Hunter’s fingers typed furiously across his keyboard as his vision of two teenage boys having sex in a store dressing room invaded his mind, compelling him to watch.
After they’d finished, Parker stood up in a panic, trying to find his clothes among the tangled pile on the floor. “I have to go,” he gasped. “I need to leave.”
The other boy smiled as he sat naked on the bench. “It’s OK, Parker.” He stood up and found the two pairs of pants Parker had brought in with him crumpled on the bench. “You want to take these?”
“No.” Parker frantically pulled up his underwear and shoved his feet into his pants. His heart raced as he desperately tried to breathe.
The boy held his shirt out for him. “Here. Stick your arm in.”
Parker looked at the smiling boy, his eyes lingering on the boy’s lips before forcing himself to look at the shirt being held out in front of him. The boy helped Parker fasten the buttons, but when his fingers wandered around the shirt below his waist, Parker broke away and sat on the bench to put on his socks and shoes. He tried to avert his gaze as the boy slipped on his underwear and pants. His cheeks felt on fire, and he blinked his eyes to keep tears from trickling down them. He looked at the floor and shook his head, but despite his guilt and shame he couldn’t stop thinking about the orgasm he’d just had a few minutes ago. He was sure someone had heard his whimpers and groans. How couldn’t they?
Parker stood, checked himself in the mirror, and started toward the door. The boy moved in front of him.
“Hey, that was fun. Thanks.”
Parker’s chest heaved as tears moistened his eyes. “Please don’t tell anyone.”
“Just between you and me.” He straightened Parker’s collar. “Maybe we’ll see each other again sometime.”
Parker bolted from the room then tried to walk slowly and calmly out of the store while he was sure everyone watched him leave.
This was the seventh vision Hunter had been forced to watch today. About two months ago, they appeared in his mind, playing and replaying in his head until he typed them out completely. Only then would they leave him alone until the next one started.
He would hear the pounding first, like a ball hurled repeatedly against a wall, then see himself stumbling or running down a hallway inside a house past a closed door. A bedroom? The wall at the end of the hall always disappeared just as he stepped through it. The story then played like a movie in his head, this time in a department store dressing room.
Hunter thought he had seen that hallway and door before, but he couldn’t place them.
He stared at the screen as he scrolled back to the top of the story—several pages of text. He typed the time and date—April 5th, 2:15 am—then added a title: Sexual Encounter. Store Dressing Room. After he sent it to his printer, he raked his fingers through his wet, tangled blonde hair. His shirt felt glued to his back. After every vision his skin flooded with sweat. He rubbed his neck, trying to relax, but his brain raced, and his eyes burned. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep.
So many of the stories he had written shocked him. He’d seen naked teens and adults crying, grunting, screaming, moaning in pleasure and pain. At times he could hardly see the computer screen through his tears. Watching those two boys, knowing that one had been torn between lust and shame, while the other fully enjoyed the hunt and consummation, aroused conflicting feelings, most of which Hunter didn’t understand. How could he see such visions? How could his seventeen-year-old mind create these stories when he had no experience with any of these activities?
Unless he’d forgotten.
He’d been trying to remember his past before moving to Alaska. Where had he lived? Who were his friends?
What had his dead mother and brother looked like?
But no memories came.
He leaned over his desk, hanging his head between his shoulders. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept for more than a few hours at a time. Somehow, he had to find a way to block the visions from entering his mind.
He’d told his father about his trouble sleeping and being bothered by . . . what? Daydreams? Fantasies?
His father had given him a bottle of melatonin pills. Hunter had taken two at eleven and slept for maybe an hour before the pounding started again. He needed something stronger tonight, so he climbed onto a chair and pushed up one of the ceiling panels above his bed to find the small thermos of whiskey he’d hidden.
His high school English teacher had wanted everyone to find an object at home with special memories for an assignment the next day. Until then, the fact that he had nothing from his past had merely irritated him. But now with the all the stories going through his mind, all the trauma he had witnessed, he realized how much he didn’t know. His past was like an empty room.
Before his father came home from work, he searched through his father’s bedroom, looking for any reminder of his past—a photo, a document, a keepsake—anything. While rummaging through his closet, he found a full- length mirror on the back of the door. Hunter stared at himself for a few seconds then ripped off his long-sleeved t-shirt, revealing a network of scars across his chest and down his arms. He saw them every morning after his shower in his bathroom mirror, but they never grabbed his attention, just remnants of a bike crash on a gravel road—the story his father had told him. But now that story didn’t satisfy. The lines were straight, many in rows. How could falling on gravel cause them? Maybe from the spokes of his wheels? But spokes were inches apart, and these lines were much closer together.
Wider welts marred his wrists. What had caused these? How much pain had he felt? How could he not remember?
He searched the room for an hour, being careful to return everything to its place. All he found was a Mount Rainier knife in a sheath, a small piece of whale baleen, and a book of matches from a hotel in Deadhorse, Alaska. None meant anything to him. He hid them under his mattress.
He also found a bottle of Jameson whiskey his father had stashed inside a boot in his closet. Hunter filled his thermos and added water to the bottle to hide his theft.
Hunter sat at his kitchen table, drumming his fingers, waiting for his father to come home. His insides churned with impatience. He had to get some answers!
As soon as the front door opened, Hunter stood and peppered his father with questions. “Why are there no family pictures in the house? Isn’t there an old toy from my childhood somewhere? Why don’t I remember the first sixteen years of my life?”
His father pursed his lips and set a bag on the table with Styrofoam containers of chicken he’d bought from the cafeteria at the nearby Air Force Base where he worked as a mechanic. Joe was about Hunter’s height, still trim and fit, with pale skin hidden inside a garage all day rather than exposed to the bright sun of April.
“Why are you suddenly interested in the past?” Joe went to the sink and washed his hands.
Hunter’s head hurt, and for a second he thought he would see another vision. “I’ve been writing stories . . . ”
“You’ve always written stories.”
“These are different. They invade my brain. I have no control over them. Sometimes they have people I know—like students at school I see every day. Other times they don’t. But before I actually see the story, I’m in a hallway and I see a bedroom door. It has panels—five, I think—and a silver handle, not a doorknob. It’s always closed. Then at the end of the hallway is a wall. The stories always start when the wall disappears.”
“Yeah, like it fades away. I want to know what our house looked like, the one we lived in before . . . before the accident.”
Joe slowly shook his head. “It was just a house, Hunter. It looked like a thousand other houses.” He turned back toward the sink, slinging the towel onto his shoulder.
“Why won’t you tell me?” Hunter shouted to his back. “Could I be seeing our old hallway? Did our old house have doors with handles?”
“Maybe. I’m really not sure.”
“Why won’t you help me?”
Joe grabbed the towel and slapped it onto the counter. “Because I don’t want to remember anything about that house!” He turned around. “Nothing.” His eyes narrowed, glaring at Hunter. “And you shouldn’t either.”
Hunter felt tears on his cheeks as he stood before his father’s angry face. It revealed no sympathy, no caring. Hunter couldn’t remember his father hugging him, even touching him.
Joe’s breathing calmed a little. “For your own sake, don’t try to remember. Leave the past alone.” He set two large containers, packaged utensils, and a small cup of gravy on the table. “We should eat this before it gets cold.” He pulled out a chair and sat down.
“My English teacher wants the class to find an object with special meaning to us. We’re doing a writing exercise tomorrow.”
“All that stuff got burned in the fire at the storage unit.”
“Why was all our stuff in a storage unit?”
“Because we were moving but hadn’t found a house yet.”
“What about on your phone? Don’t you have pictures on your phone?”
“Like I’ve told you a hundred times already, I lost my phone, and for some reason the backup failed. So my new one started with nothing—no photos, no contacts. It was a pain in the ass.”
Once again, Hunter noticed that his father was not upset about this loss. He always gave this answer with no emotion, except exasperation at being asked.
Hunter rubbed his eyes and collapsed into the other chair. He thought about his mother and little brother who had died in a car wreck on an icy road. When? Some years ago. He wasn’t sure. “I can’t remember anything from when they were alive.” His chest felt hollow. “I can’t even remember their names.”
His father looked at him for several seconds.
“Can’t you tell me?” Hunter watched his father’s lips quiver. “You won’t tell me their names?”
Joe sighed as he poked at his food. “Savannah. And Frankie.”
Hunter expected he’d feel something upon hearing their names, but the words simply passed through him. “That’s it?”
“I’m sorry, Hunter.” He lifted his eyes to meet his son’s. “There’s nothing else I can say.” He averted his gaze.
They ate in silence.
That had happened eight hours ago.
Since then Hunter had Googled her name, looking for images, social media references, anything. Pictures of girls and women appeared on his screen, but none looked familiar.
Now Hunter lay back on his bed and took a few sips of whiskey, thinking it would be difficult to swallow, but amazingly it went down smoothly. He wondered why since he’d never drunk alcohol before. At least he didn’t remember doing so. He drank another sip and felt the warm buzz creeping up his neck as his brain numbed.
He sat up, sipped, and gazed outside. A full moon lit the snow around his house in the Alaskan woods like it was daytime. He walked to the window and opened it, allowing the cold air to rush in, numbing his face and chest. He looked at the thermometer outside his window, nailed to a birch tree—ten degrees.
He could’ve walked through the trees without a flashlight it was so bright. And he wondered if he walked far enough out into the woods, the visions wouldn’t bother him anymore. Maybe he would fall asleep in the snow and never wake up. He honestly thought about trying but felt too tired to climb out the window.
He had no idea why the visions started two months ago, but since then he hadn’t touched his fantasy folder full of stories and drawings about the world of Marian he’d been creating. Hunter had always been a daydreamer and a writer. The school counselor had suggested he might be fantasy prone because for the first five months at the Clear Creek School, he’d frequently tuned out of class to write yet another story about the Tremarians, the group trying to eliminate pain and misery from their planet.
The original stories were the only things he still had from his past and only because he’d kept them hidden. He’d never shown them to his father. He didn’t remember why. Did he ever show them to his mother? When had he started writing them?
He couldn’t remember.
He’d almost left them under the mattress at the only house he remembered in Washington, the last one before they moved. Something clicked in his mind just before he left his room to get into their truck to drive to Alaska. He’d lifted the mattress, removed the stories, and shoved them into his suitcase. After they’d moved into their latest house, Hunter assembled the stories into one folder, which was now in a hole behind a small whiteboard he had nailed up above his desk.
But those stories were ones he chose to work on. These latest ones invaded his brain like dreams at night, forcing him to watch and experience.
He looked at the whiteboard. When had he started writing those stories? Possibly before his mother and little brother—Savannah and Frankie, he now knew—had died. He hadn’t read the early stories since . . . when? He had no idea. Maybe he should reread them all. Maybe he could find clues about . . . something.
He plugged in his phone and noticed a text from Jazz. I’ve got something cool to show you tomorrow morning! Try to get here early—for once! Jasmine was his only real friend at school. She had liked his Marian stories, but he hadn’t shown her any since the visions started. Jazz was a genius. She could read the stories and probably figure out what might have been happening in his life when he wrote them. But first he’d have to tell her about the visions, something he’d avoided because she might think less of him. What would she think about the story he’d just finished?
He took another sip of whiskey and felt the comfort of drowsiness envelop him. Before he crashed, he replaced the thermos in the ceiling then pulled his latest story from the printer, intending to pin it to his wall where dozens of others hung. But blessed sleep came suddenly, and he fell onto his bed, the pages of Sexual Encounter drifting to the floor.