Again, any feedback at all would be greatly appreciated, however small. Also, I'd especially love any comments in regards to how the characters come across, how you respond to them, if their names fit or not, how the dialoge is, if you can keep track of who is who, and the like. This is also posted on the NAG forum. In both cases, the line breaks are added for readability, but are not part of the actual file this is written in.
Italics will be re-added later, because I'm too lazy to do it now.
Thank you all! <3
The first thing that Ana noticed was the ground beneath her. There was nothing especially unusual about it; this, in fact, was precisely what stood out. It was room temperature, slightly uneven, and inexplicably comforting.
She lay there for a moment, simply breathing. The air was warm and vaguely musty; it seemed to thaw a cold that reached deep into her sinews and bones. For a moment, she considered falling back asleep, letting the earthy space embrace her. As she shifted drowsily, however, something gave her pause: she had no idea where she was. She opened her eyes.
A pair of wide russet eyes stared down at her from behind a prominent nose, as a broad smile stretched out below it.
Ana blinked. The boy standing above her, oddly distorted from this angle, waved animatedly to something beyond her line of vision.
“Hey lookit, she’s awake now!”
She heard movement to her right. Moments later, the boy was jettisoned aside with a yelp as a second, stronger voice said, “Move over, midget!”
The girl who forced her way into Ana’s eye line was impressive. Soft raven curls gracefully framed her honey-brown face, and there was a certain sense of royalty in the combined strength and softness of her features and stance. Meeting Ana’s eyes without waver, she extended a hand.
“Here, let me help you up. Some of us actually grasp the concept of manners.”
The boy Ana had first noticed narrowed his eyes at the girl.
“Yeah, you’re welcome too. Yeesh.”
Head lightly throbbing, Ana clasped the girl’s hand and allowed herself to be lifted to her feet. As Ana waited for her head to settle, she took in the space around her. She appeared to be in some kind of dirt-floored cellar, mostly empty, which soaked in a thick air of disuse. Several dusty barrels were lined against one dirty brown stone wall, and one or two lay shattered on the ground, cobwebs draped thick between the skeletal fragments. The room was dim, lit by a metal-framed overhead lamp that bathed the center of the small room in vibrating yellow-gold light, but left its edges mostly in shadow. Several other figures could be seen around them, though the only one she could make out properly was a lanky, dark-skinned boy who sat with his arms encircling his knees. Catching her eye, he unlinked one hand and waved to her, his mouth curling up at one corner. Ana nodded to him in reply, then turned to the girl who had helped her stand.
“Where exactly are we.”
The girl shook her head,
“Your guess is as good as mine, Chica. I was actually hoping that you would be able to tell us what’s going on here, but it seems you’re just as perplexed as the rest of us.”
Ana’s eyes drifted across the room; as far as she could tell, five people besides herself were present. She found it odd and vaguely ominous that six teenagers were gathered together in a dark, unknown room with no idea of how they’d come to be there, but she decided to put it from her mind for the moment.
The boy whom Ana had first seen walked directly up to her. He was several inches shorter than she was, with wide eyes, rabbit teeth, and somewhat protuberant ears. Looking down at him, Ana had to struggle not to laugh.
Doing his best to avoid looking at the other girl, the boy shook Ana’s hand with gusto.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, a real pleasure. Don’t let her poison you against me, she hasn’t got a clue what she’s talking about. Known me all of an hour. I’ve no idea how she gets off saying I’ve got no manners.”
The girl looked at him with apparent disdain as Ana chuckled, then tossed Ana a shrug that clearly said, “What can I do?” The boy didn’t seem to notice, and went on.
“I’d introduce myself but . . . you know. I was thinking about christening myself ‘Brick’-”
“Oh, for the love of God, again with the naming?” the black-haired girl moaned, “For the last time, you are not a ‘Brick.’ Nor are you a Rudd, Harley, or Thor.”
“Fine, fine!” he said, swatting in her direction, “None of those work. Okay, okay, I got a new one. How about . . ,” He struck a pose, raising his eyebrows and chin, “RAOUL.”
He turned to Ana, taking her hand and kissing it.
“Hello,” he said, replacing the bounce of his voice with a deeper purr, “I am Raoul. I will take you now to the secret valley of wildflowers, and together we shall make sweet, sweet-”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Ana cut in, “but you lost me at ‘I’d introduce myself but.’ But what? Are you saying . . .”
“That we don’t know our names?” finished the girl, “Yes, that’s exactly what he’s saying. Or at least, that’s what I assume he was saying, before he started laying you in the fields and whatnot. None of us can remember anything about ourselves. Can you?”
Ana frowned at her, mystified.
“Yes, I can.”
The girl sighed, but her eyes were understanding.
“Okay then, try. What’s your name?”
“Well that’s easy, it’s . . .”
Her stomach lurched. Nothing came. She had known it, just a moment ago, she was sure of it. Panicking, she searched her brain, feeling it on the tip of her tongue. And then it came. The sound of the ocean, the skritch of sand on her hands . . . She could almost feel her hair being caressed by the breeze, almost hear a lazy, sun-soaked voice beside her . . .
See you later, Ana.
Ana opened her eyes, suddenly calm.
“Ana. My name is Ana.”
They both stared at her, faces slack. Around the room, she could suddenly feel other sets of eyes on her, a palpable tension that had erupted at once. Ana found herself wishing that she hadn’t spoken.
After several painful moments, “Raoul” chuckled hesitantly.
“Uh, heh-heh. I’m sure it is, ‘Ana.’ Whatever you say . . .”
The girl seemed to hop onto this train of thought, relaxing.
“Oh. Of course.”
The boy started laughing in earnest now, seeming to take the girl’s support as a go-ahead. This seemed to snap the girl back to her usual self, however, because she gave him a sudden shove.
“Cut it out, you little pig. You’re being insensitive,” she turned to Ana, smiling in a way that was maddeningly patronizing. “You know, you don’t have to pretend. Most of us thought we’d be able to remember at first. It’s only natural.”
Ana frowned, flustered. It seemed easier for them to believe that they were all in the same situation, and she was far from eager to alienate herself. At the same time, she felt vaguely offended, and a little angrier than the situation warranted. The decision was taken out of her hands, however, when a new voice sounded from the other side of the room.
“She wasn’t pretending.”
The voice stood in sharp contrast to both the gliding tumble of the girl’s and the boy’s hopping speech; definitely male, it fell in a rounded way that reminded Ana of raindrops.
The first two stared in his direction, silent. He took a step forward, so that the curves of his features and shoulders emerged from the darkness; much of his face was still masked by shadow, however, and one eye was nearly obscured by a shock of smooth black hair that hung into his impassive face. He stood completely straight, arms crossed.
Raising one brow, “Raoul” said,
“How do you figure?”
The boy shrugged, and spoke matter-of-factly
“I know. You can see it in her face.”
Looking from Ana to the boy and back again, “Raoul” shrugged.
“All right, that’s as good a reason as any. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ana. Guess you’re one step ahead of us already.”
She forced a smile, but could think of no response.
A few moments of uncomfortable silence followed. Nobody seemed quite sure of what to do next. The boy who had stepped forward settled back into the darkness, scanning the room attentively. The girl’s eyes had drifted off to one side in apparent thought. “Raoul,” faced with the sudden wall of silence, stared at Ana for a bit before growing antsy, and wandering around with no apparent destination in mind. The fact that they were strangers in a strange dark room seemed to settle upon them, and the prickle of uneasiness was beginning to scratch at Ana’s back and shoulders.
The silence was broken by a fragile voice from a corner of the room that Ana had believed to be empty.
“Do you remember anything else?”
Ana took a few steps toward the place where the small voice had issued. Huddled there, seeming to shrink back into the shadows, was a girl. Now that she noticed her, Ana was surprised that she hadn’t spotted the girl before; her pallor was almost luminous in the darkness. What Ana could see of her face reminded her of a porcelain doll. Her overlarge eyes, nearly violet, rolled open and shut under a fan of transparent lashes, and her nose and mouth had the daintiness of an infant. Her thin frame seemed to fold in on itself, her white-blond fall of hair a protective barrier between herself and the world.
Seizing onto Ana’s stare, she stiffened, shrinking still further into herself and the corner. Embarrassed, Ana averted her eyes, considering the question. What did she remember?
As she surveyed her mind, she quickly realized that, as far as specifics went, the answer was “very little.” In fact, whatever repository of personal information she may have possessed seemed to have been wiped clean. Her age, her family, her home . . . all had vanished. Her entire past was a gaping hole. All that she had was a single memory of an evening by the ocean and an indecipherable string of images and sensations.
What did she know? She had seen the ocean: had she lived on the shore? There was a boy, tall and smirking, laughing back at her from the hilltop, tousling her hair. They were close, comfortable . . . but he could be anyone. A boyfriend, a brother, a friend . . . She strained her mind, grasping for something more. Get out of here Simon. His name was Simon. Somehow, that didn’t ease her mind. Having the image of him, knowing that they’d meant something to each other, but missing everything but a fragment- it was worse than having nothing at all.
She looked back at the girl’s pale, searching eyes; they were lit by a sharp gleam of desperation. Ana felt a sudden pressure to come up with something more.
What else did she have? Nothing that made sense. The rest was a chaotic blur, faces and places that were foreign and terrifying, an overload of the senses that left her feeling dizzy and faintly ill. She could recall the sensation of drowning, of lying cold and exposed in an over-bright room, and being restrained by a series of haunting strangers who wouldn’t materialize in her mind. An angular hand, a woman’s blazing eyes, rose-petal lips, and a sweaty palm: pieces of people, too focused to pin down. That was all.
While specifics and personal information were gone, it was clear that more general knowledge remained. She remembered how to walk, basic social cues, the names of objects, language- it struck her suddenly how unusual it was that, despite their diverse appearances, they could all communicate with each other- and everything that had long become second nature. This, it seemed, she had in common with the others. If she was honest with herself, she was as bereft of personal information as the rest. It was only by chance, because it was spoken in her one clear memory, that she even knew her name.
Sighing, Ana looked once more at the girl who cowered below her.
“Nothing. All I have is my name and a memory of the ocean. I’m no better off than the rest of you.”
She didn’t mention Simon. It seemed better not to.
There was a pause, much easier than the last, before “Raoul” spoke.
“Well, that’s not technically true. While the rest of us go by such charming epithets as ‘kid in the corner’ and ‘hey you there,’ you’ve got a name. Though,” he paused, tapping his chin thoughtfully, “I’ve already chosen mine, so I guess you and me are on the same page.”
The black-haired girl, jumping on the chance to re-enter the conversation, scowled.
“You cannot name yourself Raoul!”
“Why not?” he pouted, “Why do you get to shoot me down?”
“Because we’re the ones who’ll have to call you that, and I refuse to refer to you as ‘Raoul.’”
He regarded her shrewdly for a moment, then lowered his head and bent his knee.
“In that case, darling, I surrender my fate to you. What, in your infinite wisdom, do you believe to be a fitting name?”
She shrugged, looking bored.
“I donno, ‘Kip’ or ‘Willy’ or something like that.”
He grimaced, straightening immediately.
“In that case, I take it back. There’s no way in Hell I’m letting you name me.”
His eyes suddenly brightened. Grinning wickedly at her, he cocked his head.
“What about you, dearie? How about we call you Gertrude, or Martha or something. I personally think you’d make a wonderful Barb.”
She rolled her eyes.
“I’m not even gonna dignify that with a response. Seriously though, what do we do about the whole name thing? I donno how long we’re gonna be stuck together, so it’d be nice to have something to call each other.”
Looking sullen, he flipped a thumb over his shoulder, where a seventh figure was obscured by darkness.
“Well, I think I saw a big plaque of names back there, but it’s too dark to make any of ‘em out.”
The dark-skinned boy who sat some yards away suddenly rocked to his feet in a nimble arc. Standing, it was apparent that he was tall and athletic, yet displayed a definite sense of grace and softness. He spoke in an easy, loping voice.
“I think the lamp is on a hook up there, so he could probably come down. If that works, we can move him over by the wall and see the names. D’you want me to have a look?”
Ana smiled at him.
“That would be great, thanks.”
With a nod, he ambled to the center of the room and stared up at the lamp, which cast a dancing light upon his dark features. As he surveyed the ceiling, his hand drifted to the back of his head, his long fingers twining thoughtlessly into the spongy fuzz of his hair. A few moments later, he turned to the watching group.
“He can definitely come off, but I don’t think I’m tall enough to reach. I could probably lift somebody up to him, though. What d’you think?”
The short boy immediately raised his hand to volunteer, but dropped it soon after when the other boy walked purposefully to the corner where the small girl had been watching intently. Her eyes darted about as he approached, then locked on him with apparent uneasiness. Undeterred, he kneeled before her.
“So, how ‘bout it? You’re the smallest one here, so you’d be easiest to hold up. Would you be okay with that?”
She stared at the ground, face painted with doubt, then closed her eyes. Seeming to compose herself, she rose to her feet with hands clasped behind her.
“Yes, that would be fine.”
The boy smiled warmly, then walked beside her. The short boy shook his head, chuckling.
“Well I’ll be darned! I figured she’d faint when she saw him coming.”
The raven-haired girl rolled her eyes, but said nothing.
In the center of the room, the boy lifted the girl’s thin frame effortlessly by the hips; and, clasping both tiny hands around the lantern, she lifted it from the hook. As the boy set her gently back on the ground, her face flushed, and a hint of a smile emerged upon her lips as she gazed down at the object she held between her palms.
The short boy immediately broke into applause.
“Fantastic, flawless on all accounts! Now what do you say we head over and choose ourselves some monikers?”
The dark-haired girl shook her head at him.
“You’re an odd little thing, aren’t you?”
Ignoring her, he sauntered over to the far wall, and the four of them followed. The black-haired boy that had spoken in Ana’s defense also walked behind them.
Illuminated by the flickering light, several things about this side of the room became clear. Three large plaques of black marble were fastened to the wall, and carved into each was a long series of golden names, but no indication of their significance. They stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the room: only the thinnest film of dust had settled upon them.
Beside the plaques was a heavy wooden door, which Ana pressed half-heartedly with her foot. It didn’t move; she hadn’t expected it to.
A boy, who appeared slightly older than the rest, smirked up at her from beside the door.
“You don’t think I tried that?” he said in a clipped, resonant voice.
“It was worth a try,” she said, frowning at him. He lounged against the wall, dark eyes flitting across the group with little expression. There was something striking about him, something in the way the inky ringlets of his hair fell against earthy brown of his strong-featured face, which grabbed her attention, so that she jumped when a voice cried out beside her.
“Raoul is listed on here!”
“For the last time, no!” the raven-haired girl snarled.
Sighing, Ana stepped in front of them.
“Okay, that’s enough,” she said, “ Why don’t I pick a name for him? Clearly, you two are never going to agree on one.”
“I’m okay with that,” said the boy, “After all, you can’t be any more abysmal than she is.”
Ana started scanning the long list of names. She needed to find something that fit, something that felt right; she didn’t know how long he would have to keep it, so it deserved her full effort.
Howard . . . Harlan . . . no, he wasn’t an H name. Jonathan, Paul, Rory . . . she was getting closer with the “ee” ending, but she wasn’t sure she liked the y on him . . . ah!
She gazed tentatively over at him.
“What do you think of Geordi?”
He tilted his head for a moment, mouthing it to himself. After a few moments of trying it on he nodded, looking satisfied.
“Yeah, I guess that could work . . . I mean, it’s no Raoul, but I think it suits me just fine. Nice choice! What do you say, Gretchen?”
The black-haired girl shrugged.
“I suppose I’m fine with that. Better than anything you suggested. And you know perfectly well that I would never go by Gretchen. My name should be more distinguished, more alive, like . . .” she looked quickly over the names, “Valencia! See, isn’t that perfect? From now on, my name is Valencia.”
Geordi made to argue, but the protest seemed to die in his throat. That she had enough flair to carry the name was hard to dispute.
Valencia, looking incredibly pleased with herself, ran a delicate finger over the shallow grooves of letters.
“So that’s three down, four to go, since Ana already has a name. Anyone else wanna take a stab at it?”
The boy standing behind them brushed a lock of sleek black hair from his eyes and stepped forward.
“I can look.”
He stood about a foot from the marble, his body straight and still as his face and eyes rose and fell. He was utterly silent for nearly a minute, and Ana was beginning to wonder if he actually planned on making a suggestion when he finally spoke.
“I will be Artam. Do you think that fits?”
“Yes, absolutely,” said Valencia. It amused Ana that she seemed to have declared herself the authority on the subject.
Valencia swooped behind the small girl, who visibly jumped, then turned to stare at the taller girl in irritation. Apparently displeased, Valencia crossed her arms.
“What do you think of Connie?”
The girl frowned and dropped her eyes to the floor.
“No, I don’t think I particularly like that,” she murmured.
“Is Ophelia any better?” Ana inquired as the name caught her eye.
The girl’s eyelashes fluttered momentarily.
“Yes . . ,” she said, her features relaxing, “I think it’s lovely.”
“I lov'd Ophelia: forty thousand brothers? could not, with all their quantity of love, ? make up my sum,” Geordi recited, eyes closed.
Everyone stared. Geordi reddened, waving a hand dismissively.
“Eheh, don’t mind me. Just . . . keep on doing what you were doing, with the naming and such.”
Valencia merely shook her head, and then began to count off on her fingers.
“Okay, so we have Valencia, Ophelia, Geordi, Artam, and Ana,” she listed, then turned to the lanky boy beside her. “What about you? Who do you look like . . .”
“How about Landon?” Geordi piped in, “I think you look like a Landon.”
The boy broke into a broad grin.
“Yeah, I like the sound of that. Landon. That’ll be great.”
Moments later, Ana felt a tug at her sleeve. She looked beside her to see Ophelia, staring at her uncertainly.
“What is it?” Ana asked.
Ophelia traced an arabesque with her toe as she spoke, unable to meet Ana’s eye.
“I saw the name Analise while I was looking over the plaque. If you wanted to choose a new name like everyone else, you could be Analise, and you wouldn’t have to change yours. That’s only if you want to, of course.”
Ana felt a weight in her stomach that she couldn’t quite explain. It was a fluid, heavy tugging that seemed to stretch from her naval straight to the place between her eyes, and it made it difficult to respond.
“Thank you,” she finally said, “That’s a wonderful idea.”
Geordi, who seemed to have eavesdropped on their quiet conversation, smiled with a softness that was completely lacking in his usual vigor. It disappeared as abruptly as it had taken form, however, and he shouted out so as to be clearly audible to everyone in the room.
“Ana’s taking her full name from the list,” he said, pointing out the name on the second plaque, “Analise. Bravo Ana, for showing solidarity!” The others nodded in agreement; Valencia practically glowed.
“Well, that means one more to go!” Valencia proclaimed, and they all turned to the boy by the door, who hadn’t moved or spoken through the entire proceeding. Seeming to notice their gaze, he turned a disinterested eye in their direction.
“Are you gonna join the party or not? It’s kind of important.”
He stared flatly back, a hint of scorn on his brow.
“Forgive me, but what with being part of a group of teenage amnesiacs locked in a strange dark room, picking out a fake name isn’t exactly high on my list of concerns at the moment.”
Ana watched as Geordi, Ophelia, and Landon deflated. Valencia looked back with haughty eyes, while Artam crossed his arms once more and spoke.
“Because sitting there is getting so much accomplished.”
The sitting boy’s eyes momentarily widened before he regained control of them, coming to his feet with a sigh.
“About as much as taking pretend names does. But, if it’s so important to you, I’ll play along. Here,” he pointed to a random name on the plaque. “Adrian. Are you happy now?”
Valencia stared for several moments before her lips curled open in a sharp smile, her perfectly aligned teeth glinting in the lantern light.
“Honestly? Yes. I am. And I think it suits you well.”
Adrian flashed her a hollow grin.
“Wonderful. Now that we’ve gotten that nonsense taken care of, why don’t we turn to the small issue of what we’re doing here. Judging by the looks of this place, it can’t be anything pleasant.”
What little color Ophelia possessed drained from her face.
“We’re all around the same age, and we were left in a locked room while we were unconscious,” she cried, voice shrill, “What if this is one of those sick serial-killer things where they torture us or have us kill each other?!”
“Well . . .” Landon began, voice cautious, “We’re a pretty diverse group, so I doubt a serial killer is involved. Anyway, that kind of thing mostly just happens in the movies. And it doesn’t explain why we can’t remember anything.”
“That is the one thing that links us. I would imagine that we either lost our memories because of whoever put us here, or we’re here because of whatever happened that caused us to forget our pasts. This is obviously out of the ordinary, so I don’t think we’ll come up with what happened on our own,” he said, and then paused. He turned to Ana.
“Unless you remember anything about how we got here.”
Ana was suddenly tense. A wave of images flashed before her eyes; she saw herself roughly lifted from the beach by two large men, saw a woman standing over her as she lay by a fire, and finally, saw a bright, sterile-looking room with an ominous group of figures some distance away . . . Strange. She didn’t remember noticing the fire in the second memory before. Putting the thought from her mind, she concentrated on the issue at hand. Any of these memories could hold potential clues to their situation, but they were all a far cry from comforting. Was the possibility, however small, that these images could help them worth unnerving the others and setting herself further apart?
She observed them all, waiting expectantly before her, and found her answer. Though she’d known them for what likely amounted to less than an hour, she felt an inexplicable tie to them. Perhaps, in situations when everything around you is completely unfamiliar, you couldn’t help but feel an automatic connection to anyone who shares the experience. Whatever the cause, she felt an obligation to be honest with them.
“I don’t know if this will help at all,” she began, “but I---”
She was cut off by a sudden noise on the other side of the door. The room fell instantly silent, and their eyes managed to find each others’ as they flew about. To her right, she felt Ophelia grip onto her hand with surprisingly strong fingers. Ana’s eyes then floated to her left to find Valencia, whose face showed the exact expression that Ana knew her own must hold. Wordlessly, they clasped hands. She watched as the others, even Adrian, followed suit. The presented a unified front. Whatever happened next, they were in this together.
With a deep groan, the door swung open.