It happened in an instant.
She opened her eyes one morning, reached over for her iPhone and froze at the horrific thought that struck her: "What's my name?" Her hand flopped down onto the bed and she turned onto her back, staring up at the white ceiling.
"What's my name?" she said aloud this time, hoping that hearing her voice would jolt her memory. Nothing came to her. Shrugging it off as a momentary lapse of brain power, she reached over again and browsed her e-mail. After reading the fourth e-mail - most of it newsletters - she stopped, staring almost slack-jawed at the tiny screen. All the e-mails either a) did not mention her name, b) were addressed to "Dear Reader/Resident" (or something along those lines) or c) had a blank space or an underline where it was addressed to someone, presumably her.
It was a conspiracy. It had to be. She tried to assure herself, thinking through a long list of names, trying to find one that rang a bell, any bell. There was total silence in her head. "I have my IC," she muttered to herself, half falling off her bed as she reached for her handbag. Rummaging through it to find her purse, she pulled out her Identity Card with a triumphant grin, which soon turned into a confused frown. Her IC number was there, as it had always been, and it matched with what she remembered. Her ugly, unprepared, startled photograph was there, testament to the ill-will of all IC photographers nationwide.
But there was no name. In the spot right above her address, where her name had always been, was a blank spot. Not a glossed-over-photoshop kind of backdrop that made you wonder if there had really been anything there, or your mind had been playing tricks on you for the past twenty-eight years, but a white space, as if someone had put digital liquid paper on the spot.
"Mom!" she called as she stumbled to the door of her bedroom, holding out her IC in front of her as if it was contagious.
"Yes, dear?" her mother answered from downstairs.
"Why's my IC blank? Why don't I have a name?"
"Don't be silly..." her mother's voice trailed off. "Uh. What is your name?"
"Don't you remember? You named me!"
"I'm not having Alzheimer's, am I?"
She shoved her IC in front of her mother's worried face.
"Why's it blank, mom? Why don't I have a name?"
"Oh dear," her mother replied, trying not to back away from the girl she knew was a daughter. "I'm afraid the Name Monster has got you."
"The Name Monster."
"You're kidding me, aren't you?"
Her mother shook her head. "It rarely makes an appearance. But it's not an unknown phenomena. My grand aunty - oh dear. You don't think it's... well... in the family, do you?"
"How would I know? I've never heard of such a thing. You've never told me I even had a great grand aunty."
"Well... after she lost her name, well... she kind of lost herself too. And... it... it wasn't a nice story to tell."
"What do I do now? How do I get my name back?"
"Oh, sweetie. You can't. No one has ever gotten their name back from the Name Monster."
"Well. I'm going to try."
"Where will you start?"
"I..." her shoulders slumped. "I have no idea."
"Well, why don't you just go back to bed and I'll make you a nice hot soup to make you feel better?" her mother said with a cheerily fake smile.
Without answering, she went back to her room, closed the door behind her and flung herself face down on the bed.
"Well, I'll just make up a new name for myself," she said into her pillow, screwing up her face in concentration.
But every name she liked slipped away like a fish once she tried to grasp it. She'd gotten down to the mid-D's in the baby book she had found on the bookshelf, before she noticed the little white feather that floated just out of her gaze every time she turned. She stared at the book for a while, wondering if that was the Name Monster, and if it was, how she could capture it.
She tried to claim a new name, Denise, letting it roll of her tongue, noticing how the white feather seemed to enlarge, and the name disappeared in a blob of white. Slowly flicking through the book, but keeping a tiny spot of attention on the feather, she pondered on her next step. Finally, as her finger stopped on Zipporah, she smiled.
"Zeee..." The feather fluttered in excitement.
"Pohhh..." She reached out her hand without looking.
"Rrrrr..." her fingers closed around the enlarged feather, which struggled really hard.
"STOP IT," she screamed at it. "Stop it and show yourself," she demanded, gripping even harder.
"Fine. What do you want?" a gruff voice answered from somewhere below her bed.
"Come out, or I'll squish you even more." She tightened her grip around the feather, her nails tearing at the little bits of down.
"Ow, okay! Stop it."
A tiny creature, looking a little like a garden gnome, crawled out from under the bed.
"Are you the Name Monster? Why did you take my name? Give it back!"
"Give me back first."
She looked at the weakly struggling feather in her hand. "This? This is you?"
"Well, most of me, yes."
"Why'd you take my name?"
The Name Monster shrugged. "I feed on names to stay alive."
"But why mine?"
"Well... I liked it."
"You liked it? So you took it? Well - give it back."
"But I can't live without a name."
"Why not? Many others have."
"I don't know how to."
"Well, learn." The little gnome stuck out a hand. "Give me back."
"Well, I'm not going to let you go until you let me have a name."
The Name Monster hesitated. "I let you have a name and you let me go?"
"Yes, and you never come back here again. Promise? Otherwise I'll tear you up and burn you."
"Fine. Give me back."
"Not until you promise and I have a name that I like. And you can't ever eat that again."
"I'm done with this house anyway," it grumbled.
Eyeing it warily, she flipped back to the name that had caught her eye right before she saw the wiggling feather.
"Ok, so promise?" she pressed.
"Promise," the Name Monster grumbled. "Hurry up and say your name so that I can be on my way."
"Elise," she said with a smile. Her smile widened as she noticed the name being inscribed on her IC. "Thank you," she said sweetly as she let go of the feather. It wiggled about, expanding and contracting, and finally floating over to hover above the little gnome.
"Elise! It's lunch time!" she hear her mother call from downstairs.
The Name Monster nodded at her and in a blink, it was gone.
Inspired by the fact that the HR in my new office seems to have eaten my name.
Not that my Chinese name isn't my name.
But it's... different.