She woke from her nightmare with a gasp. Her eyes stared into the darkness of her shelter and adjusted slowly to the light as her rampant heartbeat slowed. Once she was positive the whistling against the walls of the old building was only wind, she let out the breath she’d held and whispered to herself frantically.
Just a dream. Just a dream, you’re safe, everything’s fine. You’re gonna be fine, it was just a dream. You’re okay.
The falling rain against the roof sounded more like the scratching of fingernails.
swallowed. You’re okay.
She was keeping track of the time like one possessed. It had been exactly thirty-seven days and eleven hours since she had woken up in the wrong place. Her hand reached up under the thin blanket to grab hold of the pendant around her neck. It was the only thing she had on her person when she woke up, save for a peculiar shaped piece of wood tucked into the back pocket of her jeans. The strange object was very nearly like a stick, but a nice pattern was carved into one end, making it look almost like a handle…
Silly thing, really.
She wouldn’t sleep again tonight, she knew. It was like this every time she had a nightmare. Her eyes shifted to her nightstand, on which the strange bit of wood rested. In this nightmare she’d been pointing it at someone with round glasses, practically digging it into his chest. Yelling. Crying.
What a silly notion, she thought. Still, though, as she gazed at it, she couldn’t help but feel it was important, somehow.
Her fingers lightly touched the carvings, as she’d done a number of times, but this time it felt different. She felt… perhaps a connection. It was the first dream she’d had concerning the strange bit of tree bark. But perhaps, she wagered, the mystery of why she had such a thing with her when she woke up was too great, and her nightmares had invented a place for it in her sleep.
But stranger still, than the wood, was the necklace. Like an hourglass trapped in a golden spider’s web, it was. During the long day when she sat on her bed and stared at the wall, she would fasten the chain around her neck. The silver-dollar sized hourglass-web hung in the middle of her chest; it was a long chain. To the right of the pendent was attached the smallest knob.
She had discovered it a week after she woke up, and twisted it twice. She found that the more she twisted the knob, the more times the hourglass flipped around and around in circles. It made a soft humming noise, and she felt that something should happen, expected it, even.
But nothing did.
She withdrew the necklace from under the duvet, and rolled onto her back, holding it above her with both hands. Why did she have this?
She turned the knob. The hourglass spun around once. She did it again. It spun once more. That was when she noticed something odd.
What sort of hourglass had no sand in it?
It was empty.
Storing the pendant back under the covers, she rolled to her side and closed her eyes. Nightmares or no, she wanted to try to sleep again. The next day, she had been notified, she was to apply for several different things.
It wasn’t often, she’d been told, that a person lost their memory and absolutely no one had filed a missing person report. The law, she’d been kindly informed, stated that after a month of not being claimed nor experiencing a regain of memory, she was required to begin life anew.
The first step would be to pick a name. The second, to acquire an identification card. She’d no idea of how old she was, but after her initial visit to a doctor once her situation became clear, he had made an educated guess that she was approximately twenty years of age.
The remainder of her personal information was already being set up for her. Her place of origin would be Derbyshire, which was where she was found. Her legal date of birth would appear as June 30th, when she was found.
Anything else, she’d been told, she had to create on her own.
She wasn’t sure what to name herself. Hope that her memories would return to her slowly dwindled over the days, and she’d resorted to looking through books and old theatre programs and essays for names. Nothing has stood out to her.
Sleep began to take her again, and she drifted off more easily than she’d hoped.
The man with round glasses was in her room, sitting next to her on the bed. She frowned with her eyes closed.
“I know you’re there,” she whispered.
The dull rustle of fabric tickled her ears as he shifted. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.”
She sighed and peeked up at him. His glasses shone in the low light and his lightning scar stood out impossibly well in the darkness. “You didn’t wake me. I’m dreaming, aren’t I?” she asked.
“Of course,” he affirmed with a nod.
She looked up to the ceiling. “God, I wish I was awake.”
“I wish I could help you,” he admitted.
She sat up and scooted closer to him, staring into his eyes. “Who exactly are you?” she asked. “I remember yelling at you.”
“I can’t tell,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry. You have to remember me yourself.”
“But I don’t remember anything,” she said, frustrated. “Only pointing that stick at you! Who are you? Who am I?”
He shook his head, and she suddenly found herself unable to recall if this stranger’s hair was black or blonde. “You’re dreaming again,” he whispered as the surroundings turned dark. “Wake up soon, Hermione.”
At eight AM on the dot, she’d forgotten all about her dream. The office she was supposed to register her new identity at would open in thirty minutes, and she waited for the police officer that had been helping her to pick her up in his little blue car outside the motel.
She wasn’t sure what it was, but the world outside looked strange. People dressed differently from how she was used to. They drove different cars, used different words, and acted in ways she did not expect. Because of this, she’d avoided much time outside, and stayed indoors as often as possible. But, her officer had told her via telegram, she had to get out there eventually.
As she baked in the heat waiting for the police officer, a bike bell chimed twice and a young boy rode past, yelling a “Morning, ma’am!” and dropping a stack of newspapers next to her feet. They were for the motel, and arrived every morning.
She stared at the date on the paper as the paper boy turned the corner.
August 7th, 1932.
It felt wrong.
The horn of the officer’s car tooted merrily as he pulled up in front of her. She smiled fondly back at him and pulled on the door.
“Fancy meeting you here, miss!” he cried as she fastened her seatbelt. “Did you sleep well?”
She caught his eye and shook her head without a frown.
A crease formed between his bushy brows. “Nightmares keeping you up, love?” he asked.
“If you ever need my help with something, you just ask,” he said. “I’ll help you best I can, miss.”
She smiled her thanks.
The officer kicked his tiny blue car into gear and they took off in the direction of the customs office. His enormous, shining new car phone was displayed proudly between their seats, but it didn’t ring as it had the first time she drove with him.
The radio was tuned to the Police station, as she’d anticipated, but he switched it to one with a light tune that crackled slightly with static as a jolly sounding woman sang:
Ten cents a dance,
That’s what they pay me
Gosh, how they weigh me down!
“It might be difficult for a young woman such as yourself to find a job in these times,” the officer told her kindly. “I’m not sure how much you’ve forgotten of the world, miss, but these are hard times. There’s talk of it being the worst depression Great Brittan has had. I’ll do my best to help you out. Have you remembered anything, yet?”
He glanced at her for her answer, which she gave with a weary shake of her head.
“What about a name?” he asked. “Have you picked one for your new life?”
Her bushy hair swung back and forth with her ‘no’ answer.
“Don’t worry, miss,” he advised. “I’ve got a few suggestions for you if you can’t think of one.”
She looked at him in curiosity, and a big smile lit up his face.
“I was talking to my wife, see,” he began, “about you. My Missus seemed awful concerned about such a young woman being all alone. I showed her the photograph we took when we first brought you to the station, and we both stormed our heads for names. The Missus and I picked the three you looked most like, and I’ve got ‘em if you’d like to hear.”
She nodded, eyes sparkling and hair bobbing.
They slowed down for a woman pushing a perambulator across the busy street. “The first is Phyllis,” he said. “It’s one of the most popular names now, and I’ve seen many pretty girls with half the beauty of your face with it!”
She considered it thoughtfully and rolled her hand mid-air to instruct him to proceed.
“This next one, my wife is very proud of,” he informed her. “She thought it suits you like Tea and Milk: Virginia.”
She smiled a little at that one.
“And the last,” he announced, “I thought up all on my own. I think you’ll like it best of all: Edith.”
“You like it?” he asked, bushy eyebrows shooting upward.
She grinned and nodded enthusiastically.
His bearded face flushed the lightest tinge of pink. “Thought you would. From what I’ve gathered of you, miss, you’re a sensible young woman with no need for finery like all the other ladies reading American magazines and dancing with boys till it’s dawn. You’re a simple girl with a damn good head on your shoulders, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“One piece of advice my wife wanted me to offer you, love,” he said. “She says it might be best for you to find a nice, rich bloke and marry him as soon as you can, rather than look for a job you won’t find. Times are tough. Find a nice man that will treat you well and…oh, doesn’t really like talkative women.”
They shared the joke with a knowing glance.
The jolly woman singing on the radio was interrupted by the officer’s car phone ringing loudly. He picked it up and held it to his ear, silencing the happy tune with a twist of the volume knob. “Hello?” he asked into the receiver. After a very long spell, he sighed and hissed, “Again? Gracious me… Tell Mrs. Cole I’ll be there directly.”
He hung the receiver on the big black box and glanced at the young woman.
“Sorry love, we’ve got to make a detour. It won’t take long; I’ve got to sort out a problem at the orphanage.”
They pulled up to the grey building not minutes later, and she immediately felt like it was blocking the very sun. It wasn’t a happy place, she recognized. She got out of the car with the officer and followed him inside, sticking as close as possible. A man with grey hair met them just inside the doors.
“There you are, sir,” he called, relieved. “Mrs. Cole is upstairs. She’s waiting for you.”
“Thanks, Barry,” the officer said, and nodded to the staircase. “Follow me, miss, and stay near.”
Mrs. Cole appeared to be drunk. An older woman, running an establishment such as this usually required sober work, but it seemed Mrs. Cole was at her wit’s end.
“You’re here, officer!” she cried.
They were in a small room with a large, dark wardrobe. On a tiny bed squished into the corner sat a very young boy with dark, dark hair and piercing eyes. They regarded each other, and she found she couldn’t look away.
“What’s happened this time?” the officer asked.
“We need to speak in private,” Mrs. Cole hinted.
He turned to her and smiled. “Be right back, Miss. Won’t take a moment.”
They walked into the hall and shut the door.
The boy stared at her.
“Who are you?” he asked.
He frowned. “What are you doing here? Come to take a look at me?”
She shook her head.
“You’re odd,” the young boy said. “Can’t you speak?”
She paused, and shook her head.
“You’re different too, then,” he whispered.
“I’m only six,” he confided in her, “but Mrs. Cole keeps whispering behind my back that I’m not like the other children. Are you like me?”
“Do you want to know my name?” he asked her.
She found herself nodding.
He hopped off the bed and came to her, taking her hand in his tiny one and pulling her ear down to his mouth. “It’s a secret,” he insisted when she didn’t budge.
Relenting, she allowed him to lead her onto one knee so his breath tickled the side of her face. She waited, but he said nothing. Turning her face to his, she looked into his eyes and he looked back, just as serious. A somber mood filled the air as he took a breath.
“My name is Tom,” he whispered.
Next Chapter: Childhood