A JAMIE P. BARKER PRODUCTION
He opened his eyes and winced as the daylight caused a pain in his brain. He blinked blind blinks of various lengths until he could hold open his eyes but still the dull pain remained. He licked his dry lips with his dry tongue so it didn’t actually do anything. Shouting. Darkness. He could remember shouting. Some kind of ruckus and then… it was silent now, wherever he was. Wherever this was. This was a small grey room. Sunbeams were jetting in through the room’s one window, getting slightly diffused and yellowed by a net curtain that hung affront it. He tried to turn his head but he was stuck to the pillow from his right temple to his ear. He held the pillow down with his left hand and ripped his head up. He winced once more at the sharp prickles as the dried blood that caked half his face tried to maintain its grip on both he and the bedding. And then he felt wet. He sat up as a cold trickle tickled its way across his cheek and jaw. He swept his hand along his jawbone, gave it a quick glance and then wiped it on the bed sheet. The condition of the sheet told him for certain that wherever this was it wasn’t a medical facility. He hoped it was just his blood that had soiled the sheets so.
If it wasn’t medical then that left punitory. Was he in jail? He was about to get up. Stand slowly and try the door which he didn’t expect to open, but trying to think of something he could possibly be punished for? Detained for? It gave him an absolutely horrifying realisation. He didn’t know his own name. His breathing and heart rate instantly increased, the way it does when you do exercise, but the muscles he was working hard weren’t his leg muscles or his arms muscles, it was his memory muscles in his head that were working overtime. When he’d woken, even in his confused state, with fragments of a fracas still whirling around, he’d just sort of assumed he had a full memory but now, when he tried to access it, he found it was like somebody had put his entire past in a file, and password protected it, and used numbers and special characters.
He looked at his feet and again tried to moisten his lips. His throat clicked. “Feet,” he said deliberately. He knew the word feet, that was a relief. “Shoes, socks,” he continued, trying to ground himself back into reality which had threatened to swim away from him. Proving to himself the fundamentals were still there, and he hadn’t forgotten how to talk, he continued. “Africa! Sausages! Rhododendron!” He was panting but he was satisfied that he still had a pretty good vocabulary. “Trousers.” He didn’t know where he’d gotten his trousers but they didn’t look alien to him. They were his trousers, somehow he was sure. He pressed his hand on the crotch of his trousers and was not surprised to feel that he had a male member. He knew that he was a dude even without touching it. He knew that he was sitting on the edge of the bed and not pressed against the ceiling because of something called gravity. He knew that the gas he was breathing was called air. He knew everything about everything and yet absolutely nothing about himself. Fucking weird. Every word he tried to think of he thought of successfully, but none of them were personal to him. His eyes darted around the room the same as his mind darted around within his skull, looking for ingress into the bowels of his brain.
When it was apparent he wasn’t going to be able to bruteforce the return of his memory with nothing in his arsenal but powerful thinking, he calmed. His breathing returned to something like normal and he did walk over to the door. Before grasping the door handle he took a moment to imagine what the cold metal handle would feel like in his hand. Pressed into his palm. He imagined it and then he did it and was comforted that both experiences were as expected. He turned the handle and pulled. The door opened. There was a hallway. Other doors. He was surprised. There was no resistance and to him it almost felt too easy. He felt like a mouse mulling over this tasty hunk of cheese that suddenly appeared on the floor one night. Don’t do it Mr Mouse!
He stood in the doorhole for a few moments. What did he have to lose? His life? He’d only had an hour of it, that he could remember. So many thoughts whirled around in his head which was devoid of memories but not at all empty. He knew his memory was in there. He could feel it, heavy and dense at the centre of his head like the stone in an avocado. He just couldn’t access them and without this access he was no more of a person than a newborn baby or a goldfish, so what did he have to lose?
He knew he had to break into his own brain. Simply starting a new life from today wasn’t an option. Some people might like that, a clean slate, but he had a birthday and it was unlikely to be today. What else do I have? he wondered. What else have I lost? That last question begged another question – do I really want to find out what I’ve lost because some things are better lost like, for instance, something really bad like pornography with animals?
He did want to know. He had to know. Horrors be damned! Already he knew it could be an epic saga just uncovering his own name, and what does a name even tell you? If it’s a business name and it has pizza in the name you can probably accurately surmise it’s a pizza related business. A human name tells you nothing about the person. It tells you that that person’s parents liked the name. The person had no choice in what they were named. You might feel like your name fits you perfectly but it’s just that you and everybody you know are used to it. Still, he knew finding out his name was going to be the first step on a long journey and he was ready to take it and that meant stepping out into the hall first to begin the long journey.
He stepped into the hall. Turning to his left he saw the hall led to a wall. To his right, at the end of the hall, were bannisters. A door across the hall and nearer the stairs opened. He watched. A small figure with a hunched back emerged almost walking backwards as he or she – they were wearing too many layers to be sure – fumbled with their keys while holding too many bags from their wrists. Eventually they had locked the door and given it a tug to test before turning and registering the person in the doorway then back to their door which they again tried to open.
“The fuck have you done to your head?” said the figure in a raspy male voice, obviously satisfied that their door was properly secured. When he didn’t reply the old man said, “Trevor! What have you don-” It must have been only then that he saw Trevor had stepped backwards into the room and closed the door.
“Trevor,” said Trevor with his face contorted in confusion. The contortion caused his face to feel wet again. “Trevor.” He returned to the bed. Apart from a small desk type dressing table it was the only piece of furniture in the room. Certainly the only thing you could sit on. He sat down. The bed sagged alarmingly and he thought he might go right through it. He didn’t. “Trevor,” he said again and the springs protested with eeks and oings and pips. Just a few minutes earlier he’d convinced himself that hearing his own name would be the password. The sound, for that’s all it was, which people made when addressing him and which registered as Trevor, much like his trousers, didn’t seem alien but that was the extent of it. It provided no lifting of the curtain. The curtain which was actually more of a shroud did not even billow.
There was a mirror attached to the back of the table. From where Trevor was sitting it just reflected the wall near the door. His shoulders shook as he chuckled a solitary chuck as it dawned on him like a cloudburst that he didn’t know what he looked like. Now that concept was too far removed from reality to even try thinking about, he knew. He wasn’t going to try to explain it. It had been a hell of a morning already and accepting that he didn’t have a clue what was on the front of his head was too much, much too much, so he told himself he didn’t need to use the mirror and then he stopped thinking as best he could. He glanced at the window and still not thinking he stood and pulled the nets across. “Yeah, of course,” sighed Trevor. The view was not what he was expecting. Not even a little bit and it fizzed across his mind that he might be losing it. Maybe this was mental illness? It was certainly totally crazy. He let go of the curtain and before he could stop himself, in one S-like movement, he leant with his elbows on the dressing table. He ran his right hand over his face. The blood had mostly dried and left tracks where it had explored its way around his right eye. “Well that’s alright!” he said, raising his eyebrows and tilting his chin up. He was actually pretty happy with how he looked. A solid eight. He could easily have been a gargoyle. Trevor guessed he was about thirty years old, but he couldn’t tell anybody how he arrived at that figure, other than by saying he didn’t think he looked young or old.
On the floor, next to the table, was an unbuckled canvas and leather bag. Crumpled clothes spilled out of it. He looked around. There was another pair of shoes by the bed. He picked up the bag and pulled the clothes out like how a magician pulls a stream of rabbits from his sleeves. Just clothes in the main part. The bag had smaller pockets which Trevor squeezed and molested. Some hidden and all but one disappointingly empty. One contained receipts that Trevor didn’t recognize nor study, instead he dropped them on the table before he dropped the bag and again looked around the room. Again there was nothing that seemed important. The table which Trevor stood affront had a drawer. He grasped the small knob and pulled. The drawer came out a touch then jammed and so he reached underneath and got his fingers in the back, over to one side of the back of the drawer, and pulling at that point sharply freed it up. The drawer popped free and Trevor wondered how he knew to do that. Was it an obvious thing to do to any jammed drawer, or was it specific to this one?
What caught Trevor’s eye in the drawer was not the three bundles of banknotes. What caught his eye was an envelope beneath the money. He carried it over to the bed. He pulled up the grey blanket and covered the bloodied sheet. The bloody sheet was hidden but moving the cover had revealed a jacket that Trevor had no reason to doubt was his. He sat on the bed and turned the envelope over in his hands, leaving faint bloody fingerprints on top of older dried fingerprints.
The cold light from the freezer scolded Carol’s thighs but it didn’t deter her. She ignored the goosebumps on her otherwise flawless porcelain upper-leg skin and absent-mindedly closed her thin peach dressing gown, only for it to immediately swing open again revealing her navy blue knickers and tight white top. The wispy air from the freezer flicked her nipples and made them stand out like a pebble trapped under a piece of paper you were trying to sign.
Third drawer down. The Comfort Drawer, as she liked to think of it. The top two freezer drawers contained peas and things like that, but she was in no mood for those. The bottom drawer had twelve of her eggs. She wouldn’t be needing those, it now seemed. She needed her fix of ice-cream like a junkie needed drugs when they haven’t had any for a while. Not long ago Carol would have worried about eating too much ice-cream and getting fat but with her man gone that concern had moved down the pecking order until it was a mile south of painting her nails.
Chunky Chocolate? Strawberry Sundae? Plain? These were her choices now because everything else was beyond her control. She was in a chocolate mood, she decided, and pulled out the tub and set it on the kitchen counter. Cold steam rose from it in the dark kitchen like ghosts from the Ark of the Covenant. She picked up her glass and clunked in four chunks of ice before topping it up with good old dependable Jack. Jack was a man who was there, at home, like he should be. Carol blinked hard and swallowed at this thought. The sadness soon passed and she grabbed some kitchen towel and held the ice cream with it. She took a spoon from the drainer and then her drink and carried it all, hugged against her for-now flat belly, to the table in front of the TV, when there was a knock on the door. She glanced at the clock on the wall.
“Who the hell is this at 8:37 in the evening?” she asked the empty room. She closed her gown and tied the tie around her slim waist and plumped the side of her hair. Her hair! That was a bad joke but like all of the best jokes it was also kind of completely true. Checking the security screen she saw it was two men standing there on her porch. She pressed the button. “Yes?” she asked curtly.
She watched as the man nearest the microphone first looked at the man he was with, then to the microphone which was also the speaker that Carol’s voice had come out of. “We’re with the Institute, Ma’am. We’re here to…” Though he continued talking Carol didn’t continue to listen. The Institute. This was the visit she’d been dreading.
four months earlier…
Though fiercely independent to a fault, Carol clung onto Trevor’s hand as they followed a marching girl. The girl they followed wore a lab coat and dark rimmed glasses and she had introduced herself as also being called Carol. The girl smiled when this amazing coincidence was revealed. Carol (the main Carol) had tried her best to return the smile but, honestly, nerves were gnawing away at her insides like a possum and she wasn’t sure she hadn’t simply grimaced. The girl, Carol, who could not have been older than twenty-two, hugged a clipboard whilst marching down the whitely lit corridor that reminded Trevor of the corridor in a spaceship. Everything had a temporary prefabricated feel about it, both Trevor and Carol thought. The floor was carpeted with some kind of industrial carpet but the floor beneath that seemed to yield with each step. Perhaps only a milimicron, but that added to the sense they were somewhere from a great science fiction book.
Carol, the girl, turned left without breaking stride, or checking to make sure Carol and Trevor were still behind. They were. They weren’t talking as they followed her down an identikit corridor. On the drive over here they’d made small talk, but now they were both concentrating on keeping up and, yeah, they were preoccupied with where this meeting could go. It really did have the potential to be a matter of life. And one of death.
Suddenly the main Carol stopped and let go of Trevor’s hand. She bent over, one arm across her flat stomach and the other outstretched to the wall of the corridor as she let out a quiet groan.
“Is it your fallopian tubes?” asked Trevor, bending so his head was the same distance from the ground as her head was. She nodded, very subtly, then took a deep breath in through her nose and stood straight. Defiant. Like the Statue of Libarty. Trevor didn’t think he could love her any more, even before she did that, and now he still felt that he couldn’t love her more because he loved her one hundred and twenty percent. “Are you okay?” asked Trevor, dripping with concern.
“I’m fine,” replied Carol. “Let’s catch up with the other Carol,” and by walking fast, which caused the corridor to clang, they did just that.
Carol was waiting for Carol and Trevor outside a door that stood out like a sore thumb at a healthy thumb convention. It was made of mahogany whereas everything else was white plastic and aluminium. Trevor looked at his Carol and then at Carol and then Carol opened the door and they stepped inside. Neither of them immediately spotted the General, who was standing motionless by the window and wearing arctic camouflage, instead their eyes drank in the manifestation of patriotism which every aspect of the office’s four walls imbued, with its star spangled banners and there was even a mounted golden eagle. The General did move and Trevor felt Carol grip his hand slightly tighter.
“It’s good to see you, Sergeant,” said General Armstrong. Carol released her grip.
“It’s just plain old Mister now,” said Trevor. “I left the Green Berets coming up to eighteen months ago.”
Armstrong nodded and smiled and spoke gently, almost wistfully, and said, “Don’t we know it, you’re missed. We could have done with you in Moldova.”
“Well…” said Trevor as Armstrong stood there considering him through slightly narrowed eyes. Trevor didn’t want to get into this again. Trevor’s job, for ten years, had been to crush resistance in sandy countries, but the toughest resistance he’d encountered was from Armstrong, when he’d brought in his resignation letter, and that couldn’t be handled with a smart bomb from a drone or a sniper’s bullet from a sniper’s gun. “This is Carol,” he said, changing the subject. Armstrong continued to look at Trevor a moment longer, the trace of a smile still on his lips, before he turned to Carol.
“Well aren’t you as pretty as a picture,” said Armstrong looking her up and down, but respectfully.
“I don’t know about that,” replied Carol, coyly. The General fitted his office perfectly. He could also have been crafted from a mahogany tree from one of America’s national parks. His silver hair beneath his perfectly position beret was the perfect counterpoint to his bronzed and weathered face. Carol guessed he was pushing sixty but the weathering had served to only accentuate his handsome and distinguished features, like the patina on an old Buick. She idly hoped that in the future time might be as kind to Trevor, and then she caught herself. She’d been trying so hard to stop herself thinking about the future but occasionally, like now, a thought slipped through. Carol’s eyes wetted as the General seemed to stare into her soul.
“Sit!” said the General and Carol felt relief when his eyes finally left hers. She dabbed her eyes with a tissue and sat while the General walked around to his side of the desk. “Do you know why you’re here?” he asked when he sat on his ornate chair
“The email said you might be able to help,” said Trevor. Armstrong nodded to this and picked up a file that was on his desk in front of him.
“Stage five cancer of the fallopian tubes,” he read. “All of them.”
“How did you…” said Carol, offended. “That’s confidential medical…”
“Trevor, I told your daddy that I would look after you. It was the last thing I said to him before he slipped away and I may be many things and one of those things is a man of my word.”
“I appreciate that, General, but this is a medical issue, not military.”
“Oh son, surely you, more than most, know that everything is a military issue, when you take away the pretty doilies.”
“Doily?” asked Carol.
“They’re lacy embellishments to a table setting,” said Trevor.
“I don’t underst-”
“It’s us who gets things done,” explained General Amrstrong. “We expedite things.”
“But still, how can you-”
The General cut Carol off. “Trevor’s father was the greatest soldier I ever met. That was until Trevor enlisted. I know his daddy was as proud as an apple pie of him. Trevor, your man, had the potential to be even better.”
“But Trevor’s not a soldier any more!” said Carol, growing exasperated.
The General put Carol’s medical files back on the desk and sat back in his chair which creaked with quality. “We have one last mission for him. One that could save not just your life, but the lives of thousands.”
“No,” said Carol, shaking her head. “No, absolutely not. Nope!” Carol stood up and cocked her head at Trevor to show him it was time they left and she didn’t want to hear anymore of the nonsense. “I’m not listening to anymore of this. Trevor left the army for a reason. He did enough good, for you to try and blackmail him?” Carol was sickened. “That’s low,” she purred. “No, come on, Trevor, let’s go.” To Carol’s horror Trevor didn’t look like he was about to stand up. Carol went to grab his arm but Trevor used his army training to knock her hand away.
“Let’s hear him out,” said Trevor. “If there’s a chance it can help you then I have to listen.”
“No, Trevor, no! They want you back in! Can’t you see what he’s doing!?” said Carol, getting slightly hysterical. “You promised!” and there was some degree of desperate finality in her voice.
“I also promised to do whatever I could to keep you safe.”
“But,” said Carol, “but.”
“Let’s just hear him out, I owe him that. He was the last man to see my daddy alive,” explained Trevor. Carol shook her head with her eyes closed and then collapsed back down onto the chair. “What have you got, General?”
The General explained the mission. At first they were both incredulous. It was preposterous and at points Carol openly laughed, but eventually it became apparent that the General was as serious as the cancer that had set up home in Carol’s ladyparts and the laughter stopped and the questions came.
Trevor turned the envelope over in his hand. He didn’t know anything about it except it was very important. He knew that just like he knew trousers were called trousers. With a computer there are always some programs which are actually on the computer chip that runs the computer. You can lose all your files, your harddrives, but there are hardware level parts that are fundamental to the computer’s being which can never be erased while the computer lives and breathes. Trevor discovered it was much the same for human persons. There were parts of Trevor that were so intrinsik to his being that the only way they could be erased was by an axe through the temple or drowning. The importance of the letter was somehow hard-coded into him.
And yet, somewhat strangely, he felt no real compulsion to tear open the envelope and absorb its contents. He had little doubt he would eventually do it, most likely soonly, but he needed to give himself more of a foundation otherwise, he feared, putting the contents of the letter on him now would be like trying to build a skyscraper on a muddy field.
He put the envelope back in the drawer and then picked up the jacket from the bed. Just from lifting it he could tell there were things in the pocket and indeed there was a wallet that contained cash, but, and Trevor checked every part of it, no ID. There were also two keys in the front left pocket of the jacket. They looked unimportant and he sensed they were the keys to wherever this place was, wherever that might be. He checked the mirror again. He picked up a sock that he’d pulled out of the bag and sucked on it and then used that moistened cloth to rub away at the dried on blood which hid half of his face. It didn’t want to come off. Again Trevor found himself panting as he rubbed his face, he was almost growling with the effort. There was so much of it he needed a second sock, that one he struggled to wet with his depleted saliva levels, and that was without attempting to remove the scabbing hemoglobules from his hairline. He dropped the second sock then patted his pockets to make sure he had his newly found wallet, and sure they were there, he headed outside for the first time he could remember.
This time there was nobody in the hall, nor on the stairs, and that was good because he felt as vulnerable as a baby horse leaving the horse shed for the first time. He noted each door in the corridor had a number on it. He made a mental note of his. 11. A baby horse shed would be on the ground floor but it turned out his room was three flights up. sixty two steps. He counted them.
In the foyer there was a row of boxes with numbers on and Trevor quickly worked out that the boxes corresponded to the rooms. He tried to open the box with 11 on it. It was locked and so he took out the keys. The smaller of the keys fit and using the key as a knob he pulled the small door open. Inside the small box was nothing so he closed it and turned the key to lock it and as he did he heard footsteps and voices. His eyes darted over to the glass door which led to the street. He could make it before the owners of the footsteps and voices made it to the bottom of the stairs but he’d have to dash, and that might look suspicious. He decided to stay where he was. He remained facing the boxes and listened. He could tell there were at least three people approaching and at least one of them was a child and the child was protesting that it didn’t want to go out. Boy or girl, Tevor wasn’t sure, but it was pleading with its father, almost in tears. Trevor resisted the urge to turn and look at them when they were behind him. He found his keys again and pretended to be opening his mail box for the first time.
“We’ll be okay,” the dad was saying as the child whined.
“We’ll be killed! We’re going to die, I want to stay in!” the child countered in short sharp bursts.
“Shush, there’s no mail today.” the father said and it took Trevor a moment to realise it was he who was being addressed. Trevor turned. “Ain’t no mail today.”
“No?” replied Trevor. The father had a baby strapped to his chest and a large rucksack on his back. The thumb of his left hand was under the strap of the rucksack and his right hand held the whiny child. The whiny child’s face was red and wet. A quiet child stood next to that one. The quiet child was holding a stuffed pink animal of some sort.
“Shit’s so crazy,” said the father and Trevor nodded. He was worried the man would talk more but he clearly had his own problems. The child, who had been moaning, forlornly coming to the dawning realisation his protests had failed, was also now quiet and the father took his family out into the street and then on to wherever it was they were escaping to. Trevor once more locked his box. The encounter had answered none of Trevor’s questions and he had a hell of a lot of questions. All he knew now was some crazy shit was happening and it would seem it wasn’t just happening to him. And he knew there would be no mail delivered today, possibly because of the crazy shit, but he didn’t really care about that.
Trevor looked up and down the street. There was a smell in the air which he couldn’t identify, but which he knew wasn’t quite normal. That was something else that was somehow hardwired into him, a sense of normality and the ability to know when things weren’t it. The few people that were around were walking intently. He could hear sirens from every direction and from many different distances. He went left from the front of his apartment building. It was hard to tell for sure but the buildings seemed more spaced out that way and Trevor felt having some space around him would also give his brain some space to breath and maybe help him take stock of the situation. After six or so blocks Trevor found the space he was looking for, it was in the form of a river. In the distance was a city and over that city was a fat plume of smoke. Many others lined the river bank and were staring across at the shrouded and clearly injured metropolis. These people were clumped together in silent groups. He walked further along the river until he found a spot clear of others. A crescent of benches backed with a flower bed. Trevor sat on the bench facing the city and wondered what the heck had gone on, what the heck was going on and what the heck was going to go on. He got the answer to the first question from a discarded newspaper which was flapping in the breeze like a broken seagull, next to a bin. It also answered loads of questions he hadn’t thought to ask yet. One thing was for certain, as the father back at the building had said so eloquently put it, shit, was indeed, so crazy.