Read Anterograde Online

Authors: Kallysten

Anterograde

Anterograde

Kallysten

 

 

When
Calden wakes up – every time he wakes up – the last thing he can recall is a
debilitating headache that even his medical background failed to identify as
anything more serious than a regular headache. He also remembers his decision
to ignore the fact that his best friend Eli is married and to tell him about
his long-standing feelings for him. He remembers June second.

But
it is not June second anymore. The tattoos on his arm and chest prove it. They
also tell him why he doesn’t remember anything past June second… and why Eli
sleeps in his bed now.

When
Calden wakes up – every time he wakes up – he gets to discover Eli is in love
with him for the first time all over again.

PLEASE READ FIRST

A note about chronology

 

 

This
story is presented in an out-of-order sequence, with the timeline for one
character going forward, and the other backward, a narrative choice designed to
enhance the plight of the characters.

If
you prefer a more ‘straightforward’ reading, you are welcome to use the ‘next
chronological chapter’ links at the end of each chapter and they will take you through
the story from beginning to end. If that is your choice, please
start here
.

However,
as the author, I encourage you to read the chapters in the order they were
meant to be discovered. Just ignore the link above as well as the links at the
end of each chapter and progress through the book as you normally would.

 

Whichever
way you elect to read this story, I hope you will enjoy it!

 

 

November 15
th

 

 

Calden
wakes up in the middle of a heart attack.

Or
at least, that’s what it feels like. His chest is constricted, his body
uncomfortably warm.

It
is not, as such, an unfamiliar feeling. He felt this way before, after his
sister Riley’s death, when he helped himself to the hospital’s supply of
opiates. That night, he ended up knocking on death’s door, though he didn’t
actually pass the threshold. That was how
his
mother
described it in a rare use of
metaphors that has somehow resisted all attempts
from Calden to forget the whole ordeal.

Calden’s
memory is a strange thing. He can recall that metaphor, he can recall his previous
overdose, but he absolutely cannot recall the high that must have caused the
overwhelming tightness in his chest.

Although…

As
his grip on consciousness solidifies, he opens his eyes to find himself in his
bed—he doesn’t remember getting in it—and with a possessive arm thrown across
his chest. The owner of that arm, rather unexpectedly, is Eli. When or why Eli
climbed into Calden’s bed, Calden cannot fathom.

Why
they both appear to be nude is just as much of a mystery.

Calden
isn’t opposed at all to those developments, but they are rather startling when he
has no recollection of what led to this. And that lack of
memories
, as
much as the tightness of Eli’s arm, quickly becomes too much to bear.

Pulling
away, he sits on the edge of the bed, his feet firmly on the floor but his mind
still unsteady. A quick look at the clock tells him it’s almost eight in the
morning. His last memory is of lying on the sofa in the early afternoon with a
splitting
headache
severe enough that Eli was concerned. Clearly things have happened since then.
One of those things was sexual in nature, judging from a trace of discomfort so
minimal Calden wouldn’t have noticed it if he wasn’t taking stock of his body.
It explains why he and Eli are naked in bed, but by God how did they get from friends
to lovers in just a day?

“Bathroom,”
Eli mumbles behind him, and the word feels like an electric shock. Calden
nearly jumps to his feet.

“What?”
he asks despite his suddenly dry throat

Eli’s
eyes are still closed, but he responds readily after a wide yawn.

“Go
into the bathroom. Look at your arm. Then at your chest in the mirror. Then
come back to bed ‘cause it’s too
damn
early to be up.”

He’s
not making any sense, and Calden is about to say so when he sees something on the
inside of his left arm. With only the glow of the alarm clock for light, he
can’t make out more than a large stain, dark on his
fair
skin.
Frowning, he stands and crosses the hallway to the bathroom. He has to blink a
few times against the bright lights, but soon he looks down at his arm and sees
that the stain is a tattoo.

His
first thought is that this is appalling. Of all the ridiculous things to do to
his body…

His
second thought is that the tattoo is healed. There’s no redness, no swelling.
It’s been there for a while. But how can that be? He didn’t have a tattoo
earlier today.

The
next thing he notices is that this is his handwriting. He couldn’t not
recognize it. Slanted and untidy, it is as distinct to him as his own face.
Which means he must have written the words and given them to a tattoo artist to
ink exactly as they were.

The
last thing he takes in is the words themselves. Or maybe he did read them first
and shove their meaning back, too unsettled to consider them right away. But he
can’t ignore them. Not when they are the beginning of an explanation as to what
is going on.

The
tattoo on his arm says:
Diagnosis: anterograde amnesia.

He
runs a finger over the words at the same time as he accesses the library in his
memory palace. The library is exactly where it should be, as is everything else
he can see, but there’s
something
out of place, nothing he can quite identify
and yet the feeling of wrongness is like a pinprick right at the base of his
skull, where he feels much too vulnerable.

He
ignores the feeling the best he can and finds the definition for anterograde
amnesia. He knows already what it is, but he needs the words, needs to contain
this, to make it medical data rather than fear. He also needs to make sure it’s
only anterograde amnesia, and not more than that.

 

Anterograde
amnesia is
defined by
the
in
ability to create new memories, leading to
the failure to
recall the recent past
.
Long
-term memories from before the
inciting
event remain
unaffected.

 

His
recall of that medical text is perfect, he’s relieved to realize.
He thinks of another topic, the first thing that
crosses his mind—the bones of the hand—and names them to
himself
, one
after the other, the fingers of his right hand brushing against the left as he
enumerates them. He is still listing the last few bones when
a different
topic
comes to
mind.

Lumbar
puncture. His eyes now half-closed, he reviews the process step by step, the
same way he learned it and practiced it, dozens of times.

Five
more
textbook pages
. Five more random pieces of
knowledge. It’s
hardly proof of anything, but it does tend to indicate that his long term
memory is intact. His breathing calms down a little. He looks at his arm again.

 

Diagnosis:
anterograde amnesia.

 

His
message to himself, since that’s clearly what it is, appears to be accurate.

Remembering
what Eli said—how long ago was that? At least five minutes. Some people with
anterograde amnesia forget events practically as soon as they happen, but Calden
can remember waking up with Eli’s arm around him, can remember what he said.
How long until he forgets?—Calden glances down at his chest. There’s another
tattoo there, but the letters are reversed.

He
steps in front of the mirror and peers in. It’s his handwriting again. Three
lines of text. The last one appears to be newer than the other two, the edges
still slightly raised and a little red. Without thinking, he touches Eli’s name,
inked right over his heart. His breathing returns completely to normal.

He
commits the words to memory in the
same
way he learned endless lists
of
ailments, symptoms and cures. Closing his eyes, he
visualizes himself in the library because it’s his most visited room and the
easiest to access. From there, he walks on over to the koi pond in the yard,
where he stores information and memories that relate to Eli. He visualizes
three new stepping stones on the pond, interlocked like puzzle pieces, and assigns
one tattoo sentence to each.

It’s
useless, really, if the diagnosis is correct, but
that’s what he has done with important information for more than half his life.
The method of loci, this memory technique his father taught him and Riley when
they were teens, has been his default way to remember things since he mastered
it, and he can’t just stop now.

The
house he uses as his focus is his grandparents’, the home where his happiest
memories took place, and every familiar object is a visual cue associated with
something Calden wants or needs to recall. A lot of it is medical information,
but that’s not all he keeps in there. One room—the room he and Riley shared as
kids—is full of memories of her he never wants to forget. The small office in
the back is for memories of his father. He doesn’t have a specific room for his
mother, only a few cues, here and there.

When
the stones feel as strong, as solid in his mind as though they’ve always been
there, he opens his eyes again and takes a good look at himself, seeking more
tattoos, more messages. He finds nothing. Next, he touches his skull with his
fingertips, methodically examining every inch, seeking scars or depressions.
Nothing either.

Feeling
cold from standing naked in the bathroom for so long, he steps into the shower
and shivers under the cold spray for a few seconds before the water warms up.
He just stands there, head bowed, sifting through his memories again.

The
first cause of amnesia is traumatic brain injury, but he hasn’t found any
evidence that anything happened to him. Shock or a strong emotional disturbance
can also be to blame, but Calden refuses to think he’d let emotions wreak havoc
on his brain, not anymore.
That part of
his life is over.
A far less common cause
for anterograde amnesia, although not unheard of, is encephalitis.

And
the last thing he remembers with some clarity is that headache. It’d plagued
him, on and off, for a couple of weeks, but that day it was simply debilitating.
He had a fever, too, he thinks.

Getting
out of the shower, he towels himself dry and pulls on the robe hanging behind
the door. He strides back into the bedroom and turns on the lights before
approaching the bed. Eli makes a noise of protest and draws a pillow over his
head.

“Eli,”
Calden says sharply. “Did I have encephalitis? Is that how it happened? When
was it?”

But
Eli doesn’t answer.

Calden
tugs the pillow off Eli’s head and takes hold of his arm, remembering too late
that it still hurts at sudden movements. At Eli’s groan of pain, he slides his
hand and grabs Eli’s wrist, tugging gently until he rolls onto his back.

“Eli.
Wake up. I need you to tell me…”

Calden
forgets what he was about to ask when he sees the three lines of text on Eli’s
chest, each an answer to the lines on his own. They’re not inverted. Not meant
to be read in a mirror. Meant for Calden.

The
first two are tattooed in a typewriter-style font. The last one is slightly
smudged. Permanent marker rather than tattoo. Eli’s hand. They say:

 

I do
.

You did
.

I won’t
.

 

Calden’s
hand falls away from Eli’s wrist and he touches those simple declarations
instead. One of Eli’s hands comes up and covers his, pressing it tight over Eli’s
heart.

“You’ve
got questions,” Eli says in a tired voice, his eyes narrowed against the light,
“but we’ve had barely more than three hours of sleep and that’s not nearly
enough for me to function. Your diary’s on the sofa. Let me have a couple more
hours before we have that talk again, all right?”

Calden
nods numbly. He tries to pull his hand back, but Eli holds on to it and leads
it to his mouth. He presses a kiss into the center of Calden’s palm before
releasing him. The touch is both foreign and strangely familiar, and it makes Calden
want to get back into bed, makes him want to ask questions that have little to
do with amnesia. He doesn’t and instead picks up the pajama pants on the floor
and leaves the room, turning off the lights again and almost tripping over his
own feet when Eli
mumbles, “Thanks
, love.”

He
can’t remember anyone calling him that with quite that meaning. He never
imagined how nice it’d be.

The
diary Eli mentioned is a blue notebook, unremarkable except for the words
written in large letters on the cover. Calden’s hand, again.
Read me
.

Calden
sits down and opens the notebook to the first page. The first sentence answers
the very questions he asked Eli.

 

I
was diagnosed with acute encephalitis on June 2
nd
.

 

He
keeps reading about the hospital, the treatment, but gets distracted by a note
in the margin. It’s still his handwriting, but the ink is blue rather than
black.

 

DO
NOT discuss illness with Eli. He experiences residual guilt for not identifying
the illness sooner and blames himself for the outcome.
6/
29

 

Another
margin note a few lines lower says,
Tried to point out it’s not his fault.
Poorly received.
7/
20

And
lower still,
Attempted again. Eli still unreasonable.
8/
14

All
in all, the notes in the margins tell Calden as much as the diary itself. His
illness, treatment and recovery take two pages and seven notes. Then there’s a
brief explanation of when he can expect to lose his short term memory.

 

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