He woke up on a bed in a pitch-black room. Someone was panting heavily—no, he was panting heavily—but his was not the voice that had whispered “Eryx” for reasons unknown.
That voice had been feminine and unfamiliar as whoever or whatever “Eryx” was and whoever or whatever he was.
At least, he suspected he was male.
But he had no clear memory of the evidence to back the idea up.
The very idea of that made his breaths come faster, harder.
He stopped by himself with action, patting himself down, starting with the stubbly cheeks before heading lower. Oh, definitely, he felt male.
Naked male. Lying on a bed. Not for long. He sat up and began to crawl down the bedclothes. There were not many to speak of. Just one, in fact—a thin, simple sheet, which he smoothed and plucked and rucked between his fingers. He searched until he found the foot of the bed—simple wood, no carvings, just posts and a low board that spanned the gulf between them.
Beyond that was a table. Curving, not square. His fingers skimmed up and along the smooth glide of its surface, stuttering every so over lines of roughness and splinters. Then he bumped into an object. He pulled back instantly. Then stilled.
As his back had recognized a bed, his fingers had recognized the lamp, and a lamp meant a way out of the omnipresent dark, maybe a way to claw back some memories outside of here.
He reached out once more, fingers inching up the item, fingers seeking and finding a little handle to turn the wick, then seeking and finding the glass chimney. This he found and lifted in both hands, and he lowered it to one side, carefully mapping its location so he wouldn’t knock it over and hear it shatter upon the floor. If it would shatter. There might be carpets or rugs, which he would discover. In due time. Under the light of a lamp.
Or not. Fingertip scrutiny and rescrutiny uncovered no matches on the table at the foot of the bed. Just the lamp and its chimney. Keeping one hand on the bed, one on the table, he eased himself off onto the floor, but just one leg.
The thickness of carpet beneath his toes startled him into jerking his leg back up. Thick, yes, but old, like matted hair.
He tried again, lowering one foot after the other, grimacing as he wriggled his toes about. Then he slid off the bed. Hunched in place, one hand guided him around the known furniture; the other he stretched out before him as he crept along.
Then bumped into a wall. It was expected, but the contact made him jerk back anyway, retreat being instinctual. He licked his lips and pressed forward, onward, exploring. He palmed the wall, turning in place, and stepped forward.
Until his hip skimmed against light, loose material. He batted it away, skin crawling, until he identified it as peeling wallpaper. He gave a piece a tug, and it tore, coming lose in his hand. He wadded it up and dropped it.
Breath calm again, he shuffled onward until he found a door frame.
It held two doors with handles like pegs. All wooden.
A closet, he thought. Clothes.
He opened both doors and reached into the depths. There will be clothes, if there is anything. So don’t flinch. He only did a little.
Progress, I suppose.
The first thing he recognized was a skirt, long and ending in rows of lace, and it made him think of the woman’s voice whispering, “Eryx.”
He ran a thumb along the scratchy material, thinking on the voice, trying to remember its qualities. Not seductive. Not matronly. Not playful. Not angry. Not anything, really. Not helpful.
Same as the skirt. It was just a skirt, not an answer.
He moved on and found a blouse. Smooth, except for patches of stiffness near the collar. Bloomers. But his mind was stuck on the blouse. He touched it again. Dirty clothes, he thought. No, stained.
He moved on and found something tougher, thicker. Long sleeves, long material. With buttons and a collar. A split up the back. A duster, he realized, and he removed it. The hanger swung, making scritchy sounds. Wincing at the noise, he tossed it over a shoulder, afraid to lose it, as if the dark might swallow up more than memories. The hanger bothered him, so he reached up, bumped against it, and stilled it. It was better when there was no noise. If he could silence his own breathing—still too rapid—he would be happier yet.
He also wanted to be clothed.
And able to see.
He found a long undershirt next, without buttons. He dropped the duster on his bare feet and donned the undergarment. It fell a few inches past his knees, which made him wonder whose clothes they were and how tall he himself was in comparison. Not tall enough for these, obviously. He ran his hand down the material, which felt good next to his skin until he encountered more stains and oddly placed tears.
Next, he found a buttoned shirt, though not all buttons were there, not around the crusty stain. A vest, same.
He donned both of those and had to shoulder the duster again to put on a pair of underpants that should have ended above the knee, not below.
Trousers, socks, boots, followed, and then from the top shelf, a bandana and a hat.
But not the gloves; that would be like blindfolding himself.
Once he had the duster on, he didn’t mind so much the oddity of undergarments hanging in a closet, or woman’s clothing hanging next to man’s, or the stains, or the fact these clothes were in poor repair, or that they were meant for someone taller and broader than him. He didn’t mind all that, but he was far from comforted.
It was the same with that name “Eryx.” It had woken him up, but he didn’t know if it was his name or where it had come from. And he didn’t feel he could try it out, even at a whisper, to check the fit. What if the speaker overheard? Or spoke up again? From inches away, breathing down my neck in the dark. So instead of discarding “Eryx” in search of something better, he donned it blindly too.
“Eryx” tucked away the gloves into his duster pockets, froze, then pulled from the right pocket the unexpected item he had encountered.
A chain, and on it a key.
The chain was long enough to wear about the neck, so he did, and he hid it away under his undershirt. The metal felt cold against his skin.
He dove into his pockets again to make sure the gloves were still in place . . . and discovered the pocket had more to give.
A book of matches.
A book of matches that had not been there before. He was certain, given the pressing quality of the dark, he’d have noticed that right away.
But then again, he wasn’t certain of anything right now.
Except he had matches to lift the dark.
Eryx eased back to the table and eased his hands along the tabletop to the waiting lamp. Opened the book of matches. Struck one. The light so startled him, he almost dropped the match. But it was just reflections in the glass of the oil lamp, nothing more. He lit the wick. Found the chimney. Slotted it into place. Lowered the flame. Picked the lamp up.
And for the first time, he took a look at himself.
He was covered in dried blood.
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Jodi Ralston, All Rights Reserved. 2016, 2017.