Piercing sounds echo in my ears. I’m thrown against a rocky surface. My right side takes the brunt of it. Instantly, my shoulder begins throbbing in pain.
I groan, my voice sounding foreign to me. My body aches all over, but still I force myself to sit up. I open my eyes, but don’t see anything. I shut them tight and reopen them again.
Desperately, I turn my head, searching for any trace of light. Behind me, I spot the tiniest sliver. I follow it. Once on my feet, my bare right foot slips on the rock below me, but I’m able to catch myself with my left. I’m only wearing one shoe.
The air smells like something burning—or something that has since burned. Like a campfire the following morning. It’s further amplified by the layer of grime I can feel all over my body, coating my skin, making it almost slick, just like the rock I’m stepping on. And it’s cold in here, too. My fingers and toes—especially the bare ones—are even going numb from the lack of heat.
A low growl grows from deep in the shadows, followed by a chilling breeze. At first, I’m not positive that it’s even real, until the sound grows so loud that it feels like the floor is shaking. Then, in an instant, it’s gone, along with the wind. The silence echoes in my ears and goosebumps prickle my skin, making me wonder if it even happened.
What the hell is going on?
I need to get out of here. I’m afraid I hear more traces of another growl starting up. The longer I spend in here, the more it gives me the creeps. I don’t know if it’s just in my head, but I can’t help but feel like there’s something sinister lying just beyond the surface, hidden in the darkness.
My bare foot jams against a rock as I move closer to the light. My eyes adjust in the darkness and I can just make out the sharp edges of the boulder. Reaching up, I climb on top of it, shifting around a few large rocks to make the small crevice where the light’s coming from big enough for even my thin frame to fit through. My body scrapes against the unforgiving surfaces as I pull myself through, but it’s better than staying trapped.
The other side is warmer and the light shining from the end of the tunnel is blinding. My eyes burn, even as I turn away from the light. But deeper into the tunnel, past the crevice I just escaped from, I feel a growing sense of unease and danger.
I need to get out of here.
Turning, I take careful steps toward the light, squinting at the harsh sun. Still, the light seems to rekindle my memory. Or rather, my lack of one. I have no idea how I got here or why I’m so disheveled.
Actually, I don’t remember much of anything. How I got in this cave, what city I live in, who my parents are—I don’t even know my own name.
No, that I do remember. Ashton—Ash. That’s who I am.
But that’s it. That’s all I remember. Not the place I rest my head each night. Not any memories from years ago. Not even a single person who cares about me.
What the hell happened in that cave?
I turn and look back at the crevice I crawled out of, even more dread building up inside of me as I hear another grumble. I need to get out of here.
Luckily, my eyes have adjusted enough for me to pick up my pace. As I move I look around to try to find things to jog my memory. My one bare foot is black from what appears to be soot, as are my arms and the rest of me. My shirt especially is so torn I might as well not even be wearing one. At least I have my pants.
I make it to the end of the tunnel and squint at the light from what appears to be a setting sun. Reluctantly, I have to turn around and face the cave again because my eyes burn too bad. Still not used to this much light. I must’ve been in that cave for a while, but I can’t remember.
When I turn back around, I search for the glowing setting sun, but I can’t see it. It must be on the other side of the mountain, meaning I’m facing east. That’s a start to figuring out where I am.
I take in the view, instantly stumbling back a step. I’m a hundred feet high, overlooking a dense city that’s situated in the valley between two mountain ranges. There’s a river that runs through the city, underneath the myriad of streets and buildings. Clustered together, several towers rise high in the sky, challenging the height of the mountains. Nature still wins this battle. Despite the urban environment, a lot of the city is green from trees blooming between structures. Once again, nature wins.
The view is spectacular—and frightening—but I need to get down there somehow. Find someone who might be willing to help me figure out who I am and where I live. Hell, I’d kill for a shower first. And a meal. Not that any bystander on the street is going to give me the time of day in my present state, but anything’s better than the cave.
The fresh air passing from outside makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up even more. It’s a warm breeze. Completely in contrast to the cold cave.
It appears as though there’s an overgrown path along the rocky wall leading down to the city. Or, at least I hope it leads down to the city. Maybe it’s an animal path. Maybe it’ll lead to a dead-end and I’ll have to backtrace my steps. Either way, the inviting warmth from the sun leads me down. I just want to put distance between me and this damned cave. Is that a part of who I am? Claustrophobic? Paranoid? I wonder how quickly I’ll remember who I am.
Kicking back weeds, ducking under thick tree branches, I keep a look out for any insects or animals I might accidentally step on with my exposed foot. Add a fear of snakes to the growing list of things I’m learning about myself.
My hand trails along the rocky wall until the path curls around in the opposite direction, snaking its way down the mountain. I try to remember as much as I can, but my mind is blank. Nothing’s up there. The light’s on but nobody’s home. Well, as far as my memory goes.
I don’t remember anything. Nothing besides my name, that is. It’s a wonder I even remember that. Must be it’s ingrained in my head so much that it’s impossible to forget. But that begs the question: does that mean there’s no one in my life that’s so ingrained in my memory that I can’t remember them?
The sun’s rays dwindle over the course of the hour it takes me to walk down. My mouth is bone dry. I need nourishment. And soon.
By the time I get to the bottom of the mountain, most of what’s carrying me is momentum from the incline. Finally, I make it to the end of the path and spot a locked ten-foot tall chain-link fence dividing the mountain from the city streets.
Walking up and down the fence a bit, I search for a hole or a loose spot to get through, but there isn’t one. Instead, I take a deep breath to summon all of the strength left in me. There’s not much. I grip the twisted metal of the fence and heave myself up. It takes more energy than I thought it would—especially on an empty stomach—but I manage to get to the top and down the other side, half stumbling and adding yet another scrape to my side.
Now comes the next problem: where to go? I cross the street to a large concrete building, hearing the roar of traffic noise off in the distance. The towering buildings I spotted from the cave entrance rise up in the distance. Must be the center of town. The sun is setting, casting shadows in this deserted part of the city.
I come around the corner of the concrete building to a parking lot, where I spot a blonde woman walking briskly to her car with her keys clenched in her fist. She looks up from her phone and sees me, but only stops when I wave to her, unsure what else to do. I’m sure my grubby appearance isn’t putting her at ease.
I consider telling her I need help—does my voice work? What does it sound like—but between two other vehicles, a man rushes out and grabs her from behind, pressing a gun against her side.
“Hey!” I bark as I take off in a run toward them. My throat feels like it’s tearing with the shout, but I ignore it. The heat from my anger ripples through my body quickly as I race toward them. With only a few feet between us, I notice my hands are literally on fire.
But I don’t burn. Or feel too hot. Instead, I feel a sense of confidence. A sense of purpose. A sense of knowing that I haven’t had since I woke up in that cave.
The man stumbles backward as I charge him with my burning fists. He yanks his arm around the girl’s neck and pulls her to the side, pointing his gun at me with his free hand, shaking. The girl screams when she sees me charge them.
In the moment, I don’t worry about whether he’ll shoot—he doesn’t seem like the type of thug who has the balls to shoot anyway—and I follow through with a punch to his face.
He drops his gun, lets go of the girl, and recoils. “Son of a bitch!”
She backs away quickly, but still doesn’t leave the scene.
The man growls and turns to me. My fists are no longer flames, although his face is blistering from the attack. He reaches for his gun, but a stream of fire shoots out of my palm to his hand, causing more of his skin to break out in blisters, just like his face.
He cries out in pain and eyes me up nervously, cradling his burnt appendage.
“Go!” My throat burns again from the force.
Without another word, he takes off running down the street.
My stomach growls and my muscles ache from the exhaustion I’ve felt since I woke up. Only now it’s amplified with the extra exertion. Almost to a breaking point—quickly rising.
The girl takes a step forward. “Thank you. How did you—”
She doesn’t finish her sentence as my energy is finally depleted and I collapse on the pavement in front of her.