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Allen Harris was drenched with sweat under his rain poncho. “What’s the point?” he asked no one as he sloshed through oily puddles, “I’m soaked anyway…” Allen had often thought he wasn’t really built for bad weather. He always seemed to crave more sun than the clouds would allow—he ached to feel those rays warming his bare skin. Even the paleness of that skin had come to bother him; every time he looked at himself in the mirror, he became more convinced he would look better with a tan. But much more than this vague sense of spending each day in a climate unsuited to him, for years Allen’s dreams had been trying to tell him he actually belonged to the desert.
These dreams (nightmares, really) had been haunting Allen’s nights at least once a week for as long as he could remember. Consistently vague, often completely devoid of any visual image, one of two details never missing from these nightmares was the piercing sun and the hot, dry air warmly prickling his skin. The other detail, if it could be called that, was a feeling of depthless grief and loss, the desert trying to offer its warmth as solace, and the sense that, as hollow a comfort as that warmth might be, it was the only thing in the world he had left to hold onto.
Usually, Allen’s mood would begin to lighten a bit with each new sign of the coming spring, but that particular morning Allen found himself wishing for a longer winter. The snows had come regularly in the previous weeks, leaving a constant blanket of soft white on the ground a foot or two thick. Allen had of course grown tired of it before long, but he was missing it now. A warm spell had melted most of the snow into frigid, muddy slush, but had left the sunlight trapped behind dull grey clouds. Now, the entire world seemed grey—not just the sky, but the earth below, and everything and everyone on it.
He ducked under a bright yellow awning to light another cigarette. He hated the habit, but clung to it stubbornly—it was one of the few things that connected him to his past. “Habit” is just another way of saying “memory”, isn't it? He couldn't remember when or why he had started smoking, but at least it was proof of a life before this one—this life barely five years old, without a childhood or even a family. Five years was as far back as Allen could remember.
He tried to be happy, to live in the present and forget the fact that he had no greater store of memories than a first-grader. He had listened with secret envy to people reminiscing about their childhoods, wishing he could recall just some small fragment of his own. It was an odd habit, missing things you couldn’t remember having in the first place. But just like smoking, it was at least something familiar he could cling to.
Allen arrived at the train station to find it nearly deserted. He could see only two other people huddled under the red-tiled roof of the shelter. They were both smarter than Allen, wearing breathable coats and carrying umbrellas, instead of suffocating their skin under a plastic poncho. Allen walked past them without meeting their eyes, all the way to the end of the platform. He paced back and forth across its width, wondering if the two strangers could tell how anxious he was. He was heading into the city for his first session with a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist—a Dr. Evan T. Hull. Normally, Allen enjoyed his visits to the city. It was easy to be anonymous there; he was a stranger to everyone, and they were strangers to him. Nobody cared about his past there. It was like everyone could just be who they were right at that moment, and didn't need to be anything more.
As he sat on the damp wooden bench, the morning sun finally peeked through the clouds. He stared down the length of the tracks, polished like mirrors and reflecting the new light. Two shining streaks of silver running through a shadowy forest would soon bring the train that would take him to the city. The forest was so thick, Allen couldn't see how any light was getting through the canopy. It seemed impenetrable, yet there the light was, plainly glinting from the edges of the rails. Where first, it struck him as hopeful and brave--defiant, even--the way it shone in that shadowy place, it now seemed oppressed by the heavy dark of the boughs overhead, a feeble flame about to be smothered. A shiver ran down Allen’s back, and he shook himself back to reality. Luckily, the train would arrive soon, and he could leave the deep dark of the forest behind.
Unfortunately, Allen would soon have to plumb the murky depths of his own memory. It was long overdue, if he was honest with himself. He had spent too many nights losing sleep over some obscure tragedy from a time and place he couldn’t recall being a part of. Allen had finally made a decision to do whatever he could to recover his missing past, and seeing Dr. Hull was the next logical step. He needed to take that step, no matter how much it terrified him. He had read somewhere that amnesia could be caused by a traumatic event, and the possibility of uncovering something so horrific that his mind had chosen to wipe out his entire past filled him with dread. Almost as distressing was the idea of a complete stranger (doctor or otherwise) poking around in the darkest corners of his mind. As the train appeared in the distance, his stomach worsened from the anxious tickle of butterflies to a wrenching nausea.