The rattle and clank, followed by his hand jerking to a stop, startled him. He pulled on his tethered wrists. Screw the pain. He twisted his head to stare, dumbfounded, at the cause of his inability to move. Metal handcuffs secured both of his arms to the bed rails. He looked farther afield. Machines, some dark, some alive, stood sentinel around him. And a thin, green cotton drape stretched across a corner of the room that must contain a door.
Hospital? What happened?
A soft scrape jerked Ash’s attention to the opposite corner of the room.
A man with styled brown hair, and dressed in a suit shifted in the room’s visitor chair. His dark eyes made Ashton uncomfortable. They stared at one another for a minute before the person cleared his throat.
Ash blinked, trying to bring his eyes under control. “What happened?” He was surprised at how rough his voice sounded.
“That’s what we would like to know. Are you Ashton Palmer?”
“Yes.” He jerked his wrists. “Why am I tied?”
“I am Detective Bryce. Your ID declared that you were Mr. Palmer, but I needed your confirmation. Your reappearance has caused you to become a person of interest.”
“Reappearance?” Confused, Ashton rattled the cuffs in a vain attempt to scoot into a sitting position.
“Why did you enter the Millers’ apartment?”
“Who?” He gave up the effort to sit, and flopped back. “What happened? Where am I?”
The detective continued without answering his questions. “Where have you been for the last year?”
Ashton’s jaw dropped and he shook his head, sending more pain shooting. Nausea roiled in his stomach. “What?”
“A missing persons report was filed by a Mrs. Lydia Palmer on July twentieth of last year. I had almost decided that you should be added to the list of possible victims, but here you are instead.”
A year? What the hell? That doesn’t seem right. Blurry memories trundled through his thoughts. Something weird had definitely happened.
Wait a minute. Victims?
The sound of a door opened, then the curtain rattled and slid to the side. A middle aged doctor walked in, followed by a nurse.
“Ah, you’re awake finally.” He said as he set the clipboard down on the counter. “Detective, I hope you haven’t been badgering my patient?”
Bryce cleared his throat and leaned back in the seat. “Just asked him a few questions, doc.”
The doctor studied one of the monitors. “Really? The alarms at the nurses’ station went off because his heart rate accelerated.”
He pulled a pen light out and Ashton blinked at the bright light that flashed into his eyes. The nurse busied herself, writing down readings from the rest of the monitors. But Ashton had trouble concentrating on the medical staff. Detective Bryce held his awareness.
The doctor reached across the bed, cutting off the detective’s gaze, to pull the flimsy patient gown over Ashton’s shoulder. He probed the exposed skin with cool fingers.
“How are you feeling? Any pain here? No? Good, the rash doesn’t seem to be spreading.” The doctor sat on the bed next to his knees. “I’m going to assume you don’t have a problem with your name, or Detective Bryce would have mentioned it when we came in. Do you know the date?”
Ashton felt sweat start to form. He shook his head. “I thought I did, but now… I don’t know.”
The doctor encouraged him to continue with a gesture.
“He says I have been gone a year? That can’t be right? I have only been gone a week. I’m sure of it.”
Compassion softened the doctor’s eyes. “You have a concussion, Ashton. Some level of amnesia isn’t unheard of. The memories will likely return after a few weeks. Do you remember getting hit on the head?”
Ashton closed his eyes. A slide show of distorted pictures flicked through. Racing through a forest on horseback. Summer heat, fall leaves, wet snow. Strange faces flickering in torch light. Opening his apartment door…
And everything was wrong.
Has it really been a year? I swear it feels like I was only gone for a week. “I went home. And when I opened my door, all of my stuff was gone. This woman came out of my bedroom and started to scream and that’s all I remember.”
“Mrs. Miller’s husband hit you from behind and knocked you out. A little extreme, from my point of view. I have you on antibiotics for the rash that you have on your chest, and I’ll prescribe some Amitriptyline for the concussion symptoms. Unless any of your symptoms worsen over night, you will be released tomorrow.” The doctor stood, then collected his paperwork. “I’ll let you and Detective Bryce get back to your conversation.”
Ashton watched the doctor and nurse leave the room, then turned reluctant eyes toward the detective. He rattled his hands. “Do these need to stay?”
Ashton felt like an insect that a reptile watched, trying to decide if it was on the menu or not. But then, Bryce climbed to his feet and pulled the keys out of his pocket. After a moment, both handcuffs resided in the detective’s pocket and Ashton rubbed his wrists. “What did you mean by victim?”
Detective Bryce sank back into the chair and leaned back. “So, is your official story that you don’t remember anything?”
“What do you mean official? I really have only been gone for a week. I don’t know what’s going on. Where is my stuff? Why is someone else living in my apartment?” Panic bubbled just under the surface.
“So, where have you been this week then?”
“I…” Ashton snapped his mouth shut. What was he supposed to say? A unicorn kidnapped me? Unicorn?! A clear memory slammed into him and he saw the white hide and lethal horn. His breath caught. His eyes jumped to Bryce’s.
The detective watched him with a calculated look.
“I… don’t actually know.” He pulled his eyes away and looked at his blanket-clad knees. “It’s all really blurry still.”
“Blurry… Huh. Well your old lab, at Dyson-Smith Corporation, is under investigation. There have been a dozen deaths that I am tracing back to them. And at least as many missing. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
“Dead? Are you kidding me? Dead how?”
“Forensics is still working on that. Some sort of drug, we are assuming. Whatever it is, it literally scares them to death.”
Phantom pain fluttered over his chest, and Ashton scooted into a higher sitting position. More flashes of memory came and went, too quick to hold onto.
The detective sighed and stood. “Your mother should be here in the morning and you will be released into her care. I expect notification of your whereabouts. I have my eye on you Mr. Palmer.”
Ashton watched the detective leave his room. My mom. Great. Just what I needed.
His thoughts circled back to what detective Bryce had to say. The acid of fear burned in his gut.
How can I give him answers I don’t have? This week is still blurry. But a year?
I can’t have been gone for a year. Can I?