Chapter 1: Waking Up.
“Once upon a time,” is how fairy tales begin. But this is not a fairy tale. fairy tales have things like beautiful princesses and noble heroes, fierce dragons and happily-ever-after endings. But this story has none of those, so if you like that sort of tale, then this story may not be the kind you would like to read.
This story is about someone who didn’t remember his own name, but we will call him “Slayd”, because that is what he heard when he woke up.
Now, waking up may not seem like a very important thing to you or me, but to Slayd it was very important indeed, because he could not remember anything before that.
Well, he did remember a very few things. He remembered running in soft green grass, and the smell of blueberry pie being baked in the oven, and what his favorite climbing-tree looked like, and that he really liked bugs and other small crawly things. But he didn’t remember the Really Important Things, like who his mother and father were, or where he had been born, or whether or not he had any brothers or sisters. Slayd really didn’t remember anything aside from the occasional image or sudden short memory. He certainly didn’t remember any day-to-day type things from before he woke up that morning.
In fact, the last thing he remembered was a voice, calling in a sharp, hissing voice - “Slayd!” - and waking up in a very dark place, one that was very small and cramped. Slayd did not like being inside anything very small and cramped, so you can imagine he didn’t like this at all. Now, when you are in a very small and dark place, the first thing you will want to do is try to get out, and that is just what Slayd wanted to do. He put his hands out as far as he could, which, as he discovered quickly, was only a very little on either side. He could feel the ceiling only inches from his nose.
He tried to call for help, because that is what many people do when they find themselves in a sticky situation like the one Slayd found himself in. He called and called, and even tried knocking on the ceiling of his tiny prison, but no one came. He sighed to himself, thinking that it might be a good idea to change his strategy and see if he could find a doorknob, or a handle, or some kind of way to open up his little cell. He felt around (because he certainly couldn’t see, it was much too dark for that), but he didn’t find any kind of handle. He did feel small crawly things, which were probably maggots. He had felt maggots before, and they felt remarkably like the small crawly things he was feeling now. This would have frightened you or I, but Slayd liked all kinds of small crawly things, so it didn’t bother him one bit. Since he couldn’t find a handle or a latch - and the maggots were certainly not helping him find it - he decided the low ceiling would probably be his best bet.
He pushed with all his might against the ceiling - and it did indeed start to slowly move, making a crack between the ceiling and the walls. Dirt started to fall in through the little crack, and he suddenly got a little worried, because the only reason that Slayd would think of for dirt to fall in would be if the tiny room was underground, and Slayd didn’t like that idea at all. But those uncomfortable thoughts didn’t make him stop trying to get out. Not at all, instead Slayd pushed harder and harder on the ceiling, and more dirt started to fall in. He tried his best to ignore it and kept pushing until the ceiling suddenly flew up, and lots of dirt showered down on Slayd’s head. But that didn’t matter, because now he could sit up and look around.
Although he couldn’t honestly say he knew quite what to expect, Slayd was surprised to see that it was bright and sunny outside. There were trees all around, with happy birds singing happy tunes and squirrels hopping around and chattering at nothing in particular.
Slayd frowned when he saw the morning going about its business, but not because he wasn’t happy to see it. No, he frowned because of what he didn’t see. He didn’t see the green of the trees, or the reds and yellows of the birds, or even the brown of the dirt around him.
Now, Slayd did remember that he used to see things in color, so this was more than just a little bit confusing to him. He ran his hand over his eyes, only to discover, to his dismay, that it didn’t seem he had any eyes anymore. He certainly remembered having eyes before, but now it seemed they were just empty sockets.
He frowned again, a little deeper this time, and felt around his whole face. It didn’t appear that he had his hair now either, but he did still have his ears and nose, which are very good things to have, and this is especially important when one doesn’t have other essentials like eyes. Every piece of sense that he knew of indicated that if you could see, then you should have a pair of eyes, or at least one.
“Of course,” Slayd said to himself, “I could very well be wrong, being as I very obviously can see, even though it doesn’t appear I have anything to see with. Perhaps it’s magic. I’ve always liked the idea of magic.”
And he thought no more about it.
Slayd turned his attention to what was immediately about him and began to be troubled again, for standing up on the ground all around him were flat stones with very faded writing on them. Slayd knew what these stones were, and he did not like seeing them any more than he liked being in the tiny room, because he knew that they were grave stones, and the tiny room wasn’t a room at all, but a coffin.
Of course, Slayd wasn’t the type of person to dwell on Bad Things, so he climbed out of the coffin and crouched down by the grave stone that marked it. Like all the other stones, it had writing on it, but it was so very faded he couldn’t read what it had once said.
Slayd knew that when writing on stone faded like that, it had to have been there a very long, long time. He also knew that only dead people were buried in coffins and put into graves. Up until a few moments ago, he had been pretty certain that he wasn’t dead, much less dead for years and years. “But then again,” he said with a small but growing horror, “Perhaps, now perhaps, I am dead. That certainly would explain the maggots. But, on the other hand, maggots don’t live on even dead people that have been buried for years and years, either.”
“Perhaps it’s all magic too, like what happened to my eyes and such. Now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure that I just didn’t misplace them.”
He nodded to himself, and stood up from his grave. “There is usually a church or a chapel of some sort close to a graveyard. Maybe someone there will know what happened to me.” And he set off in search of such a place.
Making his way past dozens and dozens of gravestones like his own, very faded and worn-looking, it wasn’t long before Slayd did indeed find the church that he hoped would be somewhere near by. He climbed up the handful of steps that led to big old wooden doors, and rapped firmly on the handle. He waited for an answer, but none came, so he rapped again, louder this time, just in case someone hadn’t heard him the first time. But no one answered the second knock either.
“...Perhaps the church is as old and forgotten as the rest of this graveyard seems to be,” he sighed to himself, “And perhaps there is no one here after all.”
Disappointed, he climbed back down from the stairs and the big wooden doors and turned the corner of the building, peering in through a broken, narrow stained-glass window. He didn’t see anyone inside, only a few rows of old pews and a podium, with a rotting cross standing behind. He shook his head and turned away.
“My luck doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I guess I should find a road, or a house, or a town, or something of that sort.” And he set off in the direction he thought would be most likely to yield such things.
A road indeed was nearby. Well, perhaps not a proper road, but it was at least a winding path. It was covered in leaves and sticks and other foresty things, but you could still see that it was a path of some sort. Slayd knew that paths like these usually lead to somewhere, or at least they do eventually, and maybe that somewhere would have people who could help him.
And so he followed it. He followed it over a little creek, through a very thick part of the forest, and beside a small pond. He paused there for a bit to skip a rock or two, but didn’t stop for very long. As he traveled, the path slowly began to turn more or less into a proper road. Although it was still covered with leaves, it was much less winding, and wider than before.
Only a couple of miles after the path decided to turn into a road, Slayd came upon a very old farm house, which obviously hadn’t had anyone living in it for a long time, unless you count barn swallows and mice. Its once-white paint was peeling all over, and the foundation was beginning to lean to one side. An old tree leaned against one of the walls, cracking the siding and twisting its limbs in through one of the upper story windows.
“I really doubt that there might be someone here,” he muttered, “But still, it is worth looking.”
He left the road and climbed the steps to the farm house porch, which might have once been painted blue, and rapped on the door. He knew that no one would answer, but he was a very polite person and he didn’t want to be rude even if he would have only been rude to mice and barn swallows. When no one answered, he slowly turned the knob and peeked his head in, seeing a long hallway with lots of leaves settled in it.
“Hello?” he called.
There was no response besides the fluttering of a startled wren.
“Oh well, I guess. I’m pretty sure no one will mind if I don’t make any introductions.”
He paused and frowned. “Introductions…? Oh what in the world could I be talking about! I don’t even know who I am!”
As if in response, a light but startlingly cool breeze blew across porch, and he could swear he heard the leaves whisper “Slayd…” as they rustled by. A shiver ran up his spine and he darted quickly into the farm house, closing the door behind him.
Making his way slowly down the hall, he peeked into each doorway as he passed by. He saw a kitchen with broken dishes on the floor, a dining room that might have had flowery wallpaper at some point, a stairway leading to the upstairs part of the farm house, and a parlor with an old piano that was missing many of its keys. Like the hallway, there were lots of leaves and things lying around everywhere. The floorboards creaked underneath his feet as he cautiously explored. Slayd didn’t see any people, but that’s what he had expected. He wondered how long the old farm house had been without anybody living in it, and why they had left in the first place.
“I guess they found someplace else to go,” he reasoned. “Although this looks like it used to be a very nice place to live…I wonder what’s upstairs. Probably the bedrooms and such.”
He shrugged to himself and slowly climbed the staircase, making sure to test each step before putting his full weight on them, just in case they were rotted.
At the top of the stairs was another door-lined hallway, with a big window at the very end that waved its tattered curtains at Slayd in a forlorn hello. Slayd nodded and waved at the window to return its polite greeting, and peeked into the first of the doorways. There was a little bedroom there, with a dusty bed and a tall bureau in the corner that had lost its drawers. Next to the bed was a nightstand, with a broken picture frame and vase with long-wilted flowers hanging over its rim. Thread-bare remnants of a rug on the floor nearly disintegrated under Slayd’s footsteps as he walked across the floor.
“It looks like it had been such a cozy little room.” He sat down on the bed. Dust flew up from the old mattress, making Slayd sneeze.
He curiously picked up the picture frame, turning it over so he could see what was inside of it. But the picture was too faded to see anything but the vague outlines of two figures, one very small and the other tall and grey. He set it carefully back down in its place, and eyed a full-length mirror facing the wall in the corner.
Slayd frowned, and stared uneasily at the mirror.
“I thought you were a bureau a moment ago…”
The mirror made no reply.
“I guess I’m remembering things wrong. I don’t seem to have a very good track record with memories.” He got up from the dusty old bed and stood in front of the mirror.
“I’m almost afraid to look in it,” Slayd mused. “I’m pretty sure that I look nothing like what I used to. But, it might be useful to know what I look like now, so I know what other people will see when they look at me.”
He sighed to himself. “Of course, I may not find anyone. Or worse, what if I do, and they’re afraid of me? If I look as bad off as I think I do, I’m probably a frightening thing to see…”
He paused. But… there was only one way to find out. Hesitantly, he turned the mirror around.
Gazing at his reflection, it took him a minute to register that it was indeed himself that he saw staring vacantly and eyelessly back at him from the mirror.
He was wearing a dark suit, which he could only assume was black, with a white dress shirt and black tie. His pale skin looked almost translucent in the light that was streaming from the bedroom’s window, and he was completely bald. But the worst part was that instead of eyes, he just saw big, black empty sockets. There wasn’t a glimmer or glint to be found that eyes usually have.
As he stared dumbfounded at his reflection in the mirror, a maggot slowly crawled its way out of his left eye socket and fell to the floor. Slayd didn’t notice.
“This… is me?”