He could only gape at the people who called themselves his parents. Here, in a cozy living room, with the soft afternoon sun peeking through the curtains, a hearty man and rose-cheeked woman gave him their full attention with nothing but smiles on their faces.
“Darling, you missed breakfast! But not to worry, we didn’t finish it. Want some?” His mother didn’t wait for an answer, getting up and wandering into the open kitchen to fuss with the oven.
Caj twisted the edge of his sweater so hard, it was a miracle it hadn’t torn yet. “How did… How did I get here?”
“You walked down the stairs? Oh wait, is this one of those younger generation jokes? I can never keep up,” his ‘father’ laughed. There was a cup of warm coffee in his left hand and a newspaper in his right. His chair was brown velvet. The side table was impeccable, not a stain to be found.
It was exactly as he had imagined a scene like this would look like, he suddenly realized. A family, all smiles, a room, rich of life, and him.
“You’re not my parents,” he blurted out.
The parents gave each other confused glances. “Darling, I think I know my own son.” ‘Mom’ rolled her eyes and continued to bounce around the kitchen. Some blonde hairs fell out of her bun from all the moving around, framing her pale skin. In the corner of the room, the glass doors of the tall mahogany cupboard reflected Caj - his dark messy curls, his face all sharp lines, his lanky figure and hips he wished weren’t so curvy. He couldn’t be more in contrast with his ‘parents’.
There was a photo on the wall close to him. The two older adults in the room were on it, together with a boy his age, with light-brown hair and a toothy grin. Caj grabbed it, nearly tearing the wallpaper.
Caj marched into the kitchen and thrust the photo frame into his ‘mother’s’ face, effectively halting her preparation of food. “What about Finn?!”
“Who is Finn? Who are you talking about?” Those words were icy fingers, constricting his heart. “What are you doing with our photo?”
“Your actual son!!” He jabbed a finger on the image where Finn was supposed to be. When he turned the frame towards him, the other boy was gone and, in his place, a younger, smiling version of him.
He couldn’t breathe.
“Caj, you’re starting to worry us,” his father responded, now getting up. His mother held her hands against her bosom in concern.
Startled back into focus, he slammed his hands on the kitchen counter. “You should be worried!! Do you even know who I am?! What I’m afraid of, what I want to be? Do you even know in which country I’m… born…in…”
He didn’t know. He couldn’t remember where he used to live. He couldn’t remember the faces of his real parents. He couldn’t even remember who he was or what he did before he woke up in this room.
But he did remember words echoing in his mind, from a familiar voice he couldn’t connect to anyone.
Tomorrow! Tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow I will finally get what I wanted for so long!
A dizzy spell hit him, and he held on to the kitchen counter.
“Honey, I think Caj is tired.”
“Agreed. You’re clearly still tired. Off to bed you go!” His mother already pushed him out of the kitchen towards the spiral stairs and Caj realized he didn’t have the will to argue. Without glancing back, he trudged up the narrow stairs, feeling lost.
He scanned his room - not his room, it shouldn’t be his - the moment he opened the wooden door. It was relatively small, with a lacquered wooden bed in one corner and a desk in the other, comic books neatly stacked next to college books in the open drawers and pens bundled up in mugs. Artistic posters haphazardly decorated the walls, with names and artists on them he had never seen before. The light through the violet curtains gave everything a surreal hue.
His nails dug into the skin of his palms as he stood in the center of the round carpet. This wasn’t his room. It was someone else’s, Finn’s, it was Finn’s, he must have taken his place.
But how? And why?!
And who… was Finn? Ten seconds ago he thought he knew, yet somehow he couldn’t conjure up the thought anymore. What little he remembered dissipated from his mind. Caj started to panic.
I need to write all I know now down… before I forget that as well.
He spotted a leather-bound album on the desk. When Caj opened the cover, he could feel how sturdy the paper was. On the first page written in bold ink letters, he found a message.
For my beloved son, to put in your memories.
A photo album? A message that told him nothing. He flipped the page around but found nothing. Whose handwriting is this? He turned the rest of the tarnished light-yellow pages, only to find them completely empty. The first page was all he had. Maybe it was Finn’s handwriting. Maybe he forgot. He inspected the whole journal once more, held the pages up into the light. Nothing.
Caj grabbed a ballpoint pen and started writing down his own name. But before he could move on with the next word, the black ink faded, absorbed by the paper itself. Not a single line stuck, even when he started writing down nonsense. He slammed the pen down and watched the thick angry line vanish.
Downtrodden, he backed away from the desk. The bed was his only comfort as he let himself drop on it, causing a black smartphone to bounce up from the mattress and land next to him. Quickly Caj picked it up and swiped to unlock it. Everything was on standard factory settings, with the name of the city he was in and a little icon to display the current weather.
It sounded so familiar. Maybe Finn told him of it. A relatively small city close to the sea and chock full of all kinds of birds, he recalled reading once. Birds… Caj looked at the journal again. Something about birds and Finn rang a bell far in the distance of his mind.
He ran his hand through his hair, trying to feel for bumps. No, he was sure he hadn’t just lost his memory by banging his head against something. Maybe he had been kidnapped, though that didn’t explain his odd forgetfulness. So many things didn’t add up.
Maybe the internet could help him.
The browser page loaded endlessly before informing him he had no wifi.
“I need to get out of this house,” Caj said out loud, hauling himself out of the bed, “Before I go mad.”
A green pilot jacket hung from the coat hook next to the door. He rattled off a to-do list in his head while tugging it on. He would go to the police and tell them everything. The army. The press if he had to. He would ask the first person he saw on the street where the police station was. They had to help him, someone must have some way of finding out what the hell happened to him.
Barely a step into the hallway before he nearly ran into ‘mom’, who held a plate of white bread and cheese sandwiches. “I thought you might be hungry! I know young men prefer to be alone, but do your father and I a favor and join us for dinner later?”
“Thanks erm… Thanks. But no thanks. I’m heading out.” He sidestepped her but she sidestepped as well.
“Out? Darling, you can’t go out.”
“Look, I promise I will eat with you guys later. I have something important to do. For school,” he added quickly, remembering the college books.
She looked him straight in the eyes. “You cannot go out. You can never go out. Never. Right, honey?” she called down the stairs.
“Correct!” came the voice of his ‘dad’, chiming in without hesitation.
With a big smile, she put on her standard joyous face. “See? Now, pasta or potatoes for dinner? I’ll let you choose, because you’re my special boy!”