Solomon's Spectacular Stars
A sharp finger snap echoed in the darkness.
A young lady immediately opened her eyes to see flashes of crimson filling her dark, blurry vision. An ear-piercing ring further distorted her perception as it skewered her mind.
When the flashes faded, only a flickering yellow light remained, and when the dins toned down, she heard herself cry in pain. She found herself hunching over, her hands tightly gripping onto her head as all that remained was a fiery headache.
"Ack!" the young man before her cried out. "Was that too much?! Sorry!" He quickly raised his hand, only to freeze when the young lady glanced back up with trembling eyes.
"What's going on?!" she shouted frantically. "What's happening?! Where am I?!" She peered up at the cloaked stranger before her, staring at a plain white mask concealing the upper half of his face. "Who are you?”
"Me?" he asked in a whispering, shaking tone. "I'm..." He lowered his head as his voice trailed off, pursing his lips. The man’s hand irregularly patterned with scars tightened his grip on the glowing lantern’s handle. His other similarly blemished hand slowly slithered back inside his dark green cloak.
With a sharp inhale, he raised his head back up. "Listen, I know you have way too many questions," he said, his breath forming small, misty clouds. "But I need you to calm down. You will get your answers soon. Before that though, can you answer some of mine first?"
"What are they?" she asked, slowly releasing her shaking hands.
"What is two times four?"
She blinked. "What?"
"True or false: dogs can eat chocolate."
The woman tilted her head and arched an eyebrow. "False?" she answered again.
He nodded. "What are you sitting on?"
She looked down and shifted her body around. "A wooden crate," she responded.
"Where do you think we're in?"
She glanced left and right. She looked up, shivering in place as she stared at the starless sky above them. She gazed down at her gray pants and folded her arms, her hands clutching her sleeves made with thin fabric. "A dark alleyway," she answered, furrowing her eyebrows. "I think?"
The stranger pulled out his hand out the cloak, holding a piece of paper. "What does this say?"
She trailed her eyes across the paper once, twice, then three times. She squinted her eyes on the paper barely lit by the flickering lantern’s light. "Miracles do exist," she deciphered. "What's with this handwriting?" she further added. "This is awful!"
His lips curved into an open frown. The half-faced mask couldn't hide his flushing cheeks. He widened his mouth and raised a finger, remained still, and closed his mouth again. He cleared his throat, stuffed the paper back into his cloak, and pressed a hand at her forehead. "Anyway, uh, good! You answered all correctly."
His palm continued to rest on her forehead, and she continued to gawk at him in return. "Now then, I have one last question for you."
He leaned closer and raised his lantern. "What's your name?" he asked, his breath continuing to form miniature, fog-like mists with every exhale.
She blinked. "Pardon?"
"Who are you? What's your name?" he asked again, slowly sliding his hand off her temple.
"My name? I'm..." She paused.
"I'm..." She stared as blankly as her mind, her eyes widening.
"I don't know?"
The amnesiac hunched over again, her hands grabbing onto her hair as she stared down at her monotonous clothes. She released her hands and hovered her palms before her eyes, her fingers trembling. She turned her hands around as if it could help her at all, but in the end, the only answer inside her head was a speechless, ringing noise.
"Huh? Wait, what?" Her voice quivered. "Why can't I remember? Who am I again?"
The stranger before her remained silent and unfazed before letting out a gentle sigh. "Yep, I figured," he muttered.
She looked up, eyes widening again. "What do you mean?"
The masked figure momentarily looked down and stretched his slight frown. He inhaled and met her gaze. "I anticipated this. I'm sorry, Cherry. All of your personal memories have disappeared."
She opened her mouth, yet before she could voice out her questions, he raised his hand.
"Now, hear me out first. No, I didn't do it. Don't worry, your memory loss is temporary, and yes, it's fixable. Yes, I know how it happened. That...will be explained some other time," he said, resting his hand on his chest and clutching it. "I–I can't tell you what happened either. Believe me, I truly want to explain everything right now, but I can't!" He scratched his head and lowered his gaze, the hood slightly exposing some of his dark, scrambled hair.
Cherry furrowed her eyebrows, slowly processing his words. "Why can't I know right now?" she asked.
He looked back up and met her gaze once more. "Well, how's your head feeling?"
She lowered her blank eyes and raised a hand, her fingers sliding through her dark red hair. She weakly grasped her throbbing head, slowly swaying in her seat as her headache blazed through her skull. The more she tried to question anything, the louder the rings were until she forced herself to empty her mind.
"In pain," she croaked, her palm rubbing her forehead. "It...hurts. It hurts a lot. It feels like there's a real fire burning my brain out."
The man sighed and slumped his shoulders. "As expected,” he mumbled.
”You knew about this too?” she asked weakly.
He nodded. "Your brain is in a vulnerable state right now. If you learn too many things too quickly, it could lead to a 'brain overload.'"
"A...brain overload?" she asked.
"Yep. If you keep getting answers that only lead to more questions, it’ll worsen that headache of yours. That’s…that’s why I can’t tell you everything just yet."
"I'll assume that I can't know why I have this condition either, huh?"
He nodded again.
"Can I at least know who you are?"
"Charlie?" She repeated as if saying his name could spark some sort of recollection, but nothing came to mind at all. The voiceless, ringing taunts continued to occupy her head, and as her confusion piled up, a growing sense of bitter frustration further fueled the pain. Cherry slowly inhaled the chilly air before distracting herself with the stranger's calm voice.
"Yep. Charlie. I can only tell you that," he said.
She frowned. "So, what do you want with me, Charlie?" she asked.
"That is what I'm about to explain next. I'm here to get your memories back."
"What? Really? You want to help me?"
"Absolutely. You and I are in this situation for a reason after all."
Cherry glanced back down at her hands. Indeed, the cloaked stranger was right. For her to wake up with pure amnesia was questioning enough, yet to have someone who knew her history immediately guide her lost self was even more bizarre as if this was all pre-planned. If that were to be the case...
"Can you at least answer some questions?" she asked. "I'll accept your help if you do."
"It depends, but alright."
"Did I...volunteer to forget?"
"No," he slowly answered. "No, you did not. That's why I'm here. I need you to remember again."
He bit his lip, curving a slight frown. "You're the only one who has answers that I've been searching for. I have more reasons of course, but I can't tell you them."
"Oh..." She scratched her head. "So what's our relationship?"
"Can't tell you."
She twitched an eye.
“Sorry,” he muttered, looking away.
Cherry looked back down and fell silent as well.
If she didn't volunteer, then how could she truly know if the man named Charlie before her was truly her ally? Or rather, could she truly believe anything he told her at all? She grasped onto her thin sleeves, dread crawling behind her back much like the frosty air as she acknowledged the potential risks. Then again, what other choice did she have, when there was only one promising option offered right before her?
"Can I really trust you?" she asked, voicing out questions seemingly directed at herself rather than at Charlie. "Will you really help me remember?"
"I swear on my life that you will remember everything," he said, clutching his chest.
A faint wave of hope relaxed her stiff shoulders as his words echoed through her mind. Albeit still wary, she couldn't help but feel a tiny bit reassured by his sincerity.
“Okay. So, how will you help me?” she asked.
“Can’t tell you that either."
On second thought, maybe she shouldn't trust him after all.
“Why not?" she asked, her words leaking out impatience. "Can’t you tell me anything at all?”
“I just can’t! I’m sorry, I’ll explain it all soon, I promise. For now, all I can say is to just stay alive.” He lowered his lantern as he turned to face the lightened end of the passageway. “If we’re done talking here, then let’s go.”
She knitted her brows, hesitating to follow him as her questions remained unanswered.
Cherry shuddered as a light breeze passed by her shoulders and grasped her arms. She looked around the abyssal alley before stopping her eyes at the stranger's lantern.
Perhaps it would be wiser to follow the stranger than to sit around freezing in the dark after all.
She stood up, her rear already missing the warmth it maintained from the wooden crate. She grimaced, looking down at her thin gray flats. The soles felt especially translucent, and her feet began to rapidly lose their heat as soon as she stepped on the frigid cobblestone.
"Hey, why am I wearing these clothes?" she complained. "It's so cold out here!"
Charlie faced her. "Do you want my cloak?" he asked.
She looked up. "Can I?"
"Sure, I'm not that cold."
Setting aside the lantern, he swiftly pulled off his dark green cover, revealing his plain white poet shirt, black pants, and short, dark red hair. His hair was utterly messy, Cherry had to silently remark.
"Thanks," she said as she accepted the cloak, immediately putting it on.
While doing so, however, something quickly whirled past her. She shivered, and she quickened her pace, fumbling her arms around in the cloak. A warming relief eased her shaking figure, and she quietly sighed. Her feet remained to suffer, but this was more than enough for her to settle with.
There was a thump.
She turned around and blinked. "Charlie?" she called out. She lowered her eyes.
She blinked again and gaped her jaw at the young man who collapsed onto his knees...
With one of his hands clutching his stomach...
Where there was an arrow present...already pierced through him.
His white shirt slowly dyed red. Charlie slowly opened his mouth as a thin trail of the same substance slowly spilled from the corners of his lips.