbur reported to us in a detailed statement. ‘It just doesn’t make any sense,’ says Shelly. ‘He was such a happy boy, I know he wouldn’t just run away…’ Anyone with information pertaining to the whereabouts of this young man is asked to please contact the authorities immediately.
“I think that’s you,” Danny says, reaching for the young man’s arm again.
“It can’t be,” he says, “I’ve never been to Kincardine…”
“Look at the picture, son.”
Paul looks down again at his own smiling face. The hair, the eyes, the lips; they were all the same. The only thing missing was the scar running across his forehead.
“Come on, let me take you with me.”
Paul allows himself to be pulled, not out of acceptance but out of pure shock. His mind races, like a frantic broom sweeping up bits and pieces of half-information into a jumbled up little pile; unfinished thoughts and half imagined faces speed past his inner eye. You live in Alliston. Your father and brother are dead. There are people watching you.
“Wait!” Paul says, stopping in front of the truck. “I can’t go with you – I can’t trust you. I don’t even know who the hell you are!”
“You don’t even know who you are, son.”
“Fuck off!” he screams. “My name is Paul. I live with my mother in Alliston. My brother and father are dead. And I have brain damage!”
Danny frowns. “Do you really believe that?”
“I have too,” Paul says.
“Listen, Charlies. I knew your father. We used to work together at the Plant. You’ve been missing for over a year now. These people, this farm… they’re not what you think…”
Both Danny and Paul are startled by the sound of another oncoming car, the gravel crunching beneath the wheels. The black sedan stops abruptly beside Danny’s truck, sending up a cloud of dust from the gravel driveway. Paul’s doctor exits the car quickly, rushing around to join them at the front of the truck.
“What is the meaning of this?” he asks, looking at Danny.
“He’s trying to take me from here.”
“That’s not true, sir,” Danny sputters, “I… I was only trying to show the kid…”
“Show him what?”
“It’s just… this kid, he looks an awful lot like someone I used to know….”
Paul’s doctor snatches the newspaper clipping from Danny’s trembling hands, scanning over the words with widening pupils.
“This is preposterous!” he exclaims, looking back up at Danny. “I’ve known this boy here since he was born. I was in the delivery room when Cheryl gave birth. His name is Paul, it’s always been Paul, and it always will be.”
“Okay, man,” Danny says, backing away now towards the driver’s side door. “Whatever you say, doc.”
“What’s your name?”
“Sorry, I’ve… I’ve really go to be going now,” Danny says, his hands out in front of him, seemingly trying to push against the air. “Sorry for coming out here, I’m sorry.”
Paul’s doctor watches the man re-enter his truck, starting up the engine with a coughing roar. He looks once at Paul, who stares blankly back at him. Inside Paul’s mind, he desperately attempts to figure out who this second man is…
The truck pulls a quick three-point turn and begins travelling back towards the highway.
“I’ll be back,” Paul’s doctor says, “do you know who I am?”
“You’re… my… doctor?”
“That’s right, and who are you?”
“Good, very good. I’ll be back in no time, I just have to take care of something.”
And with that, Paul’s doctor hops back into his car and speeds after the truck, leaving a cloud of dust trailing behind him.
Before Paul can make it back to the front steps, he is grabbed from behind, his arms pinned back against one another, and a shooting flare of white hot pain flashes behind his eyes. He can smell the strong musk coming from the Mexican man, and feels his breath all hot and heavy against the back of his neck. Another Mexican comes around to stand in front of Paul. Suddenly, it feels as if tiny bolts are being screwed into his temples, jabs of white hot pain pierce in through his skull and swim behind his eyes. Paul doubles over and lets out a groan.
“We want our dead!” the man says, his voice hoarse and raspy.
“I don’t know what you’re fucking talking about!” Paul screams.
“We take you, we bring you with us. We want our dead.”
“Let go of me, you bastards!”
The hit comes from behind, knocking Paul into semi-consciousness, stars dancing upon his cloud of vision. The men half drag, half walk with Paul into the cornfield. They follow the winding trail through the cornstalks, the green rods towering over them from all sides. Paul’s mind resets and by the time he has fully regained consciousness, he has already forgotten about Danny and the newspaper clipping. My name is Paul. I live with my mother in Alliston. And these people are going to kill me.
They gather at the very back of the cornfield, where the stalks end and the forest begins. The trees stretch on for miles, moving up the gradually rising hillside in a vast ocean of greenery. One of the Mexicans is carrying a shovel, and he brings it over to Paul, slamming it on the ground and pointing at it with his dirt-covered finger.
“Please, please no,” Paul begs.
“You dig now,” the Mexican man says.
“You dig now, for our dead. We make you dig!”
“Please! Won’t someone tell me what’s going on?” Paul groans as a sharp stab of pain slices through his brain.
Paul is thrust from behind towards the shovel. One of the Mexican men is holding a long knife by his side, the steel blade shines menacingly in the sunlight, a sharp glare bouncing off it. The man notices Paul’s gaze and nods at him, pulling his tight lips back into a grin that said, ‘just make me, boy, I dare you.’
Paul picks up the shovel and stands with it between his trembling fingers. The Mexican men, all four of them, stand around him in a circle.
“I don’t know where you want me to dig…” Paul starts.
“You dig! You dig where you bury him!”
“Buried who?” Paul cries, spittle flying from the corners of his lips. He felt light-headed, like he was in a dream. Paul closes his eyes and gives his head a quick shake, hoping to jolt himself awake. Unfortunately for him, this was all too real, and the Mexican men were growing impatient.
“Dig!” the man screams, smacking Paul across the mouth with an open hand. “You dig now!”
Paul begins to fork at the earth frantically, tears streaming down his face, mixing with the sweat and dirt. He reefs on the shovel, sending earth flying in different directions, chucking the dry dirt away as fast as the blaring pain in his head would allow. The other men stand back and watch, pensively waiting.
“Paul!” a voice calls from inside the cornfield. “Paul, are you out there?”
“Help me!” he screams, standing up swiftly and bringing the shovel up and around his head. He swings it above him in a circle, trying to ward off the Mexican men. The man with the knife steps forward and then back again as the whooshing shovel blade nearly takes off the tip of his nose. Paul begins to howl, swinging the shovel from left to right, his feet turning him in a circle.
Paul’s doctor emerges from the cornstalks, his glasses all smudged and foggy, and he rushes over towards the group, slowing down as he approaches Paul, who still has the shovel raised up over his head.
“Paul, it’s me. Do you know who I am?”
“No!” he screams, “no, I don’t know who any of you are! Where am I? What are you going to do to me?”
“We’re not going to do anything to you, Paul. I’m your doctor. Everything is okay. These men were just asking you for a little help, they just wanted you to help.”
The man with the knife tucks it back into his waistline and stands beside the others. None of them have spoken yet, but they all continue to watch Paul, never taking their eyes from him. Slowly, Paul lets the shovel fall from his hands, landing hollow on the worn ground. And as his mind sputters, he coughs and falls to his knees, his scar glowing red as he passes out in the vicious summer sun.
In the kitchen, Cheryl pours a glass of water for her son, adding a small white capsule which quickly dissolves in the liquid. Paul is huddled on the couch with his knees up to his chest, and she sits down softly beside him, placing her hand on his while simultaneously bringing the water over and placing it between his fingers.
“There, there,” she says, “just drink this and have a good rest, you’ll feel better in the morning.”
“But I can’t go to sleep, I can’t…”
“Shhh,” she says, gently rubbing his hair, “you can, here,” and she tilts the glass towards his face from the bottom, watching him gulp down the water she watches the fear slowly die in his eyes, and her cheeks glow as she takes the empty glass from his trembling hand.
“There we go, sweetie, all better now.”
“There are people watching me…” he whispers softly, his eyes slowly rolling up and away.
Paul’s doctor stands at the window looking out towards the back of the cornfield. He holds a glass of scotch between his steady hand, swirling it melodically in the pale night. Cheryl flicks on a lamp, bathing the room in warm, orange light.
“We’re going to have to do something about the workers,” she says.
“They just want the body, that’s all. We can give them that much. They just want to bury the body on their own terms. I’ll go out there tomorrow and excavate it with them, and then you will have to find new workers for the farm. These ones have to go.”
“But Travis, what if they tell?”
“They won’t,” Travis shakes his head, “I’ll make sure of that.”
“But how, how can you make sure?”
“These guys depend on their work up here, on their status as Temporary Foreign Workers. Something like this, a mysterious death in the crew, well, it raises a lot of questions. All of a sudden, background checks are being made, finances are being scrutinized, and I don’t think any of these guys want that. All they really want is to make enough money to send home to their families, and I can promise them new jobs at another farm. All they want is the body.”
“My poor baby,” she says, turning to Paul who lies all sprawled out on the couch. “He didn’t know what he was doing. It wasn’t his fault.”
“Hm mm,” Travis nods, “he was just confused. And scared.”
“How can we make sure he doesn’t do it again?”
“We’ll have to watch him. We’ll have to increase his medication, too. I’ll find something mellow, maybe some Lithium, to help with his nerves, keep him nice and calm.”
“Will he ever remember who he actually is?”
“No,” Travis shakes his head. “At least not for a very long time. But with the right practices, we can work him into a routine. We can force him to accept this new life, because it’s all he will ever know.”
“Thank you, again, for this,” Cheryl says to him, looking at him with watering eyes.
“I’ll be out tomorrow morning to check up on you guys,” he says. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” she says, turning again towards her son, “Yes, Paul and I will be just fine.”
As Travis pulls away from his sister’s house, he takes another pull from his flash, cringing and coughing. The headlights cut through the foggy darkness like two knifes, and his left-hand grips the wheel tightly. ‘She needs this,’ he thinks to himself. ‘It’s the only way she can keep her sanity.’ It wasn’t her fault, what happened with her first son and husband. He never really got right in the head, her husband, after he returned from Afghanistan. Too much blood and too many screams; images of twisted and blown apart limbs etched along the insides of his skull. When he turned the shotgun on himself, it was certainly a release. Why he chose to kill the boy was another matter, and it had caused him many restless nights, thinking about the real Paul’s last few seconds on earth, the fear he must have felt, the loneliness… I’m sure he meant to kill Cheryl too, but something stopped him. Perhaps it was his son’s brain matter splattered all over the wall that did it, coming to that horrific realization, maybe he simply didn’t have the patience… either way, Cheryl’s husband bit the bullet, taking everything she ever loved away from her. But she had a new son now, and that seemed only fair. For a woman who gave up so much for her family, hell, for her country, it was the least she deserved. One more shot at having a normal life, one more shot at having a son. It was he who found the boy in the wreck, his car all smashed up, blood pouring from the laceration in his head. He had saved his life, nursing the boy back to health in his own office, and when he brought him out here for Cheryl (at this time she had already tried to kill herself once), she didn’t understand at first. But he showed her. He showed her how she could make this new boy her son. He showed her how to live again.
You’re going to get caught, a sinister voice reminds him. Eventually people will find out what you’ve done.
‘No,’ he thinks to himself. ‘No they won’t, because people don’t like confronting tragedy. No one comes to visit my sister, and the workers keep to themselves for the most part.’
The truck driver knew, the voice replies.
‘Yes, the truck driver was an unfortunate occurrence, but there was no reason the same situation needed to ever occur again.’
He lights a cigarette and wipes ash from his pants, which are splattered with fine dots of red. A shovel sits coldly in the backseat, waiting for a chance to tear into the earth, begging for it, and in the trunk of his car, a hollow thud can be heard as Travis turns down an abandoned county line, searching for the best place to dig.
And from the house, Cheryl watches her brother’s car disappear along the highway, her son lies snoring on the couch, and she nestles in beside him, placing his warm head in her lap and softly rubbing his hair.
“It’s okay, Paul, “she croons, “it’s okay, my baby.”
Her mind convulses, momentarily coughing up images of blood and horror, but she swallows them down, biting back the bitter taste and letting her imagination digest these things which she used to know as facts. Her reality had been destroyed, utterly and completely. She rubs at the faint scar along her wrist, the vertical line that screamed up at her; this isn’t real! You are not this boy’s mother! But she couldn’t be bothered with such inconveniences. She had found peace. She deserved it. ‘He’s my son, again.’ She thinks to herself softly, drifting into a dream. ‘He’s mine and no one can take him away from me.’
Paul awakens on the couch the next morning, with Cheryl asleep beside him in an upright position. Outside, the world continues spinning, oblivious to the minor details, a new day, a new beginning:
Your name is Paul.
You live with your mother.
Your father is dead.
Your brother is dead.
Your 21 years old.
You have brain damage.
And you killed a man…