I open my eyes and see nothing but darkness at first. I suppose I should be worried, but I’ve got a mountain of other concerns to deal with, so this just gets added to the list. I force myself to be patient and wait. I’ve got nothing left to lose at this point. Light soon starts trickling in like streams of bubbles sparkling and rising to the surface, caused by people jumping into a calm ocean. Sorry to get a little purple prose on you there. I guess it’s something I’m learning about myself. You see . . . it’s because I don’t know much about yours truly. Who I am. What I do.
I’ve . . . I’ve lost all my memories.
Now that I can see a bit, the optical information being transmitted to my brain isn’t very useful. I’m in a dark place without any artificially created light. But there are streaks, as I mentioned, coming through gaps and small holes: individually they afford a low level of lumens; collectively they cast a vague glow, giving me a chance to get an idea of where I am.
I’m in some sort of box.
Great. So not that helpful.
Let’s try my other senses to see if I can extract some more information.
My ears pick up a repetitive rumbling of machinery and movement. My body, my sense of touch feels that movement as I am jostled softly side to side.
Okay. The box is moving. So . . . I’m in some sort of vehicle.
I take that as my cue and pull myself to my feet. I have some aches . . . Quite a few actually, but no acute pains. Feels like no bones are broken, which is definitely a good thing. And I’m just going to keep ignoring the fact that I don’t remember who I am or how I got here for the moment. I take a few steps forward. I’m dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. I’m able to see on my shirt are four bugs. Beneath the insects are the words: THE BEETLES. SACRAMENTO ZOO. At first this means absolutely nothing to me, and then, like a bingo ball slotting into place, I remember this shirt. I got it at the Sacramento Zoo a while ago, years before, but I’m not sure how many. I had fun at that zoo. Seeing the cool giraffes up close. The lions letting everyone know how tough they were. And the pink flamingos looking weird all standing on one leg, grouped together. But the important thing is . . . I remember now. The T-shirt triggered my memory of it and the trip to the zoo.
So . . . The bad news: I still don’t remember who I am, why I’m here, or where I am. The good news: I’ve remembered something, which means I can hopefully remember more somethings as time passes.
Okay. Feeling much better about myself now than I did five minutes ago.
I take more steps, getting to a wall, touching it, then going to another, and doing the same. There appears to be nothing else and no one else in here but me. No other objects. The walls feel . . . Inconsistent. On one I feel wood I think, on another some sort of plastic maybe? Nothing very useful, but to me it means a lot. It means I appear to have just my memories missing from my brain. All the other details and knowledge from breathing and walking to knowing the difference between plastic and wood is there.
And just when I start feeling good about myself, things change.
[SOUNDS OF SQUEALING BRAKES AND END OF MACHINERY]
Okay, the vehicle’s stopped. Why? I start looking around for a way out, some sort of exit, and I can’t find one. I’d like something clear and concrete. You know, something like a lighted rectangle that clearly says: Here’s the door.
No such luck.
And that’s when . . .
I don’t know what to do.
I turn to the wall where the sound is emanating from, closing in on it.
[LOUDER KNOCKING SOUND]
MAN: Is deuh somebody in deuh?
JAKE: Do I answer him?
MAN: … *Listening*
JAKE: What do I say?
JAKE: Is it too risky? But then what have I got to lose?
[A FEW STEPS WALKING AWAY]
JAKE: Wait! I’m in here! I need help!
MAN: Hello? Is deuh someone in deuh?
JAKE: Yes! I can’t . . . I can’t find the door. I don’t know how to get out.
A thunk and click comes from the wall I think the door might be on, and it opens suddenly, pouring in a crashing wave of sunlight and dust almost blinding me. When my eyes catch up to the light I see the barrel of what I think is a gun poking into the dark room through the sheet of light. I freeze, not knowing what to do.
MAN: Whu ah yu?
JAKE: I don’t know! I don’t remember!
MAN: WHU AH YU!
JAKE: He shouts in a strange accent.
JAKE: I don’t know! I think I hit my head or something, I can’t remember.
JAKE: That’s not what happened, but maybe it will buy me some favor or time from this man. He steps through the wall of dust-filled light rays and I can see his face. It’s dirty and scarred, but not angry. I see more fear than anything else.
MAN: How did yu get en heuh?
JAKE: Like I said… I don’t remember. I think I hit my head.
JAKE: The man lowers his gun slowly to look closer at my head.
MAN: Ah yu okay?
JAKE: I think so.
MAN: Ok. Yu need to seh Joseph.
JAKE: Who is Joseph?
JAKE: The man waves his hand for me to follow him as he turns and steps through the door frame. I follow and step out onto a metal catwalk of sorts and look around. I can hardly believe what I’m seeing. It’s an . . . RV. But an RV from Mad Max. Not so much with the crazy weaponry, but with all the stuff on the roof and the panels on the sides. It looks old and like it’s been going since the time of the dinosaurs. But it also looks like it could keep going until the heat death of the universe.
And that’s when I cast my gaze away from the RV and see a long row of the greatest number of RVs I’ve ever seen assembled other than at a ZZ Top convention . . . Yeah, I’m not sure why there would be a lot of RVs there, but I just feel like there would. But there are a fucking lot of RVs here. As far as I can see. They’re all stopped. People milling about. Some resting. Some chatting. A portrait of normal life except instead of houses, it’s RVs.
The man clicks his radio and speaks a language I don’t understand, except for the word “Joseph.” There are a lot of people milling about, and only the man I’ve already met seems to notice me. He stands there keeping a wary eye on me. I hear the rumbling of another engine as a small ATV-like vehicle pulls up. Same MAD MAX aesthetic. Okay, I’m starting to like it here.
The first man nods and lets out a curt “Joseph.” The new man gets off his ATV while keeping eye contact with me. He slides down the cloth that was covering his mouth and walks to a ladder like thing on the side of the RV we are standing on. He climbs up and approaches me. He holds his hand out, as if he wants a hand shake but it’s at the wrong angle. Clearly a local greeting of some type. I decide it’s best to shrug instead of attempt it. The man I presume to be Joseph looks at me strangely. Turning his focus to the other man, they share a short conversation in that strange language. Joseph talks slower and not as smoothly as the other man.
JOSEPH: You thirsty?
JAKE: When those words exit his mouth I become very aware that yes, I am thirsty.
JAKE: Yes actually, very.
JAKE: I notice that he doesn’t have the strange accent the other man has. Joseph takes his own canteen off his belt and hands it to me. I take a drink. The water tastes odd. Not bad in any way, but it reminds me of the mineral water that we have back home, except I’ve never tasted the background flavors before. New minerals in their water maybe? Without realizing it I finish what was left in the canteen. I hand it back with a small apology.
MAN: Refill suh?
JAKE: The man says as he gestures to Joseph’s canteen. Joseph quickly shakes his head no, and I think I detect what could be interpreted embarrassment on his face.
JAKE: Your friend there got me out of that box and now you gave me your water. Thank you.
JOSEPH: Glad I could oblige.
JAKE: I almost expect him to tip his hat . . . If he were wearing one. I’m starting to get a Stephen King’s Gunslinger vibe off of him. Roland of Gilead. From Mid-World.
He’s got a good five inches on me. Strong build. Not the sort of guy you’d want to be on the receiving end of in a fight. But his face is kind, the eyes concerned. He’s definitely a good guy.
JAKE: Hi, I’m . . . Jake Fisher.
JAKE: Three seconds ago I didn’t have a clue what my name was, but forcing myself to say it causes it to just appear in my mind and fall from my mouth. I’m almost certain it is my actual name. The other man is a little worried that I suddenly know my name. I instinctively hold out my hand for a handshake.
He looks at my hand like I’m flipping him the bird, clearly he doesn’t know my gesture either.
JOSEPH: Joseph Crane. Sorry, I….
JAKE: Oh, no problem. It’s just a hand shake.
Joseph reaches out his hand and grasps mine in a strong grip. He’s instantly got the hang of it. I’m really starting to like this guy.
JAKE: What’s the deal with this place? You are all really into RVs, aren’t you?
Joseph looks at me then. Stares at me long and hard, reaches some sort of decision, and gives a curt nod.
JOSEPH: Follow me. Stay close.
He puts a hand up to the man who starts to follow us and then he turns and moves ahead at a fast pace. I immediately follow, needing to if I want to keep up with him. No clue where he’s going, so I need to keep close. I can’t help noticing the people, as we speedily walk in between groups of them. They’re all staring at us as we come close to them . . . Check that, they’re all staring at me. Because . . . Because I obviously don’t fit in here. I’m dressed different. I just look different. These people look . . . Hardened by life. They’ve spent their days traveling the road for most of their lives and it’s made them suspicious. Correctly so, I believe.
I stop looking and focus on where Joseph’s taking me. He’s reached his destination: one of the RVs, and he’s got the door open for me. The look on his face urges me to move faster. I do and I’m soon in one part of the RV. It’s a pretty decent-sized space and is well-lived in. There’s a lot of stuff. Trinkets and books and parts and bits and pieces everywhere. But not like it’s because Joseph is messy, or he wants to show off that he has a lot of stuff to people. No. These are loved and cared for; well used items. All of them. They are objects of wealth and importance.
JAKE: This place is amazing!
He closes the door behind him, checking through a window to make sure we don’t have any too curious people wanting to know who I am. Then he turns to me.
JOSEPH: Take a seat wherever you like. Feel free to move stuff around if you need to. You hungry? I’m gonna make some tea.
JAKE: Tea sounds great, thanks.
I find a chair in one corner and pick up the machine part and leather-bound notebook on it, putting them on a side table. I take a quick glance at the pages in the book, flicking through it. Lots of notes. And lists of names. The man is very detailed.
As I sit down I see a little machine sitting on a ledge, wires that lead into the low ceiling of the room and what appears to be a microphone. I’m definitely curious, but I’m not gonna touch anything in here without permission.
JOSEPH: Oh, that’s my transceiver. I’m charging it right now.
He finds himself a seat nearby.
JAKE: Transceiver? For what?
JOSEPH: I’ll get to that.
He stares intently at me for a minute. I then notice the large blade on his back. Somehow I missed that before now. And yet, I don’t feel in danger. Quite the opposite in fact.
JOSEPH: What were you doing in that caravan?
JAKE: Is that what you call them? Caravans?
JAKE: Honestly, I don’t know. I just woke up there. I don’t know how I got there or where I am…..
JOSEPH: … No one sent you?
The question makes me wonder what is going on in this strange man’s life.
JAKE: No… No one sent me. I’m sorry… I don’t know how I got there.
After a moment of thought he says:
JOSEPH: Do you mind if I record our conversation?
He shows me his little recorder he’s got in his pocket. Just seeing it sets off a firework inside my mind.
JOSEPH [concerned]: Are you okay?
JAKE: Er . . . Yeah. Sorry about that. Seeing that device, it . . . Jogged my memory. And yes, feel free to record. I’m . . . I’m actually recording too.
I reach into my pocket and pull out my phone. The one that hasn’t needed a charge in a really long time and is just permanently set to recording and uploading now. And this realization, like the others, just comes to me, from nowhere. I show Joseph my phone. His eyes widen so much I think they might fall out of his head. Then he’s up out of his seat, looking through his books around the room. Checking one pile, then another, not finding the specific title he’s looking for. Then he does find it, flips it open, and starts leafing through pages until he finds what he wants. He shows me what he was looking for.
The book looks old. Downright ancient. Definitely a collectible. He’s pointing to an illustration. It’s a picture of something that looks like my phone, well technically it’s two pictures: one of the front side and one of the back.
JOSEPH: According to this illustration, it’s a mobile PID?
JAKE [uncertain]: Yeah?
JOSEPH: We have a . . . Good amount of tech here on Oasus, but I never expected to see one of these working.
He stares at me intensely.
[KETTLE BOILING SOUND]
The sound breaks the moment and Joseph gets up to make the tea. I’m not sure what to think about all this, and what he’s told me so far.
He doesn’t take very long and then he’s back handing me a steaming mug. I can see through to the bottom of the ceramic mug, so I’m guessing it’s some sort of herbal tea. I know it’s gonna burn my lips but I take a sip anyway, just to taste something.
It does burn, but in a way that lets me know this is a normal reaction to something. That things are running okay. Since it feels like the complete opposite for me since I regained consciousness in the dark room of that RV, this is a welcome pain.
The flavor is full and a little bitter, and very enjoyable.
JAKE: Thank you. It’s great. So where the hell am I?
He stares at me for a moment.
JOSEPH: You really don’t know do you? Do you know of “Oasus”?
I shake my head.
JOSEPH: Okay. You should know this…. But all the people that you’ve seen here today. We’re descendants. Long ago, many, many hundreds of cycles, humanity left Earth and eventually discovered this planet. One ship crashed, killing everyone. The other two survived and the people inside created a settlement here. They called this world Oasus.
I have many thoughts flooding my mind now, almost drowning me.
JAKE: I . . . I am from Earth.
JOSEPH: Yes. You have to be. You look human. Like us.
JAKE: No. I mean, I live on Earth. That’s where I’m from.
Joseph’s eyes widen again. He’s truly shocked this time.
JOSEPH: I don’t know how that can possibly be. What stims have you been taking?
JAKE: I’m serious. I don’t know how to explain it but I swear to you.
Joseph stares at me for an uncomfortable moment and lets out an “ok”. I’m not sure if he believes me or wants to hear the rest of the story.
[HAVE JOSEPH SAY “OKAY” TO RUN IN THE BACKGROUND OF THIS NARRATION]
JAKE: I have no clue why I’m here. For what purpose? How did I get here?
JOSEPH: How would I know?
JAKE: I don’t…. Wait a moment. If Oasus has been settled, why do you keep moving?
JOSEPH [CONFUSED]: We are always moving. We have to. Because of the darkness.
A heavy weight suddenly forms in my (gut?); a black hole that feels like it’s sucking everything in. I’m instantly covered in sweat, and I start to shake a little.
I speak the two words, but they barely come out in a whisper.
JAKE [WHISPERING]: The blackness . . .
JOSEPH: We call it the darkness. It came from beyond this world, some time after humanity arrived here. There’s a great cleaving in the earth that shows where it hit. And from it came the darkness. Anyone who’s caught by it . . . Is dead. Disappears. Is never seen again. No one knows exactly what the darkness does to you, because no one has ever survived.
JAKE: The darkness . . .
The memories continue to come, even stronger now with this new trigger.
JAKE: I have to face it.
JOSEPH [incredulous confusion]: What? No…
And then I hear calls from outside, people making announcements. The sounds of people getting ready.
JOSEPH: It’s time to get moving again. We’ve spent enough time resting. The caravan needs to get moving.
I stare Joseph in the eyes and then give him a resigned look. I put the mug of half-drunk tea gently down.
JAKE: Thank you for the tea and the hospitality. You’ve been very helpful.
He catches on a few seconds too late, and by then I’ve got the door open and I’m outside and running. I hear him calling behind me.
JOSEPH [YELLING]: Jake! Stop! This is madness!
[SPOKEN SHORT OF BREATH AS JAKE’S RUNNING:] I know it is, but at the same time I know it’s something I have to do. I can see it now. The darkness . . . The blackness. In the very distance. Slowly but surely coming. Coming for these people.
Coming for me.
I run faster toward it. I look back and see Joseph starting to chase me in his small vehicle from earlier, but he’s stopped by a small group of people shouting and gesturing. He’s angry and sad at the same time. I hope he won’t dwell on me too long. I keep running, feeling my breathing coming fast, my heart pumping. It takes a long while, but I manage. I pass countless other vehicles and people. Most stare but none try to stop me. I don’t know how long I run, but I keep going until my legs are numb. It feels like the closer I get to the blackness, the faster it comes. I dont realize when it happens but suddenly I notice that the sound of people and engines are no longer around me. I’ve ran past them all. Then my strength is sapped. I sit down, almost falling. I wait a while. A long while. For the blackness to come and take me once more. I hear a strange and frightening noise. The noise of a thousand movements and murmurs at once. It’s a cacophony of wet flesh and snarling sounds.
What is it?
I don’t care.
I’m ready for it.
Then it is just before me.
Then it is enveloping me.
And everything goes black . . .