by Sadie O'Deay

Shadow and light. Pain and fear. He didn't feel cold but knew he was. Brightness overhead, blinding him. He tried to draw his knees up, curl away from the cold. Agony burst a nova in his head and gray fog covered the sun, covered him until there was nothing.

Someone was yelling at him…some self-righteous authority, telling him not to fuck up this time like he had in Costa Rica with the damn kitesurfing. If he hurt himself snowboarding, it would mean the end of his racing season. The authority figure reminded him of this at high volume, making him grind his teeth in frustration. Nobody was going to tell him what to do. Life was too short to live by the mandates and whims of other people. But he couldn't shout back; his voice was drowned out by the sanctimonious bastard shouting at him.

The sound of that voice faded from his dream, and he awoke to nightmare. Fever swept through him in sick waves, but he was still aware of the hellish cold. Starlight turned the snowfields eerie shades of blue and gray; colors of frozen death. Pockets of rock and snow looked to his fevered eyes like frozen, lumpish bodies lying haphazard and silent. And he was alone among them, alone among the dead, and soon he would be one of them. He sensed this as an animal senses it, and at first he accepted it with grim fortitude.

Gradually, it dawned on him that he could not remember what he had just been dreaming. The importance of recalling it grew immense to his distorted brain, but the harder he groped toward it, the further it receded. Finally, he was left floating in a vast blackness without even a pinpoint of familiarity.

Lethargy dragged at him and he slipped into a third dream, his final dream of memory. He was on a helicopter, tired and irritable while he argued with the dense-headed pilot. His mind was wandering, and he began to think that the fat wop at the coffee kiosk near the helipad had given him decaf. Fucking Italians with their frappuccino, espresso, con leche. All he wanted was good old American convenience-store coffee and the fat bastard had slipped him decaf. When he got to the bottom of his run he'd kick the dude right in the overgrown belly.

He gasped awake fighting to breathe, mouth and eyes stretched wide. He couldn't sit up, knew he was freezing solid. Had to move, now, but there was something was wrong, hurtful, in his head and hips. He used his hands, instead, slapping at his frozen face. The impact sent off skyrockets inside his skull. Turning his head, he retched heaving into the snow. Took a long, shuddering breath, glad to be breathing, glad for the steam rising from his vomit keeping the side of his face warm, if only for a little while. Above him, unfamiliar stars wheeled. Dizzy and weak, he closed his eyes. Someone had to find him. Please. He didn't know where he was.

The whup-whup-whup sound began faintly. He listened to it, eyes slit against the brightness, listened to it grow louder--the sound of helicopter rotors. He waited. Faces appeared, voices jabbered, and he had the sense of being moved, lifted, and the pain, wow, making him scream until one of the faces came in close with a needle by its ear and said something he didn't understand. The needle pricked into his arm and he swooned, being carried again, but this time he didn't mind.

The next time he woke, he was in a hospital. It wasn't just the metal bed he lay in, or the drab white ceiling and walls, that told him; he knew from the smell. Antiseptic, and the sterile peroxide smell of bandages. Floor wax. And underlying it all, the stink of human shit and fear.

He knew other things, too. More accurately, there were things he didn't know.

He'd hurt himself, obvious from the bandage he felt on his head and the one he could see stretched across his hip. Also, he had a strong disinclination to move his legs. For now, he trusted it.

He didn't know where he was, other than a hospital. What city or state. What had happened to get him here? It wasn't too clear who he was, either, which might have freaked him out if he didn't feel so loose. High. Floating.

After a while a doctor in a white coat came in, frowned at him and shone a light in his eyes, and said something unintelligible.

"Unintelligible," he told the doctor. "Un-din-lej-ib-ibble." He laughed. The doctor frowned some more while he checked tubes and wires that protruded from various parts of his patient's body. My body, said patient thought dreamily, is leaking tubes and wires. Cool. I must be a cyborg. He pondered this while the doctor crossed to the other side of the room and switched on an X-ray display. It lit up blue-shadowed photos of somebody's pelvis-his own, he supposed, and they were pretty interesting to look at. Part of the jutting hipbone had split and there was a long, diagonal striation through the bone below, leading toward the groin. Glowing brightly at the split end was a strip of metal, about three inches by two. A plate of some kind. I really am a cyborg, he thought. Far fucking out.

The doctor said something and pointed at the X-rays. He managed to raise his eyebrows and frown at the same time. You're not too happy, are you, guy, the cyborg thought. Doc seemed to be waiting for some sign that his patient understood he had taken a serious hit.

"Oops," the cyborg obliged, and giggled.

Time passed. Shadows came and went in the room. Sometimes he thought he slept, other times he wasn't sure. His dreams, waking or sleeping, were vague and monstrous.

The doctor came back with another doctor, one he could understand. This new doctor stood beside his bed and asked him how he was feeling. "Zonked," he replied. The doctor asked his name.

He hesitated.

The doctor said, in heavily accented English, "You had no identification with you when you were found. It would help us notify your family that you are alive if we knew your name."

There was something preventing thinking, making his head hurt, making him shy away. "I don't know my name."

The doctor was quiet for a while, watching him. "Do you know what happened to you?" he finally asked. But the questions were making him tired. As he closed his eyes to sleep, he heard the doctor say something that faded into nonsense.

Four days passed before he came to full consciousness, but he didn't know it. Dilaudid had rendered time meaningless. His first rational thought was that his hip hurt like hell. Deep, stabbing pain that throbbed vengefully with every pulse, forcing him awake.

His second rational thought was to wonder why his room was so crowded. The doctors he remembered, but not the three worried-looking people standing near his bed, two men and a woman. He opened his mouth and shut it, grimacing at the awful taste, like iron and clay. Breathing through his nose made him want to gag as the smell hit him again, the sick-sweat stink beneath the chemical lemon mask of floor polish.

The doctor he could understand came to stand beside his head and told him, "Your friends are here." He motioned for the people to come closer.

One of the men said, "Goddamn, buddy, we were about to write you off there for a day or two." His face held a quizzical half-smile, and his eyes were bright.

When he didn't answer, the woman asked, "How are you feeling?" Her voice was rich, and soft, and tentative.

My friends, he thought. Who are these people? His hip throbbed and he wanted them to go away, but they all had a breathless, expectant air. Irritable with pain, he snarled, "Do I know you?"

They all looked to the doctor, who gave a quick negative shake of his head. "He's been off dilaudid for six hours. You don't remember your friends?" looking down at him.

"No…I don't." Fear crept along his veins. "Should I?"

"Can you tell me your name?" the doctor asked.

But he couldn't, staring, searching, finding only a blank space.

"What's the first thing you remember?"

He thought about that. "Snow. Being cold, and hurt. I fell?"

The doctor nodded. "You had a snowboarding accident. You fractured the right iliac crest of your pelvis, lacerated your scalp, and were suffering from hypothermia when the rescue team found you. It appears you have also developed temporary amnesia, probably from hitting your head, though other factors may have been involved." He sighed. "Your name is Noah Pike. You are from the United States, vacationing here, in Italy. Your friends reported you missing five days ago."

The silence that followed stretched on while he digested this information. He swallowed. "Amnesia? For how long?"

The doctor smiled. "Don't worry. Things will come back on their own as you heal, maybe all at once, maybe a little at a time. Be patient."

The second man, his friend, spoke for the first time. "Everything's gonna be cool, man, we're here for you. Just concentrate on healing up."

He, Noah Pike, the name strange in his mind's voice, watched without comment as the doctor made "time to go" noises and opened the valve on his dilaudid drip. I hurt, he thought, grateful for the drug's waking oblivion; and, watching the three people leave, I don't know them.

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