Memory Is an Uncontrollable Thing
“All I’m saying…”
“Shut up, Cal,” Mick told him.
“All I’m saying is that I asked.”
“For fuck’s sake.”
“I asked, both of you, a bunch of times.”
“It was an accident, you asshole.” Mick sounded resigned to hearing the rant, though, which was good, because Cal was going to give him the rant.
“You are being kind of an asshole,” Sully added, and Cal glared at him.
“You’re supposed to be on my side,” he told Sully.
Sully shrugged. “What are you going to do, fire me?”
“I might,” Cal threatened.
“Nah, first of all I’d take off with a quarter of your stuff if you did,” Sully grinned at him, hefting the pack they’d given him to carry. “And second, Mick and Wes like me better than they like you.”
“It’s true,” Wes confirmed.
“I dislike you both equally,” Mick disagreed, shaking his head. “I like Wes the best.”
“But at the moment, Cal is being the most annoying, so I’m on Sully’s side here.”
“Treason, high treason everywhere.” Cal sighed to himself. “You should go back to just hating Sully for no reason.”
“That got tiring.”
“I knew you’d warm up to me eventually,” Sully muttered.
“Don’t push your luck.”
“Anyway,” Cal said, bringing them back around to the main point. “I asked you like four times if we’d packed everything. Four times and yet somehow, you forgot the fishing twine—which was in the bag already, how did you even do that?”
“Must have happened on one of the four times you made us take everything out to make sure it was there,” Wes told him in a rumble. “It’s just some twine. We can get more and you don’t even like fish.”
“That’s not the point,” Cal told him.
“There’s a point?” Sully didn’t have to sound so surprised about that. He was fitting in really well with the team and at that moment, Cal wished he wasn’t.
“No, there isn’t,” Mick told him. “Cal’s just annoying.”
“The point is that you should listen when I talk.”
“If there was a point, it would definitely not be that.”
“I’m always right,” Cal protested.
“People who say they’re always right usually aren’t,” Sully observed. “If they were, they wouldn’t have to remind people of it all the time.”
While the other two snickered at him, Cal turned another glare on Sully. “Listen, you ungrateful…”
“What’s that there?” Sully asked, pointing over Cal’s shoulder.
“I’m not falling for that.”
“No, seriously.” Sully sounded really serious, and was peering around Cal to try and get a better look.
Still not convinced that Sully wasn’t trying to make him look like an idiot, Cal just cast a quick glance in that direction.
And he saw the gravestones.
“Huh.” There were eleven of them in two even rows, moss-covered and mostly sunken into the ground. The area they were travelling through right now was lightly wooded and they’d veered off of the path yesterday. Probably nobody had been through this particular strand of trees in a long time.
Which Cal could easily believe, given that the gravestones looked ancient.
“They’ve been here for a while,” Mick commented, as they approached the gravestones.
“Yeah, no kidding.” Cal knelt in front of one, rubbed some of the moss from it. The stones were uneven, not cut.
“There’s no inscription,” Mick said, looking with Cal. “The weather saw to that, probably a long time ago.”
“There was never an inscription,” Cal muttered, running his hand along the edges of the stone. “These rocks were just what was lying around at the time.”
“How do you know that?” Sully asked, his footsteps light on the grass.
“He didn’t know who they were, but he had to bury them.” Cal didn’t break his study of the gravestone. “That’s what you do when someone dies. It’s the right thing to do.”
“Cal.” Wes’s hand fell on Cal’s shoulder. “It was a long time ago.” There was a tone of worry in his voice, a tone of pleading maybe.
“Even when you’re the one who killed them,” Cal said, hearing Wes but also hearing screams. “Even when you’re the one who killed them, you’re supposed to bury someone who’s died.” His hands, covered in dirt and blood. Two things he’d been supposed to do.
“Cal…” Mick knelt beside him now, voice soft.
“I remember them,” Cal whispered. He could see their faces, hear them crying. Begging. Six adults, three children and three who’d been just in between. One, a girl, had managed to run away, to get away. “I remember them.”
“You didn’t kill them, Cal.” Now Mick’s tone was firm.
“What the fuck’s going on?” Sully demanded from behind them. “Is he okay?”
Cal closed his eyes, looked away from the gravestones. “I put these here,” he said, clenching his hands into fists. “I dug the holes, and I found these stones and I stood them here, because I…because he had to bury them, even though he’d killed them.”
Nathen. That was what the old lady had called Cal. Mick was right, Cal hadn’t killed these people. But Nathen had, he was sure of it.
“Cal, we’re going to go,” Wes told him, and he and Mick helped Cal stand.
“I’m okay,” Cal promised, letting them lead him away from the gravestones. “I’m okay, I’m here. I’m still me. I just…I remember. I remember doing it. I don’t remember why, but I remember killing them. One of them was just a baby.” He’d killed the baby last so the parents wouldn’t have to watch it happen.
“Is somebody going to tell me what the fuck’s happening?”
“Cal has…” Mick hesitated. “Memories. The working theory is that they’re left over from another life. Reincarnation. I’m not sure I buy it, but it’s the most plausible theory we have at the moment.”
“Fuck.” Sully crossed his arms, glanced at the gravestones. “And he’s the one who killed all those people? A long-ass time ago, you mean?”
“No.” Cal shook his head. “It wasn’t me. It was him, it was…I think his name was Nathen.” It was a distressingly familiar name to him. “He did it. Not me. We’re not the same person.”
“Exactly,” Wes rumbled. “Even if the reincarnation thing is true, you’re not him, Cal.”
Cal nodded. And he turned back to the gravestones.
“That’s not a good idea, Cal.”
“It’s okay, just give me a second.” Cal took in a long breath, approached the graves and knelt again. “I’m sorry,” he said to them, to the rocks. “I’m sorry that you died, especially like that.” He’d killed the adults first, the children had had to watch. He’d decided that was a greater mercy than making parents watch their children die. “But I’m not going to apologize for killing you. Because it wasn’t me who did it. I’m sorry that you’re dead but it’s not my fault.”
And he stood up, turned away from the stones. Wiping his eyes, Cal said. “Let’s go.”
The three of them followed him, silent until they were well away. “You okay?” Wes ventured after they were.
Cal nodded. “They were a family. Two brothers and a sister, their wives and husband. Their kids. The youngest was just a baby.”
“Why’d he kill them?” Sully asked, quiet.
“I don’t know.” Cal shook his head. “I don’t understand him.”
“It’s probably better that way,” Mick said, putting his hand on the small of Cal’s back. “You’re better off not worrying about why he did what he did. You’re not like him anyway—you’re not going to randomly start killing people, Cal.”
“I know.” What worried Cal was that he didn’t think Nathen had randomly started killing people either, at least not in his own estimation. “He was a terrible person. I’m glad he’s dead.”
“So am I,” Wes told him, hand on Cal’s shoulder. “It let the world have a much better person.”
“Thanks.” Cal hoped that was true.
“Are you…” Sully was hesitant. “Are you okay, Cal?”
Cal nodded, putting on a smile. “I’m fine now. I’d be better if I had fishing twine.”
“Oh, shut up,” Mick huffed. “It wasn’t our fault.”
“Accidents happen,” Cal agreed, mind feeling less heavy the farther away he got from Nathen’s makeshift graveyard. He let out a long sigh. “There were twelve of them,” he said, not sure why. “One of them got away. He didn’t get all of them.”
“Good,” Wes told him.
“Yeah, it is good,” Cal agreed, and he took comfort in it, just like he took comfort in Wes and Mick’s hands on him, and in how close they stayed to him the rest of the day.