Prologue: Fort Worth, Texas, 1983
They watched it all happen, convinced it was the right thing to do. For things to go smoothly in the future, certain processes needed to be altered, especially those dealing with memory and dreams. They could not simply step in, no. The mind of a child is too clever. He would remember them. Experience had shown that personal intervention had caused severe emotional and mental trauma, rendering the subjects useless. They needed him stable into adulthood. Even still, with the primitive tools available to them, he might not have survived the night.
She was pleased as she datavised the results to her superiors. They, in turn, were not so much pleased as relieved. She thought they might be tired of the unnecessary deaths caused by... she did not want to think of it. Instead, her thoughts turned to the report on the small child. The trauma would not be permanent, though a great deal of reconstructive surgery would be needed. But the key was the boy's brain. Memory centers were altered slightly, making him more pliable. Still, a potential for rejection existed. That was a chance they always took in the process. Something did worry her though. The memory center that was needed for their work was also enhanced. She shrugged to herself. So what if he remembered. Who would believe him anyway?
Albany, Western Australia, March 2004
The walk up to town from Princess Royal Harbour was quiet enough, eerily peaceful even. Albany was a large town by Australian standards, but barely had 30,000 people in it. And like many Australian towns, it shut down just after sunset. Sure the pubs and restaurants stayed open late, but not this late. I might have been the only soul walking the streets of the second oldest settlement in Western Australia. Statistically, that was probably not true, but it seemed like it.
The streetlights dimmed, as if to conserve power this early in the morning, waiting for the harsh Australian sun to rise. In truth, a chill encapsulated the air around me, cold even for late summer. While Albany could get rather warm, it cooled off a bit at night, making the evenings tolerable. Strangely, such thoughts were crossing my mind at the moment, thoughts born out of the boredom of insomnia and needing to get some fresh air. I glanced back at the calm waters in the distance, looking forward to driving around the harbour tomorrow.
After a short, yet steep climb, I turned down the street toward the hostel. Clean and friendly, I admitted, but the primary factor in staying at hostels was sheer economics. I would not have been able to stay so long in so many places had it not been for the low prices of hostels. I usually had to room with three or four other travelers, but that had never been much of a problem, and many times I would have a room to myself, depending on how busy the place was. I saw the dim lights of the hostel in the distance and approached. Hmm… no one was sitting on the balcony when I left. Maybe the insomnia was catching. I did not really want to talk to anyone, so I bypassed the balcony and headed toward my room. Still, a couple of the travelers on the balcony waved to me. I nodded back to them and made my way inside, nearly reaching the door to my room.
I felt light as I entered… strange, and the chill surrounded me again. Odd, but no more odd than… well, things I tried not to think of anymore. I started to open the door. What… crawling in the back of my mind. I knew that sensation, loved it… hated it, and dreaded what would follow. My world went dark and silent.
“Hmm… ah, wha?” I groggily said to no one in particular, then realized it was my current roommate. I was in my bunk. Wait… “How did I get here?”
“What?” He replied somewhat confused in a slight Australian accent, indicative of a city upbringing. “You walked in this afternoon and went to sleep... Hey, how'd you like the peninsula?”
Peninsula? I was supposed to go there today, to drive around... Did I? I lied. “Great. Fine.” What the holy hell happened to me?
“Good then.” He smiled. “Gotta run and get some work done. See ya around, mate.”
“No problem.” I lay back in my bunk. This afternoon. I did not want to look at my arm, but I knew it would be there. I looked anyway. The bruises… like those made from an IV, or someone who did not know how to draw blood. Not again. How could this be if… I did not want to think about it. I fell once again into the malaise of one who knew his life was not his own.
Cedar Hill, Texas, March 2003
How do you pick up the pieces of a forgotten life? How do you go on?
It had not been that long, and yet, it seemed like an eternity. Answers plagued me as much as the questions. The answers were worse, of course, but not much. My punishment was the asking of such questions. I sat outside the door, waiting to be let into her office. Doctor… no, just a therapist, so to speak. She asked the right questions, never hearing what I said. She simply recommended the doctors prescribe more medicine and that I stay at this… facility longer. Today, though, would be different. The doctors, and the therapist, noted the change. They could not understand, were baffled even, by my progress. Two days ago, apparently, I was close to a basket case delusional psychotic. I grinned weakly. I realized how close I had been to the edge. It felt as if I dangled myself upon a precipice, hoping to take the plunge. Had I really been that far gone? According to most of my family I had. The person they saw was a shell of my former self, almost ghostlike in emotion and strength, oblivious to the world around him. I nodded to myself. I so wished that were the truth. Oblivious? No... fearful? Yes.
The door to the office opened, and a woman, a bit younger than myself, stepped out for a moment. She smiled courteously and beckoned me to enter. I returned the smile and quickly entered her office. “Please… sit. We have a lot to talk about.” I sat down and waited for her to sit as well. She spoke succinctly, but with a touch of concern in her voice. “I have to admit, I haven’t seen a change like this in… well, I haven’t seen anything like it. Two days ago, you had trouble responding to a simple question. Now… “
“A little more life. Cognitive responses, even. I’m formulating complete sentences, something I was rather good at before my… stay at your lovely facility began.”
She wrinkled her nose, perplexed, and took some notes. “See, this is what I mean. You could barely tell me your name last time we talked. You acted as if I were an… enemy.” The calm in her voice jumped slightly, but I simply noted it for later.
I shrugged. “Can’t argue with that. You're right. Let’s just say I woke up the other day and realized my problems could be solved and that I didn't need to fear you, or this place.” She continued to write, and looked back up at me, smiling again. For an instant, I saw something odd in her eyes… I could not place it, but it should have made sense to me. She cocked her head and noticed my own confusion. Where had I seen that look?
“Something wrong now?”
“No… nothing, really. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. Well, since the… ah, incident that brought me here.”
“Yes… psychotic episodes of delusion and persecution. Paranoia… regression… depression. “
“Those are mere symptoms, not the incident itself.” I pointed out.
“Ah, but these symptoms created the incident, yes?”
“Perhaps." I shifted uncomfortably. "But it was far more real than simple delusion. I rather think that type of clarity cannot be faked.”
“As you say... perhaps.” She said gently, and made a couple of scribbles upon the page. I wondered, deep in the back of my mind, if she really were taking notes. “And clarity can be faked, easily. The mind is very powerful, and it can conjure… well, conjure up quite a bit.”
“I know. But I haven’t told you everything… really, and I am not sure I can tell anyone the whole story.”
“Because every time I’ve tried to tell it…”
“What? You can tell me.”
“No... I…” The world seemed to shift around me. She still looked at me with concern, hoping to hear what I was saying. Or was she? Her stare bore into me and images I did not want to understand returned. How… that sensation, crawling up my spine. I spoke, but could not hear. I tried to listen… I tried to see, but the darkness was all I knew.
Would anyone believe you if you could remember?
Sydney, Australia, April 2004
She had lovely eyes, and maybe I was lost in them... or was I lost in memory? I tensed up...“I said, ‘This was quite good’.” What the… I must have drifted. I quickly looked at my left arm. Nothing. “You alright?” I heard a gentle, English accent in the cool, though a little humid, night air. Certainly a voice that could mesmerize.
“Hmm… sorry. I just spaced out. Happens sometimes, a little lost in thought while you were reading, I guess.” She smiled at me, and laughed lightly, the laugh of someone who knew what I was talking about. We were sitting in a small courtyard at a hostel in one of hundreds of Sydney's many suburbs, though not too far from the city proper.
“Your work. It’s quite good. I enjoyed reading it. Very… easy to understand, moved well. Like a conversation.”
“Thanks. It’s always good to get feedback, especially a non-American perspective. I think we write sometimes in a way the rest of the world doesn’t understand.”
“Maybe,” she grinned coyly “but I think we just don’t understand your politics.”
“Who does these days?” I started to laugh, then winced, as if something sharp and bright had clipped the edge of my vision. I felt a little dizzy, like Albany all over again. I stood up, wobbling, and almost fell into the beautiful English girl that sat next to me. “Sorry… I don’t know…excuse me for a moment.” I was genuinely embarrassed, thinking she thought I was being deliberate, but I always had a tendency to think of the weirdest, and worst, things in such situations.
“Sure. Do you need anything?” She sounded a little confused, but at least genuinely concerned. I waved to her to indicate I was fine. In truth, I was far from it. I leaned against a wall in the courtyard of the building, catching the notice of some of the other travelers. I stood upright quickly to fend them off, regaining enough bearing to convince them I was alright. All except one.
“Come on… I’ll help you to your room. You probably just need to lie down. “ She took my arm and looked over at me, waiting for me to move toward the stairs.
“Ok…” I said weakly, and with her help, headed to my room, stumbling a little up the stairs, again trying to shield my embarrassment. Finally, I made it to my room, and fell to my bed, lightly enough to perhaps assuage her concerns some.
“It must be lack of sleep. My dreams aren’t meant for normal people. Hard to explain, I guess” I told her, sitting on my bed. She stood in the doorway, listening, her form barely illuminated in the darkness.
“Well, then… get some rest. Perhaps it sounds silly, but maybe you won’t dream.”
I sighed, my frustration ignoring the change in her tone, the harshness, almost flat disdain at the end of the sentence. I looked over to the window, hearing sounds of people below in the courtyard. Hmm. Odd. Should not have heard… I stood up, a little wobbly, moved to the window, and said clearly but quietly, “I always dream, each night worse than the one before. ”
I tried to listen to voices that could not make sense, but... she... oh.... not now. Especially… “Then you don’t get enough sleep.” The voice was closer, and I heard the door shut. I turned quickly and she was almost upon me, her face hard in the dim light. “Your mind needs to find another way to work.”
“My mind... my... That… I… uh… concede.” I could feel the edge of fear in my voice, and the undercurrent of darkness in hers. She placed her hand gently upon my shoulder, but I could feel a slight tingling in my left arm. The horror struck me when I looked to my arm, then back to this…
She simply shrugged as night collapsed around me. As I faded, I could hear her voice, but it was distant… still in the courtyard below.
If only I could be allowed to remember... but would they believe me?
When I awoke, I found that more of my life had been stolen, though others would swear they had seen me acting as if nothing were wrong. Even her. I did not confront her about it. How could I? She, along with the friend she was traveling with, left two days later. Me… well. It was time to come home.
Cedar Hill, Texas, June 2004
I thought they seemed surprised to see me. I had not been to this place in over a year, leaving after I realized they could do nothing more for me. They treated people who were crazy. I was not. At least, I had convinced myself of this fact. On the other hand, after Australia, I could not be sure. So I returned to the hospital, welcomed by more than just my therapist. I figured as much. I walked into their office and sat calmly, waiting for… well, just about anything really.
They simply looked at me. Two psychiatrists and my former therapist. Pleasantries were exchanged, and all felt right on the surface. Yet, a tension pervaded the room. The tension of the unexpected, or perhaps the tension of revelation. Maybe it was even the veil of familiarity that surrounded us. Whose? I could not know.
“We’re glad to see you again. I assume this is because you have something to add about your stay here?”
I smiled politely at the therapist and looked to the two doctors coolly. Glad to see me again... the words grated me. They probably saw far more of me than I knew. “You might say that. My last visit was a bit odd… wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes. Very strange. You seemed perfectly calm for most of the session, then refused to speak at all near the end. Like you relapsed, almost. I saw fear, real fear, in your eyes. Not like when we had spoken before.”
I nodded and spoke flatly, “Very astute. I must have had some sort of block, I guess. That’s why I am here today. Block or no, someone has to know. I have to remember, or maybe I should become a permanent resident of your ah, fine institution.”
One of the doctors spoke quickly. “Let us hope it will not come to that, yes?” His accent seemed odd, out of place for Texas. Flat… like mine, but too flat.
“Right. Fine. It’s time you know… really know what brought me to this place, though I suspect... I suspect you know anyways.” I could feel it starting, but I fought it, fought the pain, fought the darkness. I fought them. I had to remember, for once…
Fort Worth, Texas, February 2003
You held the truth all along.
I had been physically sick, had the flu really bad. It supposedly later turned into bronchitis combined with said flu, but I was doubtful. I had even heard a theory of meningitis thrown about as well. I helped some friends and family move back into Texas, but the drive was awful… a furious snow and ice storm that tripled the drive and seemed to make me worse. Even during the trip, I felt strange, as if beset by what I did not understand. I had an incredible sensation of being watched the whole journey. By time we had unloaded all our gear and moved in the furniture, I felt I needed to go to a hospital, or something. In the end, I just took some medicine and went to bed. Going to sleep was certainly a mistake.
The pressure on my body seemed intense, like the air was being forced out of me. Since I could not breath, I woke up. The darkness seemed surreal, but I chalked that up to not feeling well at all. Yet a sense of falseness overwhelmed my room, but at the time I could not quite sense what was happening. To be fair, I could not sense much of anything. What I heard though, would chill my blood for a very long time. Have them kill him… they need to do it. He sold us out. One of them saw him do it. No.
I froze, unable to move. The voices belonged to my parents… at least to whom I thought they belonged. I admit, they almost sounded manufactured, but in my condition, what was I to do? I bolted out of the room to confront… nothing. I could hear distant voices, but could see no one. The sensation of fear overwhelmed me. The world around me was empty, though I knew the house had been full before. For some strange reason, I looked outside and it, too, was empty… devoid of people, cars, sound. Only the structures of houses remained. And the voices, slightly distant, taunting me. I simply did not know what to do, so I ran. Not the wisest of actions, but it was all I could do. Somehow, after stumbling quite ill into a fast food place, I managed my way into an ambulance, though I must admit both the restaurant and the ambulance did not feel right. The people seemed distorted, as if they were copies of others from my memory. While odd, I did not think so at the time. Besides, the night still had more in store for me. Odd would not be the word… terrifying beyond all measure seemed closer.
The hospital seemed crowded enough, but I had attracted a lot of attention. Too much for a bad case of the flu. I heard words thrown about: pneumonia, chest pains, fibrillation, bronchitis, meningitis. All possible diagnoses, but no solution. Typical of an emergency room, I thought. Still, some things were out of place. Why did it take three tries to get my IV in? Why did I need an IV? (I was later told of my severe dehydration… that much was apparently true) Why did it take two people, one an armed security guard, to finally get the IV right? Why did they need my license? How many nurses were needed to deal with me? And the strangest question I needed an answer for… what the hell were they putting in me? I could have sworn I heard the word ‘pentathol’. Of course, I would receive no answers, and if they were using some sort of serum on me, it did not work, or work well enough. The doctor seemed flustered, as if unable to diagnose what should have been a simple case of the flu. Instead, he and the nurses seemed more interested in personal information and talked freely of what needed to be done to me. Unfortunately, things would get more bizarre.
What I could hear often felt as if taken directly from my mind and some of the things said could only have been known if these people were somehow telepathic. Worse, waves of people that should not have been allowed in an emergency room, all people I knew from various stages of my life, somehow seemed to be milling about in the drab surroundings, each brimming with shades of contempt and disdain. And through circumstance or distance, they all could not have been in the hospital. Some of these people were friends, yet none spoke of friendship. Some were relatives, yet no one had any concern. To them, I was the enemy. I had become a liability, someone that had inadvertently exposed a terrible secret in the family, between all of them. The problem was, I did not know what the secret could have been. In the end, I began to suspect it had something to do with my dead brother, but how could that be? These people cared about him as much as they supposedly cared about me.
I could not take it. The tension consumed me, their constant barrage of barbs and taunts awful beyond compare. Their hatred, their derision, their contempt, and their arrogance tore into me, destroying any trust I had for them. What had I done to deserve this fate? What secret was so dark that my death could cover it? I should have been driven completely mad. I did not know why I held on… perhaps I believed that at least one of them would never harm me.
Is that all you can see? This surface?
Finally, I decided I could not take it. If they wanted my blood, then by all means, they could have it. Nothing mattered anymore... no one controlled me and I would be damned if I should be lost to an abyss of their choosing. I cursed them for their cowardice and bellowed to them to get it over with if they had any courage at all... for them to kill me if they could. They all froze and turned in unison it seemed. They turned to me, eyes glowing a dreary but intense green, but not with contempt anymore... simply confusion, or so it seemed. Immediately, a nurse injected something into my IV. I figured that would be it and what had become so familiar… happened. I slipped into darkness… time fragmenting into dreams.
I awoke in the waiting room cold and confused. I felt a terrible pain in my left arm, aside from coughing every few seconds it seemed. I saw the bandages wrapped where the IV would have been. The bruising had already begun. In truth, I really did not know what to do. Who could I trust? I still felt trapped in whatever world had been… created… I had created… the thoughts were far too disturbing too contemplate. All I really knew was that those I loved and cared about had tried to kill me. If I had imagined it, I was truly crazy. If I was physically ill, then I needed help. If it were true, then… I could not think about that. I never considered it could be anything else. Too much had happened, and I only wanted to run from this place.
Finally, I did. My dad found me in the waiting room, welcoming as a parent should. Still, I was nervous and incredibly tense. How could I really know anymore? And yet, all he did was do his best to find me help, to support me, but the demons were my own and no amount of drugs or psychiatric care could quell them.
And running away to another continent… well, they simply followed me. So I decided to come back to them.
I do not want you anymore.
Hours… minutes… days… I want them back.
"You stole so much from me..." I stared at them, seeing what lay beneath the surface. I chuckled..."All you had to do was ask."
Home, June 2004
I still have trouble sleeping, and my dreams hardly make sense most of the time. But then, they rarely did anyways. A journey into one’s own darkness is a terrible thing, especially if one cannot escape it. So many do not, so many will not. I am not sure if I did, or if I have simply a bit of a reprieve. And most days I have trouble making sense of what I have experienced, what I have seen and heard. I only know that my life is my own again. What I do with the rest of it… is my choice.
“The human mind is such a frail thing. Telepathic contact has a tendency to manifest itself as hallucination and can cause severe psychotic episodes ranging from paranoia to severe delusions. In the case of Subject 9124-A, this was the case, though he was able to see much more than normal. Unlike 99% of our previous experiments, 9124-A managed to control some of the side effects for a time. This warranted further study whilst the subject was traveling. Unfortunately, this caused a relapse and exposed some of our operations. As I had feared, his memory centers were stronger than our procedures. Intervention on the part of myself and… stronger associates managed to allow 9124-A to remember, and in the process, perhaps heal himself. Pity. We would have liked to study him further. But he has earned his respite… he has earned some peace. One day, we will meet again." She smiled. "And next time, I will be sure to ask .”
She datavised the entry to her superiors and waited for her new orders, hoping perhaps to observe that intriguing species of semi-telepathic iguanas, or maybe Canadians. She had heard Canadians were very nice.