The woman awoke with no clothing and no memory. She stared up at the dense, black sky, afraid to move, trying to clear the fog from her head. Her pale body lay, curled up like a fetus, inside blackened ribs that had washed ashore from some long ago shipwreck. The smell of saltwater was familiar enough. She used this to dig into her memories, to try and bring forth something else familiar.
“Who am I?” she choked, squeezing her eyes shut against the fear. “How did I get here?”
After a brief spell of letting warm tears fall, she crawled out from beneath the oaken skeleton, wincing as she stretched out arms and legs that seemed as petrified as the wood. Straining to see through the darkness, she squinted down the long stretch of sand to her right and then her left. There was no sign of movement. She was alone. A chilled wind brushed against her exposed body and she began to shiver uncontrollably. Clothes. She had to find clothes.
She pushed herself off the damp sand, wrapped her arms around bare breasts and struggle up the beach toward the dunes, hoping to find a house or road, some sign of civilization. She stumbled along the beach grass until a narrow path emerged. Picking her way carefully, barefooted and nearly blind from the moonless night, she finally stepped onto blacktop. A road! Relief flooded through her. The long shape of a building could be seen to her right, but there were no lights on. No street lamps, no cars? Odd. Just a long stretch of darkness, with unfamiliar shapes and shadows as far as she could see either way. Was this a deserted town? Something felt very wrong.
She hesitated as she stared toward the building. Well, what choice did she have? She couldn’t just stand there naked and freezing to death. With a growing sense of dread, she forced herself to walk. She concentrated on the sound of crashing surf and tried to ignore the sharp bites of broken shells under her steps, once again wrestling with her own mind. There was something lurking at the edge of her memory, something large that invoked anxiety even as she struggled to reach it.
She reached the building first. It was an abandoned hotel, its windows boarded up with faded gray plywood, rusted railing curling away from a sagging porch. Luckily, the first door she tried had weathered enough to kick open. Trembling, more now from fear than cold, she stepped into the musty room. To her surprise, it was intact. She moved quickly– pulling a stiff sheet off the bed, wrapping it around herself and searching for some clue as to where she was. There was a phone on the nightstand, the cord hanging lifeless on the warped wood flooring. Nothing! Nothing in the drawer, nothing to tell her where the hell she was. This can’t be happening. Rusted mattress springs groaned in protest as she lowered herself onto the bed, defeated. What now? She began to pull at the seaweed matted in her hair, sliding it absentmindedly from her tangled strands.
When she looked up, a man stood quietly in the doorway watching her. She stared at him, too startled to run.
He nodded and moved to sit beside her on the bed. Her heart pounded in her chest as so many thoughts ran through her mind…scream, run, jump up, impossible…that she was paralyzed. He didn’t seem to want to harm her. A large silver band around his wrist had his full attention.
He turned toward her, distracted. “Yes?”
“Do you know…where this place is?”
“Not where, Miss Shillings, but when.”
“Miss Shillings? Is that my name? Do you know me?” She shook her head. “I must be dreaming.”
He dropped his arm, staring at her curiously. “A great man had a dream once, turned out to be reality. Tesla. You know of him? “
“What is the last thing you remember?”
As she looked in his dark eyes, a flash of lighting lit up her mind. “Oh,” she said, struggling to hold on to the memory. “A storm? I think there was a storm.”
“Yes. There were two actually.”
“Two? But what do you mean? Look, I…I can’t remember where I live. You know me, you must know where I live.” Hope began to replace fear. “You can get me home, right?”
“It’s not time yet.”
Thunder rumbled in the distance. The wind picked up and blew her hair off her shoulders.
She felt tears stinging her eyes. “I don’t understand.”
“We don’t either,” he sighed. “Not really. For some reason, this region is highly susceptible to the effects of geomagnetic storms. Once in a while, a lighting strike happens to coincide perfectly with this phenomenon…we’ve figured out this much from his research.” He glanced at the sheet wrapped around her and nodded. “Flesh has a different frequency than inorganic material…they never seem to travel together.”
“Flesh?” The woman blinked, her face draining of color. “Oh my god, I’ve gone mad, haven’t I? Or, am I dead?! I’m dead!” She stood up and began to hyperventilate.
“Miss Shillings, you must calm yourself.” The man stood up with her. Just then a flash of lightning lit up the room and thunder shook the walls.
“It’s okay,” he said, glancing at the metal band again. “My success rate is very high. I’m good at what I do.”
“What do you do?” she asked, as a hard rain began to beat the roof and ground around them.
“I get people like you home.”
A loud ring behind her made her jump back, and she stumbled into the man. He steadied her, then quickly went to the ringing phone. As he spoke into the receiver, she stared in disbelief at the exposed, unplugged cord. I have gone mad.
He hung up the phone and whirled around, smiled at her and held his hand toward the door. “Shall we, Miss Shillings?”
She glanced at the sheets of rain outside being blown sideways by the wind. “Shall we…?”
“Get you home, of course.”
“Of course.” She nodded and stepped out into the storm. What choice did she have?
How delightfully freaky! It’s a story in itself, but a part of so much more to be explored. Nice job!
Interesting bit of sci-fi you’ve created here. Reminds me a little bit of The Langoliers in tone. Are you going to expand this by chance? I’d be curious to see more! 🙂
Very eerie! And I hope he does get her home, though…
I really loved the first sentence. You always know how to get a reader to say, “What? What is this all about?”
[mutters something about being hooked awesome story sweet gist and wanders off]
(Good job. The finisher in me wants to know what happened next) 😉
nice work! I, too, want to know what happened next!! – thanks for posting – (you do plan to continue the story, yes?)
Wow! I love how you turned it into a scifi story when I thought it was about amnesia and a shipwreck. Awesome!
That’s a good read (more, please!)
Woo-hoo, look at me! I actually got to one on the Friday you posted it.
And yes, you may take a cookie from each of the baby-monsters and mail it to me as a reward for my sudden timeliness. 🙂
As for the read, I have always enjoyed the subtle details of your writing. The small parts of a character’s activity, etc., which is something I took note of here, as with her covering her breasts before she ran and the sound of seashells cracking beneath her feet. Those small subtleties add to the feel of your writing.
And, oddly enough, I cannot complain of anything here, but–and this may be because I’m coming off of “Flight From the Battlefield,” which really got to me–this one did not resonate as much (and no, it’s not because of it’s sci-fi nature). It’s almost as if your heart was not quite in it, if that makes sense. While these short pieces cannot fill in the backstory as other writing, you still seem to do so anyway normally with the few words at your command than I felt like you did here, if that makes any sense.
It was a good read, but it sort of left me feeling cheated a little. Again, “Flight” was just so good, it may be hard for anything to follow it.
Funny, I disagree with the enigmatically named ‘G’. I loved this piece, especially your strategic use of italics. Really works in this piece. You had me hooked from the opening and didn’t lose me at all. I thought this was great how you left us hanging and imagining what comes next. As others have said, you could easily build this up to a full-length short story for possible publication, or even a novel if you could bear it!
Ha! And you say I leave the reader wanting more?
This has a wonderful (in all senses of that word) atmosphere to it. I love walking along with a character as she tries to understand the situation in which she finds herself. I don’t even mind if it all doesn’t come clear – when it is as well-written as this.
I thought this was very well done: Normally so many unanswered questions would drive me crazy, but you gave me enough to be satisfied with this as a short story. Unlike a frew others who have commented, I’m quite content for this to be over and self-contained as is.
Your last line, with her saying “Of course.” probably has something to do with my feeling as I do, and also that the man does not seem threatening, but sincere in getting her back home.
I really liked this. The slow reveal worked really well. Nothing is ever quite spelled out, but there are enough hints throughout for the reader to put two plus two together. Very well done.
I have to ask, did you take that photo? It is amazing in and of itself.
Wonderful setup of a story. This feels like a first chapter. She’s reborn, naked and without memory, yet as a full adult. I liked very much that you removed or avoided all sexual tension between the woman and the man — which made the sexual tension much deeper and more mysterious. It parallels the deep mystery behind the frequency of flesh and Tesla’s dream. Lovely concept and vivid images.
Oh, and I LOVE that photo. Magnificent.
Clever use of the hotel as a transition point from shipwreck to sci-fi. I may have to steal that idea. Tesla and time travel – what’s not to like? I must confess though, that once you went sci-fi, I wished you had gone there a little bit sooner in the story. Then again, I’m a big geek….
Very interesting concept. I’m curious about where the story is headed.
You did a good job setting the original scene. I couldn’t shake how cold and uncomfortable she must have felt.
Interesting mention of Tesla. It’s funny how one mention of the man’s name sets a whole backstory that would of taken chapters to explain.
I’m ready. Let’s go home.
Agreed – the Tesla thing got me hooked even more deeply. I’ve already learned to not worry what happens next and just enjoy what I’ve been given with the flash fiction contributions. With this piece, I was given a gem.
Cool and weird. I liked it very much.
Very cool! And I liked the hints at Tesla-related weirdness 🙂