I crawled from the bathroom, choking back sobs, my whole body shaking with fear and revulsion. I wanted to peel off this skin, cut off my nose and lips, all of my face. Perhaps beneath it all was the person I was, not this simulacrum. But who was that exactly? I had no sense, no idea of where to even begin. My mind was blank, my thoughts as unfamiliar as the face that stared back at me, though they tantalized at moments, almost seeming to be my own. My instincts had returned me to this place, it was all there somewhere within me. For now I remained a foreign country to myself.
When I had recovered from my shock enough to get to my feet, I went to the kitchen to see if there was anything to drink. I fumbled through the cupboards haphazardly, my search of the apartment only moments before already forgotten, and came across a bottle of rye and some packets of chai tea. I opted for the tea, not trusting my stomach with the alcohol, though the thought of oblivion was tempting. I found the kettle and filled it with water and plugged it in, spending a few anxious moments waiting for it to come to a boil.
A phone began to ring as I waited for the tea to finish steeping. I located it in the bedroom atop a dresser amidst a scattering of detritus: loose change, receipts, and sunglasses, all stray pieces of a lost life. Looking at the display I saw a name and a number and, while I tried to call forth from my memory any details about the Meredith whose name appeared there, the call went to voicemail. The name did not seem familiar to me, but the number was a local one. How I knew that I could not say, but a quick search of the cell for its number showed the same area code and I thought it likely that my instincts were correct again.
I nodded to myself and went to have my tea, taking the phone with me. Opening up the missed call on the display I went to Meredith’s contact and saw that the only information I had on her was this phone number. Flipping through the log it appeared that she called quite often, every two or three days in most cases. Strangely, or so I thought, there were no outgoing calls from this phone to her and no texts in either direction. She was always calling here and the conversations were short, no more than ten minutes. Unusual for a friendship, so an acquaintance then. But what sort?
Did I dare phone her back in my current state? I needed answers, but it was impossible to say whether or not she had any, or whether I could trust her. The fact that there were no outgoing calls or texts to her number seemed significant to me. As I was mulling these questions the phone started to ring, vibrating insistently on the table. Meredith again. I stared at the display, a hundred competing thoughts racing through my mind, all ending with the face that had stared back at me in the mirror and the depthless black that had followed.
“Hello,” I said, my hands shaking as I held the phone to my ear.
“Where the hell have you been David?” said the voice on the other end, without preamble.
“I was out for a walk,” I said, after I had recovered from my surprise. My voice, strained and high, filled with tension and adrenaline, sounded more alien than ever to my ears. No more than the name she had just uttered though, which I immediately felt could not be mine.
“What a load of…” her voice trailed off in disgust. “Whatever. Look, we need to meet now, as soon as you can.”
I hesitated, unsure what to make of her request. Whether due to her manner, or the clear anxiety that underlay it, I did not trust her. But her familiarity, her presumption to ask for a rendezvous, suggested we had done so before. Would refusing strike her as out of character? Would she insist on meeting, or worse, come over to the apartment? I did not want to face her now, not when I was still out of sorts, without any bearings. If I could delay her somehow. She did not give me the chance.
“I don’t care if you don’t want to,” she said, cutting into my silence and reading my thoughts. “We have to meet and we can’t afford to wait. They’re coming for us. Do you understand? They’ve found us and they’re here.”
“Who?” I said, the question sounding stupid, even to my ears.
“What is the matter with you? I’m not talking about this over the phone for god’s sake.”
“Sorry, Meredith. You just caught me at a bad time. I’m a little distracted is all.”
There was a pause and I could hear her swear under her breath. “Forget about her. We’ve got bigger problems now. Do you know the Beano?”
“Sure,” I said without hesitation, and was startled to realize that I did know exactly the place she was referring to.
“Good. I can be there in ten minutes. You better be there too.”
She hung up before I could say anything further. I held the phone at my ear, listening to the vacuum on the other end, in a complete daze. At last I set it down and with an unsteady hand took a sip of my now lukewarm tea. David. It just did not sound right. Nothing felt right about me, it was like an itch I could not scratch. There was something not right about Meredith too, I could feel it through the phone. I didn’t trust her. The threat she had mentioned, was that real? It was impossible for me to judge. What seemed certain was that she knew plenty about me—the girl she had mentioned for one—and she might very well be able to help with all the questions I had. But did I want to hear the answers?
This is the second part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.