Episode One: The Horn: Scene 10

I needed to talk to somebody – but it sure as heck wasn’t going to be my therapist, Kanesha, or Mr. Otter. Snag was, I had a pretty short list of people I wanted to talk to.

And it got even shorter when I thought about the gun in my pocket…the one I didn’t have a license for…and the entire situation. How could I involve anyone else? At the same time, I needed to talk to somebody. Which all went around and around in my head.

It was only part of why I was pushing my school-provided lunch around the plate. All the healthy food initiative had achieved around here was smaller portions and crappy produce. That lettuce looked like it had taken a round trip to Mars before being put in the salad. I didn’t want salad, either, but it had been that or mystery meat, and nobody ate the mystery meat unless they were starving.

If it even had meat in it. Maybe it was that pink goo stuff they were always accusing McDonald’s of putting in their nuggets. Or horse. Well, that would be meat, but it wasn’t the kind of meat I wanted to be eating.

I tended to be vegetarian at school lunch if I could remotely get away with it. They sometimes did these cheese croquettes that weren’t half bad. But the worry and anxiety were gnawing at my stomach.

I hadn’t felt in danger when he’d pointed the gun at me. I’d felt in no danger at all. Then Barry Clark sat down next to me. He always got teased about having a name put together from two superheroes.

Somehow that made him more tolerable. There was something about somebody being teased like that that made them…less likely to be jerks, I suppose.

“You look like you need a friend, Jane.”

“Nah. I was just contemplating calling the food police to arrest this lunch.” I’d brown bag, but I was supposed to have the school lunch. They’d pay for that. They wouldn’t up the grocery budget. At least it wasn’t my only meal of the day.

“Tell me about it. I think they’re trying to get rid of free lunch recipients by starving them to death.”

It wouldn’t be his, either. His mother was a hair dresser, and quite talented – she’d done mine before. They had money, by the standards of the inner city. “Okay,” I finally admitted. “The sub shop got held up yesterday.”

“Were you hurt?”

“Nah. But they were long gone before the cops got there and they’ll never catch them. Masks, gloves, the works.”

“Well, we know about the cops and colds around here.”

I certainly did. You didn’t rely on the police for, oh, anything. Much less actually catching criminals. All they were good at was riot control. They’d had plenty of practice at that. “So, yeah, I’m a bit shaken. Getting a gun pointed at you will do that.”

As edited as it was, telling somebody made me feel better, and Barry was decent, and looked at my eyes not my breasts. If I was going to date anyone, it would be him, but he was so uninterested I thought he was gay or something. Typical. The nice guys don’t want you and the jerks…

“It will,” he said, sounding as if it had happened to him. “Perk up, Jane. They probably won’t risk coming back to the same place.”

“I don’t know. I think they might.”

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 9

The feeling that I was going insane stayed with me. Or that something was going on. In a logical moment, I did wonder if my real father was some kind of mob guy.

Real father. Unreal father. How real could somebody be if I couldn’t remember him? I was at work, making sandwiches. It didn’t require that much thought. Just as long as I didn’t get a customer’s order wrong. My mind was free to wander in all sorts of unpleasant directions. It being summer we were selling more salads than subs, and more cold subs than hot ones. It being summer, it was still light outside.

So, the first thought through my mind was “broad daylight?” There were three men. Masks. Guns. A hold-up, except something prickled through my mind. I did what I was supposed to do and hit the panic button as I ducked behind the counter and stayed there. The bins containing the ingredients would probably slow the passage of any bullets that hit them. Probably.

I wasn’t to risk myself. I didn’t have the combination to the safe, and if they wanted what was in the register, they got it. It was all insured anyway.

I sidled to it without exposing any part of my body, but then one of them was coming over the counter. That, I hadn’t expected. A solid vaulting move, and I could have sworn in that moment that the eyes behind the mask were red. Deep, demonic red.

The gun was pointed right at me. “Whoah. Easy. I’ll give you the money,” I found myself saying, although a deep part of me wasn’t scared at all.

A deep part of me knew at some bizarre level that I was completely safe. Maybe I read something in his body language, a reluctance to shoot, but I knew I couldn’t count on it.

Three of them. The cops wouldn’t be here for at least five minutes, if we hadn’t caught them on donut break. Staring down the barrel of the gun, and seeing his finger start to twitch…and moving instinctively, towards him. Towards, not away, knocking the gun to one side. It fired, the bullet lodging itself in the sound dampening tiles with an odd-sounding thunk, and then I was twisting around behind the guy. “Okay. Go ahead. Shoot now,” I said from behind him.

“I see you haven’t forgotten everything,” one of them said.

“Go ahead.” I realized I not only didn’t care if they shot him, but I actually wanted him dead. He’d dared to threaten me. He’d dared to point a gun at me. It was more than just anger, it was a definite, distinct feeling of wrath. That this sort of thing shouldn’t be happening to me.

His gun wavered.

“Leave. I’ll let him go after you.” I thought I heard sirens, but knew it was my own imagination. By the time they got here.

They left. I pushed the guy back over the counter, not sure how I had the strength to do so. The gun stayed. After a moment of hesitation I picked it up…I was wearing gloves…and hid it inside my jacket.

Somehow, I thought it would be useful. But they had wanted to kill me. Or to test me, to see what I hadn’t forgotten.

How come the only thing I remembered was how to hurt people?

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 8

“So, no stray memories?”

She wasn’t a bad person, for a therapist. Doctor Howlett. Made me think of wolves, that. I shook my head and lied to her face, “None.”

I wasn’t going to tell her what was going on, this feeling that I’d been on vacation and now it was over, but I really hadn’t remembered anything. Except how to beat up muggers.

Nothing useful. “At least I’m not writing bad goth poetry.”

She laughed. “I almost wish you would. That’s surprisingly normal. Most teenagers try bad poetry at some point. Or bad fiction. But usually bad poetry.”

Occasionally, I supposed, somebody tried good poetry and made a career out of it. “I’ve tried bad poetry. I don’t have any talent, so I stopped.”


I sometimes got the feeling she almost liked me. Or at least found me easier to deal with than most of her “cases.” I wasn’t depressed, I had absolutely no desire to kill myself, and I had no interest in drugs.

I just couldn’t remember a dang thing, but other than that, perfectly well adjusted, me. And failing all of my classes. “For what it’s worth. I need to find something I’m good at. Ideally something that’s not flipping burgers.”

“I think you’ll catch up. Besides, that’s what GEDs are for.”

She was entirely too cheerful about the matter. I scowled a little. “I seriously…look. I can’t catch up. It’s like I never went to school. I’m starting to think my real parents were incompetent homeschoolers.”

“Maybe they were. That’s even a data point for finding them.”

Maybe I didn’t want to find them. Heck. “Isn’t it true that sometimes people develop amnesia because they hate their life?”


“So, how do we know I’m not forgetting them because they’re annoying or crazy and I don’t want to go back?”

Gently, “If we find them…”

I couldn’t just get up and leave, but I knew. If they found them before I hit eighteen, I had to go back unless there was a good reason.

And the thought of doing so…was completely empty. No fear, no desire, nothing. As if they weren’t worth my notice. Or as if they no longer existed.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 7

Obviously, I wasn’t getting any answers. I rather suspected the horn held some, I wasn’t going to do as Mr. Otter suggested and steal it, though. Even if that was somehow what I was supposed to do.

I wasn’t about to talk to my city-provided therapist about the matter, though. Oh, I’d talked to her plenty, but I wasn’t going to give her ammunition to put me somewhere more, shall we say, secure than the group home.

Which would throw me out as soon as I turned eighteen, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was, in fact, doing my level best not to think about that, but as I went up the steps it felt a little more like home than it had before. I was probably getting used to it. I’d at least managed to finish my ice cream.

Kanesha was at the top of the stairs. She waved cheerfully, then vanished into her room. She’d do well if any of us did – her favorite hobby was studying and she was applying for tons of scholarships.

Me? Wherever I’d been for the first fifteen or so years of my life hadn’t equipped me for high school. I didn’t know any of it, and it wasn’t, I thought, because I’d forgotten it. Sometimes I fantasized that something weird was going on.

Sometimes I thought my life was a comic book, mysterious enemies and hidden past and all. Well, no mysterious enemies, except for Mr. Otter, and he didn’t feel like an enemy.

Or a friend. Mysterious frenemy? Had no ring to it. I headed for my own room, closed and locked the door behind me. They gave us internet access. It was supposed to be for school. I used it to talk to people, but never revealing the truth. My Facebook friends thought I lived in a townhouse in Georgetown with a father who was a banker.

Yeah. We all want to build castles in the air, and I hoped mine would never sink, never fail, never fall. Now I flopped onto my bed, opening my laptop, checking my email.

Somebody was persistent. I’d told this particular person I wasn’t interested in a romance more times than I wanted to think about and certainly more times than I could count. I rolled my eyes and sent the firmest no I could think of. It was annoying that I couldn’t block email the way I could some other means of communication.

That meant two today. I didn’t think I was that hot, but some boys seemed to disagree. Then there was another email, from a sender I didn’t recognize. I almost deleted it, thinking it was spam. Probably I should have.

No name.

“Be careful. You’re being watched. Things are happening.”

As if I was supposed to know what it meant. Maybe I was.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 6

Other girls got Sweet Sixteen parties. I hadn’t. In fact the only thing I’d gotten for my birthday was a cheap card from my housemates. I appreciated the thought. But it seemed I was getting other things for my birthday.

Six months. I’d only been in the house six months. Somewhere out there I probably had parents, but we hadn’t been able to find them. I was pretty sure Mr. Otter was not one of my relatives.

Pretty sure. But now I bought myself a belated birthday present. Ice cream from this little store near us, not a chain, a true mom and pops. They had better ice cream than any of the brand names, and I licked at the cone as I leaned on the window outside, my shoulders against it. I knew I looked like just another loitering teenager.

I didn’t particularly care. I had a right to loiter, given I was still working on the ice cream, and the day was hot – not unbearable as it could get here, but hot enough to make one want ice cream and soda with ice and all things cold. I didn’t deal with the heat well, either. A group of boys came down the street and I tensed. I knew those boys…three of them were trouble and the fourth was, well, “falling into bad company.” They had petty records – vandalism, minor assault, that kind of thing, but were clearly building towards worse.

For a moment, I let myself daydream about my parents finding me, about them turning out to be some nice suburban couple who could and would just take me home with them. To some nice school where the teachers actually taught instead of being glorified babysitters. To…

Then I pushed the thought aside to deal with the world as it is.

“Hey, Jane!” one of them called.

“Answer’s still no,” I called back. He’d asked me out before, a couple of times, but I wasn’t about to go with a guy who prided himself on his knives rather than his grades.

“Oh, come on, Jane. You could do a lot worse.” He walked towards me, thumbs in belt loops, all but thrusting his hips towards me.

I decided to find another place to be, but as I turned away, he reached to grab me. I slapped his hand away. “Don’t touch me. Don’t ever touch me or I’ll…”

“You’ll what…spoil that perfect good girl record of yours?”

“For you it might almost be worth it. Almost. But no.” I could feel it coiling within me, the knowledge of exactly how to put him in a world of hurt without doing real damage.

What the heck had I done in that forgotten past? Things no sixteen-year-old should know…and in the back of my mind, the smell of blood.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 5

The horn was back in the pawn shop window. It was the middle of the night, the place was closed, and I stood there, staring at it.

It wasn’t real. Or it was, and only I could see it, and I wondered if I could see the price tag if what was on it would be one word. I imagined it reading “SOUL.”

I couldn’t accept that I was going mad. I thought it was a memory. That I’d seen or known or owned a horn like that at some point in the past, and my mind was somehow inserting it.

Tyr’s rune. Justice. What was happening to me? No. I’d just known that once, that was all, in some nebulous time before the six months I’d been here. I wasn’t even sure I was sixteen. It was a guess, because they had to make a guess, they had to give me a name.

Tyr’s rune. And I was supposed to have it, but I didn’t, and I wanted to run home again, to get to my bedroom and lock the door against people who’d try to mug me in broad daylight and whispers that warned me and disappearing and appearing horns.

The other alternative was to break in and steal it. I couldn’t believe I’d contemplated that, knowing it wasn’t really there. But it was tempting in a way it shouldn’t be. I thrust my hands in my pockets and started to walk away.

“You know you want it.” A male voice, and I heard footsteps approaching from behind. Tall, thin, grey hair.

“I won’t steal it.”

“Suit yourself. But if you want it, you’ll have to take action.”

“I don’t know you.” I tried to quicken my pace, but he matched me.

“Call me…Mr. Otter.”

The name didn’t even feel familiar, didn’t even feel as if it was somewhere in the back of my brain. Felt fake, but at the same time, I had a strong desire to trust him. “Do you know who I am?”

That was stupid. He was some creep, he couldn’t know, didn’t know. Didn’t have a clue. “Maybe,” he said, in that same voice, that same slight smile crossing his features, and then he turned to walk away.

I might have called after him, but there were too many people watching. Too many witnesses who might have heard a more protracted exchange.

Maybe. I didn’t like that maybe.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 4

“Drop it now!” I could see the whites of his eyes. He was wearing a black balaclava. Gloves. The gun…and I remembered.

Well, that was prosaic. I knew, suddenly exactly how to step inwards, a move he would not expect, to bring my hand down on his arm. The gun went flying, and then my other hand came up to grab his wrist, to spin him away from me.

Within moments, I had him in a hold, his arm against his back.

“Damn you, bitch.”

“Next time, be careful who you try to mug.” Did I march him to the cops? I kicked the gun further away, then spun him again, putting him against the wall.

It felt natural, it felt right, it felt as if this was what I was meant to be doing, had been doing my entire life. “Now, here’s what you’re going to do.” I tugged off the balaclava, looked him in the eyes.

“You’re going to go home. And then you’re going to call this number. They’ll help you.” It was a hotline I’d found out about, one that gave advice…just that…to people who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. It was a shame we needed it, even in Northeast, which was better than Southeast, which was better than, say, Africa. But we needed it and people needed it more. Then I let him go, but not before grabbing the gun, wrapping my sleeve around my hand so it wouldn’t grow my prints. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but he sure wasn’t going to keep it.

I really wasn’t sure what to do. He was running, the arm I’d twisted a little limp, I wasn’t sure whether I hoped I hadn’t dislocated his shoulder or not. He rather deserved it, in my mind, but he was gone. I pulled myself back together.

Somewhere, in my hidden past, I’d learned some pretty fancy self defense tricks. That was all there was to it, and amnesiacs often kept skills. Especially physical skills like that, as much muscle memory.

Yeah. That was all there was to it.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 3

School was never fun. I don’t think it was fun for anyone, but for me? The girl with no past.

“Have you remembered anything yet?” Alfred Lockley. He wasn’t a bad guy to others, but he thought my amnesia was hilarious. Or fake. I think he genuinely thought it was some fake thing I did for attention.

“How to kick your butt,” I found myself responding, turning to walk away from him. It was tempting. It was always tempting, an undercurrent of desire to do something physical and painful, but not permanent, to the people who wouldn’t leave me alone. I was taller than most of the girls, even quite a few of the guys. I wasn’t a small woman, and I might well have had even more problems if I had been.

“Good answer.” It wasn’t a sardonic good answer, but it came from a teacher, so prudence dictated I acknowledged it with the merest of nods and headed for my escape. Early escape, so we could go to the jobs we all had to have. The school was all poor kids, foster kids, kids who were lucky if they had two parents. Lucky if the school lunch, calorie controlled in case we got fat, wasn’t the only meal they got that day.

By their measure I was lucky. I had to cook one day a week – we rotated – and they always gave us enough of a food allowance to not actually go hungry. It wasn’t good food, but there was enough of it.

Tonight wasn’t my turn, but that only meant I had to work, and trading school for the inside of Subway and sandwiches didn’t appeal. I was still not feeling quite right, quite normal.

How to kick your butt, and I made my way down the street. Walking distance. I’d deliberately looked for something walking distance and found it, I’d be there in plenty of time to be ready for the afternoon rush, especially if I cut through the back streets.

A whisper. Somebody whispered in my ear, but I couldn’t be sure what they were saying. I turned to see who it was, and there was nobody there, and the specter of madness rose up again, but as I turned I realized there was somebody behind me. With a gun.

“Drop your wallet.”

No. Way. I knew I was supposed to give it up, but if I did I wouldn’t be able to get home tonight, because that meant the bus. I was staring into the round barrel of a gun, frozen, knowing I had to do the right thing, but feeling red anger rise up within me.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 2

Inside, the store smelt a little…fusty. As if it wasn’t cleaned often enough, but it was probably just an old things smell. To one side was a full set of saxophones, all ready for a quartet – a starving jazz musician, no doubt. In fact, there were remarkable numbers of musical instruments. Behind the counter was a gray-haired man, ordinary in his appearance.
“Excuse me?” I found my voice, although somehow the weight of the place threatened to rest hard on it.
“Yes, young lady?”
“The drinking horn. How much?”
“What horn?”
I blinked, stepped backed towards the window and looked. The space where the horn had been was empty. When you’re already not sure about the stability of your mind, thinking you’re hallucinating? That’ll get to you. I found myself running from the store, and I didn’t stop until I’d gone several blocks towards the Metro and Ford’s theater. I had money for Metro fare. I was going to go somewhere I knew would relax me, calm me down.
But I knew the horn had been there, and it had called to me, and there was still a sense of that. Of something looking for me. I’d had it before, but I’d always put it down to…well.
I questioned my own sanity, I questioned it regularly, and I knew I should be worrying about boys and my grades, but that was what I worried about. My grades could take care of themselves, and I had the lingering feeling they weren’t that important.
Down into the Metro station, the press of people forming around me. Saturday afternoon. The less workaholic parts of Washington were already on the streets, heading for some place to cool off or enjoy the sun, depending. I was usually in the cool off group, the air conditioning in the station, as bad as it was, washing over me.
I could still see the horn in my mind’s eye. I could still feel the pull of it, a soft, gentle electricity, but it hadn’t been real. It hadn’t been real.
I was going crazy. That was the only answer to it.

Episode One: The Horn: Scene 1

It’s not easy being 16. Everyone keeps telling me it’s not supposed to be easy. I wonder if any of them have ever looked in the mirror and had this thought, this strong rising feeling that it’s not their face looking back at them.

Probably not. Most of them have pasts. Have memories. Weren’t found collapsed in an alleyway to wake up in the hospital unable to remember anything, not even a name. I suppose I’m lucky. I could still speak English, could still read and write.

Just, nothing. I don’t even have a real name. Jane. As in Doe. As in the name they give you when they don’t know who you are and it doesn’t really matter because you’re dead anyway.

At least this isn’t a bad place to be nobody and nothing. Here, you’re either some kind of major somebody or you’re beneath anyone’s notice. Big cities are like that. Washington? It’s even more like that. But enough about me. Not like there’s much to say…

I looked up from the blog post. It was just a whine, and I knew it was a whine, but there wasn’t much to say. The people who read it didn’t believe I really had amnesia. Total biographical amnesia, they called it. I remembered absolutely nothing. And they’d never traced my parents, so here I was, the only white kid in a group home in Northeast. The thought depressed me, so I closed my laptop, stuck it in my drawer and went out.

Out, on a summer Saturday afternoon, meant stifling streets. You didn’t go west, into the territory between here and Georgetown. Hispanic gangs liked to roam that part of town. But northwest was never comfortable to me. Never home, and I was pretty sure that was as much to do with being the only white kid in the house as any memories, the edges of which should, I thought, at times impinge on me.

The pawn shop always interested me. One of the things that drew my attention, as always, was the Masonic ceremonial sword in the window. Who had pawned that? Who would even have the authority…I didn’t know much about freemasons, but wouldn’t that be kinda like a priest pawning the communion chalice? However it had got there, it had been there for months, a price tag on it but nobody having the courage to buy it.

Now there was something else next to it, catching my eye mostly from proximity. A battered drinking horn. Must be part of somebody’s RenFaire outfit, but for some reason, my scalp prickled. It was marked with various things, but at the center was an arrow, except that something inside me went “Tyr’s Rune.”

I shook my head, feeling the moment pass and drift away as it always did, but the horn was in there, and the horn wanted me. I couldn’t see the price tag and I had no money anyway. But I stopped, standing there, and then for the first time, I walked into the store.