I originally had a note here explaining exactly how I came up with the idea for this story, but I realised that it was impossible to talk about it without actually giving away the plot line and the inevitable ending. Instead of trying to guess how it comes out, I’d suggest you just read this one, try to imagine yourself in Danny’s shoes, and absorb the horror as though you lived it. You’ll enjoy it more that way.
By Ben Pienaar
He woke up in his room, and at first all he could do was stare at the ceiling and try to figure out what was so wrong about everything.
In the end, it was nothing specific, it was just that everything felt, in some general way, completely, terribly, wrong. He closed his eyes for a moment and tried to remember what happened. It couldn’t have been more than a few hours ago that he’d been primed at the top of what Danny Rogers called DEATH HILL, in a voice dripping with evil and foreboding.
Danny hadn’t been there, he recalled. He’d taken his skateboard out alone, headed to the top of the hill, and then come down. He remembered the scream of wheels on gravel, followed by the panic that struck him as the back of the board began to veer wildly left and right, until at last the whole thing flipped over and he’d gone crashing into the asphalt. He remembered that he hadn’t been wearing his helmet, either.
‘Idiot,’ he said, slapping the side of his head with his hand. For a moment he froze, shocked at the sound of his voice. It was horribly scratched and weak, he thought. And why was his heart beating so fast all of a sudden? He swallowed and found his mouth was dry.
He wondered how long he’d been out. The sun was bright outside, like morning, and that was strange because he was sure it had been afternoon when he’d fallen. Must be a trick of the light, he thought. His mother must have taken him straight up here, to bed. In fact, wasn’t that a note from her, there by his bedside? It looked like her handwriting.
He rolled into a sitting position and felt his heart rate jump. Whatever had happened to him, he must have been badly hurt. All of his bones ached painfully and he felt so weak. He gave a dry cough and picked up the note. For some reason, he couldn’t make out the letters until he brought it right up to his face.
REMEMBER: Please do not panic. I am in the next room and if you need me just call my name (Kathy) and I’ll come as soon as possible. I’m just looking after you while your mother is away. You hit your head quite badly when you fell off that skateboard, you see, and it has affected your memory, and your heart: (Your heart medication is on your bedside table in the orange capsule, take two only if you feel striking pains in your heart or you can’t breathe, and then call me (Kathy). So please, if you look at your reflection in the window try not to panic, everything is alright. If you are still worried, please turn this page over.
But Kyle was beginning to panic, alright. That feeling of wrongness was growing by the second, and his hands were shaking. Why would he panic just from looking at his reflection? That was when it hit him. He’d been injured alright – and probably horribly deformed. Maybe his skull had caved in or he’d skinned his face off on the road. That was surely why he felt like he could shatter into a hundred pieces at the slightest gust of wind. That must be why he had to squint and bring the paper right up to his face just to read.
He turned it over in his hands, which didn’t seem to work properly (they must have been numb with fear), and began to read.
REMEMBER: I am in the next room and here to help. My name is Kathy.
Beside this there was a photograph of a kindly looking woman in her twenties. He almost rolled his eyes. A babysitter, mom? he thought. I’m almost thirteen, come on.
When you were thirteen you crashed your skateboard coming down the hill just outside the house. As I mentioned, you hit your head very hard. It has affected your memory quite badly. Your memory span is approximately five minutes long, and has been for the past sixty years.
Your name is Kyle Haimes:
Beside that there was a photograph of an old, confused looking man. Kyle stared at it. He tried to comprehend everything – an entire life squeezed into a paragraph. The past sixty years, the note said, and not a hint of what had happened in those years, besides this… He was panicking now, his heart thudding through him, horror slowly replacing his confusion.
REMEMBER: Everything is alright, I am here to help. Those white pills on your bedside table are heart medication. Take two only if you have striking pains in your heart or you can’t breathe, and then call me (Kathy).
And that was the end of it. He dropped the note, and brought his hands up to his face. He did not feel the smooth skin of a boy’s face, nor did he feel horrible injuries or bandages: there was only age. Wrinkles, loose skin, rough on his fingers.
He stood up and walked over to the window, letting the sunshine pour over his face while he tried to catch his breath. He resisted the urge to scream, tried to get himself under control. He wanted his mother.
Sixty years. Why was he only waking up now? No, that wasn’t right. He must have been asleep. But what would happen five minutes from now? Would he remember this? Surely he would, he felt fine now. Not physically fine – he felt like he’d been rolled under a truck – but mentally. He closed his eyes for a minute and tried to get himself under control, but it wasn’t working. Every thought brought fresh horrors.
If he was seventy three, his parents must both be dead. All of his friends were either dead or his age, and had forgotten him.
His heart was hammering in his chest now, and suddenly a knife of pure pain pierced him. He gritted his teeth and tried to think – to remember. There was something he was supposed to do, now. A name came floating out at him from the past.
‘KATHY!’ he screamed.
It was a warm, sunny day. Usually Danny would have loved to ride out with him, but he was doing homework. On a Sunday. Kyle rolled his eyes as he stomped on his board and caught it in the air. He hit the bottom of the driveway and realised he’d forgotten his helmet, but it was already too late, he was rolling down to DEATH HILL and the day was so warm and fresh.
‘I like to live on the edge,’ he whispered to himself in his best cowboy drawl.
The best part, he always thought, was just before you went. He stood at the top of the hill with one foot on the board, staring down the curving road and feeling warm sunlight on his face. He prepared himself to push off and felt that first rush of anticipation. He savoured it for as long as he could – any longer and he’d turn chicken – and then he went.
At first, it was easy, just cruising down the slope, enjoying the feeling of sweat cooling in the breeze. Then the speed picked up and he lowered himself on the board a little for balance, his eyes narrowed. Soon, the sounds of the birds and the highway were lost in the roar of rough wheels on gravel, and his thoughts vanished as he concentrated on staying aboard.
Everything went wrong when he levelled out on the bottom. A stray stone, a loose wheel, and in the space of half a second his exhilaration turned to terror. For a few moments, he maintained balance, weaving crazily as the back end of the board fishtailed. Then he hit the curb at the foot of the hill and all vision dissolved into millisecond images of spinning grass, then sky, then road; finally cement rushing towards his face, and then black.
When he regained consciousness, his heart was still beating madly, but he was suddenly back in his bedroom, standing in front of the window. He reeled back, shocked, and looked around. His bed was messed up and he thought he was still in his pyjamas. Of course – it had all been a dream.
He breathed out heavily, but there was something wrong: the breath didn’t come back when he tried to breathe in. There was a weight pressing in on his chest, as though someone was sitting on him. He opened his mouth to call out and then closed it again as a fierce pain crushed his heart.
He dropped to his knees.
‘Kyle?’ A woman’s voice from down the hall, but it wasn’t one he recognized. Where was he?
Desperately, he tried to pull himself up with the windowsill, and it was then that he caught sight of his reflection. The only thing he recognized was the tiny white scar on his forehead where he’d once knocked it on the cupboard door, but it was obscured with wrinkles, and the skin around his eyes was loose and dark. It couldn’t be him, but when he opened his mouth to scream for his mother, so did the old man.
Kyle’s whole body turned weak and he collapsed, clutching his chest with his left hand and staring at the ceiling. He heard footsteps outside the door, a distant thumping that was quickly drowned by the pumping of his heart in his ears.
‘Oh God,’ someone said, but he couldn’t see who, because his eyes could only make out two shrinking circles of the ceiling.
He tried to remember the feel of air on his face and of summer sunshine on his skin, and he found he could, because after all it had only happened a moment ago.
He went deaf and blind and numb, but he could still feel the vibrating board under his feet, and hear the gravel scattering in his wake. He could still see the grass, twisting below him, and then the sky, and then the hard road, and then…