Ch. 2: A LIFE FORGOTTEN
The next few minutes were surreal. The stranger had said he would help us escape. I don’t know what I was expecting; maybe for him to come riding down on a white horse and sweep us up, or maybe ride in in some kind of tank.
But he didn’t come in at all. Finn and I wandered around the compound—what we had once called a resort and now recognized as a concentration camp—and people acted like they didn’t see us at all. Maybe it was the fact that we hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid—excuse me, champagne—that made us invisible to them. I don’t know.
What I do know is that Infinity and I—stick figures and all—shuffled our way across the dirt road in front of our bungalow, around the stinky green pond that we once thought was an Olympic pool, past the veranda where we had danced last night, and the night before that, and right out to the gates.
I had looked to gather up my belongings before we left the bungalow, and found that I had none—other than my glasses. The fact that we were dressed in rags, looked like scarecrows and were locked behind a barbed wire fence sobered both Infinity and me up pretty good. In fact, I saw that Finn was on the verge of tears and I felt a few drip down my face as well. I felt Infinity put her arm around me as we walked, two lost little girls in a phantasmagorical world of scary men and scary places.
I’m not sure what I expected to happen when we got to the front gate. It was scary just by itself. Men in uniform with automatic weapons stood staring out into the countryside beyond. Two towers stood, one on either side of the gate, with heavy machine guns attached to them. The gate itself was about 15 feet tall, and looked like it was made of reinforced steel with barbed wire wrapped around it.
Finn must have caught on that we were invisible. Standing with me in the middle of the road, she turned and looked at me without saying a word, and I understood. We were to wait. Sooner or later they would open the gate, and we would walk out. I nodded silently.
I looked at the lines on the otherwise thin but beautiful face of my girlfriend. What had happened to us? Even now, my mind seemed foggy and unsure. I remembered yesterday, lying in the sun at poolside with Kimmy and Marcie, looking at cute college boys. And now this nightmare had taken its place. Where were Kimmy and Marcie? Why hadn’t they come with us? I knew the answer before I asked the question. They didn’t want to know the truth. And now that I was faced with it, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know it either.
What would happen if I pretended that all of this hadn’t happened, if I were to go back to our bungalow, join my two friends and start another day at poolside, drinking champagne? Would I slip back into blissful ignorance? Before I could think about it much more, there was a clanking sound and the massive gates began to open.
I watched Infinity for a cue to move ahead, but she just stood there like a monument to teenage stupidity. As usual, we had really screwed up. But if this Stranger was who Finn thought he was, maybe he was our ticket to redeeming ourselves.
We watched as a dozen soldiers, rifles slung over their shoulders and hat slouched forward over their faces, marched out the gate, followed by three who came in the gate. Then the gate began to swing closed. I looked up at Infinity, and she nodded. Now.
We walked quickly between the giant gates as they swung back into place. I held my breath, worried that the noise of my breathing would alert one of guards that we were here. And then I had a thought and looked behind us. Sure enough, small puffs of dust stirred up as we walked in our sandals through the gates. But the guards didn’t seem to notice, and I was grateful.
Infinity didn’t slow down as we got through the gates and they closed behind us. She walked swiftly down the road and toward the rising sun. I was worried that she would catch up with the squad of soldiers that marched in front of us, but after a few minutes, they followed a rugged path off to the right and started heading off into the hills.
And then Infinity and I saw him. The Stranger stood on a hillside off to our left, his lower half hidden from view by tall, dry grass, most of the rest of his features disguised by the shadow of an oak tree. Infinity stepped from the well-beaten dirt road and started wading through the grass. And as always, I followed.
As we climbed the hill to The Stranger, I looked at the man we had risked everything for. As I had seen through the binoculars the day before, after all the handsome young men we had been around for the past few weeks—or thought we had been around—his face was pretty plain. He had a scruffy beard and long hair, which he had caught up in a braid. He was dressed in camouflage coat and pants, with a regular T-shirt beneath it. He was young, not yet 30, and had a kind face. But I could also see lines there that told me he had seen his share of sadness and hardship.
As we grew closer to him, I suddenly realized that I was weak. I looked over and saw that Infinity was struggling too. We had thought we were in good shape when we were lying beside the pool. Now we realized that our strength and good looks were an illusion.
I struggled the last few feet to The Stranger, but he made no move to come and help us. Finally, as we got within arms’ length of him, he reached out and grasped each of us by the shoulders. I felt his strong grip, and my legs collapsed under me.
I didn’t lose consciousness, but the new few minutes were kind of a whir. He helped us down the backside of the hill to his campsite, where he had a small fire going, a pot of something cooking over that fire, and three sleeping bags rolled out. He lay Infinity out on one bag and me on the other. Then he turned and got each of us a small metal container filled with something delicious. I sipped it and discovered it was some kind of broth.
“Who…who are you?” Infinity asked finally, broaching the subject that I had already thought.
The Stranger smiled crookedly at her, reaching behind himself and grabbing a block of wood to sit on.
“That’s right, you wouldn’t remember me,” he said. “But the broth and a little rest and time away from that concoction they call champagne will help you remember.” He cocked an eye at her, then looked at me as well.
“From the looks of the two of you, you could use about two weeks of bedrest and proper diet,” he said. “But if we stay here too long, they are bound to find us. So I think all we can afford is about two days. Slow travel will have to do for a while.”
“Travel?” I asked. “To where?”
He flinched. “Well, this is going to be awkward. You trusted me to help get you out of the camp. Now I ask you to trust me a little longer. How much do you remember of the time before?”
“Before the resort?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Please don’t call it that. You know and I know that it is anything but a resort. But yes, before you were in the camp. What do you remember?”
Infinity shook her head. “Nothing. Just scattered images. I remember that we were in school together. Somewhere. Me, Ellie, Kimmy, Marcie.”
As she talked about it, I had a flash of memories with a library with wood paneling, the four of us walking across a manicured lawn wearing school uniforms, and a tall, handsome man teaching us American History. But they were only fragments, and I couldn’t summon anymore information than that.
“That was Saint Eloise Academy in Baltimore. Do you remember your father?”
Infinity’s face scrunched tight as I saw her trying to concentrate, but then she shook her head.
“I remember…something,” I said. “I remember a helicopter.” I had a flash of a large blue and white helicopter with the words “United States of America” written on the side hovering above me. And then I gasped.
Infinity and The Stranger looked at me in surprise, and I replied.
“The helicopter crashed.”
The Stranger nodded slowly, and then he realized that was all we could remember.
“Well, get some rest and we will see what another day brings. I’ve seen that broth do some pretty amazing things.”
It was late morning, but I still felt my arms and legs get heavy and my eyes struggle to stay open. I pulled open the sleeping bag and lay inside, pulling the cover over me. Just before I fell asleep, I heard Infinity ask the Stranger one more question.
“What’s your name?” she said sleepily.
“My name is Edward,” he said. “But you probably remember me by my code name from the Secret Service.
“Call me Evangelist.”
I’d like to say that I had a peaceful sleep and woke up incredibly refreshed. But the reality is, my sleep was fitful, full of bad dreams again. Later, I realized that that was my body’s way of getting rid of the toxins that got into my system from the Kool-Aid and were suppressing my memories.
When I did wake up, it was late night. Evangelist was sitting on the other side of the ever-present fire. A chill had come into the air and I looked up at a sky filled with stars. I heard the murmur of voices and saw that Infinity was sitting on her sleeping bag, talking to him. I sat up.
“There are some clothes there for you,” Infinity said, pointing to a stack of Army fatigues lying at the foot of my sleeping bag. I nodded, and took the clothes into the sleeping bag and began to change. While I struggled to put the new clothes on, I listened to their conversation.
“His name was Dr. Wiseman,” Infinity was saying, and I immediately thought of the tall, handsome teacher I had visualized before. “I remember him telling us that a war was coming, but that most people didn’t want to know about it. I remember soldiers being everywhere, at bus stations, train stations, airports. And I do remember my father. Mostly I remember him being gone a lot.”
“Your father is a very important man,” Evangelist was saying. “He has a lot of people depending on him.”
“I remember thinking, ‘Well, I’m his daughter. Shouldn’t I come first?’”
“Infinity, do you remember when we first met?”
Finn looked up at the young man sitting across the fire from her and slowly shook her head. Evangelist sighed.
“Well, I guess one day is just not long enough,” he said. “It will just take time.”
“Tell me,” Finn said, leaning forward and grasping his sleeve. “Tell me what happened and maybe I will remember.”
Evangelist frowned. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. But I guess I can tell you my story and maybe that will help some.”
Dressed finally, I stepped from my sleeping bag and joined the other two. Evangelist gestured toward a pair of heavy boots that stood at the end of my sleeping bag. I sighed and reached for them, discovering a pair of gray socks inside.
“There’s more broth and some bread over here if you’re hungry,” Infinity added. I took my boots and socks and sat down on the log next to Infinity and waited to hear Evangelist’s story. The young man poured coffee into a cup and then sat back on the log.
The stars shone above us. Two people waiting to hear who they were and what had happened. One young man ready to share.