Meredith dragged me along as she ran, pulling my arm so violently I feared my shoulder might fly from my socket. Behind us I heard a cry in a strange accent, a word I thought I knew, though I could not place it. I whispered it to myself as I tried to keep up to Meredith and she glared at me furiously, yanking even harder upon my arm. The sounds of pursuit grew nearer as we ducked around a corner and into a broad alley, weaving around trash dumpsters. One of the pursuers—the man with the goggles, I was certain—uttered a command and somehow I knew they were splitting up to cut off our avenues of escape.
I began to say something, but Meredith silenced me with a glance. Directly in our path were two cooks in stained white jackets outside having a smoke break and Meredith headed for them with me in tow. They glanced up in surprise at our rapid approach, their astonishment soon replaced by fear as they saw the man behind us in pursuit. Their conversation silenced they watched us, open-mouthed and frozen in place, as Meredith blew past them, carrying me with her. She threw open the door leading into the kitchen, with such violence it almost rebounded off the wall to hit us, and we plunged within before either cook had time to recover and do anything.
Inside we were met by a shout of anger from another cook and a stunned shriek from the waitress we bowled over as we dodged through the galleys. By the time I noticed the scalding heat hitting my face, we were already out of kitchen, emerging to find ourselves near a bar. A couple, with their arms slung over each other as they leaned against the counter, glanced up at our sudden entrance. Again I noted the long delay before the surprise registered on their faces. Was time moving slower for me, each instant fuller than the last?
I had no time to think about that for Meredith did not pause, flying around the bar, shoving aside anyone who came near our path, and it was all I could do to keep up with her. The staff was slow to react as well, only moving in our direction when we reached the entrance to the place. By then shouts and cries began to arise again from the kitchen and a low murmur of consternation erupted, cut silent by the door swinging shut behind me as we returned to the street. Here Meredith paused for a second to get her bearings, glancing left and right. My face felt hot and my pulse echoed loudly in my temple. I could not seem to get enough air into my lungs.
We both saw him at the same moment, the dark robe and the flash of scarlet at the shoulder, coming toward us from down the street. Meredith did not hesitate, grabbing me by the arm again and leaping into the midst of the traffic passing by in front of us. Instinctively I resisted, but she proved surprisingly strong for someone so slight and easily overpowered me. Once we were in the middle of the street I surrendered to her will, trusting she knew what she was doing.
We darted across the rest of the lanes of traffic, the whoosh of air from a passing bus the only blow either of us sustained, and headed through the first door we found. The place was a magazine shop, called News of the Day, and we sprinted down the narrow aisles teeming with glossy covers. The proprietor did not even look up from where he sat behind the register, his focus entirely on the book he was reading. When we reached the back of the store, near the pornography section, Meredith shoved open the door leading to the back did and the man finally realized something was amiss. He stood up, calling after us as we went, “Excuse me.”
Meredith ignored him, slamming the door shut and, after noticing the deadbolt, locking it behind us. She led me through the dingy back of the store, out into another alley that strangely backed onto another street. There were no storefronts on this avenue, only some parking spaces and, on the far side, an apartment building on one corner, with the rest of the block filled by a park and a lawn bowling club. She headed for the apartment building, angling across the empty street as she went, moving with ease even as I began to labor, my lungs burning and sweat streaking my face.
At the door to the apartment building she produced what looked like an uncut key, flat and rectangular, with no grooves carved into it. In spite of its unfinished look it slid easily into the lock, opening the door. Before we entered the building we both, by instinct, looked behind to see if anyone was behind us. The street was empty, except for a lone car that passed slowly by, heading in the direction opposite ours. Meredith did not give it more than a glance, before pulling me inside and starting toward the stairs.
“I think we lost them,” I ventured tentatively.
“No,” was her blunt reply, not even bothering to turn to look at me, or slowing her pace whatsoever. I followed behind, my every breath now sounding like a smoker’s dying gasp.
At the door to the third floor Meredith stopped and turned to me, holding a finger to her lips. While I tried valiantly to quiet my breathing, she led the way forward, going from door to door, holding her head against each one to listen for a moment before moving on. Five apartments in she came to one to her liking and, slipping the flat key from her pocket again, she unlocked the door leading me within. Inside was a spacious apartment, made less so by the two leather couches and a massive flat screen television in the main room, all too large for the space. That alone told me, and a quick glance at the rest of the place confirmed, that the apartment was not hers. This was a man’s place, there was no doubt in my mind.
“What are we doing here?” I said, as I watched her go from room to room, confirming that the apartment was empty.
“Quiet,” Meredith said, when she had finished her search. “We don’t have much time. Take this.”
She handed me, what I initially thought was, an overlarge square button. It was cold to the touch and had a weight out of proportion to its size. Studying it more closely I saw that, what I had thought was a black color, was in fact no color at all. The thing seemed to repel light, much as the man’s goggles had. There were no markings on it, no sign of what purpose it might have. Seeing the perplexed look on my face, Meredith sighed in exasperation and took the button from me and pressed it to the hollow of my neck. To my surprise it stuck to my skin, the cold from it spreading across my throat.
“Not a word,” Meredith said, pointing at me. “Not a damn word. Don’t move. Don’t even breathe.”
I did as she said, though I could not begin to understand why. A few minutes later it became all too clear. Down the hall came the voices, those foreign, yet familiar, accents and words, moving nearer. Soon I could hear their heavy footsteps on the hallway carpet, coming to a halt right before the door to the apartment we had taken refuge in. I took a step back, away from the door and them, not even realizing I had done so. Meredith, her expression colored with fury, clamped her hands on my shoulders and held me still.
I could almost sense the men pausing on the other side of the door, the moment stretching on and seeming to slow until time went absolutely still. No one seemed to breath as we all waited for something to break the impasse. One of the pursuers, the man with the goggles if I had to guess, uttered a phrase and I felt Meredith slump a bit in defeat, the air going from her chest in a sigh. The doorknob jiggled and someone fumbled with the lock, while Meredith pressed her fingers even more insistently into my arms. The air burned in my lungs and I was afraid to even blink.
A small grunt of triumph was followed by the door swinging open and the man with the goggles stepped into the apartment. He barely glanced at the kitchen, moving immediately to the living room where Meredith and I stood. One of the black robes followed him part way down the hall, the other staying to keep watch on the corridor. The Seeker, for there seemed no doubt who this was, studied the room with a careful disdain. My every instinct cried out for me to find somewhere to hide, but Meredith held me even tighter, while remaining absolutely still herself.
Though it was impossible, my mind could not even begin to comprehend it, neither the Seeker nor the black robe saw us as we stood before them in plain sight. It looked to me as though both of them were staring right at us, yet they noticed nothing. How was such a feat achieved? It was the button, I knew, but how it could work to render us invisible I could not say. All I knew for certain was that the cold from its heavy substance was spreading from my throat up my cheeks and down to my chest.
The Seeker appeared to be as confused as I was. He muttered something to himself as he glanced around, looking for all the world like someone who had misplaced his keys. Each time he cast his gaze about the room he would return to stare directly at me, as though he somehow knew that we were there in spite of what his eyes told him. As I watched him I realized that he was not staring at the two of us, but at the place I had been standing before my inadvertent step. He studied that space for what seemed minutes, not moving at all.
The spreading cold from the button made me want to shiver and it soon became an irresistible sensation that took all my will not to give in to. I took half breaths through my nose, terrified that even that slight stirring of the air would attract the Seeker’s attention. His eyes were even more fearsome to look at up close, for they were not quite like the aviator goggles I had in my head, but more like an insect’s eyes viewed up close with a thousand tiny hexagons linked together to form those opaque and impenetrable circles. From a distance they had looked constructed, a clumsy addition made to human flesh, but now I was certain they organic, as the rest of him was, cell placed upon cell forming this monstrous whole.
The black robe in the hallway shifted his weight and the Seeker glanced toward him and nodded, as though acknowledging the search had come to its end. He turned back to where Meredith I stood and whispered something, his voice pitched so that only someone very near him, as we were, could hear it. The hairs stood on the back of my neck at the phrase, whether from the tone of his voice or some innate understanding of what they meant. But, try as I might, I could not recall what they meant. Meredith, I noticed with some curiosity, stiffened at them, as though fighting the urge to reply in kind.
The Seeker’s words seemed to hang in the air like a threat, until he shook his head and turned away from where we stood, heading out of the apartment. The black robes followed behind, one of them shutting the door. As the sound of their footsteps down the hall disappeared, both of us exhaled at the same moment, Meredith’s breath warm on my ear. I could feel her hands trembling on my arms and neither of us dared to move for a long while.
This is the fourth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.