by Xenophon Hendrix
In grade six, I got the chicken pox--a bad case of the chicken pox. I remember feeling lousy, and the horrible itching. Then the hallucinations started. The giant bipedal rat was the worst. After that, my memories have a gap.
I awoke with that strange-bed start. I was on my back. My mouth and throat were dry, and my lips were stuck together. I had trouble working up enough spit to moisten them. My eyes felt like they were full of gravel. I reached up to clean them out, but my arm was brought up short with a jerk.
I looked down. My arms were tied to the rails of the bed, and my left hand had a tube sticking out of it. That gave me a jolt of fear until I identified what the tube thing was--an IV. I must be in the hospital.
Wow! Aren't those arms and hands small? So is the rest of my body! What is going on? At that point, a torrent of confused memories came flooding in. I became overwhelmed with panic and started struggling with my bonds and attempting to scream, which came out as rough croaks.
At about that time, a nurse came in and pressed down on my shoulders to dampen my thrashing. "Artie, calm down. Everything is OK. You are in the hospital, and we are taking good care of you."
I kept struggling a bit, but it was beginning to seem kind of pointless. Still, I was badly frightened. "Help," I attempted to croak.
"If you calm down. I'll get you some ice chips." Ice chips. Ice chips would feel good. I forced myself to be still. After I had quit moving for several seconds, the nurse said, "Are you going to be all right now?"
I nodded. She let go of me and hurried out. I noticed that I was in a semi-private room, but there was no one in the bed next to mine. I worked at trying to keep myself calm. It wasn't easy, but I at least didn't move, except for a tremble in my hands and legs. Things were not right, definitely not right. Memories were still flooding me at a rate too fast to comprehend.
A few minutes later, the nurse came back with a cup of ice and a doctor. At that moment, I was far more interested in the ice. "This is Dr. Clawson."
"Hi," I tried to say.
The doctor returned my greeting and got down to doctor business with her stethoscope and penlight. She was young for a physician, had dark blonde hair tied back in a loose bun, eyeglasses, and was rather stacked. I distractedly noted that it felt good when she pressed against me as she conducted her examination.
The nurse spooned a heap of ice into my mouth, and it was heaven. She then began to cut me loose with blunt scissors. "Don't pull out your IV," she warned, "or we'll have to tie you back up." She left after that.
"Can you talk now?" Dr. Clawson asked after I had sucked on the ice for a bit.
"I think so." My voice was hoarse, but it was working again.
"Some of my questions might seem a bit silly, but you were unconscious for quite a while, and I'm just checking to make sure your head is working OK."
I nodded, "All right." Dr. Clawson was hot! When had I started noticing things like that? Why, I had been noticing things like that for years. No I hadn't, it had only been a bit over a year, at most. What! That can't be right. I felt the panic building again, but I struggled to keep it down.
"Do you know where you are?"
"Umm hmm, and what is your full name?"
"Urs--," no, that wasn't right. "Arthur Teagan Powyr."
"How old are you?"
I had to think about that a bit. "Eleven. I'll be twelve in a few months."
"Where do you live?"
I had to think about that, too. "31266 Dewey Drive."
"The United Provinces of Novi Orbis."
"What year is it?"
Again, I had to think. "1973."
"What are your parents' names?"
"Warren and Agnes Powyr."
"Do you have any brothers and sisters?"
"What are their names?"
"Mary, Rich, Charlie, and Susan."
The questions continued in that vein for a while, then the nurse returned with a woman who looked familiar. She was well built and had brown hair, blue eyes, was somewhat shorter than average and good looking. She was my mother, wasn't she? But I remembered a different woman being my mother. No, no--this woman in front of me was definitely my mother.
"Hi, Mom," I said softly.
We weren't a touchy-feely family, but she did come over and brush the hair off my forehead. "You had us worried as hell, you little shit." She smiled when she said it.
"How did I get in here?"
"What do you remember?"
"I remember waking up with chicken pox on Friday morning and being taken to the doctor to make sure that is what it really was. Then I remember a couple of days feeling miserable and a lot of dreams and nightmares and some hallucinations, I think. After that, I don't remember anything, until now."
"Last Monday, I went into your room to check on you a few times," Mom said. "When you hadn't woken up by noon, I gave you a shake and couldn't get you up. Dad came home from work, and we took you to the doctor. Even jabbing you with a needle didn't get you to wake up, so you were admitted to the hospital.
"This is next Monday. You've been out for over a week. You've been having nightmares and yelled in your sleep a lot and thrashed around, but nothing has been able to wake you up."
Dr. Clawson interjected, "It's one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. It wasn't a coma. You went through all the normal stages of sleep and mumbled a lot, but you just wouldn't wake up." She addressed my mother. "He takes a bit longer than normal to respond to the standard memory questions, but his answers are correct. Physically, he looks fine, other than some apparent anxiety, but I think we should keep him at least another day for observation."
The adults in the room continued to talk over me for a while. I felt a bit peeved at being excluded. Wasn't I the one who was sick?
Calm down, a voice said in my head. That frightened me enough that I forgot about being ticked off. I had the urge to hide. But how could I hide from a voice in my head?
"Are you all right, Art?" Mom asked. "You look like you just pissed yourself."
"I felt really scared for a second."
That caused Dr. Clawson to prod me some more. "Do you feel OK now, or are you still feeling scared?"
"You look anxious."
"I feel nervous, but it's not too bad."
"Let someone know if it gets bad. We can give you something for anxiety, but I'd rather not if we don't have to."
I acknowledged her instructions. When the doctor left, I asked my mother, "Is Dad at work?" He was a partner in an engineering consulting firm that did a lot of automotive jobs.
"He was, but I phoned him. He's on his way."
Mom began to fill me in on recent family doings. "By last Monday, the rest of you little monsters were down with chicken pox, too, and I'm not going to forget that you were the one who dragged it home," she said with a smile. I was the oldest of the five kids.
"It sounds like you had an interesting week," I said.
"You can take your 'interesting week' and shove it up your ass, thank you. The next time you feel like livening up my routine, you can get me a box of assorted chocolates."
"Is everyone still off school?"
"This is their first day back."
"Who's taking care of Susan?" She was too young to go to school.
"Mrs. Pullik has her." Mrs. Pullik lived across the street. I did not like her in the least, but Mom was strangely friendly with her.
Dad showed up and asked me the standard questions and then told me the story of the last week from his point of view. Like Mom, he was forty-one years old. He had blue eyes and dark hair, almost black. He was about medium height, but he had a heavy frame.
We chatted in between a parade of doctors who came in and out to check on me. It was agreed that I could go home the next afternoon if everything still looked good. When the nurse brought me in some bland lunch, I encouraged my parents to go ahead and get on with their day. "I feel a bit weak, but other than that, I'm fine. Why should all three of us sit here and be bored silly?"
"We are parents," Mom said. "It is our duty to be bored silly for the sake of our children."
"You have done your parental duty. I'll find some way to keep myself amused. I might even watch game shows on that fine television hanging on the wall." After a bit more encouragement, they left, and I ate some of the alleged food while I thought.
I had desperately wanted to get alone for a while. I had a lot to think about, including an alarming situation: I now had at least two sets of memories in my head. The smallest set of memories was of growing up in a suburb of Detroit. In those memories, I was an eleven-year-old boy who had recently entered puberty, the eldest child of a fairly large family. I was in grade six in the public schools.
The other set or sets of memories were vast. In them I was an old--no, ancient--man, but I was in excellent health and kept that way by magic. Not advanced technology indistinguishable from, but actual magic. I was a magician, a wizard, who had lived for so long in so many different places that I had literally forgotten how old I was, but it was well over a millennium.
As I reclined in the hospital bed, I wondered what in the world was going on. I had never before had the memory of being an ancient wizard. Was I going crazy? I felt another panic attack coming on, but then the voice in my head that had frightened me before said Relax. You are fine.
The voice didn't frighten me so badly the second time. A memory came to me out of my supposed previous life. I began taking slow breaths, filling myself with air from the bottom of my lungs to the top. Once the breathing pattern was established, I curled up my toes as tightly as I could and then relaxed them totally. Then I tightened and relaxed my calf muscles, then my thighs. I worked my way up to my forehead and then just lay there feeling pleasantly loose. I concentrated again on my breathing until it was the only thing I concentrated upon. After a while, I was concentrating on nothing at all.
I lost track of the passage of time, but Nurse Adler (I finally looked at her ID badge) eventually interrupted my meditation. "We're going to have to remove your urinary catheter and get you out of bed to walk around some." She forthrightly turned back the covers and lifted my gown.
The catheter removal embarrassed the eleven-year-old part of me, but I was glad to be able to get out of bed. My IV was suspended from a wheeled stand, so I could drag it with me as Nurse Adler walked me up and down the hall a few times. I felt weak, but I didn't have any trouble walking around.
Once she was convinced that I was steady on my feet, she took me back to my room and gave me a towel, comb, sponge, clean gown, and a bottle of soap that doubled as shampoo. She taped a plastic bag over my left hand to protect the IV site and then sent me into the bathroom to take a shower.
"Do you think you will need any help getting cleaned up?" she asked in a teasing voice.
The voice in my head said, I bet her help would be lots of fun.
The juvenile part of my mind was somewhat embarrassed, and I just said, "I'm pretty sure I can manage, thanks," but then the voice in my head said aloud, "but if your heart is set on helping, you can wash my back." Oh my God! It could take over my speech!
She laughed and said, "I'm sure you can handle that on your own." She stayed near, just outside the door, for a little while and then told me she was leaving.
The ancient resident in my mind took the opportunity to inspect its new body as I gave it a thorough scrubbing by rote action. I had a few hairs under my arms and near my groin, so I definitely had entered puberty. I was a bit pudgy. I had a lot of freckles. My memories told me that I was in the middle of a growth spurt and currently was tall compared to most of the other boys my age. I had the reputation of being rather clumsy.
I stuck my head out of the shower and took a good look in the bathroom mirror. The old mind noted that my hair was very dark brown and somewhat long. My eyes were blue. There weren't any major disfigurements. I had a medium-size nose. My ears were back against my skull. My chin looked decent. We look just like I remember me looking as a kid, he thought at me. I could "hear" the satisfied tone in his thoughts.
What are you doing in my head? I thought back at him.
Hmmm, that's and excellent question. I don't know, but it feels like I should know. If you know what I mean. Actually, I did know what he (it?) meant. I was rapidly getting used to the extra voice being there, and I realized that I could feel what it felt.
You really a wizard?
You have a name?
Pretty sure I do. I think it's Ursus, but don't quote me on that.
I turned off the water, put the bag for my hand on a shelf, and dried myself. Then I put on the fresh gown and the paper slippers they had issued me. I shuffled over and took a look inside the wardrobe across from my bed and found the pajamas I remembered putting on before this ordeal started. I gratefully pulled on the bottoms. The backless gown had made me feel unpleasantly vulnerable. What an utterly damnable garment thought the voice of the wizard.
After that, I made myself comfortable and started sorting through what were apparently memories of two different lives. There were a lot to sort through. Other than the occasional interruptions of medical personnel coming to check on me, it kept me occupied the rest of the afternoon. I several times tried to recall how I had managed to get myself into this situation, but the memory felt just out of reach.
By the time supper came around, I was feeling ravenous and ate everything they gave me, even though I didn't like most of it. (The lime gelatin was OK.) A half hour or so later, my parents showed up with my siblings. Mom handed me a chocolate milkshake. "Bless you," I said. Talking in multiple streams, the kids told me their accounts of the previous week's events. I had now heard it in three different versions, but in a family our size, such repetitions were the norm.
I started making big yawns. "Sorry," I said.
"We better let Art get some sleep," Dad said. "It sounds like his body needs some more rest."
Mom looked worried. "What if he has trouble waking up again?"
"Did the doctors say to keep him awake?"
"No. I'm worried, though."
"I can't give up sleeping, Mom."
Mom must have decided there wasn't anything she could do, because they all soon cleared out. I had a dream-fraught night, but I didn't have any trouble waking up. In the morning, I had a bunch more memories to sort through.