Adrift in Amnesia

Adrift in Amnesia is the debut novel by the artist and writer, Christopher Sharp.  It fuses gritty realism and folklore amid a tragic love story involving a working-class boy, who takes a magical journey with a wizard and challenges the demon tormenting his mother.  Molly is haunted by the death of Jacob’s father, a traumatic accident of which she too was a victim and yet she carries the burden of guilt.  Being gradually weighed down over the years by PTSD and severe depression leads to a near-fatal suicide attempt under the dilapidated pier of Chelmswood.  Molly is sectioned and Jacob is sent to live with his only remaining grandparent in the small village of St. Mary’s on Dartmoor.  After standing up to bullies picking on a girl from his class, he is rescued by an older pupil, Holly.  The mysterious letter she gives him sends him on a fantastic voyage!  During his journey, he realises a sense of inner courage and becomes part of saving a magical world from its own threats to destroy it from within….

For centuries, the magical world of Cabras has been secretly observing and visiting our planet, via a thaumaturgic passageway known as the ‘Mysterium Vortex.’  A utopian land that lies across the distant stars at the heart of the Aurea Spiralis, which has long established a peaceful unity through the aid and ancient wisdom of its many dragons.  It is a place that desperately hopes to help Earth achieve a similar state of harmony.  Their watchful eyes send messages to a select few holding the virtues of honesty, creativity and love deep in their souls to embark on a journey of profound self-discovery.  However, all is not what it seems and the Professor and the Oracle are concerned about a threat to destroy the unity of their beautiful world from within.  As the demon captures his mother, a young boy would find himself entering the Cave with a mysterious companion, who together become destined to face their fears.  From being stuck in the drab existence of a rundown coastal town, Molly and Jacob would soon see their fates entwined with a spiritual calling from beyond the constellations.

 

Adrift in Amnesia

© Copyright Christopher Sharp 2021.  All rights reserved.

Paperback and Kindle editions available to purchase here.

A video reading from the opening pages of chapter one can be found here.

Video readings of poems that open chapters 3 & 5 can be found here and here.

 

Chapter One: Aurea Spiralis (extract)

The Professor stood before the Board. Looking around the interior of Cabras’s lone, gothic-style castle located on the edge of the New Forest, generally used for meetings that included much of the wider community (important matters relating to voting, for example), he noticed, rather curiously, the main chamber was completely bare. All tables, chairs, ornaments and decorations had been removed, as if to somehow harness the vast empty space and channel into the imposing officialdom seated before him. Evidently, today’s meeting was different. The sun was setting over the distant mountains of Cabras-Nord, beneath which the Yanesh meandered its rippling shadows, among orchard covered hills via the New Forest towards Oceania. Shining through tall, arched windows behind the large hall, its light cast silhouettes stretching to infinity, bestowing a celestial air of authority. It was all unduly dramatic, but the Professor played along. ‘Urgent Meeting of Utmost Importance’ was the telegram he received, only a day previously, sent direct from the President, leaving him little time to rearrange his schedule accordingly. The Professor did not allow himself to be unsettled by this inconvenience, standing firm was of the essence to a shrewdly petty move by the upper echelons of the Board. He knew all of this was not necessary. They regularly spoke informally about other important matters, but this new task seemed to have a lot of people on edge, particularly those of high ranking. He suspected the tactics behind the setup and was not about to fall prey to intimidation. The Professor was a mild-mannered wizard, reaching one hundred and forty, whose face bore similar features to that of a man of African descent from Planet Earth: his long beard and dreadlocks only recently producing hints of grey. He was the wisest and greatest of all the wizards in Cabras and never had his selections called into question. Until now.

The hall’s negative space seemed to hang in an eternity away from the stern looks before him, as the Professor was reminded of his last meeting with the Oracle. She had contacted him in secret with regards to a troubling intuition that had been repeatedly presenting itself through the constellations above, interconnecting from deep within the inner spiral of Kana. It was all pointing to unsettling times and she was feeling suspicious it might have something to do with Cabras’s next assignment on Earth. When she heard news of the recent contact with the Firekyma and the Professor’s subsequent selection, she felt her Heart put at ease somewhat. Still, the ominous signs persisted, which were laying seeds of doubt as to who the Chosen One might be. There was much at stake and the Professor held true to his faith in the ancient wisdom, reassuring his mystical companion, who reasoned that she too would do well to have trust. The stars were enigmatic at the best of times and the Oracle knew it would be more prudent to concentrate on the positive indications and retain hope towards the unity remaining strong.

After their meeting in the Oracle’s palace high in the Arebas Mountains, they travelled together to the New Forest and the site of the Mysterium Vortex, through which they focused their attention on the subject of Cabras’s latest assignment. ‘What an awful place,’ expressed the stargazer empathetically, as she peered into windows of conflicted sorrow, ‘I hope there are no further delays, but I fear the Board may hold you up, Professor … to which events spiral past the point of no return.’

He turned to his ally, ‘I agree … although I’m worried the signs you read are closer than even the stars suggest. The Board are beginning to demonstrate the very behaviours we had come to fear … and I can sense an air of gamey partisanship all too familiar. This is also why I chose the wizard. It was not just for his potential to succeed me, but because he cannot be corrupted by such things. Of this, I am as sure as the sun rising and setting. I do not know why certain members of our community should be drawn to destructive myths … nor can I tell to what extent is their earnestness to blindly follow a trajectory into savagery and darkness … but we must remain confident in each other … we must believe that he will be the one to lead us in the fight against whatever challenge awaits us.’ The Professor glanced into the Vortex and onto the exact same picture of melancholy before finishing his sentence … ‘and them.’

Chapter Two: Chelmswood (extract)

‘It’s mostly grey and it mostly rains’ … so Jacob would say of his hometown situated along the coast in the southwest of England. A cold and blustery, February morning in 2001 saw it pouring down outside. Dark, looming clouds stretched ominously across the skyline, all the way from the Shiel estate on the inner part of Chelmswood to its overcast, drizzly shoreline. With a population of little more than 65, 000, it was not a particularly large town. The beach did not offer much to write home about: a lot of the seafront parade was boarded up with buildings decaying from sand erosion, while the old pier had long been condemned. Nevertheless, it attracted modest levels of low-budget tourism in the caravan parks during the peak holiday season. Families would flock to the seafront from various parts — predominantly the North — and make it their business to get their money’s worth.

Jacob had mixed feelings toward the summer months in Chelmswood. He loved not having to go to school, but was not too keen on venturing to crowded beaches populated by sunburnt, drunken tourists. Occasionally, the heat would simmer to a boil, as scuffles broke out amid a cluster of umbrellas and deck chairs sent flying in all directions: holidaymakers and locals — young and old — getting caught in the crossfire. Sunsets over the bay’s dunes, fairground rides and miniature golf courses saw a brief interlude before the town centre became awash with brawls in the streets, usually from late evening into the early morning hours — the latter being commonplace throughout the year. The spectre of inertia fiendishly proliferated a general sense of despondency, igniting considerable anger and physical confrontation between many young men. Yet it should be said not just among the males — it would not be uncommon to see women getting into the odd fight after too much wine and alcopops. Friday and Saturday nights typically saw the police with their hands full and paramedics never short of work.

Jacob dreamily fixed his gaze on the rain running down his windows with condensation blending into misty skies beyond. His attention was then drawn to a mild scuffling sound emanating from his desk and he saw that his hamster, Scruff, was up and about, helping himself to some breakfast from the bowl in his cage. He went to the toilet then brushed his teeth, the latter always being at the insistence of his mother, Molly, who would regularly check. Most of the children on the estate ate far too much sugar and many were losing teeth when barely out of their teens. Molly was keen for her son to keep his for rather longer than that. Jacob was a little goofy and ever so slightly podgy, though certainly not what you would call fat and he had a decent set of bright, white teeth. He was fair-haired and about average height for his age: eight.

The storm continued to batter the estate outside. Still feeling somewhat sleepy, Jacob slowly descended the stairs and entered the front room where his mum was speaking to a couple of policemen. There was a man outside the lounge window, or rather what was left of it, clearing away the shattered pane before nailing a temporary board to cover it up. Soaking wet shards were still noticeable on the carpet because the police had advised his mother not to touch it before they arrived; optimism inevitably thwarted among contours of evidence cracked and broken into splinters of futility.

Molly had been lying awake in her room when she heard an almighty crash downstairs. She jumped out of bed and grabbed the closest thing to a weapon she could find: her cordless hair dryer, which she hoped might pass for a gun to scare off any would-be burglars. Failing that, it was metal and quite robust so she figured it could do some damage doubling up as a pistol whip if required. Jacob was her main concern, but he appeared to still be fast asleep. She tiptoed along the corridor, past her son’s room and waited at the top of the stairs, ‘gun’ in hand, listening attentively to see if there was anybody in the house. The burglars in Chelmswood were not known for their subtlety and cunning, it was almost always a smash and grab operation. The TV she could handle losing. Regardless, she knew that Jacob would be upset at the loss of his Super Nintendo. Something she would not be able to replace anytime soon, currently struggling somewhat financially.

Creeping down the stairs, she heard a voice all too familiar, ‘Molly! Molly … are you in there, is everything okay?’ There was a knock at the door and she was relieved to see the friendly face of her neighbour, Takoda. Fortunately, nothing had been stolen although it was not the first time their window had been smashed by vandals. It was barely six months since a brick came flying into the front room. This time, it had been a beer bottle. It was 4am when she called the police, but it took a while for them to arrive (too busy dealing with drunken feuds in the town centre). Takoda had just finished closing his kebab shop for the night when he heard a piercing, anomalous sound of glass and popped round to check Molly and Jacob were okay. He made some tea and stayed with her until the police arrived a few hours later.

Chapter Three: Reading, 1991 (extract)

‘Confession,
abolition,
renewal,
uncertain processes
among dreams
lost
in perpetual night
waken
to a magnificent sunrise
over endless green fields.
The sound of the river
travels through distant forests,
shadows pointing
toward a road
facing mountains
reaching beyond the clouds.
Descending the vastness
of skies overlooking
great stillness amid
a palette of infinite
hues ever changing,
a light
pierces deep within
to unlock hidden doors
opening on new vistas.
Bright
in solitude
nestled between
wooded hills
beneath a chorus
of optimism
in full voice
among the trees,
reflections
of emptying
towards serenity
gaze upon
every colour;
if only for a moment
a brief,
beautiful moment,
walking eternal fields
in unison.’

James could not recall much about what happened and had no idea how he ended up in hospital. The doctors said he was lucky to be alive and asked if he had any family he could contact. He had overdosed previously, but never this serious and was unable to say for sure as to whether or not this was a botched suicide attempt. He had considered suicide many times; the thought of his parents the only thing stopping him. He realised continuing like this was no longer an option; getting clean was the only way out. ‘No,’ he replied, then turning to the doctor, ‘but I’d like some help getting off this shit.’ He was discharged from rehab in January, 1989 and placed in a B&B not far from Chelmswood’s main town centre.

The accommodation consisted of a single room complete with washbasin and a shared bathroom and toilet. The shower was more of a trickle and one had to be quick as the plughole was slightly blocked, causing the small cubicle to flood and overflow into the main bathroom if one took too long. As a result, it often stank of sewage. The landlord, Wayne Donaldson, was an ex-marine from Liverpool and although he got on with James quite well, he was hardly proactive when it came to fixing problems.

It was a different story when it came to collecting his rent, as a number of the B&B’s tenants were quick to find out — and in the most painful of ways! He would usually give them a ‘chance,’ as it were, in the form of an unambiguous warning of what was to follow if they failed to settle their arrears and quick. Most were wise enough not to mess around and coughed up pronto. Some, however, were either foolish enough to call his bluff, while others simply could not afford to pay because of debts already owed to local drug dealers, or because they had lost it all at the bookies. The B&B bore witness to such messy scenes on more than one occasion.

Nevertheless, rehab had felt like hell in comparison — the constant aches, pains, vomiting and hallucinations, dissolving through aeons staring into white walls that gave no indication of time. Heroin use had basically been a means of anaesthetising the millstone of severe depression, which had taken on a life of its own, sinking into the prison of addiction. James could not remember how he funded his habit much of the time, but he knew it was not always legal and for this he felt regret, in particular, when he stole from others to feed his burden. It made him think of his parents and how disappointed they would be. He was close to both of them as a child. Unfortunately, their relationship waned dramatically during his teens, notably with his father, Percy, as he got into more and more trouble at school.

From age thirteen onwards, James began suffering with insomnia and frequent panic attacks that caused him to be quite rebellious in class and consequently finding himself on the wrong side of authority. It was not immediately apparent what triggered this. Regardless, most of his teachers branded him as simply having an ‘attitude problem’ and much of his teen years were spent in detention, or in the corridors during lessons — sent out of the classroom for being too disruptive. He had in reality been suffering from a generalised anxiety disorder, which often expedited considerably distressing insights pertaining to the paradox of eternity and demarcation. Being only a teenager, it was very difficult for him to articulate the reasons behind his distress, as much as it was hard for him to understand the feelings of terror this perpetuated within — a sort of inner voidness, as if one was absent from oneself. As a result, school became much like everything else: totally meaningless.

Alongside being too young to in any way rationalise these experiences, he discovered that there was not a lot of help or support for people going through such problems. James felt utterly alone, caught in a vicious cycle of panic attacks that led to more and more trouble. A repetitive phase of rebelliousness in the classroom caused substantial conflict with his parents and, eventually, he abruptly left home during his O-levels after a huge argument with his father. To begin with, he sofa-surfed at friends’ houses in Exeter, later moving into a flat-share while attending college to retake his exams. His anxiety evolved into deep depression, which got progressively worse during this time and his continual cannabis use basically drew him to harder drugs. He dropped out of college. Unable to pay the rent for his room, he ended up on the streets. He subsequently lost contact with his mother, Cecilia, and did not speak to Percy at all between moving out and being discharged from rehab — almost four years.

The reunion with his parents was a rather emotional one to say the least. The fallout had been particularly trying on Cecilia, but James’ addiction had come to alienate even her. She did her best to tempt him home, to fix things and get help for his problems. This generally resulted in her being on the receiving end of a barrage of verbal abuse from him. His argumentative, victim-mentality had become virtually impossible to bear — albeit in the small moments when she spoke to him. Her troubled son would make sporadic contact every four weeks or so, usually when he thought Percy would not be at home and mainly to ask for money. Then, the phone calls suddenly stopped and Cecilia filed a missing person’s report and put some ‘Missing’ posters up in the local towns. Her heart increasingly sank upon the realisation that the world did not care about a homeless drug addict and she too felt she had abandoned him. James’ behaviour may have been intolerable at times, but he was still her son and she became desperate to find him.

For his part, Percy ultimately began to feel awful about his pig-headedness toward the situation and joined his wife in trying to locate James after communication had ceased. It was through an advert they placed in the Big Issue that a former addict who knew him and had heard of his recent hospital admission contacted them. Shortly after being discharged, James got in touch and they visited the B&B in Chelmswood. More than anything else, both parents felt relief at seeing him again. Percy looked his son in the eye, ‘I’m sorry, my boy, I’m so sorry.’ An embrace attained a moment where all was forgiven and forgotten: they were a family again, but sadly it was not to last. Five months after their reunion, his mother passed away due to a complication resulting from minor surgery. Both James and Percy had been by her bedside, ‘my beautiful son is back,’ Cecilia’s final words, upon which, with her gentle smile, she departed this world.

Her death had simultaneously devastated father and son, in turn bringing them closer. They honoured her memory by choosing to celebrate the final five months reunited as a family and James felt more determined than ever before to do her proud by staying clean — managing his anxiety and depression through a more meaningful occupation. He began his apprenticeship with Brian that would lead him to Molly and approximately two of the happiest years of his life were to follow.

Chapter Four: Breakdown (extract)

Sunday 11th February 2001 …

After Tony n’ Pip had gone, flashbacks of the crash led Molly not to sleep that night. For hours, she lay in her bed, gazing at the paling spiral above her, memories caught in a web. She gave up on the idea of drifting into unconsciousness around 4am and went downstairs. She switched on the TV and passively observed rolling news coverage – something about an election in the Middle East, which saw Ariel Sharon appointed as Israel’s president amid some of the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in years. Molly sat looking at the images of conflict on the screen, feeling numb towards all the bloodshed. Uncertain if it was because she had lost all empathy, or whether she was perversely relieved there should exist a place more disturbed than Chelmswood.

The TV facilitated a state of mild distraction, as time crawled into sunrise on a winter morning. She looked at the lounge window, still covered by the board put in yesterday, watching splinters of sunlight attempting to break through hairline gaps. It felt like the thoughts in her head. On the television could be heard Palestinians expressing dismay at the selection of a man who had led the massacre of Qibya, a Palestinian village, that left sixty-nine civilians dead; followed by the American president, George W. Bush, who congratulated Ariel Sharon’s election win with a brief phone call. ‘Will he call Qibya to offer his condolences?’ Molly wondered, as she heard movement upstairs, which sort of broke her out of a weary, trance-like feeling, as if only just remembering she had a son to get breakfast for and walk to school.

Jacob had slept like a log. A busy weekend visiting his granddad on Saturday, followed by Sunday afternoon on the beach had left him feeling rather tired. He awoke in good spirits. It was always fun visiting his grandfather and he had likewise thoroughly enjoyed spending time with uncle Tony building Castle Grayskull and while unsuccessfully trying to teach aunty Pippa the ins and outs of Super Mario Kart. He was not much looking forward to school, but had not seen his best friend for a couple of days and was keen to exercise some faster lap times in ‘Time Trial Mode,’ while racing together in ‘Battle Mode.’ He felt the need to play nice against his aunty and was feeling a little out of practice. Against Rafa, the gloves would come off!

Jacob got out of bed and put Scruff in the hamster ball before going to the bathroom to brush his teeth. From the bathroom he could hear gentle clacks, among brief interludes, as his furry friend busied himself touring the bedroom, hitting everything from bedposts to the skirting board. Jacob was careful to keep his door closed. He had forgotten to do this once and Scruff had gone hell for leather out of the room and ended up bouncing down the stairs. The ball had cracked open while rolling halfway down and Scruff was sent flying – almost somersaulting the rest of the way off each stair. Amazingly, he was fine, tough little critter was Scruff. Still, Jacob was mortified at what might have happened and was very careful to keep his energetic little pet well contained, for his own safety! He left his hamster to get some exercise and went downstairs for breakfast.

While brushing his teeth, his mother had mustered the energy to go to her room, get dressed and do what she could to look like she had not been sat up most of the night lifelessly observing images of war. She then went to the kitchen to make her son scrambled eggs before walking him to school. ‘Are you having anything, mum?’ ‘I’m ok,’ she replied, ‘I’ll make something when I get back. C’mon … eat up, or we’ll be late.’ Jacob was just finishing breakfast when there was a knock at the door. ‘Morning, Molly,’ greeted Akila, in her usual warm and friendly demeanour, accentuated by the beautiful tone of her voice (Molly always loved hearing her speak). ‘I have to rush Emel to an appointment and I was wondering if you could walk Rafa to school with Jacob?’ ‘Yes, of course,’ smiling while successfully feigning an upbeat manner to her neighbour, ‘come on in, Rafa, Jacob’s just finishing breakfast.’ As Rafa ran in to see his friend, Akila thanked Molly and headed towards the car with her daughter.

Walking to school, the boys joyfully exchanged stories of their weekend, interrupted briefly, as they passed a couple of mothers shouting angrily at their kids outside the local Costcutter: ‘Courtney! Courtney! Get ‘ere, you little cow! We’re gonna be late if you keep fuckin’ about! Shane, oi, Shane … grab that sister o’ yours! Some of their kids had the near-fatal temerity to answer back, which was duly met with some considerable fury: ‘shut-up, fuckin’ shut-up, fuckin’ kids! Get yer fuckin’ lazy asses off to school, Now! I said, NOW!’ Thus screams hailed on like a thunderous downpour, containing language with all the colours of a rainbow. Molly gently ushered the boys ahead, who were beginning to gawk at proceedings in mild amazement. ‘Don’t stare boys … they’ll start having a go at us too!’ She whispered with some urgency and they quickly turned away and carried on to school, irate shrieks cacophonously fading into the distance.

© Copyright 2021 Christopher Sharp.  All rights reserved.