The first time I saw one of the afflicted it was moving sadly along the docks, the grey water reflecting its silhouette, the old bricks its shadow. Port Authorities cleared people out of its way. If you were touched, the process of forgetting would begin. A maze of branches would weave across your face like bones, bark and paint and strange cloth would coalesce around you. You would glide like an ancient creaking statue on hidden wheels. Your eyes would become dark, blank and distant. You would seek out your family so they could remind you of who you are. You would seek them the way water flows downhill or roots invade the earth, not because any part of you remembered them.
To protect themselves, they try to confuse you and keep you away by focusing intently on small details in the world - a crowd of people in the streets muttering to themselves about the texture of gravel, the indigo of painted letters on a crumbling wall, the cracks in the pavement, all trying to eclipse themselves and disappear into the mundane concreteness of the here and now. To protect themselves, people begin to wear strange disguises. Boys in shops dressed in black, with skull masks of blackboard and chalk. A tiny girl on the handlebars of her dad's bike, curly hair, sundress, little wizened progeria face, cries "I'm Grandmother! I'm Grandmother!" desperately, insistently, but he doesn't believe her.
And a professor in a wheelchair, quietly sitting and staring at the door, waiting for someone he loved to return as a creaking elemental. He knows it is only a matter of time. Someone puts a hand on his shoulder and gasps. As they touch him, everything jumps into sharp focus, the road into the dark forest becoming closer, clearer. "He's like that", I say to them. "He illuminates."
And then I wake up, and it's all a dream.