John - Candy Hearts Entry
*-*-1st Place Winner of Candy Hearts Awards -*-*
Some things they can't take away no matter how hard they try. Some things are a part of you, deep in your soul, that will remain with you forever. This is love...real and true and pure.
John leaned over his journal, intent on his writing.
It’s been 37 days since they stole my memories. I’m still no closer to discovering who they are, but as each day passes, my drive to find them weakens.
At first, I wanted to remember my old life, desperately. I wanted to know who my family was and who my friends were. I wanted to know what kind of education I had received. I wanted to know what job I had.
Now I don’t care. I am free. I want to say that I am finally free, but I have no idea whether or not I was feeling oppressed in my former life. All I know for certain is that I am free now. I am free to do as I please each day with no fear that I am hurting anyone else with my actions.
I am not doing anything illegal or stupid. I am simply existing each moment of each day with no care for the consequences.
John smiled pleasantly at the little girl that had wandered up to his table at the café. He had watched her walk away from her own table without her mother noticing; having been deep in a heated conversation with the man sitting at her table.
“Hi,” the little girl said in her sweet child’s voice. “What are you doing?”
“I’m writing,” John said, in what he hoped was a pleasant tone. He wasn’t used to speaking anymore, having rarely spoken more than a few words to anyone since he woke up.
“I’m a good writer,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Are you?” John asked with a smile.
“Mm-hm. I can write all the letters and I can spell my name. I’m still working on the harder stuff like cat and dog and tree,” she said wrinkling her nose.
“Just keep practicing,” John said, enjoying this conversation much more than he thought he would. Her innocence was captivating. Her little world so easy and straightforward.
“I will,” she said and looked down at his journal.
John was taken aback at a sense of longing that struck him at that moment. But longing for what? For the innocence of childhood? He let out a deep breath and smiled, realizing that he was living his life in much the same way as this little child. No worries and cares other than what was right in front of him at this exact moment.
“Would you like to try some words?” John asked, not wanting this conversation to end just yet. He glanced over at her parents. They still did not appear to have noticed their little girl had left the table.
The child nodded.
John flipped to a blank page and wrote, C-A-T, D-O-G, and T-R-E-E. He handed his pen to the girl and asked her to spell the words underneath his.
She screwed up her face in concentration, her tiny tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth. John held back his chuckle, not wanting to offend her in any way.
Her childlike scrawling filled his heart with joy.
When she had finished, she looked up at John beaming with pride.
“Very good,” he told her honestly.
“Thanks! Bye!” She waved to him and skipped back to her table.
John waved and leaned over his journal once more.
I still have most of the cash that I woke up with 37 days ago. I have found that I need very little to survive. I don’t need a roof over my head in the sunny desert I am currently inhabiting. I have found a cave near the beach that I can go to when I need to get out of the sun. So far, no one has bothered me there.
The food I have is as cheap as I can manage without making myself sick. The dollar store I went to when I got hungry for the first time in my new life was well stocked with bread, peanut butter, jam, water jugs, and snacks. That was more than sufficient for my daily needs. Now I have a pretty decent stock of essentials hidden in my cave. I’ll be fine for quite some time.
I have found that I don’t care about my clothes. The lake is my front yard, so there is no need for a shower. And I wash the only items of clothing I own – a plain grey t-shirt, jeans, socks, and sneakers – once a week. Any longer than that and they start to get ripe, and people notice. I don’t want to be noticed, so once a week, I wash my clothes and lay naked in the cave until they dry.
My past is complete darkness. My name is a mystery. I’ve chosen John because it is one of the world’s most common names - second only to James - but for some reason, my mind told me John would be a good fit. John Doe is what they call the unidentified, after all, so John seemed perfect for me.
John shut the journal for a moment and sipped his water. The waitress had grown used to seeing John in this very seat almost every day and brought him a water each time without a word. He had ordered small things out of polite obligation at first, but after only a week, the waitress said there was no need. These outside tables were for anyone and everyone, and he shouldn’t feel obligated to use what little money he had just to sit there. John was grateful and made it a point to leave her a dollar once a week. He knew it wasn’t much, and probably made very little difference to her, but it made him feel better, so he did it.
A sorrowful tune began to play from somewhere on the boardwalk. John recognized the tune and knew instinctively that it was being played by a saxophone. He even knew that it was a tenor sax. How, he had no clue and brushed off the desire to know why and how he knew. It was easier and easier each day to brush off these feelings and banish them to oblivion.
John tilted his head to listen for a moment and followed the notes with his fingers, instinctively finding the right notes as though he were holding a phantom instrument. He smiled and closed his eyes, letting the music fill him; speaking to his soul in such a profound way that he couldn’t deny it any longer.
John tucked his journal into the back pocket of his jeans and followed the sound of the music. There, in the middle of the boardwalk, was an old man, sitting on a stool, eyes closed, playing the song John knew so well. He fished out the small bit of spare change he had and tossed it into the fedora in front of the old man. The clink caused the man to open his eyes and nod his thanks.
John stayed there, listening until the song ended. He patted his chest solemnly at the melancholy tune that had called him to this place.
“Do you play?” the old man asked in his scratchy voice.
John nodded. “I think I do,” he said honestly.
The man removed the mouthpiece from his saxophone and withdrew a separate mouthpiece from its case. He handed both the saxophone and the new mouthpiece to John, silently daring him to prove his claim.
John took the instrument and mouthpiece tentatively in his hands, looking at them in childlike wonder. The sax felt good in his hands. Natural. He inserted the mouthpiece and blew tentatively on the instrument to get a feel for it.
The old man stood from his stool and gestured for John to take his place. John immediately obliged and closed his eyes, putting the instrument to his lips once more. His fingers instinctively finding the right places to play a tune that John had no conscious memory of ever having played, much less heard before.
The notes that came out were heartbreaking and mesmerizing, painful and beautiful. He let the notes ring out of him from somewhere deep in his soul. A place that no matter how hard they tried, would never be able to take from him.
This. This was true freedom. These notes knew no past. No present. No future. They just were. And they screamed for release and John was their conduit.
“You got a gift, boy,” the old man said once John had finished.
John wiped away the tears that had fallen while he was playing and looked up at the old man from the stool.
“Thank you,” John said, handing the sax back to the old man. “Thank you,” he said again. Overwhelmed by the sudden outpouring of emotions, John ran.
He shouldn’t have done that. He wanted desperately for his simple life to be returned to him. That was too much. Too much.
Stop running, John.
John tripped over his own feet and went sprawling on the hot sand. He looked around wildly, but saw no one on this deserted stretch of beach.
“Who said that?”
It wasn’t strong enough. We need to try again.
“Try what? Who are you?”
Stay there. An extraction team will be at your location in ten.
“NO!” John screamed. “No. I like my life. I’m happy here. I have everything I need. I don’t want to start over again.”
You have no choice, John. You agreed to this when you signed up.
“Signed up for what?” John looked around, desperately trying to find the source of the voice, but there was no one. It seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.
You don’t want to know the answer to that any more than we want to tell you. That would defeat the purpose of this whole thing. Just trust us, John. It is better this way for the sake of humanity. We will make it stronger and then put you back.
“Will I remember anything about this last month?” John asked, staring up at the sky. “Will I remember where my cave is? Everything I own is in there.”
Yes, John. We’re not interested in taking this past month away from you. We just need to strengthen the blocks –
The voice cut off suddenly, as though it had said something it wasn’t supposed to say.
“The blocks?” John asked, latching on to that last word.
Never you mind, John. Just wait there.
John didn’t listen. He darted for his cave, hoping that whoever this voice was, couldn’t see inside his cave. He kept his back to the entrance and pulled his journal out of his pocket. He carefully hid it under his pile of food and stood up to survey the stash, content that it couldn’t be seen. He had to hope that they wouldn’t take it from him.
He may not remember his former life, but he had no desire to give up on this new one that he had so carefully constructed for himself. They couldn’t and wouldn’t take it from him.
Whoever they were, John was about to find out.
John left his cave and headed back out to the stretch of beach where he had fallen face-first into the sand. A trio of men in black business suits were already waiting for him, looking both imposing and ridiculous at the same time. John released a cathartic laugh at the sight of these men.
“That is hardly beach attire, gentlemen,” he said walking all the way into their waiting shackles. He allowed himself to be cuffed by the hands and feet and hobbled after them the best he could. None spoke a word, and John was grateful. He was enjoying the mystery and knew he would remember nothing when they were through with him. So, why bother?
John climbed awkwardly into the back of a black SUV with tinted windows. When the door had shut, closing him in, he gazed out the window at the beach and the expansive lake that he had called home for the past 37 days, hoping that the voice had told him the truth; that he would be returned here with the memories of this past month intact.
John had to resign himself to the fact that they would take away his ability to play the saxophone. The thought almost broke his resolve, it was so strong. He had to suck in a sharp breath to hold back the sob that threatened to steal his strength and resilience. Something about that tune; the rhythm of the notes, the feel of the keys under his fingers, the way they knew exactly where and when to move, spoke to him deep within his soul.
He honestly wondered if they would even be able to take that away from him.
The car stopped in front of a rundown and innocuous building of red brick. The windows were boarded up, the front doors padlocked with a chain. John frowned, but didn’t question it. The men led him around the side of the building to a metal door that required a passcode on the keypad next to it. It sprang open after a small beep sounded from the keypad, and the man who entered the code opened the door wide for John to enter.
He was shoved unceremoniously into a stark white room. There was nothing in it except for him. There were no windows, no furniture, just bare white walls, floor, and ceiling. The only light came from a glowing strip that ran the perimeter of the room more than three feet above John’s head.
Welcome back, John, the voice said in greeting.
“Hello,” John said stupidly, not knowing what else to say.
The room will fill with a colorless, odorless gas in approximately 30 seconds. You will see, feel, and taste nothing. Take deep, measured breaths, and this will all be over in a few minutes.
“Do you promise to take me back to the beach?” John asked.
John’s heart sank. He dropped his head to his chest and fought hard to keep his calm control. He closed his eyes and shook his head.
My past is a black hole. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know where I’m from. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t even know where here is. I bought this journal hoping that it would help jog my memory, but so far nothing has helped.
Now, I’m not so sure I want to know who I used to be.
I have decided to call myself John.
* * *