Buck screamed weakly in agony as he lifted his throbbing head from the wet ground, feeling cold mud sticking to his face and body and the hard rain smattering on his back. He didn't know where he was, or even why. He just knew he was laying in the ground below a slippery hill. The rain was merciless and cold, his shirt and trousers all but soaked. He also knew pretty soon his head was aching worse than it had ever ached before, pounding like a thousand hammers. He was dizzy and nauseous, the world swirling violently around his shivering body where it remained motionless on the ground. He felt the taste of blood in his mouth, and swallowing he realized he couldn't have done that in quite awhile, since his mouth was dry as the desert and there seemed to be a lump in his throat he couldn't get rid of. He moaned unwillingly as he moved his head again, trying to identify the terrain he was in. Looking around he saw nothing he recognized, and allowing his head back down on the ground felt like a blessing. He closed his eyes, immediately seeing weird images flash before them. He wanted to rest for just a minute and never noticed how he lost consciousness.
Kathleen Cross sighed deeply, looking out the window only to see the rain pour down over the already drenched land. She let her hand fall over her rounded belly, where her first child was growing since five months back. She looked down on her wedding ring, sighing again at the memory of the fight with her husband only four days ago. They had never fought like that, and looking back at that day she could barely even recall what the fight was about. She only knew her husband had rushed out of the house, furious over the way she had blamed him for things. Trivial things. Like why the barn wasn't finished yet when he had promised to have it done months ago, and why he had bought more horses than she believed he had time for. She had said he should think more of her and their baby, and not commit himself one hundred percent to the homestead. Since her pregnancy she had become very emotional about things, and whenever he wasn't with her she found herself growing angry at him. Now she would do anything to see him again.
He had saddled up a horse and just kicked it into action, not even looking back as he went. That was four days ago, and he still wasn't back, nor had he informed anyone of his whereabouts. She hated him for it, but thinking about him made her sigh in love for him, and it brought tears to her eyes wondering where he was. It had rained ever since he left, and somehow she felt it was her punishment for scolding him like that.
"Buck, won't you please come back…" she whispered to the silence in the room, sighing again as she searched the horizon for any signs of her husband.
But the rain made it near impossible to see anything at all, let alone a rider. She sank back onto the chair she had been sitting on, drifting off to a troubled sleep moments later.
He looked around. He was in a room, a small room, in a rather big bed with quilt covers warming his body. He was stiff and sore all over and he felt feverish and his head was still throbbing, but he was more eager to find out where he was than to end his pain. He noticed a crucifix above the bed, which he lay for some time admiring. It was delicately carved from a piece of wood, but it didn't look professionally made. As he lay there he realized he couldn't remember when he had last seen a crucifix. A cold shiver went down his spine when he found himself wondering if he had ever seen one. Still he knew it was a crucifix, so he thought he must have seen one before. But he didn't remember. His eyes closed and his body stiffened. He didn't remember. Not one single thing about himself. He tried to grasp a single thread of recognition about himself, but there was nothing. As if his mind had been replaced by a newborn. He opened his eyes when he heard a noise.
"Ah, I see my guest has awakened!" a man in his later fifties spoke warmly, smiling a wide smile as he approached the bed.
He stared at him for a moment before he could find his voice.
"Who're you? Where am I?" he asked, his eyes looking over the man who was quite obviously a priest of some sort.
"I'm Father Ballard, and you are in the house of God," he spoke and let his hands describe in the air the building he spoke of.
"This is a church? Where?" the confused young man demanded to know, his eyes still opened wide and staring at the Father.
"In the small town called Memory," the man answered as if it was obvious to anyone.
"Memory? I've never heard of it…" he was growing scared and impatient.
"Who am I?!" he cried.
"Don't you remember, child?" Father Ballard asked with concern crossing his old wrinkly face. He sat down on the chair beside the bed.
"No… I don't know who I am…" He spoke the sentences aloud, shaking his head.
"This can't be happening… Who am I…?"
"Well, you're a child of God," Father Ballard spoke, again sounding as if it was the most obvious thing in the whole world.
"You wore a gold cross around your neck when I found you. Here, I have it in this box," the man spoke and reached for a wooden box on the bedside table. He opened it and took out a golden cross on a chain. He handed it to his guest who hesitantly accepted it, his brow furrowing in confusion and frustration.
"I don't even recognize it!" he cried suddenly.
"You hit your head bad, my child. But God was merciful and he gave you back your strength."
He looked worriedly at the Father, holding the cross loosely in his hand.
"I don't feel very strong," he nearly whispered.
"But you will my child! Now, do you remember your name?"
"No… No, I don't have a clue," he said, amazed at how much calmer he felt in the presence of this man.
"That's quite alright," Father Ballard said and thought for a moment.
"In time I know the good Lord will see to that you remember. Are you hungry, my child?" he asked to change the subject.
"A little…" he admitted.
"Then I will get you something, but first we must give you a name. Just so I'll know what to call you before you get your memory back. Do you have any suggestions, my child?"
"Then we'll just call you…" Father Ballard thought for a moment. "Nathaniel! If that's alright, of course?"
"Better than nothing. But it doesn't ring any bells, I'm pretty sure that's not my real name," the man who was now Nathaniel said thoughtfully.
"Then I'm sure it won't be long before you are sure of even more! Now, I have soup on the stove and bread in the oven. I'll be right back!"
Nathaniel nodded and watched the man leave the room. He heard the noises of an old man climbing wooden stairs, which to Nathaniel seemed strange. If this man's kitchen was upstairs, then was he in a basement? Little did he know that it would be a whole week until he found out for sure.
Lou walked up to Kathleen who stood in her kitchen at the station in Sweetwater, looking out at the rainy land through the window. Kathleen had been crying and blaming herself for days now, and Lou thought it best if she wasn't left alone at the homestead where she and Buck lived. So she had moved into her and Kid's house at the station until Buck came back.
"I'm sure he'll be back soon. How could he not?" Lou spoke calmly, placing her arms around her best friend in a careful hug of support.
"Because I hurt him!" Kathleen cried, her voice teary.
"I said all these things I didn't mean and he was so angry!"
"What did you say to make him that angry?" Lou asked, taking a step back only to see the tears running down her friend's face.
"I blamed him for everything! I've been so emotional since I got pregnant, but I had no right to blame him like that… I know he tries so hard for us…"
"He'll come around, I know him. He can't stay mad for long, trust me. Now, I bet he's out there trying to figure out a way to apologize! He'll be back before you know it," Lou promised.
"I just got this feeling, Lou. Something tells me he's in trouble."
"Okay, I'll tell you what. If he's not back this time tomorrow, I'll have Kid ride out after him. How's that?" Lou asked, realizing she was failing miserably when she tried to comfort her friend.
"But this isn't Kid's fault. I should go out and look."
"Don't you dare to even think like that!" Lou spat.
"You can't go out, you're carrying a baby!"
"This would never have happened if this baby didn't exist," Kathleen spoke monotony, her head hanging as she wiped at the tears.
"Katie, Buck loves you no matter what, and even if you blamed him for something that upset him, that won't make him stop loving you! And the baby, that's a part of both of you!" Lou tried desperately to talk some sense into her friend.
"I know!" Kathleen cried, sighing hopelessly.
"But ever since this child came to our knowledge we've been arguing. All the time!"
"Maybe arguing ain't so bad, at least you're talking…!" Lou smiled, luring out a smile onto Kathleen's lips as well.
"It's gonna be alright, you'll see," she promised and hugged her tightly again, relieved that Kathleen didn't cry this time.
Nathaniel had been recuperating for almost a week and was feeling much better. His head still hurt every now and then, but he could tolerate it and he was getting stronger every day. He was still confused whenever he was left to himself, trying to remember something about his past, but he was also getting rather attached to the name he had been given. But on the seventh day since he woke out of his coma, he was determined to get out of bed and take a look around the church. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and felt the stone floor under his bare feet. His clothes hung on the chair by the bed, and reaching out a shaky hand he grabbed them and sat while he got dressed. He looked around in the room before finally standing, using the bedpost to support himself. As he stood up straight he noticed the low ceiling nearly touched the top of his scalp, which was something he hadn't thought of before. Father Ballard was a short man.
During the days since his recovery the older man had taken good care of him. He sometimes heard footsteps above his head, but he never came around to ask the Father about it. But he was getting more and more certain that he was in a basement. But now he wanted to see for himself.
He stood finally without support from any furniture and took a few heavy, uncontrolled and swaying steps toward the door. Turning the doorknob he hobbled out in a narrow hallway, with a so low ceiling that he had to bend down to not hurt his head. The walls were stone, just like the floor. Looked almost like he was in a cave of sorts, he thought. He found a narrow, wooden staircase only a few paces down the hall, which he carefully climbed. His body was already exhausted, and looking down he wondered how he would ever get back down. It sure was a steep staircase.
When he finally came up he found himself in one of the back rooms of the church. There were crucifixes and lanterns on the wall, almost like a collection, and there were several shovels and pitchforks leaning against the wall. There were also a lot of boxes and drawers there, but he was too curious to find out where exactly he was to start going through their contents. There were two doors, one right under a small window and the other on the opposite wall. He figured the first door lead outside, since there was bright sunlight streaming inside the room through the window. He decided he would try the second door.
He opened it hesitantly, wondering what was on the other side. The first thing he saw was the alter and the aisle of the church. Countless bench rows were on both sides of the building, and they all faced the alter and the wall behind it, where a big painting hung. In the picture a man had been nailed to a cross. People stood below him, but he was the only man that had a big halo over his head. Nathaniel knew this was Jesus Christ crucified, but he didn't know how he knew that. He just did.
Before he had time to walk another step he heard Father Ballard's voice calling for him.
Nathaniel's head snapped in the direction of the sound, which was coming from above him. He looked up and realized he was standing under a staircase which lead to a podium, up in a tower by the wall.
"Nathaniel, what are you doing up here?" Father Ballard asked with concern and began descending the stairs.
"I was just curious that's all, Father," Nathaniel promised.
"Are you feeling better then, my child?" Father Ballard asked as he finally came down on the floor.
"Yes, I sure am, Father. Thanks to you."
"Now, don't thank me, Nathaniel. It is my plight to help they who need me," the Father said as he stalked over to the alter.
"There are not many of those here in Memory, though. You're the first in years."
"Have you lived here long, Father?" Nathaniel asked curiously and followed him across the slippery stone floor.
"I was born here. But back then Memory barely existed. You'll know what I mean when you follow me into town some day."
"Today?" Nathaniel asked hopefully.
"You sure are curious, aren't you, Nathaniel?" Father Ballard chuckled.
"No, not today, you still need to rest some. You should be in bed, my child," he said and looked Nathaniel straight in the eyes.
"I am feeling pretty tired," Nathaniel admitted, heading for the door he had walked in through.
"Get some rest, Nathaniel, and when you feel better you can help me prepare for tomorrow's service."
Nathaniel nodded and walked out into the back room again, finding the steep stairs leading down to the basement. When he finally reached his room again, he was so tired he didn't even remove his clothes before he fell headlong on the bed and drifted off to sleep. In his dream he remembered everything about his past, but it all seemed so strange. He was a Pony Express rider and lived with a bunch of orphans at a post station outside a smaller town called Rock Creek. Even in his dream he knew it was nonsense.
The following day begun with an early morning church service. Nathaniel watched the many faces of the townspeople, who looked just as curiously at him, and he tried to be as polite as he could. He nodded at all of them and kept a smile pasted on his face. As Father Ballard began to speak he seated himself in the back of the church, just watching and listening. Somewhere in him he knew his real self was not used to this, though many words and phrases sounded familiar. He was suddenly jerked from his thoughts when he noticed everyone turned and looked at him with curious faces.
"Nathaniel, why don't you come up here so we can all see you properly?" the Father asked kindly, and without hesitating Nathaniel rose and walked confidently down the aisle.
When he reached the alter where the Father stood, he turned and faced the townspeople. Some were smiling, some just glancing at him curiously.
"This is Nathaniel, the faithful child God took mercy on and brought to us. Welcome, Nathaniel," Father Ballard spoke and handed him a chalice filled with the sacramental wine.
Nathaniel let the deep red drink flow down his throat and then looked up at the Father.
"Welcome to Memory, Nathaniel," Father Ballard spoke when he took back the chalice.
"Thank you, Father," Nathaniel replied.
"Welcome to Memory, Nathaniel!" a woman said, rising from her seat. More people rose with her, repeating the same phrase. Nathaniel couldn't help but feel unused to this too. It felt so strange, having so many people, people he didn't know, welcoming him so warmly. It was like in a fairy tale.
"Nathaniel, in Memory you are never alone. And in Memory you are never an outsider. Welcome," Father Ballard spoke again and gestured him to sit on the front row.
Nathaniel walked down from the alter and sat himself between a younger woman and a man he had heard from the Father was the undertaker. The rest of the service he sat pondering the welcome he had received. Why did it feel so wrong?
On to Chapter Three