Robert Nowall

Blessed Are Those That Remember, by Robert Nowall
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BLESSED ARE THOSE THAT REMEMBER

by

Robert Nowall

The permanent late afternoon sun guaranteed heat. Even in the shade of the trees and calf-deep in stagnant water, Sheila felt the sweat build up on her skin. She wiped sweat from her forehead, then ran her hand over the stubble growing from her scalp.

A soft chuckle came from behind. She turned around, the point of her steel spear turning with her. The chuckle came from the man behind her---Jack, he called himself, a small man, brown all over, wearing just a short cloth loincloth and his metal identification medallion and chain, and less hair on his head than hers. He stood close enough to put his hand on her spear and push the point away. Then he smiled and laughed. "Believe me, Sheila, short hair works. Keep it trimmed."

Sheila turned away. She waded deeper into the water, till it came up to her thighs. Her skirt came to an end just above the water level. Uncomfortable, awkward, but it covered. Her own clothes rotted away after arrival. It gave her a choice between a loincloth and the skirt-and-shirt. She lifted the skirt a little with one hand and held her spear out of the water with the other. "Look," she said, "I just arrived a few weeks ago."

She staggered on unsteady muck. Jack stepped up and grabbed her by an elbow. "Careful," he said.

She pulled her elbow away. "I get it."

"Careful!" came a shout from ahead. Out of the water, from behind a tree, came a man, brown and near-naked like Jack, taller than either of them. He wore a loincloth and a black armband, a symbol of authority in the mines and the camp.

He stepped up to the soft ground just beyond the water, and glared at them. "You two watch yourselves," he said. "You in particular, Sheila. You're the boss's pride and joy. You're here 'cause your Eddie is somewhere out there." He waved a hand towards the jungle ahead.

"But Emile," Jack began.

"Never mind." He turned his glare to Jack. "You know better. Behave. Both of you. Solid ground lies ahead and we'll camp for the night. Keep it down till then."

He disappeared into the trees as Sheila and Jack stepped out of the water. "Night," Sheila said.

Jack chuckled. "I know. I remember day and night. Even if I don't remember anything else." He glanced towards the sun ahead of them, blocked some by the trees. "It does move from summer to winter---"

"From more hot to less hot?" Sheila asked.

"Kind of. One part of the horizon to another. Also rainy to not rainy." Jack put on a somber expression. "But I do miss the dark."

#

This ground, bare and dry and hard, made a good camp. Prepared, tidied up, ready to use, with a number of logs spread around, split and laid out like benches. Already people milled around. A fire burned at one end.

Emile tapped one log with his sandal-clad foot, and said, "Not rotten through yet. Jack, Sheila, you camp here." He moved on, others following.

Sheila tapped the log with her sandal, then sat down on it. She leaned her steel pole against the log. She pulled one sandal from her foot and looked it over with distaste. The sandal itself, some product of a tree not known to her, started to come apart. It looked like one of the many varieties of mold got to it. She sighed.

Jack sat down next to her. "You're better off without it," he said, and pointed down to his own feet, dirty and with heavy calluses. He lifted one foot to his knee for inspection.

"I haven't lived here as long as you," Sheila replied. She rubbed her bare sole, then with some care tied the sandal back on. She crossed her legs the other way and did the same with her other foot and sandal.

When she finished, she said, "I thought I knew what to expect. But it all seems different."

Jack put his foot down and closed his eyes. "Your problem is that you remember. Most of us don't." He let that hang a moment, then said, "Just be grateful you're not hunting."

"We will eat, won't we?"

"When they get back."

Just then, someone ran up. Sheila looked at her. A girl, maybe twelve or thirteen standard years old. She wore a skirt and shirt of crude woven fabric, just like Sheila did. No gold ID medal---she was born here. No spear or other weapon, either. "Katie," Sheila said.

"I heard what you said." She pointed. "The hunting party is back. They're roasting something."

Sheila looked. Sure enough, something hung from a spit over the fire. An odor of cooking meat drifted their way on a stray hot breeze. Sheila grunted.

Katie said, "It'll be ready in awhile, about low point." She moved her pointing finger towards the sun, bright red, behind where Sheila and Jack sat with their backs to it.

"Low point, high point, what's the difference?" Sheila asked.

"You must learn." Katie laughed. "It's all you've got to tell one day from another. Low point, high point, over there, over here." She pointed to one side of the sun, then the other. "You'll be here a long time, if you make it." She half-ran, half-danced towards the fire.

"Why Mr. Williams let Katie come along---" Jack began, then broke off and said, "Oh. Yeah. Because of you."

Sheila put her hand to her head. "I'm beat. I don't want to think about that." She scrunched down and put her head against the log as a high and hard pillow, then closed her eyes and tried to blot out the light. "Wake me when we eat."

#

Some noise further down woke her. Did she sleep at all? She sat up and grabbed her steel spear. "What is it?"

"Dinner's not ready," Jack said. "But visitors came." He sat up and watched, then pointed. "Some outliers, come for a visit."

She rolled over on her stomach and looked where Jack pointed. Too tall men, adorned with nothing but elaborate body painting and ID medallions. They carried wooden spears longer than her steel pole. One of them carried some dead animal slung over his back. They did not threaten anyone, they just spoke with Emile.

"Exiles," Jack said. "We stayed with the camps. They fled." He spat. "Bastards."

"Problem?"

"Oh, they wandered off while we stayed behind and worked the gold mine."

"You wanted to work the mine?"

Jack shook his head. "No. But if we all took off, the government would hunt us down, one by one, for not working it. They take advantage of us."

Katie wandered up to Emile and the two outliers---but Emile stepped away and intercepted her. The two argued in soft tones, until Emile put one hand on Katie's shoulder and spun her around, and pointed towards Sheila and Jack with the other. Katie stamped off in a huff, over to Sheila, and sat down on the log. "Why do they treat me like a baby?" she asked, with some petulance in her tone.

"When you're older," Jack started to say, but Katie glared at him.

"Look," Sheila said, "Emile's thinking of your safety. Who are they?"

"Just some guys who took off from the mine. I, uh, think they're from that tribe to the north."

Sheila did not take her eyes off Emile and the two outliers. Emile nodded to them, then looked over to Sheila and moved his finger in a "come here" gesture. Sheila shrugged, and got to her feet and walked over, her metal spear resting on her shoulder. Katie got up and followed behind, but kept her distance.

"Sheila," Emile said, "these two gentlemen agreed to trade their fresh-killed meat and some information for one of our steel spears. Give them yours."

Sheila stuttered, "I, er---can I---?"

"No." Emile shrugged. "I'm sorry, Sheila, but you're the least experienced of us. Your spear, please, then go sit down."

She sighed, and handed the spear to Emile. He handed it to the man who carried the dead animal on his back. Neither he nor the other outlier seemed offended; rather, they seemed amused. As they started to speak to Emile again, Sheila slunk back to the log and sat down.

Katie sat down next to her. "Don't worry. We'll protect you."

"Or I will," Jack added. He sat down on the other side of her. "You couldn't know how to fight. You've lived among us, what, a month now?"

"You couldn't take care of yourself," Katie said.

Jack grinned. "Don't be so superior, Katie. In another month, Sheila will be the schoolteacher and she'll be teaching you."

Sheila slumped. Mister Williams, the boss of the camp and the mine, wanted her to do that---because she remembered her life before her exile---while almost all the others, infected on arrival, woke up with no memories.
The danger of carrying the disease made the exile permanent.

Before Katie could speak again, Emile came up. The two outliers were gone. "Sheila? Don't get up." He held a palm out. "Our two visitors told me they spotted your Eddie running loose about a half-kilometer away."

"Eddie?"

"It couldn't be anybody else. Stay here. I'll send somebody out to spot his trail." He looked beyond her. "Jack. You go."

"Me?" Jack shook his head. "Nuh-huh. I'm protecting Sheila."

"Katie can do that as well as you. Get going." He glanced beyond them, at some others. "Take Patty with you."

Jack got to his feet and walked off. Emile nodded to Sheila and Katie, and followed. They saw Jack leave the camp area, with a dark-skinned woman at his side, disappearing into the trees.

"I think he likes you," Katie said.

Sheila shrugged. "I can't think about it. I need to know what happened to Eddie."

#

Sheila finished her slice of meat and wished for a towel or napkin. Katie slept at her side, head against the log. Sheila looked up in time to see Jack and Patty come back. Jack waved to Sheila and went up to Emile. Sheila got up and followed them.

Patty, short and dark-skinned, wearing nothing but sandals and a medallion, spoke first. "He left a trail. Led up to a bongo-fruit tree. Slept and ate, several times. But he's gone now."

"Eddie?" Emile asked.

Patty looked at Sheila, and said, "Don't know Eddie from a bongo-fruit. But it looked like someone who doesn't know the jungle. No precautions."

"Also," Jack said, "if he pushed on, we couldn't tell which way."

Emile sighed. "We'll look. You two get some rest...and you, too, Sheila. I hope you can still recognize him."

Sheila nodded. Patty went off. Jack followed Sheila back to the log and the sleeping Katie. As they sat down, Katie between them, Jack said, "Your man survived."

"I know. But I don't---" Sheila thought about the seven others in their group. Three remained in the hospital-infirmary when she woke up after the illness ran its course. One would never leave. Another's memory went from moment to moment. The others---well, like most, their memories began when they woke up. Already they worked in the mine, digging for gold.

Why did she remember, when the others didn't, when no one did? She was an exception. Her memory remained. The spore-borne sickness infected her, but she remembered everything despite it. Because of that, Williams wanted her to teach school---to teach children, born in the camp, children who needed an education. Once the search for Eddie wrapped up, she would start.

But Eddie---what about his memory? And why did he run off?

Sheila sighed. "I don't know what he'll be like."

"I wouldn't worry," Jack said. "I mean, about that. We'll find him, we'll find out soon enough." He shrugged. "It can't be helped." He sat up straight, and said, "Oh, I almost forgot."

He got to his feet, dusted himself off, and gestured for Sheila to follow him. She let him lead her straight back to Emile. "I almost forgot," Jack said. "We found a shoe-tree, six or seven hundred meters that way---" He pointed, away from the sun on the horizon. "---and its seed pods are ripe. We could go and carry off a few dozen, Sheila and me." He pointed to Sheila's feet. "She needs a new pair, and she's not alone."

Emile rubbed the beard stubble on his chin, and said, "Yes, take her, get her a new pair, and come back with a load."

"Can I come too?" came a voice from behind. They turned, all of them, startled. Katie crept up behind them. She stood, trying to look innocent.

Emile muttered something, then said, "Yes, you can go." He looked at Jack and Sheila, then all of them. "All of you, be careful. Jack--"

Jack held up his hand. "I know. I'm responsible." He saluted, and turned to head out. The others followed

Emile brushed his fingertips against Sheila's arm as she passed. "Remember, Sheila," he said, "you're older than Katie, and you have all your memories, but you don't know much about our jungles. Keep that in mind."

"I'll remember, sir," Sheila said, and hurried after the other two.

#

The shoe-tree did not look like a shoe to Sheila. A tall, rough, leaf-covered cylinder rising about twenty meters in the air. Drying seed pods hung from branches.

Katie picked up a fallen seed pod from the ground and cracked it in two, and produced the hard sole Sheila used for a sandal. Sheila smiled. "That's why it's called a shoe-tree!"

"Each one is a different size. Find ones that fit."

They pulled the seed pods from the branches, broke them in two, shook the contents out, and stacked them in an uneven deck on the ground. Nothing to it. Each took a minute or so.

When Sheila found one her size, she sat down and removed her own. When she tied it to her sole, she said, "These make pretty good sandals."

"They make fair sandals," Jack replied, from the other side of the tree. "But they don't measure up to real shoes."

"I see. You remember---I mean---"

"You want to know what I remember?" Jack asked. "It's kind of touchy, but I don't mind." He came around the tree and bent over to put two more soles on a stack. "My memories start here. But I remember what it was like, was like, back in civilization." He shrugged. "I don't remember any what or who."

"Not at all?"

"No." He shrugged again. "A lot of us think they'll remember if they think hard enough about it. But it doesn't happen."

"It's never happened yet!" Katie called from the edge of the tree.

"Never you mind, Katie." To Sheila, Jack whispered. "Katie doesn't understand. But, like I said, people get touchy about it. I wouldn't bring it up too often."

Katie came around carrying a stack. "I know. I don't understand because it didn't happen to me."

Jack said, "The kids catch it when they're babies, with no memories to wipe out. After that, they're immune, we think."

"Mmm." Sheila plucked another seed pod. "I didn't go through it, either."

"Blessed are those that forget," Jack muttered.

"What?"

"Oh, nothing. Something we say."

"They say it in church," Katie piped up. " 'Blessed are those that forget,' they say."

Sheila looked at Kate, than back to Jack. Jack looked down. "It's just something that sprang up. Some people think those who lose their memories are blessed. But those that remember are cursed, or chosen by God, or something."

"Chosen for something special," Katie said.

Sheila looked at him, then sighed and said, "Eddie and I, we were political exiles. Not much politics. Eddie went to the wrong parties. Eddie was convicted. And I wanted to go with Eddie. We didn't know the government would send us here."

Jack seemed about to say something, but instead bent over his pile of shoe tree soles. Sheila turned back to her pile. Her mind played over the possibilities. What would life be like, being one of the few who remembered? Would it be harder without memories? Easier?

One sole slipped out of her hands, and bounced into the shadow of the shoe tree. She stepped over and bent over to pick it up---then stood up straight when she heard rustling in the bush.

A man stepped out. Naked, cuts and bruises all over his skin. He looked at her--- "Eddie!" she shouted.

Eddie's face seemed to light up. He grunted and took a step closer---then Jack and Katie came around. Jack held his stainless steel spear. Eddie saw them, and jumped back into the brush.

"Eddie!" Sheila called. Jack ran into the brush, metal spear held point forward. She shouted to Jack, "Don't hurt him!" as he disappeared.

After a moment, Jack let out a yelp!---then flew through the air to land against the trunk of the shoe tree with a thud!

The brush rustled a little more, then silence fell.

Sheila grabbed Jack's arm and helped him to his feet. "Ow!" Jack said. "Your boyfriend's got some arm on him. My spear!" He ran back into the brush, then came out again, clutching his spear. "He's not there now. I don't know."

"I thought he recognized me," Sheila said. "Then he saw you and ran off." She looked into the brush, then took a step towards it.

Jack grabbed her arm. "Don't. It's dangerous."

She turned back to Jack. "Are you all right?"

"Maybe a little bruised." He winced. "I'm okay. 'Don't hurt him,' you said."

A pale Katie slunk up to Sheila, almost up against her. "Er, can we go back to camp?"

"Yes, we should go," Jack added.

Sheila bent down to pick up her pile of soles. Jack said, "Never mind. We've got to report."

They headed off, Jack first, Katie in the middle, Sheila bringing up the rear. They hurried along. Sheila looked back. Did the plants moving, or just the wind?

#

Emile stood under the shoe-tree, next to Sheila. He put his hand to his mouth as if he puffed and exhaled smoke from a cigar. Nobody smoked in camp. Sheila wondered if some forgotten memory pushed out of Emile's unconscious mind. Who was Emile? Who was he once?

Jack and Katie stood next to her, both quiet, both with eyes fixed on the ground. Other people passed through the clearing, under the shoe-tree, in and out of the brush.

Patty emerged from the brush. She stood and smiled. "He was here, sir," she said. "But the trail doubles back and gets lost. If he---"

Emile held up his hand. "Never mind. See if you can pick up anything on the ground between here and camp."

"Yes, sir." Patty saluted and left.

Emile said, "It was your Eddie, wasn't it?"

Sheila gulped and said, "Yes, sir. No doubt."

"He didn't speak, he just grunted."

Sheila nodded. Jack added, "He didn't speak at all."

"I...see." Emile turned away, smoking his imaginary cigar again. Then he turned back. "I'm worried. Your Eddie got sick, just like everyone else, then ran off. His memories must be gone." He frowned. "He might be operating on animal instincts alone."

Jack nodded. Sheila said, "I don't understand."

"We see it once in awhile. Sometimes the memories don't go, but the higher brain activities do." His frown got deeper. "Your Eddie may be more animal than human."

Sheila thought about it---then got it. She shook her head. "I'm sure he recognized me."

"A flash of old memory," Emile said. "Some element that didn't burn off. But I've got an idea."

He stepped away from them, said a few things to other people nearby, then put his fingers in his mouth and let out a loud whistle. When more people came, he clapped his hands and said, "Listen to me, everybody...everyone back to camp!"

Jack and Sheila both took a few steps. But Emile stood in their way and held up his hand. "Not you two. Sheila, you stay put. After we're all gone, count to a thousand, then follow us. You stay with her, Jack."

"What about me?" Katie asked.

Emile looked at her as if seeing her for the first time, then shook his head with a slight smile on his lips. "Katie, Katie, come back with me." Before Katie could groan with disappointment, Emile added, "When things happen, I don't want you around."

Emile turned away and left, followed by a reluctant Katie and a few others. For a few moments, they could be heard moving through the brush, then came still and quiet.

Too quiet, Sheila thought. Sheila felt cold for the first time since the fever ran its course. She said to Jack, "What's this about?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Jack grinned. "If Eddie did recognize you, he might do so again. You're the bait. And when he comes to you, I'll grab him."

"You? He took care of you before."

Jack waved his steel spear in the air. "He won't this time." His grin got broader. "You can help. Start by counting to a thousand."

"Mmm." The idea of Eddie getting hurt bothered her, but she couldn't see another way. She turned away from Jack and mouthed, "One, two, three..."

#

"Walk ahead," Jack said. "This trail is fresh. Walk ahead alone. You're the bait and I've got to stay out of direct sight."

"But if I, if Eddie---"

"I won't be more than a few steps away. Promise." He took a single step back and slipped between two trees. She lost him in the shadows. It must be her imagination that the light dimmed.

Frustrating. She walked along, back and forth, along the trails, followed by Jack or preceded by Patty or someone else. She walked, alone to appearances, in the hope Eddie would come to her. So far, Eddie kept out of sight.

But Eddie left trails, and some people got a glimpse of him. Just a matter of time, Emile said. They would stay until they found Eddie, Emile said. Others would find the trails, Emile said.

And her job was to be the bait.

It felt creepy. She never felt so exposed walking along invisible trails winding through the jungle overgrowth. If she went naked like some of the others she wouldn't feel so cold and chilled. The perpetual sunset put everything in shadows.

Ahead of her, the brush rustled. Sheila stopped. "Eddie?"

Katie burst through. She pushed down a few tall grassy stalks and stood in front of her. "Katie?"

"Katie?" came Jack's shout from behind.

Katie laughed and twirled around. "I just want to catch up with you. Emile says he's sending some people back to the mine, and he wants me to go with them. I don't wanna."

"You've done enough," Jack said, coming up from behind, steel spear point forward. "Look, Katie, this is serious business. You know it. We've told you. But you keep getting in the way. Why doesn't it sink in? What's wrong with you?"

Katie let out a sniffle, then turned away, half-waking half-running on the trail ahead, back towards camp. Sheila turned to Jack and said, "You didn't need to be so hard on her."

"What could I say?" Jack put shock and surprise on his face. "She's spoiled rotten, ever since she was a baby, and now it's in the way." He took a breath, then said, with calm and quiet, "I know you care for her. I know Old Man Williams wants you to be like a mother to her. I know, Lord knows I know, she needs some kind of adult figure in her life. No father, no mother. But we---"

A scream cut through their argument. "Katie!" Sheila shouted, and bounded down the trail.

Several meters along, she stumbled into Katie, who slipped from the grasp of---"Eddie!" she shouted as she fell over him.

They rolled together, into some tall grass, and stopped. Eddie landed on top of her. Sheila looked at him, at his body, into his face---thin and gaunt, cut and scraped, scratched and bruised, weeks of scraggled beard on his chin---and the gleam of a wild animal in his eyes---but when he looked into her eyes---recognition?

Eddie grinned. Sheila brought one knee up and pushed. Eddie let out a grunt and tried to grab her in a bear hug---she yelped and pulled back---

But something crashed against Eddie's head, she couldn't see what. He collapsed on top of her, his eyes closing and his breath going out of him in one big gasp.

Sheila pushed out from under. She looked up and saw Katie, pale and frightened. Jack stood behind her, somber-faced, shaking his head.

Sheila sat up and looked at Jack and said, "Er, thanks,"

"Not me." Jack pointed to Katie.

"I---I---he---" She gulped and said, "He, uh, he grabbed me. I got away, but then he---he---"

"She laid him out with a rock," Jack said. He pointed to Katie's hand.

Katie looked down at the rock she held. She dropped it. "I, I've gotta sit down." She sat down, next to Sheila, then reached over and grabbed her and began to cry.

Sheila returned her hug, let out a sobbing breath herself, then said in a shaking voice, "It's all right. It'll be all right."

Two women, Patty and another, came through the brush. Both carried metal spears. She said, "What's'a'matter? We heard screams? What happened?"

"I'll tell you later," Jack said. "Eddie is here. It's over. Tie him up and let's get him back to camp."

The other woman knelt next to Eddie, on the other side from Sheila and Katie. She put her hand to Eddie's face, and said, "He's out cold."

"We don't want to take chances," Jack said. "Tie him up anyway."

"All right," Patty said. She started to look around the small clearing for something to use for a rope.

Jack knelt down beside Katie and Sheila. Katie still cried, her face buried in Sheila's chest. "Are you all right?"

"Er..." Sheila looked at Eddie, then back to Jack. "Give us a minute."

Jack nodded and got up. Sheila patted Katie's back and said, again, "It'll be all right."

#

They trussed Eddie up with some vines that made a good strong rope. Jack told Sheila, "They'll rot, like everything else, before we get him back to the mine, but we can pick up fresh vines pretty much anywhere."

Eddie didn't wake up, not when they tied him up, not when Jack and Patty carried him back to camp on an improvised stretcher, not when they put him down in front of Emile. He lay prone, unconscious.

Emile looked down at him and shook his head. He looked at Sheila. "You say he recognized you?"

"I think so. When he looked into my eyes---"

Katie, calm now, stood next to her, her arm around Sheila's waist. "He didn't speak," she said.

Emile nodded, and knelt down. He put his hands under Eddie's skull. "Blood," he said, "but I don't think anything's broken." He looked Eddie up and down. "I don't think he's eaten much."

"Should we try to feed him?" Jack asked.

"Mmm...if he wakes up." Emile sighed, and got to his knees. His hands came away covered in blood. He sighed. "At least he's breathing. We'll put a bandage around his head and hope for the best. The doctor can look at him when we get back."

"Infection?" Sheila asked.

"Nothing I can do about it. You both got immunized?"

"Every shot but the one that mattered."

Before anything else could be said, Patty came up carrying something. Whatever it was, it was pungent---Sheila let out a gasp and turned away, eyes watering. The others just stepped back, even Katie. Patty said, "Here it is, sir."

"Thanks," Emile said, trying not to breathe too much. He took it---a small berry, Sheila saw---into his blood-covered hand, then bent down over Eddie and waved it under Eddie's nose.

No reaction. Emile got to his feet and handed the berry back to Patty. "Take it and bury it. We can break camp and go home."

"What was that---that thing?" Sheila asked.

"Just something we use as smelling salts. The smell doesn't linger, thank God." Emile looked around, and found a bush with some soft large leaves. He wiped his hands on them and said, "We'll built a proper stretcher. But, for a bandage...hmm..." Emile wandered off, purpose in his eyes.

Jack nudged Sheila, and said, "You know, he might not be your Eddie anymore."

She fixed him with a cold glare. Jack backed off.

#

Jack sat next to Sheila, on a split log like the ones at the other camp. They both sat next to where they put Eddie. Eddie remained tied up, tied to his sled-stretcher.

Jack held up the remains of a rope-vine. "These are done for. I think the stretcher will last. Good thing we found more."

Sheila said nothing. Jack added, "Katie did a good job."

Sheila kept looking into Eddie's face. His eyes stayed closed---he seemed at peace---peaceful in a way he did not look when he attacked her.

"One more trip and the doctor can take care of him," Jack said. He looked around. "Where's Katie?"

"Keeping her distance," Sheila said. "She got scared. She doesn't want to be near Eddie, conscious or unconscious."

Jack nodded, then tapped her shoulder. "You two are going to live together when we get back? Old Man Williams wants that."

Sheila gave a slight nod. Sheila listened to the sound of Eddie breathing, blended in with the loud chirping of the insects Katie told her were "crickets," but who made a sound too loud and bass-y to be Earth crickets.

Jack broke into her reverie. "Do you want to say anything to me?" he asked.

"No," Sheila said. "Do you want to say anything to me?"

"Just that I'm sorry. About Eddie. About what I said." Jack looked down. "You know what's what. What'll happen. I shouldn't rub your nose in it."

Sheila looked into Eddie's face. To Jack, she said, "I, ah, accept your apology. I don't know what I'll do."

Eddie rolled his head and opened his mouth. "Uhhhh..." he said, and fluttered his eyelids, then opened them wide and blinked.

"Eddie?" She knelt down and bent over him. "Don't try to get up. You're tied down."

"Mmm...mmm..."

"Are you awake? Are you all right?"

Jack knelt down beside Sheila. He turned his head and shouted, "Emile! He's awake!"

Emile came over in a hurry. He knelt on the other side, put his face close to Eddie's, and said, "How do you feel, Eddie?"

"I dunno," he said, then swallowed, and said, "I don't know. Where am I?"

"You're a few kilometers from the gold mine," Emile said. "Do you know why you're here?"

"Uh..." He hesitated, tried to raise his tied-down arms, then said, "Uh, no. I can't think of anything. My head hurts...uh, why am I tied down?"

Emile looked at Sheila, then shook his head.

#

Doctor Ungala, a small man, pale, old, and wrinkled, said, "Nothing is wrong with his head."

The three of them stood in the hospital. Sheila remembered it well, from her recovery. Doctor Ungala turned to the other man. "Mister Williams," he said, "he's healed. Regained some of the lost weight. He can go out to the dig."

Williams stood large and tall. He seemed about Doctor Ungala's age, but in better shape. Darker hair, darker skin. Larger. He wore the standard cloth loincloth but also wore, besides his ID medallion, another gold badge strung on a loose gold chain. The man in charge of the mine and the camp. He carried himself like a man in charge.

Both of them, Sheila knew, had all their memories.

"Send him out, then," Williams said.

"And he still remembers nothing?" Sheila asked.

"We asked him all the standard questions," Doctor Ungala said. "He's accepted the name Eddie, but his memory begins when he woke up. Standard, routine." He shrugged. "I can't account for his mental state when he ran off. He's normal now."

"Blessed are those that forget?" Sheila asked.

Doctor Ungala gave her a hard look.

Williams said, "I'm sure Katie's blow had nothing to do with his memory loss. It's the sickness."

Sheila looked into the distance. The three of them stood on a near-balcony outside one of the mouths of the caves where the hospital lay. She switched to a loincloth on reaching camp. Cool and comfortable. Below, she could look out and see the farms and gardens that fed them, and, beyond that on one side, the edge of the big open pit of the mine.

Long ago, it seemed, Williams brought her out to this balcony after her recovery and asked her to be the new schoolteacher. She started after they got back and put Eddie in the hospital---no building or cave, just an overhang around the corner, with some shadow and coolness but with some light. Just enough time to get to know her charges.

She and Katie moved into the small cave next to the school. Katie stayed calm; Eddie frightened her and it still showed.

Sheila said, "He knows his name is Eddie."

"He accepted the name," Doctor Ungala said. He clicked his tongue against his mouth roof, then said, "He answers to it. You used it when he came in." After that, when Sheila did not speak, he said, "If you'll excuse me." He nodded to Williams, then Sheila, then went inside.

Williams said, "I must attend to things, too. A group of twelve just arrived. I must interview them before they take sick and lose their memories. But I can spare a moment."

Sheila turned away from the view, to Williams. Williams said, "You're still upset that Eddie doesn't remember you. Remember, it's normal to forget. Friends become enemies, enemies become friends. And loving couples are reduced to total strangers."

"But they forget," Sheila said. "I remember." She sighed. "So what do I do now?"

"It's up to you. You can talk to Eddie. You can tell him everything, if you want. Or you can tell him nothing. You spoke to him?"

"A little, on the trail back. But not since." Sheila hesitated, then said, "Mister Williams, what would you do?"

"Me?" Williams shrugged. "I was with a group of soldiers. When they lost their memories, and I didn't, I told them---but it didn't mean anything. People are different on the other side of the memory gap. I'd keep quiet."

"Oh."

"But I'm not telling you to do that. You could tell him. You and Eddie could become lovers again---" He shrugged again. "Don't count on it." He sighed, seemed to relax, and said, "I've got to go. And thanks for taking Katie in hand. She needs it."

Sheila looked puzzled as Williams left. She watched him head down the path along the rock edge. She looked out again. At one edge of the farms, she could see the start of the jungle. "Where to?" she asked herself.

"You could stay with me," came a voice from within the cave. Sheila turned, as Katie came into the light.

Sheila grimaced and said, "Katie! How long were you listening?"

"Long enough. I heard what Mister Williams said." Katie looked solemn---she stayed solemn, all the way back from capturing Eddie, not saying much at all. "I don't mind you living with me."

"And about the rest of it?"

Katie shrugged. "I dunno."

Sheila stepped forward and took Katie's hands in hers. She put as warm a smile on her face as she could. She felt good about Katie. "I think we can make something of this."

Katie smiled, and said, "What about your boyfriend?"

"Blessed are those that forget," Sheila said.

Katie shook her head. "A lot of people think that. But it's the other way round. Blessed are those that remember. You, me, Williams, some others, we remember." She hesitated, then said, "What are you going to do?"

Sheila let her smile fall from her face, and let Katie's hands fall from hers. She turned away. "I don't know."

#

Days and nights must have passed, but not many. The sun remained on the horizon, moving a little along. Several new groups came in, forgot, were dealt with.

Sheila walked out into the garden, headed along a path back to the caves. She passed a party of miners, led by a man she didn't know, who wore an armband.

Eddie marched among the rank-and-file. He marched in step with the others, a steel pole over his shoulder.

Sheila stopped and looked at him. Eddie noticed her attention, and looked at the group leader. The man nodded. Eddie nodded back, and broke out of the ranks and came over. "You're from the party that brought me in," he said. "I, ah, don't think I caught your name."

"It's Sheila," she said. "Call me Sheila. You're Eddie."

He grinned at her. The grin looked much the same. He seemed so like the old Eddie...but, somehow, different...not the same. She hesitated, then said, "We knew each other before. We were friends."

"Friends?" Eddie's grin faded. "You know, I try to remember, but nothing comes."

"I know. Blessed are those that forget...but blessed are those that remember, too. Would you like to be friends again?"

Eddie grinned again. "Sure. I'd like that."

Sheila smiled back at him and glanced at the sun. Was it afternoon or morning?

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