Leonard is racing against the clock- to trace his immediate past
I stirred. Slightly.
Something flapped against my cheek. A furry presence. I needed to get more awake. I needed an energy drink.
More presences. Ticking sounds. I stretched out a lazy hand to deep six the alarm clock before it rang. My hand closed on something soft and pliable. Something with sharp teeth.
Now I was wide awake. My eyes were opened and staring wordlessly at the school of bats that were mid flight to a higher vantage point. One of them was now looking straight into my eyes from its perch near the cavern's ceiling. The hypnotic effect it was having on me distracted my attention from the throbbing coming from my bleeding finger. It had a small, pale, human face with long, curving dark eyebrows, a pointy nose over a mustache, and vicious looking fangs. It was Bat Dracula!
No, wait, it was my girlfriend Molly. She was smiling down at me, wearing the willowy black dress that opened seductively at knee level. What's going on here?
A wave of dizziness suddenly overtook me and once again I was lying flat on the hard, unyielding surface. I think I passed out then.
When I next awoke I forced myself into a sitting position and took more careful stock of my surroundings. It wasn't easy because my head was pounding ferociously and I felt like someone trying to emerge from a dense fog. But I did take in that light was penetrating through a gaping hole in the surface above me. It illuminated the interior of a rounded cave whose sloping walls formed an arch the pinnacle of which was pierced in the middle by that luminous aperture. There was rock on all sides but one, where a wide black cavity invited a venture into yawning nothingness. There was also a pile of flat shaped rocks leaning against a segment of the wall that dropped away from the gash in the roof. I glanced back up at the sunroof. It wasn't too high that I needed to worry about climbing out through it when ready to, but how the hell did I get in here to begin with? Everything was so hazy, so vague…
I groaned and grasped my temples with both hands. I shook my head fiercely in an attempt to toss away the cobwebs- to no avail. If only I could collect my thoughts.
I decided to postpone that until I got outside.
Slowly, gingerly, I began to rise. It took several tries before being able to stand upright, and then I almost crashed right back down again. This time, however, I fought the vertigo and staggered to the center of the grotto, where I looked straight up at the opening. I was gonna need a little buoying-up to bridge the several feet that separated us.
It took me a while, but I managed to stack enough of the rocks I dragged away from the wall to form a reasonable footstool. I stopped to rest for some time, then went back to work. By clambering onto the top slab and struggling to keep my balance, I was able to poke a pair of elbows out of either edge of the gaping maw, and use them as leverage to haul the rest of me through. I lay panting atop my former sepulcher.
This time, many hours passed before I rose once more. By the time I was ready to examine my environment, darkness had fallen. Now the moonlight became my beacon. Crickets chirped merrily from everywhere. In the distance, the lights of my city twinkled enticingly. The area surrounding the edge of the rambling rocky outcropping where I squatted painfully was wooded and forbidding. I instinctively thrust a hand into one pocket, where it came in contact with a cold, round object- my compass. I knew I simply needed to trek through the woods in the general direction of my municipality in order to reach a highway and civilization, but once inside it you couldn't see through the forest, so it was reassuring to have the little guy along for the hike. Its iridescent needle would always be visible to me.
A stinging feeling made me rub my left calf. My fingers came across what felt like a raw patch approximately halfway down the limb. Strange. I didn't remember ever getting burned there.
After about an hour's steady trot I had made my way to where boulders gave way to bushes and trees. Abruptly, my eyes spotted a dark, bulky shape on the ground. Lying there was a gray rucksack I recognized as my own. Unbuckling its main compartment, I found inside a map, a folded blanket, a canteen, a crowbar and some other shit. It was too dark to be sure, but I noticed what eerily seemed to be like bloodstains near the crowbar's tip. What the devil had I been up to lately?
I had just taken a lusty swig out of the canteen, when one of the sack's side pockets began vibrating urgently, giving me quite a jolt. I fumbled with the buckle and, by the time I pulled it out, the caller had disconnected. I glanced at the screen: 9 missed calls. I summoned the latest message, and a husky but unmistakeably feminine voice gushed out of the speaker: “Nice of you to stay out of touch. I hope this doesn't mean you plan to snub Mom's 54th. Leonard, if you want to still have family after tomorrow, you better show up. And it won't kill you to bring a present, either. Something a bit more considerate than a pair of flip-flops!”
“They were such dope ones!” I thought angrily. Chris could be so unfair sometimes. You'd think a sister ought to cut you some slack every now and then.
I was ready to plod on, but something about the other side compartment caught my attention. It looked so… stiff. I unzipped it and reached inside. Out came a thick wad of bills, held together by a rubber band. A squint at the top bill. 100. A wad of about a hundred $100 bills. $10,000. My job as a fiction editor paid that over six months.
I mulled it all over while forging deeper and deeper into the woods, swatting alternately at branches and mosquitoes, and wondering if I would be in shape for the drive to Buffalo that attending Mom's birthday entailed.
The last thing I remembered was kissing Molly goodnight. But was that yesterday or last week? Too disoriented to recall. A methodical study of cellphone registries would go a long way towards setting the record straight, I was certain. Later.
Right now, I needed to focus on coming out of the correct side of these damn woods. Another study of the compass. Due west was where I was supposed to be heading. It was hard to maneuver through such arboreal terrain, with gnarly, crackling undergrowth, and still be facing the proper direction.
In a flash, I went stock still. Were those human voices?
I stealthily crept behind some shrubbery.