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Dr. Garrett Lord woke up suddenly, gasping for air. He lay in the middle of his king-sized bed in his bedroom, bloodied and naked, aside from the small silver cross, which hung around his neck.
He was terrified.
He sat up and looked around his room. All was quiet. He listened to the silence in an attempt to ascertain if he was alone. He heard no sounds, except for his breathing, as the morning sun cut sharp slivers through the blinds, giving way to another brilliant summer day. He could hear the birds chirping in the trees outside his window, but his heart was full of dread.
The stillness of the room alarmed him, much like the calm before a storm. He looked down at his blood-stained hands as if this was the first time he had seen them. Minus their reddish hue, they looked the same; they were the same size and the same shape, yet, in some sense, they looked entirely unfamiliar. Part of him felt as if he was looking at a stranger's hands, and he wondered what had happened.
Then, he noticed the bloodied sheets. The red stains glared up and mocked him while daring him to discover their origins.
Have I been cut? Stabbed? In an accident?
He suddenly panicked as a thousand unpleasant thoughts buzzed through his head. His frantic hands raced across his taut frame seeking a wound or a cut, but neither could be found. He leapt out of bed with the spryness of a teenager and tore the eggshell-colored silk sheets off his bed and threw them in a corner. He had to see his face.
As soon as he entered the room, lights above the long, rectangular mirror, which were operated by sensors, lit up the darkened space.
He gasped when he saw his reflection in the mirror.
Dried blood had congealed around his nose, and a bloodied wound above his left eye was visible and sore to the touch.
Sweet Jesus, keep me near the cross.
Immediately, he pumped a handful of soap out of the dispenser into his large hands and then stuck them underneath the faucet, which was also controlled by sensors, causing a cold blast of water to shoot out. He washed feverishly and furiously, trying to scrub away any sign or trace of blood. As he cleaned his hands, a most unpleasant thought crept across his mind; a thought so vile, it caused him to momentarily stop what he was doing. What if this isn't my blood? He scrubbed furiously trying to wash away the stains and his thoughts. He scrubbed his hands, his wrists, his forearms, all the way up to his elbows. He didn't even care that the water was becoming hot enough to scald.
He then grabbed the expensive soap he used only on his face and lathered up his hands again. He scrubbed his face furiously, nicking his own self with his fingernails at times, until all of the blood had been removed. A pinkish ring formed in his marble sink where the bloody water had risen taunting him even daring him to remember what had happened.
He stared at his reflection in the mirror. Something unfamiliar and sinister lurked behind his usually bright eyes. In part, he didn't recognize his own face. It wasn't as if he didn't look the same. It was as if he stared into a trick mirror, in which his image was slightly distorted. He shook his head forcefully to clear his mind.
He needed to know what had happened. He took a deep and deliberate breath and tried to recall the events that could explain his present state, but when he searched his memory, all he could see was blackness. It was as if his memory had been intentionally erased. The last thing he remembered was being in church, on a Wednesday night for a special meeting, listening to his pastor make a startling confession, when his nose began to bleed.
He couldn't even remember the details of the confession.
He remembered sitting in the pews, with his eyes tightly closed, shaking his head from side-to-side, hoping the pastor's words were a cruel joke and would fade away when he opened his eyes. He remembered feeling nauseous and a bit dizzy and then someone tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the blood that stained his blue shirt. When Garrett touched his nose and he drew his fingers back, they were stained by his own blood.
He remembered darting out of the sanctuary holding his nose.
Everything after that was a mystery.
Not another blackout.
Garrett had thought the worst was behind him. He hadn't had a blackout in six months, but when his nose started to bleed in church, he panicked because nosebleeds usually preceded his loss of consciousness.
Two years ago, he suffered his first blackout. He remembered waking up in a strange hotel on the outskirts of the city, naked, except for the cross around his neck. He hadn't told anyone about his blackouts, except his doctor, who could not determine a physiological reason. He suggested that Garrett seek the assistance of a psychiatrist, but Garrett balked at the suggestion. I ain't crazy, he remembered thinking as he marched out of the doctor's office in a huff.
Garrett dried his face and walked out of his restroom, almost in a daze, his breathing heavy, and looked around his bedroom for the clothing he had worn the night before. He hoped to search the pockets for some clue about what had transpired, but he could not find them. He half-expected to see a balled-up pair of slacks and a blood-stained shirt in a corner somewhere in the room, but aside from a half-empty cup of tea on his nightstand, the room was immaculate.
He raced over to the closet, tore open the door and stepped into the bedroom-sized walk-in closet. Everything in the closet was arranged neatly, by color and style, with blazers on the left and slacks on the right, from light to dark. Directly in front of him was a wall full of shoes and every pair was accounted for.
He peeled back the hangers and looked closely at all of his blue shirts. The one he'd had on was not there.
Maybe I took it to the cleaners? He tried to wrap himself in that thought, but it didn't feel right.
He stepped out of the closet and gazed around the room. Everything was in perfect order, but something didn't feel right. Even the colorful floral arrangement, which was centered on a round table near the fireplace, looked undisturbed. Then, he noticed something out of place on the table. A lone half-sheet of white paper was on the table. It looked as if it had been deliberately left for him. He looked at the table again and moved closer. He took small, carefully timed steps as if the paper would lunge at him if he moved too quickly. Once close enough, he looked oddly at the unfamiliar handwriting and the unusual word, which was etched across the paper:
He raised his eyebrows in confusion and rubbed his hands over his bald head.
What does that mean?
It was not unusual for him to find odd objects after one of his spells. In the past he had found clothing that wasn't his, jewelry that he had never seen and on one occasion, he found a lock of jet-black, silky-smooth hair on the floor next to his car keys. Each time he found something unfamiliar, he'd throw it away. He never tried to figure out where the objects came from.
Something powerful at his core had always told him that he didn't want to know. However, this time was different. This time he wanted to know; this time, he had to know. He knew that he could no longer ignore that some- thing with him was terribly wrong. He could no longer deny his bizarre disappearances or the strange appearance of mysterious objects or his bruised flesh. The mystery of this blackout was beginning to take its toll on him. He could feel a headache creeping up like a slow-moving fog.
Again, he searched his memory, but he simply could not recall anything after he ran out of the church. He knew that he must have gone to the restroom because he wouldn't have gotten into his car while bleeding, but he couldn't remember. He rubbed the paper between his index finger and thumb, hoping that it would jar his memory, but it didn't.
He jumped when he heard the ringing of his cell phone. Immediately, he looked toward his nightstand the phone's usual resting place but it was not there. He listened more closely, but the sound eluded him. He darted quickly through the room, trying to get closer to the sound, when he finally figured out that the ringing was coming from under his bed. He dropped to his knees, raised the bed skirt and peered under it. He grabbed the phone right before his voice mail picked up.
"Hello?" he said. As soon as the word left his mouth, he realized that he sounded out of breath.
"Baby, what's going on?" the exasperated voice on the other end of the phone inquired. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Garrett said as he got up from the floor and sat his naked ass on the bed. Gabriel's voice on the other end of the phone was full of concern and worry.
"Where are you?"
"I'm at home. Why?"
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, why? Wassup?"
"Where have you been?"
"What do you mean?"
"Baby, I've been calling you for hours. You were supposed to pick me up from the airport last night," the voice stated dryly. "I'm at your gate. Buzz me in."
Garrett hung up the phone and walked over to the control panel on the wall near the intercom system and hit the "open" button so that the gate would roll back. He searched for something to put on and went over to his chest of drawers and pulled out a pair of warm-ups and a "wife beater." Hurriedly, he raced downstairs, all the while his mind searching for answers that would not come. He wasn't sure what he was going to tell Gabriel and he only had a few seconds to come up with something believable.
Garrett anxiously opened the door as Gabriel was about to knock.
"Hey," Gabriel said as he walked in, his face bent with curiosity. Garrett pushed the door shut and gave him a small hug that was uncharacteristic of their usual embrace.
Gabriel pushed away.
"I've been calling you all night. I was worried as hell about you. I thought you had been in an accident or something. I called the hospitals and even the jail. What's going on? And what happened to your eye?" His voice was strained as if the worry had scarred his throat.
"Oh, some kid in the hospital didn't want a shot so he punched me." Garrett laughed nervously as he rubbed the tender spot. "Baby, I'm sorry. I don't know how I forgot." Garrett rubbed his hand over his head hoping the motion would somehow prod his vacant memory.
"What do you mean, you don't know what happened? I spoke to you before I got on the plane in New York and everything was fine. How could you forget?" Gabriel's worry turned to anger.
"I got busy at the hospital." Garrett could offer no reasonable explanation and his default excuse was always work. "We had a couple of serious emergencies."
"I called the hospital and they told me you weren't there."
"Well, I don't know who you spoke to, but I was there most of the night; by the time I left I was so exhausted I came home and passed out."
By the expression on Gabriel's face, Garrett could tell that he was not buying into his lie.
"Let me get this straight, you were so busy at the hospital that you couldn't find thirty seconds to call me and tell me to take a cab? Hell, I waited for you for over an hour."
"You know how wrapped up I get in the emergency room. We had three people seriously injured in a car accident on Connecticut Avenue and a kid who fell off a balcony at George Washington University it was a crazy night."
"And the kid."
"Huh? What kid?"
"The kid who hit you in the eye."
"Oh yeah, the kid," Garrett said as he laughed nervously and rubbed his eye.
"Okay, something doesn't feel right. What's really going on?"
"Baby, there's nothing going on. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say." Gabriel looked into Garrett's eyes, but the weight of his stare unnerved him and Garrett turned away. "You want some coffee or tea?" he said as he moved toward the kitchen.
Gabriel followed him into the kitchen as Garrett searched every dark corner of his mind for some detail, or image or word that might provide some clue as to what had happened to him. When he arrived at church the previous day, it was a little after six in the evening. Now, it was after nine in the morning and he couldn't recall anything that had happened to him in the last fifteen hours.
"Baby, I'll make it up to you I promise. Am I forgiven?" Garrett said with a disarming smile as he pulled his mug from underneath the pot. Garrett sensed that Gabriel was more relieved that nothing dire had happened to Garrett than he was angry so Garrett played on that sentiment. "I'll do anything that you want me to," he said in a sing-song voice.
"You're lucky I don't feel like arguing. I'm simply glad you're okay. So, yes, you're forgiven, but you better start thinking of something very special for stranding me and having me worry my ass all night about you."
"I will, baby, I promise." Gabriel walked slowly over to Garrett and kissed his lips. Instantly, he felt the heat.
"I left a notepad here the other night. I need it to finish this boring-ass story that's due today," Gabriel said as he pulled away.
"I haven't seen a pad."
"I left it upstairs. I'll get it." Gabriel turned and walked toward the stairs. When he disappeared around the corner a thought flashed across Garrett's mind: the bloody sheets. Immediately, he darted around the corner, hoping he could halt Gabriel's forward march. He saw Gabriel midway up the stairs, moving quickly.
"Gabriel!" Garrett called out.
"I think your pad is down here."
Gabriel stopped. "Really? Okay. Well, I've got to pee anyway."
Garrett raced up the stairs and when Gabriel walked into the master suite, he immediately noticed the pile of sheets on the floor.
"A little early for cleaning?" he asked with a bit of spice.
"Nah, I wanted to get it done before I went in to work," Garrett said. Gabriel eyed him momentarily and walked into the restroom.
While Gabriel peed, Garrett shifted nervously from one foot to the other, hoping he could get out of this situation unscathed. He guessed that Gabriel's investigative instinct wouldn't let this pass. All of the signs pointed toward something being terribly awry.
When Gabriel stepped out of the restroom, he walked over to the sliding glass door, opened it, stepped onto the balcony and retrieved the pad from the table overlooking the swimming pool. When he retrieved the pad, he shot Garrett a most curious look.
"Well, I've got to get to work. Call me later," Gabriel said as he walked out without making eye contact.
"Alright, baby, I'll call you later this afternoon," Garrett called out as Gabriel exited the room.
Garrett exhaled and tried to compose himself when he heard the front door open and close. He knew exactly what Gabriel was thinking; his disappearance, the sheet-less bed that gave the appearance that he was covering up something Gabriel must've thought he was having sex with someone else. He'd have his chance to fix things with Gabriel, but right now he had to focus on getting his memory back.
Half a day had gone by and he couldn't explain anything. All he knew was that he had woken up naked, with blood covering his hands and a scar above his eye.
At that moment, an eerie presence seemed to move subtly through the room. He couldn't see it, but it was there, like a bad omen.
Then, he noticed something.
He looked toward the fireplace at the huge gold-jeweled crucifix that hung above it. It usually served as a source of inspiration and when times were particularly rough like now he'd kneel before it and pray.
But not this time.
It hung upside-down.
He gasped. © 2007 by Lee Hayes