He had been here ever since he could remember, though he wasn’t sure where he was. The landscape was barren, with a few blackened trees here and there, and a house in the middle of it all. He was sure there were others that were like him; his table was littered with pictures of him with others. He didn’t recall ever meeting them, though. He never had met anyone, really. Perhaps they were family, for he seemed quite familiar with them in the pictures, but how come he couldn’t remember them? He had tried to leave this place to search for them. However, no matter how long he ran away from the house, it seemed to follow right behind him, stalking him, its door creaking.
He looked out the window at the stormy clouds, rumbling at a steady pace towards his house. He sighed, and closed the windows, careful not to scratch the crusty scar on his left forearm. The scar stretched from his wrist to his elbow. Dark dried blood had caked around it, as if he had not bothered to clean the wound while it was still fresh. Stepping outside, he opened a box filled with papers. He stood there, holding the box, waiting, waiting, for the clouds and wind to arrive. The wind tossed up the papers into the air. The papers frolicked and somersaulted in midair, as if they were happy to leave this desolate place. He gazed longingly out at the emptiness, in hopes that his papers would come back to him, brought to him by someone, anyone. The raindrops started to fall.
His yard was filled with large pieces of scrap metal, twisted and scorched black. As he walked through his yard, he paused, sensing malaise. He began shuffling forward, when a piece of metal burst into flame. He felt a sudden splitting pain in his head, and he fell onto the concrete, clutching his head. The scar on his left arm throbbed. Blurred images rushed through his mind. He could only make out fire from the images before his painful hallucinations stopped; at the same time, the rain doused the fire, putting it to an end. He rolled over and staggered into the house.
This was the nineteenth time that the headaches have occurred this month; the fire and his headaches seemed to be always synchronized, no matter where he was. He struggled over to his battered couch and collapsed, breathing heavily.
His papers were never returned, no signals ever arrived from the outside. The thunder outside reverberated through the house, and he curled up into a tight ball. The house enveloped him, and its luminous windows stared at his limp body. The floorboards creaked, as if they were laughing at his current state.
Unable to endure his incarceration anymore, he dropped onto the ground and hobbled out of the house, away from the house. His ungainly gait became a hopeful canter, then back to a despairing shuffle, as he looked back and saw that the house still stood close by, mocking him.
Despondent, he fell on his knees. His head throbbed with pain from the hallucinations, his scar pulsated feverishly, as if it had its own heartbeat. He grasped at his forearm, to stop the spasms, but only a deep scarlet oozed through his fingers. He glanced back, and the house was still there.
Desperation was the only thing that kept him going as he rushed into the house. His legs and arm ached, his mind clouded. His muscles felt heavier and heavier with each step. He grasped for an old pack of matches on a cabinet, and struck a match on the box. The match burst into flame. The splitting pain came back, and he fell onto his back, his muscles convulsing. The match, not taken care of, dropped onto the ground, and a crimson, torrid flower bloomed from where it had fallen.
As the scorching blossom grew, so did the vividness of the hallucinations. His eyes unfocused as he tried to make sense of the images. Cars, street, anger, the people in the pictures. They were laughing with him, somewhere lush and green. Family? Strange thought. He didn’t recall ever meeting anyone. He didn’t seem to fit in with the others. Didn’t look like he belonged there. Darkness.
His eyes returned to the interior of house, now enveloped in flames. Sparks flew. The furniture around him collapsed, charred. The house groaned as bits of it broke off, crashing down on to the floorboards. The fire had already consumed the pictures on the table, the pictures of his family. The rain, the wind, seemed to try to put out the fire, the images. A hideous wail erupted from the house.
The flames were lapping at his clothes. The twisted metal sheets, coated with flames, were the only thing he could see now. He smiled faintly. At last, he was free.
A wooden beam fell on him. Then he blacked out.
* * *
His hand twitched, his eyelids were heavy.
He saw a blurry haze of shifting shapes, his dilated pupils unaccustomed to the light .
His eyesight slowly came into focus, and to his surprise, there were people around him. To his greater surprise, they were all from the pictures on his table, the pictures of his family, now reduced to ashes. They crowded around him as if he were a newborn child, fragile and delicate. James stared at them.
“James! You’re awake!”
James shifted uncomfortably and said nothing.
“Do you remember us? Do you remember me?”
He paused, and stared at their faces, not knowing how to respond. He pulled his blanket closer to his body. After another wave of silence, he tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. Their eager, hopeful gaze lingered, waiting. Family, perhaps. The intimacy, the feeling of being with others was too sudden for him. He switched his gaze to the ceiling; the white emptiness swallowed him whole. His eyes rolled over, and he felt a familiar pain in his head that he thought he had left, left back in that desolate place.
* * *
Perhaps he was angry about his friends, or his family, but he wasn’t sure. He was walking, inebriated, alongside the highway. Feeling nauseous, he crumpled into a heap onto the lane next to him. He feebly tried to get up. Panic arose within him, and he couldn’t move. The cars distorted, and his eyes unfocused. Bright headlights. The ground rumbling. Tires squealing. The car hit him, hard. He felt something sharp tear into the flesh of his left arm. The last thing he saw was deformed metal sheets, coated in burning flames.
Then he blacked out.