This story is part of what I call the 2010 Project. When I was a freshman in college, I asked some of my friends, “If I wrote a story for you, what would be in it?” This one has “amnesia” and “blue eyes.” There were other specs, but I can’t remember them. So, for Candy, Fire Tornado. Sorry it took so long.
Beep. Bu-beep. Beep. Bu-beep.
Sherry fumbled for the snooze button. Her hand hit a cold metal bar. A croak of surprise caught in her throat. She opened her eyes and tried to look around.
Everything remained dark. She fumbled with her sheets and felt her face. Gauze was wrapped around her head, covering her eyes.
“Hello?” she called, feeling around. She found another bar on the other side. She was lying in a hospital bed. She found the Call button and punched it anxiously. “Hello?”
There was a short pause, but then came a surprised, beautiful voice. “Miss Walters?”
“You’re awake!” the voice said in delight. “Hold still, honey.”
Gentle hands unwrapped the gauze. Sherry pulled the pads off her own eyes and looked up into the round, friendly face of a nurse.
“How are you feeling?” the nurse asked.
“Like I got hit by a car,” Sherry replied hoarsely.
The nurse chuckled. “Not far off. Now, listen, you’re in Chesterton Memorial Hospital. Sheriff Tanner found you on the side of the road and brought you in three days ago. Do you remember what happened?”
“Who’s Sherriff Tanner?”
The smiley nurse seemed momentarily perplexed. “Honey, you’ve been in town for months. Don’t you know who he is?”
“I—I can’t remember.”
“What do you mean, you can’t remember?”
Sherry looked around wildly. Her bed was in a private room—probably the only private room this “hospital” had. A clean shine redeemed its grungy color. A rickety chair was by the bed with a leather purse on it. A neatly folded set of clothes lay beside the bag.
“Where am I?” Sherry demanded.
The nurse repeated what she had said before. “Do you remember me telling you that?”
Sherry rolled her hazel eyes. “No, I remember that. But where is Chesterton Memorial?”
The nurse looked genuinely concerned now. She said something Sherry didn’t really hear and jogged out of the room. Sherry pulled the monitor clamp from her arm. She put her bare feet down gingerly, but found her legs in working order. She grabbed her things and ran.
As she ran down the hallway and rounded a corner a little too quickly, she crashed into someone else. They sprawled into a heap on the floor.
“Watch where you’re going!” grunted an irritated but otherwise pleasant male voice.
“I’m so sorry—”
Sherry had been attempting to get up, and in doing so, she unexpectedly came nose to nose with a handsome face. His bright blue eyes were openly concerned.
“Are you all right?” he asked in a more gentle tone, rising and offering a hand.
“Yes,” she said shyly, grabbing his hand and pulling herself up.
“You runnin’ away?”
“Yeah,” she said before she could stop herself.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Sherry shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?” he asked slowly.
“I don’t know how I got here.”
The young man looked surprised. “The sheriff brought you in a few days ago.”
“How do you know that?” Sherry asked suspiciously.
“I was outside,” he replied simply.
Sherry put a hand to her temple and moaned softly.
“What’s the matter?” the young man asked, supporting her with gentle hands.
“My head hurts.”
His concern became very genuine. “Should I call the nurse?”
“No!” Sherry cried.
He stopped reaching for a Call button on the wall. “Why not?”
“For all I know, it’s their fault I can’t remember how I got here.” She saw a handicap bathroom. “Hey, do me a favor.”
He arched an expectant eyebrow.
“Forget you saw me.”
She went into the bathroom and quickly changed into her own clothes. The headache continued to throb gently, but the initial pain had subsided.
Once she had changed, she poked her head out of the bathroom. A strong-looking male nurse pushed a pregnant woman by on a gurney. After he was gone, Sherry scampered for the doors. The secretary at the desk called after her, but Sherry broke into a sprint through the parking lot.
Several security guards chased her through the single street of this dusty town. She ducked behind a rubbish trailer and held her breath until the security guards walked past. Sherry sighed in relief and slumped to the concrete.
“That was close.”
Sherry barely muffled a shriek. The young man from the hospital was leaning over the rail above her.
“Me?” he asked innocently.
Sherry glared up at him. “Why are you following me?”
He shrugged. “You’re cute.”
A blush rose in Sherry’s cheeks. “You don’t even know my name.”
His eyebrow came up again, but he smiled warmly. “Why don’t you tell me?”
Sherry hesitated. “Sherry,” she whispered.
Surprise passed through his blue eyes. He reached down a hand. “I’m B.J.”
Sherry shook his hand. When he didn’t let go, Sherry pulled herself up and climbed over the rail with an ease that surprised her.
“Where are you gonna go?”
Sherry thought about it. “I don’t know. If I can’t remember how I got here, who would know?”
“Newspaper? Town’s small enough to announce visitors.”
“Do you think the library would have newspaper archives? This place has a library, right?”
“Yeah, come on.”
“Well, that was a waste of time,” B.J. proclaimed as they stepped out of the library.
“I told you you didn’t have to come,” Sherry snapped.
“Whoa, chill out,” B.J. said, putting his arms up in appeal. “I said I’d help you find out, didn’t I?”
Sherry paced the sidewalk. “The problem is that I have no idea where in the archives to start. I’m guessing I’ve been here less than a year, but even that’s a lot of newspapers.”
B.J. watched her pace. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
Sherry sat on the curb beside him. “Graduating from high school. I got accepted to a special program out West.” She paused, and her eyes lit up. “It was near Chesterton! That’s where we are, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but there’s no college anywhere near here.”
Sherry scrunched out her forehead thoughtfully. “It was called Discreet Association of Military Services or something.”
“What, Dams?” B.J. said. “I know where that is. It’s about half an hour north of town, closer to the mountains.”
“Can you take me there?” Sherry asked eagerly.
B.J. got up. “Sure.”
Sheriff Tanner’s patrol car slid by. When he saw Sherry, he stopped the car. “Hey, Sam, the doctors are lookin’ for you.”
“Yes, sir. Wait, Sam?”
Sheriff Tanner glanced at B.J., who suddenly looked very alarmed. “You takin’ her back to the Institute, Agent Johnson?”
B.J. looked stricken. Sherry turned to him, horror in her eyes.
The sheriff looked at one and then the other. “Is something wrong?”
Sherry jumped up and ran.
“Walters, wait!” B.J. hollered after her.
Sherry ignored him and kept running.
Sherry finally found refuge in someone’s abandoned shed. She crawled into a corner and hugged her knees to her chin. Her heart pounded against her ribs.
Calm down, Sherry. It’s okay.
She waited until she was sure the coast was clear. Then she crept out of town and began walking. Before she really knew what she was doing, she had reached the end of Main Street and was running toward the mountains.
Shoot. Dams is this way.
She heard engines behind her and quickly left the road. Large rocks and scraggly bushes hid her from a dark green car with a single white stripe down the side.
B.J., Sherry’s mind whispered, as his profile flashed by.
That car . . . I’ve seen it before.
Samantha turned around and immediately came to attention. “Lieutenant, sir.”
Lieutenant Bryce had escorted a young man, lanky and artless, into the garage.
“At ease. This is Agent Johnson,” the lieutenant said. “He begins training with us today. You know the drill.”
Johnson smiled at her, and Samantha found her stomach twisting.
“You should take him to see Chesterton,” the lieutenant was saying.
Samantha nodded. “Sure, anytime.”
“Can we go now?” Johnson asked.
Samantha looked at the lieutenant. “Permission, sir?”
A few minutes later, they had reached the correct level of the parking complex.
“So, Agent Johnson, how old are you?” Samantha asked.
“Really? That’s rather old for Dams,” Samantha observed as they turned the corner and came upon a dark green muscle car.
“Hey!” Sherry said out loud. “That’s my car!” She gasped and covered her mouth, but B.J. was long gone. She returned to the shed and sat down to gather her thoughts.
A distant rumble reached her ears. Sherry peeked out the door.
Bluish clouds had filled the air above the mountains where the Institute was. Exhaust from one their many experiments. Long orange tapers zoomed along the desert sands, sparkling dangerously as silica transformed instantly into molten class.
Fire tornadoes? Wait …
As they got closer, Sherry threw herself on the floor and covered her head with both arms.
Don’t see why he sent me to interview Nickelson, Samantha silently ranted. Johnson’s the newbie. He should be doing the grunt work.
A rumble filled her car. Samantha looked in the rearview mirror.
The fire tornado was too close for her to try to get to the ditch by the road. She tightened her seatbelt and closed her eyes.
The rumble had passed now. Sherry crawled to the door and looked out. Trails of fire were the only evidence left of the tornadoes, which were actually caused quite often by the projects at the Institute.
Five minutes or so passed. The fire trails burned out and all became silent again.
The green car approached. It stopped a few feet away, and B.J. stepped out.
“Sherry?” he called as he walked toward the shed. “I know you’re in there, Sherry. I can see your hair.”
Sherry got up and opened the door. “It’s Agent Walters to you, Johnson.”
He looked surprised first, then excited. “You know your name?”
“Yeah. Gimme my keys, newbie.”
B.J. hesitated. “Where are you going?”
“Records lab. Gotta put in my interview, right?” She nodded at the pocketbook in the passenger seat.
B.J.’s eyes lit up. He hesitated briefly before drawing her into a tight embrace.
Samantha Walters rested against his strong shoulder for a moment before pulling back and smacking him lightly.
B.J. let go, but he looked happy. “Welcome back, Agent Walters.”
Samantha smiled at him and pointed at the passenger seat. “Get in the car.”