Determined to leave the lab I took a quick look out into the hallway before pushing the door open. The air outside the lab was cold. The further I made it down the hallway the more people I needed to dodge. Few of them looked to be over twenty-five, and none of them knew how to avoid bumping into people. Surviving the journey I slipped into the empty ‘Snack Shack’ the name was not promising, but the young woman behind the counter smiled cheerfully as I approached her.
“Good morning. I am hoping to grab some breakfast. Doctor Gerald mentioned he has a milk shake made here. He thought there might be some strawberry mix left.”
“Umm, yeah he does or we have other stuff too like pastries, muffins, burritos if you want something like that.” The pretty, young woman behind the counter appeared simple minded but sweet and genuinely helpful.
“You know, I would love some real food. What about fruit or a BLT sandwich? Do you have anything that’s made fresh?”
“No, we don’t but the main kitchen does. I can run over there and get you a fruit bowl and they have yogurt too.”
“It’s nice of you to offer but I don’t want you to get in any trouble.”
“It no trouble, besides nobody here is going to miss a bowl of fruit. Half of them won’t eat anything that doesn’t come attached to a stick.”
“She wants food for old people Misty.” A woman’s voice called out from the doorway. “Come with me and I’ll make you a fresh tomato and bacon sandwich.” Misty froze, the muscles in her arms went rigid, and she lost the blood in her face. It was as if she spotted a snake. I turned around half-afraid to lay eyes on the scary woman who was offering me real food.
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you, but I couldn’t impose. I’m Calynn.” I put my hand out to shake the scary lady’s hand out of habit before I noticed all the bandages stuck to my palms. My face felt warm with embarrassment as the petite, smiling woman lightly cupped my hand between hers.
“Ann,” The woman spoke with emphasis. She looked into my eyes as she said her name. I got the impression that I should have known her, and she was making sure I wasn’t faking my ignorance. “And it’s not an imposition at all. Misty be a dear and go grab me a pack of the good water. Not the stuff that tastes like dirt and a six pack of regular soda please.”
“Yes Ms. Ann, right away.” Misty all but ran through the kitchen doors to find the items.
“Wow, she is truly terrified of you. I don’t mean to sound rude, but you’re a bit older than most of the people I have encountered in the hallways today.”
“If my memory serves you are on the backside of thirty there yourself Ca-Lynn,” Ann pronounced my name with an exaggerated, highbrow tone.
“Why do you scare that poor girl so much?”
“It’s because I know where all the closets are and the skeletons that live in them love to talk to me.” The tiny brown haired woman had such a warm and cheerful glow about her as she spoke. I felt a sense of hope standing there with her. It was the first glimpse of it I’d seen since my abduction.
“Well, then Ann I think you are my new best friend. So far nobody will tell me a damn thing. I’m fairly sure I have been abducted by a madman, and I’m not entirely sure that you aren't a hallucination.” Ann began to laugh.
“Abducted by a mad man. Now that sounds like a great name for my new crop.” Misty came back with water and soda. She looked at Ann cautiously as she handed the items to her over the counter.
“Here let me carry the soda.” I took the six-pack from Misty and swiped Gerald’s card across the register. His name popped up on the screen as Col. Gerald I. Hmm, I wonder what the ‘I’ stand for?
Ann peeled a can from the plastic ring and popped it open for me. “Thought you might need a cold one. Some things can’t be poked out of your brain so easily.”
“Oh wow, that was odd. I remember somebody giving me a soda a few days ago. Anyway, the doctor over in the glass building thinks I have been here before. What do you think Ann?” I took a big gulp of soda. Her mention of a crop concerned me, but I let it slide. I wanted to get away from the medical building, and this woman was going to help me do it.
“Come on Ca-Lynn let’s get you something decent to eat and we can talk more about it.”
“You did that thing with my name again?”
“We all called you Cal or Caly, Calynn is so formal. But maybe you’ve gotten fancy in your old age.” Ann laughed. She had such an infectious, boisterous laugh it forced me to smile even though it hurt my bruised face.
“So you think you knew me before too?” I asked while looking down at the ground.
“Before what? What do you remember? What qualifies as after?” Ann took my arm and led me out of the building.
The main door opened out into a square patch of grass dotted with huge black boulders. In front of me was a huge snow-capped mountain range; it looked like it was so close you could reach out and touch it. About half a football field away a dozen or so white and brown, dome topped houses were nestled beyond a second cluster of buildings.
“I don’t know what you mean; my memory is shit. I was in a car accident years ago.”
The air was cold and thin. It was starting to get hard to breathe. I stopped and set the remains of the six-pack on the ground. I wasn’t sure if it was the sugar hitting my bloodstream or the thin air, but I found myself kneeling in the grass, trying to focus my eyes on the ingredient list on the back of the can.
“Whoa, maybe we should get you back inside.” Ann looked to be genuinely worried.
“I’m sorry. I just woke up and I haven’t eaten much in…. Honestly, I don’t know how long I’ve been here and I don’t even know exactly where I am?”
“You arrived Monday night. It's Thursday and it’s almost ten now. You are safe. I can tell you that much; I can’t tell you where we are. Some things are secret for good reason.” Ann was obviously keeping a close eye on my progress.
“I don’t know how I am able to move on my own power. I took a real beating a few nights ago.”
“Doctor Gerald is one of the leading cellular regeneration specialists in the country, probably in the world. With his gel tank and the arsenal of nanites, there wouldn’t be too much he couldn’t patch up in forty-eight hours. Give him seventy-two and miracles happen.” Ann explained. I was feeling more stable and began to stand up slowly. “He let you leave the hospital wing?” Ann scanned my face carefully looking for guilt.
“He sent me to get something to eat. He wasn’t too specific about what to do after that. I’m sure he expected I would return to the lab but I don’t want to go back just yet.”
“Let’s get you inside. Gerald is brilliant with all things in his field but he is quite useless with practical matters.” Ann spoke so calmly as if this situation was commonplace for her.
“On that topic, is there some place I can buy some underwear; maybe a bra or two?” I whispered.
“Oh, that man. We’ll get all that settled; don’t you worry.” Ann pulled a cell phone out of her pocket and pushed a few buttons.
“Carl, hey good morning. Guess what. I have Cal with me. She needs some breakfast and some clothes. We are coming up to your place; we will be there in a moment. Great thanks. “That accident of yours, you have no memories before it?” Ann became serious again, scanning my face for lies.
“No, it was a bad car accident. I have never recovered my full memory. It’s doubtful that I ever will.”
“Before your car wreck, you had a life. A life that you can’t’ remember now?” Ann stopped walking and put her hand on my shoulder.
“Yes, I assume I did,” I conceded.
“That is when you were here. Before your accident. I was here with you. Look at me Cal I’m not lying to you. You were here before.” Ann’s tone was serious but still light hearted. She wanted me to accept her words as facts but I couldn’t.
“This is too much. I’m sure this is a mistake. You know how they say everyone has a twin someplace. Maybe that’s what happened. It would be odd but totally explainable?” Ann smiled and patted my arm.
“Doppelgangers? Yes, that’s a possibility for some but not for you. Let’s go see Carl he has that first house right there. You need food, sweetie.” Ann looked disappointed and like she was about to cry.
“Yes, I see it. I can make that.” I steadied myself and started for the house. The door was opening as we approached. An older, distinguished looking man with salt and pepper hair and eyeglasses stepped onto the stoop. He was smiling and holding an open blanket.
“There we are. Look at you all grown up.” Carl wrapped the blanket around me and pulled me to him. I flinched at the pain in my ribs and he released me.
“Thank you, this is wonderful, and it doesn’t smell like bleach.” I wrapped myself in the soft blanket and inhaled as much of the fabric softener scent as I could. Carl looked at me with a dejected expression on his face.
“She doesn’t remember any of this Carl. It’s not just you. She doesn’t remember me either.” Ann stood on her tiptoes to reach Carl’s shoulders, as she patted him a smile appeared on his face.
“That’s okay Caly girl. It will all come back to you in time. Don’t feel bad about our visit today when it does.”
“Um thank you, I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Carl is able to feel future events as well as other things,” Ann whispered to me as we made our way inside.
“Wow, well now that is really something,” Not knowing how to react to such a strange admission I tried to sound supportive. Ann and Carl both laughed at me.
“What can I get for you ladies, pancakes?” Carl was tall with a grandfatherly build, but he looked like he would have been quite formidable in his younger years.
“We are here for a bacon and tomato sandwiches and some underwear,” Ann spoke in a flirty tone. She must have known she would embarrass Carl.
“I’m sure I don’t, I know I don’t have any of that here.” Carl stammered.
“I didn’t think you would dear. Don’t worry I have a few things at my place. I’ll be right back.” Ann carefully settled me into a large leather chair in the corner of the sunlit living room. “How about some coffee. Carl has the best coffee; he has it’s sent in from Hawaii.”
“That sounds great.” I was hungry, but I needed caffeine.
“I have some fresh blueberry scones in the kitchen too. I’ll go grab them.” Carl was a great host. I imagine we interrupted his morning, but he showed no signs of imposition. Carl called out to Ann from the kitchen just as she finished zipping her coat. “I have bacon and some fresh, bakery bread. Bring a few of those huge tomatoes from the garden.”
Ann patted my arm lightly. “I’ll be right back. Don’t worry you are perfectly safe here.” Stupidly I hadn’t even considered my safety.
I sat alone for a moment in the dark leather recliner. The neatly appointed room was lined floor to ceiling with shelves, completely packed full of books. This was the most overwhelming personal display of literature I had ever seen. A fancy set of American classics sitting at eye level caught my attention; some of the titles I recognized. Their burgundy leather covers matched the couch and chairs. The subjects and authors didn’t seem to be in any particular order, but the books flowed nicely around the room by color and size. The room was fluid and calming. The walls curved with the shape of the dome, and the placement of the windows let in a tremendous amount of light.
I was tense, grinding my teeth, almost holding my breath. I could feel the relief wash over me as I sat there alone in the sunlit room. It was only a few minutes before Carl came back with a round glass plate of scones, grapes, sliced apples, and petite squares of cheese. “Oh, my what a beautiful presentation,” I exclaimed. Carl laughed as he arranged the plate of food on the coffee table in front of me.
“You, don’t remember any of this place, do you? Carl asked with deep curiosity in his voice.
“No, they have me confused with someone else. But it’s strange I remembered Colonel Wolfe’s name. It’s Richard.” Carl nodded in agreement and sat back in his chair. “I recognized the sound of the helicopter landing on the pad. It made me think of returning home from a long trip. You know the sound the car makes when you pull into your own driveway. I don’t know why all this is happening to me. Ann thinks she knows me. I’m afraid she is going to be disappointed when it turns out this has all been a mistake. This chair is incredibly comfortable, sitting here, I feel so peaceful and calm. There's order and lightness in this room. It feels like I’ve been here before, but I guess I haven’t been.”
“Yeah, it’s a painstaking process that they take you through when they block your memory. My ability works on people’s memories and feelings. I can tell that you have only tiny crumbs of memories left about our work here. Maybe that’s a good thing, Cal.” Carl took a sip of coffee and popped a slice of scone in his mouth.
“Your ability; you say that so nonchalantly but I don’t understand what you mean.” I was afraid to even ask. I feared I might spark some odd reaction or an even more unbelievable explanation.
“There are many of us here that have extra abilities. We are categorized as specialists and we augment the normal military classifications you’ve probably heard of.” Carl explained slowly as if any moment I would nod my head in agreement and remember it all for myself.
“Colonel Wolfe says that I’m a danger to my family. Do you think he is right?”
“All of us are dangerous in our own way I suppose. Yes, you could be very dangerous if you were out of control. The same could be said of any of our specialized military groups.
"Take the snipers for example. They are disciplined, competitive, and always in control. They display better than average hand to eye coordination, excellent reflexes, and compartmentalized task completions. However, if one of them went off the reservation, you could capture them, take away their weapons, restrain them, and put them in holding until they calmed down. The problem would likely be solved promptly assuming they were not heavily armed.
"They aren’t able to take anything away from us Cal. Some of us are more dangerous in that respect. You can’t detain people that can shift and astral project, or even hope to capture that person in the first place. If that person can control the thoughts and actions of others, forget it. It would be almost impossible to stop someone like that from imposing their will and doing as they pleased.”
“Us? Why would you say us? Astral project?” I could hear him. He was speaking English, but I was confused by what he was saying, and he acted as if I should know all about it.
“The ability to project yourself into another room or another country if you want to.” Carl looked at me suspiciously just as Ann had when we first met.
“That’s all fairy tales and Hollywood magic Carl. Nobody can do those things in real life. Am I a sniper, is that why they brought me back here?” I carefully nibbled the corner of a blueberry scone. I could tell that I offended Carl with my comments. “I know how to shoot a gun. I didn’t think twice about it, I must be some kind of …”
Ann walked through the door with a beautiful bunch of red tomatoes and an Indian print backpack over her shoulder. “Ann, those are the biggest tomatoes I have ever seen. Do you grow them?” Carl sat still keeping his gaze on me. He looked confused.
“Hydroponic Cuostralee’s. I grow them in my hot house.” Ann sniffed the huge, red orb. “These are my favorite for eating raw. Now I also have some nice Roma’s but I use them for sauces.” Ann was proud of her tomatoes you could see it in the care she took handing them over to Carl one by one, they were a deep, dark red and easily the size of grapefruits. Thank goodness her “crop” was tomatoes.
Carl looked up at Ann; her touch seemed to bring him back to the moment. He fumbled the huge tomatoes in his hands and then hurried back to the kitchen with them. “Do you have your two-way Ann? Call Gerald’s office. He is worried; he’s about to go looking for Calynn.” I could hear thick paper rustling in the kitchen as Carl assembled the sandwiches.
“Yes, I have it. I’ll call him. You’ve only been out of sight for twenty minutes. It’s not like he was concerned enough to go with you now was he.” Ann tapped a few numbers on her phone and leaned against the stark white wall of the dining room waiting for her call to go through. I wasn’t able to hear much of her conversation over the popping of my skull while I ate. A milkshake would have been a much less painful choice.
Ann put the phone back in her pocket and started pulling winter clothes out of the backpack. She quietly held up a new package of underwear and three white, tank style bras. She put them on the couch next to me and continued pulling out long sleeved shirts and two pairs of jeans. She folded it all and stuffed back in the pack before handing it to me.
“You seem to be a bit chunkier than last time I saw you, but I think these will fit. Sara and I went shopping on her last visit. She left some things behind on accident. Sara’s my daughter. You probably don’t remember her either. She was fourteen when you left. She thought the world of you, like an older sister. Let the Colonel know what you need. He will get anything you ask for.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure all he wants to get me is a pine box and an unmarked grave,” I remarked while popping a cheese square in my mouth. “Maybe even just a burlap sack. He’s a complete asshole.”
“That may be but wouldn’t a shallow grave been much easier than orchestrating all this. I don’t know what he’s planning, but I bet it has nothing to do with a pine box. There’s some shampoo, a nice set of coconut soaps, and a few other basics in the bottom of the bag. A hot shower and fresh clothes always make the world look better to me.” Ann was kind, and I could tell she genuinely wanted to help me. I was grateful. She was the first person here that didn’t want anything from me in return.
“Thank you for these Ann. I’m sorry I don’t have a way to repay you. Once this is all sorted out, I will send you a check.”
“Listen to you. You aren’t expected to repay me, sweetie. Please take the bag as a gift. I hope you get some use of the clothes. Sara won’t miss them, believe me.”
There was a knock on the door. Carl walked across the room and greeted Gerald. “How are you Carl, I see you have found our girl. Thanks for fixing her breakfast.”
“No problem Gerald. Please come in. It’s been years. How have you been?” Carl was a good host, but his questions were not as benign as they appeared. “You know she is not going to be able to stomach any processed garbage. You might arrange for her to get some real food while she’s here.”
Ann patted my leg and popped up off the couch “We would be happy for her to stay with us in the north village if that works out for you Ivan.”
“Thank you, we are still deciding on the best course of action. I’m sure we will have her settled in the coming days.”
I recognized this as my cue to leave. I folded my blanket as best I could manage and left it on the leather chair. Carl walked over to me and handed me a bag of sandwiches wrapped in white butcher paper. He still had a confused look on his face. “Come back and see me again when you can Calynn. I would love to hear some more about your views on Hollywood magic.”
“I have offended you, Carl. That was not my intention. You and Ann have been very kind, thank you.”
“I told you not to feel bad Cal. It will all make sense to you soon. Oh, and no, you are not a sniper. Besides, that’s a two person operation and they did not bring back the wrong person. Save yourself some pain, stick to the milkshakes for a few days. I’ll make some fresh scones when you are well enough to enjoy them.” Carl grabbed me lightly on the shoulder and smiled. It was obvious to me he could sense much more than Ann let on; he knew everything I was feeling.
I took the sandwiches and the backpack Ann brought me, thanked them both again and made my way to the door. Gerald offered his hand out to help me down the stairs and we walked out to the yard. The houses were set on beds of dark gray rock. The path looked like a crushed slate and quartz mix. It was all quite orderly, rugged, and beautiful in the full morning sun.