The Cafe Beano was a coffee shop on the corner of a busy avenue not far from the apartment building, a place I was convinced I had been before, though no memory would come to me. Yet I knew where it was and could picture its cluttered interior, with tables and chairs strewn about seemingly at random, could smell the bitter coffee and hear the chatter of the menagerie of people gathered within its walls. It was the specificity of these memories that seemed the strangest of all to me. Why could I recall with exacting detail everything about the Beano, but not remember having been there or anywhere else in this city, wherever it was? It was if someone had planted the memory whole within me, but left aside all the context, all the things that made a memory personal. This recollection could have been anyone’s, just as I could be anyone, and that was what bothered me most of all.
Meredith might be able to help there, I reasoned, as I walked back through the park to the coffee shop. All those things which had seemed so significant earlier—the couple talking, the movement of the light through the tree branches, the damp smell of the earth—I noted now in a glancing way, giving them no real thought, my mind on how to proceed with Meredith. Did I reveal to her that I had no memory of who I was? Could I trust her with that information? Best to wait until I better understood what she wanted and go from there, I decided.
I had a sudden moment of panic as I stepped into the Cafe Beano, glancing about at the faces of those sitting at the tables or standing in line for coffee, and realized I had no idea what Meredith looked like. If she was already here I would have no way of finding her—how had this not occurred to me before, I wondered, feeling my face go red—and there would be no hiding my memory loss from her. Realizing there was nothing else for it now that I was here, I went and stood in line, fidgeting and glancing about to see if anyone in the place was trying to meet my eyes.
As I waited a slim woman, with hair that wavered between blond and brown, depending on the light, pulled tight into a dancer’s bun that peaked atop her head, came alongside me and said in a quiet voice, so unlike the one she had used on the phone, “I’ll get a table at the back. Get me a latte.”
I nodded, our eyes meeting and lingering, before she slipped by, disappearing behind me. That brief moment of contact, electric with unspoken thoughts and emotions I could not even begin to parse, unsettled me deeply. The low level of anxiety I had felt from the moment I stepped into the cafe, overfull with people, talk and heat, blossomed within me now that this confrontation was at hand. It was all too much, too quickly. I still hadn’t recovered from my first glimpse of myself, still did not feel comfortable, even to stand in line, my body, too large or small or just wrong. And now I was out under the unforgiving gaze of others, who I imagined could somehow pierce through whatever disguise I had on and see the falseness at my core.
I had no recollection of ordering the coffees, I simply walked away with the cups in my hands. My breathing was unsteady and sounded loud in my ears and my hands were numb, so that with each step I worried I would drop the cups. Stopping to gather myself I saw Meredith watching me from a table by the window at the back of the cafe, her face unreadable. The table was near a door that led out to a patio where a few smokers lingered, and I noted that she would have a clear view of both entrances, as well as the whole of the place. That was not an accident, I thought to myself, as I started toward her.
“What is the matter with you?” she said as I sat down. “I thought you were going to faint right there.”
I shrugged, passing her the latte, and took the lid off mine to blow on it. “Just had a moment.”
“What does that mean?” she said, and then waved a hand in exasperation. “Never mind. We’ve got more important things to talk about.”
“You said they were here looking for us?”
Meredith leaned forward, her eyes darting around, pitching her voice low. “You remember what I told you about them?”
“Who?” I said automatically, forgetting myself. I flushed red, almost wincing as Meredith’s steady eyes tried to read mine.
“I’m not going to say their name,” she said, as though I could not be a greater fool. “You know who. They’ve brought a Seeker over here.”
“Over here?” I said. Something about the way she emphasized those words drew my attention.
“Here,” she said. “If they have a Seeker they will find us. It’s a matter of time.”
I nodded as though I understood, but I could see the doubt plain on Meredith’s face. She seemed about to say something else when her gaze was drawn to the cafe’s main entrance. Seeing her eyes transfixed, horror and fear growing in them, I turned to look and saw two men standing in the doorway casting their hard eyes around the room as if they were looking for someone. They were massive in size, tall and broad shouldered, their muscle evident even beneath the long jackets they wore. Except they were not jackets I saw, as I looked closer, more like robes, black in color, except for the red symbol upon the shoulder. Something tugged at my mind as I stared at them, trying to remember where I had seen the figure before, a thought almost taking shape.
It did not come, for the two men stepped aside and a third came into view. He was much shorter than they, with a sleight build, wearing a similar robe, though his was dark grey. His head was almost entirely covered by a grey scarf, the wrapping not unlike that for a turban, leaving only his eyes visible, and those only after a fashion, for he was wearing what appeared to be aviator goggles. The lenses were a deep violet that the light reflected strangely off of. It seemed impossible that their wearer could see anything out of them. There were no straps extending from the goggles and, as I looked closer to determine how they were kept in place, I realized they were fused to his skin in some manner.
As I was wondering how that could be possible, and what use they could have, Meredith was standing and taking me by the arm.
“Don’t look at them,” she whispered, as she pulled me from my chair toward the door. “We have to go.”
Dumbfounded by everything that was happening I let her lead me out the door, though my body felt limp and it was a struggle to move.
“Quickly,” Meredith said, her hand pressing hard on my arm as she led me down the street. “Don’t look back.”
I was unable to stop myself, though, I had to see the man with the impossible eyes and the robes with the rune I could almost recall having seen before. As I turned to get my last glimpse, Meredith jerking my shoulder hard and swearing at me under her breath, I could just see three of them. They had moved to the center of the cafe, their presence drawing curious stares from those sitting nearby. The man in the violet goggles was staring out the window in our direction. I felt a chill run up my spine as I could feel his unseen eyes upon me.
“They see us,” I said to Meredith.
“We’ll have to run.”
This is the third part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.