Dreams were, of course, not proof. For proof, one disastrous day will suffice, though every day after that point has been… reinforcement, I should say. It’s just that this particular day will always stick with me, echoing in my brain with all the horror of lifelong, inescapable humiliation. Would that it was so simple, almost benign as having the wrong clothes for an old man or a child—not that it was an infrequent occurrence for me after this point, but we’re talking about something that involves the greatest kryptonite known to man.
Not just any woman, of course. The one I’d been in love with for like, ever, the one with the locker next to mine who never knew that I was, in fact, a living, breathing person. It was fitting, I suppose, running into her like I did, thinking the perfect opportunity had just fallen into my lap. I could finally talk to her without all those jocks around, make her see me for a change.
Oh, she saw me all right…
Clayton had woken up feeling kind of weird that morning. Not much different from usual. He figured the strange twitch in his fingers was a sign of caffeine withdrawal, and so instead of really worrying about it, he decided that he’d go and get some coffee at the local shop right by his apartment. It was a decent place, in some ways better than any chain could hope to be, and in other ways, so much worse. Local places sometimes gave discounts, punch cards that larger ones didn’t do. That was nice. But when they stuck that punch card on the wall way above his head so that using it was impossible unless the even shorter barista went and got a ladder to get it down and then consistently put it back there even when he’d expressed interest in keeping it himself or finding a new place to store it, it became more of a hassle to use than it was worth. Then when they’d ask him if he had a card, he had stopped saying yes, tried saying no only to have them give him a new one and stick it where the old one was after combining the punches.
He shook his head, not wanting to deal with that at all today. He ordered his usual, this time not getting recognized by the girl that usually gave him a hard time for always drinking the same thing, and he frowned a little, but then he caught sight of her.
Her. That picturesque beauty that deserved Greek statues and odes and sonnets and all those things. He would have done them; he supposed; he was that desperately in love with her. What were the odds that she would walk in here, that he would see her, now, of all times?
He took a deep breath. He had to do it. Once and for all. He’d show her that he wasn’t just that kid in the back of the classroom, the one that was always late because he let her do everything she needed at her locker, blocking his, even fixing her makeup and that gorgeous long blond hair of hers.
“Cailey? Cailey Iveson?”
“Yes,” she said, smiling warmly. “Do I… know you?”
“Well, I don’t think you would remember me, but I’m Clayton. Clayton Moore? I had the locker next to you for three years in high school?”
“Really?” she asked, shaking her head. “Sorry, I don’t remember that. At all.”
It figured. He started to say something else, but then the twitch got worse, and he dropped his coffee. He must have looked like he was having a seizure or something—maybe he’d gotten electric shock—but whatever it was, he fell to the ground, moaning. He put a hand to his head, and his fingers found… nothing. Well, no, his head was still there, but he was missing something important. His hair. He was bald. How had that happened?
“Are you… sick? You can’t possibly have gone to school with me. Ew. You’re like… a complete creeper. What are you, fifty? Sixty? And bald. Ew.”
Clayton frowned again. He was covered in hot coffee, he felt sick, and he had the distinct feeling that he was seeing Cailey for the very first time. She was nothing like he’d thought. Ever. He started to get up, and she dumped her iced coffee on him. “Don’t even think about following me, you creep. I don’t know what’s wrong with you, and I don’t want to know. I don’t care. You are not coming anywhere near me again.”
“I didn’t…” Clay began, trying to mop up his clothes. He stopped when he saw the spots on the back of his hand. He didn’t have freckles, not that big of ones, at least. He didn’t—he couldn’t—were those liver spots? He threw away the napkin and moved over to the shop’s bathroom, locking the door behind him as he studied the mirror. He looked old. Very old. Like he’d aged decades in seconds. No. Impossible.
He splashed water on his face. He wanted to look like himself. He wanted to be… normal. He didn’t understand. What had happened to him? Spontaneous memory loss? Had he confused everything in his head? He thought he was younger than he was? That made the most sense, unless he could spontaneously shift ages—but no one could do that. He couldn’t do that. He must actually be an old man with something like dementia or Alzheimer’s, and he had seen a girl that he thought that he knew. That was it.
That was the only thing that made sense.
Only… he couldn’t remember any other details of his life. This… sucked.
“There he is, officer, the pervert,” Cailey—or not Cailey, whoever she really was—said, pointing to Clay as he walked out of the bathroom. He had spent the best part of the last ten minutes trying to clean himself up and make a decision about what to do next. He was under the impression that he still had that same apartment near the coffee shop—though that didn’t hardly seem possible—so he didn’t even have an address to go to. He just thought he’d sit in the park until the police found him or he remembered something.
Well, the police had found him, all right.
“I’m not… I was confused, that’s all,” he began, shaking his head. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t… I mistook her for someone else.”
“You called me by name,” she insisted. “He did. Ask anyone. They know that he did. He is not confused. He’s just sick. You should have seen that fake fit he had. He pretended to be sick so that I wouldn’t see he was a creeper.”
“I’m not a creeper,” Clay insisted tiredly. “I don’t understand what’s going on. I must be… lost or something. I’ll go with you. Quietly.”
The last thing Clay wanted was a problem. He figured they’d have pity on him once he told them what happened—anyone would probably lock him away once they heard the whole thinking he was twenty one minute and discovering that he was not a second later. With some kind of illness involved, too. He didn’t know what was going on, but he knew he needed to figure it out.
“Come with us,” the officer said, taking hold of Clay’s arm. They marched him right past the doors of the coffee shop and out to the police cruiser outside. He sat down in the back, as ordered, shaking his head. He didn’t understand. Why was this happening?
He held his hands out in front of him, and suddenly one of the officers snapped his cuffs over Clay’s wrists. He looked up in surprise. “What? I didn’t do anything.”
“It’s just a precaution, that’s all.”
“But… I got in the car willingly. I came with you willingly. Why do I have to be cuffed now?” Clay asked as they got in front, calling in their collar. He shook his head. He was just a confused old man who’d gotten very, very lost, but he was harmless. He hadn’t done anything to the girl, just repulsed her, apparently, and that wasn’t something he deserved this kind of humiliation and punishment for.
Granted, if they really thought he was some kind of… deviant, maybe they were just being overly cautious. Still, it wasn’t like he could do anything back here. There was a glass shield between him and them. He couldn’t get to them. Couldn’t hurt them. He lowered his head with a sigh.
For a minute, he started to think about how he wanted all of this to go back to normal, but then he quickly remembered that he didn’t know for sure what “normal” was. Was he an old man or was he twenty years old? Was he going crazy?
If his hands were smaller, he could slip right out of the cuffs. Just like that, they’d fall off his little hands, and he’d be free. Not that it would help—the doors on the back of the police car wouldn’t open for him.
He heard metal jingle, and when he looked down, the cuffs were on the floor. They’d fallen off. Wait, where were his feet? The cuffs should be right next to—oh, no. No—how had he done that? How could he possibly be a little kid now? He didn’t understand.
He had to be going crazy. That was the only explanation for it.