Authors: S. E. Campbell
by S.E. Campbell
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
THE MECHANICS OF BEING HUMAN
Copyright Â© 2014 S.E. CAMPBELL
Cover Art Designed by BOOK BEAUTIFUL
For Noel, who makes me laugh.
When she opened her eyes, glowing orange danced along the nearby walls, making it near impossible to see her surroundings. Heat pressed in at all sides, entrapping her within its painful grasp. Black smog billowed around her, filling the dark room. Standing, she attempted to see through the hot madness that surrounded her. She should run, but she couldn't remember where the door was. She couldn't remember where anything was. When she searched her memory, she couldn't even remember her name.
Stumbling forward, she avoided a smoldering couch. As she passed the couch, she squinted through the inferno and spotted a once white wall was now painted by the fire and became black. Somewhere the wall had to have a door, she just had to follow it until she found it. She tripped over something on the floor but kept moving. She didn't search long. A door, her ticket out, was just a few feet from her, partially ajar.
The opening made her heart lift and tingle. Hope. Yes, that was the word she was searching for. She rushed outside as relief exploded in her heart. She wanted to get away from the heat, which still reached through the door with wanting, hungry hands. As she teetered down the front steps, cold enveloped her feet for the first time. When she looked at herself, she realized something was wrong.
She was naked. Her skin pebbled with goose bumps. The tingling sensation disappeared like the smoke lifting into the night. Relief was replaced by angry needy monsters that grasped at the center of her chest and tightened. A painful ache filled her insides. Sadness and fear. She recognized the sensations, could feel them.
She looked around. Why was she outside naked? And why had she been in the house when it was on fire?
Shakily, she turned her gaze away from the rough wilds of the forest in front of her to stare at the inflamed house again. The house was small and stood grey and lifeless. Though she could recognize how the house must have once appeared, she didn't have any sense of nostalgia toward it. The terrainâthe thick trees in the distance and the old car sitting out in front of the ruinsâwas foreign. This was all new to her.
As she gazed at the house, fire burst through the window, causing the pane to shatter. She cried out for the first time as a rush of adrenaline and an urge to run filled her. She turned away from the house and toward the dark forest.
Should I try to run through it?
Her palms grew sweaty, and she found it hard to even inhale she was so tense. No. She didn't want to go through there. Her gut warned her against it. So she stayed for uncountable minutes that oozed by in front of the fire until she heard a new sound. It was the sound of shrill, high-pitched wailing which caused her to cover her ears with her hands. Where was it coming from?
The noise. I don't like the noise.
She gazed at the dark forest, her fists clenched at her sides. She would rather face the darkness of the forest than the noise. She stumbled toward the woods. As she walked, she stared at everything around her. Every crackle of the leaves distracted her. She saw a small, strange, furry animal. She wracked her brain until the word came. Squirrel.
All she could do was slowly name her surroundings, which was like seeing a picture of a distant relative she'd never been introduced to.
As she teetered, her brain abuzz, she tried to figure out where she was and
she was. Why had she woken up entrapped in an orange glowing jail? Why was she in the middle of a dark wood with thick trees that touched the sky? Who was she? Was it normal to feel such nasty, pressing feelings inside of her heart?
She experienced a new sensation then, similar to fear but not quite. It was darker. Heavy like the pressing smoke filling the inflamed house.
It was hate. She felt it because she knew nothing other than blackness in her current situation. Just like the forest around her, she could understand her feelings, a whirling, dark mess inside her confused heart. It didn't feel fair to her. She must have done something to deserve this. Otherwise, she wouldn't feel that everything was going so wrong. So horribly,
wrong. But trying to search for the wrong in her mind was like trying to search for a tiny mystery object in a full box of junk.
As her heart was burdened with the thought and the unsavory emotions, the sound of crinkling came in the woods to her right. She whirled around and gasped, covering her nudity as much as she could. A dark shadow loomed in the forest. Adrenaline shot through her, and she fell backward then tripped over a log. She screamed and crashed over the mass. Pain shot through her leg, but the agony was small compared to her pounding heart. She warily peered up through the branch that sprouted from the body of the log. A man stood in the shadows of the forest, his face hooded by the darkness.
"You need to go back." The man's voice was a deep boom of thunder.
At least she hadn't forgotten how to understand spoken words.
Go back? Back to the house?
It took her a minute to focus on the man fully. He wore denim pants, a light brown jacket which hung to his knees, and a baggy sweater with a hood. The hood was drawn up over his head, but a wild mess of chestnut curls peaked through. His face was old and craggy, filled with lines like she'd seen on the aged wood of the porch. For the first time, as she gazed into the weathered, bearded face of the man, she felt the sensation of warmth and the doom inside her eased a little. His face didn't register, didn't fill up any space in her hate-filled blank slate, but there was something about himâ¦yes, she felt her heart bubble with warmth just at the sight of his lined face.
She opened and shut her mouth several times, then exhaled. Finally, she managed the words she longed to speak. "Who are you?"
The sound of her voice caused them both to gasp. To her, with her blank mind, she was hearing her voice for the first time. It was small, weak and slightly scratchy. She coughed. The smoke must have gotten to her worse than she thought. He must have known something about her; something about the house, her memories, and the blankness in her brain which should have been filled or else he wouldn't have bothered to warn her. Would he?
"You need to go back to the house." The man's voice was ragged and harsh. Demanding. "
She was eager to speak again and full of questions. "But why? The house is bad. The fire is hot, the loud noises hurt my ears, and it's not my home."
The man stared at her, eyes wide, and she swore a small smile played at his lips. Her heart grew warm. She wanted to make the man smile. Yet the man stopped smiling immediately. His eyes were intense and fiery as he stared at her. She was still unsure of what to do. She wanted to stay here with this man who made her feel safer than the forest or the house did.
"If you do not go, I will take you back." The man grabbed a lock of his grizzled hair. "I knew I should haveâ¦no, never mind."
Confusion caused her to frown. She didn't know what he meant, what he should have done, and she wanted to shake the answer out of him so there wouldn't be anything else she didn't know. Shivering and immobile, she stared at the man. The man swore a second time, looked her up and down and winced as if arguing with himself internally. He shrugged off his jacket, then walked over to her.
She was shocked by the warmth of his hands. She touched her own bare thigh experimentally and discovered she was cold. So cold. She didn't understand why the man was so warm while she was like a heap of frigid snow upon the ground. With all of her heart, she wanted to be warm.
"Hold your arms up a little." The man glared at her, daring her to disobey him.
The command helped her. It gave her something to cling to, something straight forward and easy to acknowledge. Unlike returning to the house, lifting up her arms would bring no harm to herself and no further fear to her quaking and unsure mind. She lifted her arms and held still as the man tugged the light brown jacket onto her shoulders. The light smell of leather filled her nostrils, making her feel tingles of heat throughout her body. Finally, she recognized something. The smell of leather, which consumed her like a sea of comfort. His large, callused hands were not foreign to her. She loved the smell of lingering tobacco and alcohol on his breath, as well as the way he hummed even when in trouble or doing the most miniscule things. Maybe he was a friend or even a father.
"Who are you?" she asked quietly.
The man tightened the brown leather belt of the long jacket around her waist. She was finally covered. She didn't care about that, though. All she cared about was the answer and the fact the man who comforted her didn't look at her. Instead he continued to stare at her belt.
"I'm your uncle." He exhaled a deep sigh. "I'm your Uncle Jax. But we have to bring you back home. Your parents are looking for you."
"Parents?" She felt her eyebrow rise.
Though she knew she must have parents, the concept felt foreign to her. She searched the blank slate of her memories again, discovering nothing but the cloaking blackness. Fury made her grimace, as well as the awful stew of confusion again. The feelings began to blend together making a disgusting mixture in her heart which grew so powerful, it left a sour, rancid taste in her mouth.
"Come on." Jax seized her arm and hauled her toward the edge of the forest and back toward the burning house. "We have to get you home."
There was no choice but to follow, tripping on logs and poking branches. The pain of the sticks digging into her feet seared up her leg, but it was nothing compared to the rising urge to discover who she was. She gazed at the ambling Jax again, his fingers still wrapped around her arm, noting how he led her forward with the determination of an animal seeking its prey.
"I don't remember anything." She felt sad at the blankness of her mind as she walked. "Tell me why."
"Maybe it has to do with the fire." Jax's harsh voice held a bite of warning. "Maybe it has to do with your parents. How would I know?"
But she could not fight the rising question of why Jax was here, why he felt so little concern for the fact his niece stumbled naked through the forest without her memory. "Why were you here?"
Jax's hand was slick with sweat as he yanked her along. The top of the house, still smoldering, peaked over the top of the bushy trees. With the roof on fire, the house looked like it had crimson hair.
"I was here to ask your parents for some money, that's all." Jax grunted as he hopped over a log coated in a blanket of bright green, squishy moss.
"Did they give it to you?" she asked.
She stared at his rigid back, fighting down the uneasiness. Maybe she didn't have her memories, but she had the strangest sensation he was not the sort of man who would ask anyone for money. But her head was barren. There was no way she could know that. No way could she possibly hope to, either. Yet then, why wasn't he answering her?
"They didn't give it to you." She frowned at him. "Did you burn down the house? Are you're the reason why I'm here?"
Then she stared down at herself and realized a nude teenage girl stumbling around the forest with her angry and perhaps crazed uncle nearby could be construed badly. Horror crashed down on her, but that came with the sense of disbelief as well as confusion. If this man had done something to her, marks would be on her body. He wouldn't have wanted to cover up her nudity with his jacket. As she contemplated this, she drew to a stop just as bright, colorful lights flashed through the breaks in the trees. She became a statue at the edge of the forest, ignoring the lights flashing on the trucks as they approached the house.
"I don't understand." She stared at him. "I understand what animals are, I understand why fire burns, but I do
Jax grimaced. "You're as stubborn as me. Guess it runs in the family. Why don't you forget about this whole deal? It has to be this way. Just leave it at that."
"But I want to understand." Her fists tightened as fury kicked at her heart. "I want to know why I woke up in a burning house. I want to know why I don't remember anything."
"Why don't you ask your parents?" Jax shoved her backward by her shoulders.
With a cry, she fell over from the force of his push. She landed in the clearing and rolled. The house was some distance away, as were the bizarre glowing lights. She reached out her hand to Jax, desperate and questioning, but he was already walking away. Horrified, she watched his lean, muscular back as he disappeared. After he was gone, she was filled with overwhelming sadness and abandonment. The sharp thud of multiple feet sounded behind her. Alarms in her mind went off as she swiveled in the dirt and gazed upward, the coat tangling around her thighs.
A couple of policemen rushed at her along with a plump woman in denim pants and a purple turtleneck. The woman's orange hair was in a ponytail. At first sight, she reminded her of a pumpkin. Next to the red-faced woman who charged toward her like an overbearing bull, a thin man with glasses falling down his nose also ran. The two policemen and the pair skidded to a stop in front of her. She was so anxious her eyes widened and her hands shook. What was about to happen to her? The woman reached down to touch her face, but she gasped and crawled backward. Unlike with Jax, she felt no pleasant emotions toward these people. These people were as new to her blank mind as the smoldering house behind them, which was now drenched with soot blackened water.
"Honey, honey," the woman said, reaching out for her again.
Honey? Is that my name?
Desperate, she threw a glance over her shoulder, wishing Jax hadn't abandoned her. He was the one she truly wanted. She didn't want this woman with a head like a vegetable, or the man at her side who was as thin as a sapling tree. She wanted Jax, who smelled of leather and who filled her heart and mind with warm recognition with a single touch.
"I'll call over the EMT." The more muscular of the two police officers stepped forward. "She may be going into shock."
"I'm a doctor, remember, Gordon?" The man with the glasses who looked like a stick shook his head. "I can help her better than they can."