Meredith was the first to move, releasing her grip on my arms and plucking the button from my neck. She returned it and the one she wore to her jacket pocket while I rubbed my throat, the cold gradually receding from my skin. I was giddy with relief at our apparent escape and had a thousand questions, but Meredith’s face was marked by a coiled sort of anger that warned me from asking any of them just now.
Nightfall approached, the sun low in the sky and the shadows long, by the time we left the apartment building, slipping out the back into a taxi Meredith had called. She sent the driver on a circuitous route, watching out the back window for the entire trip, with the same grim expression on her face. When she was satisfied we had not been followed she directed him to an apartment building called the Ivanhoe, an older brick building in a neighborhood I thought was close to where I lived. Each floor, I noted as we ascended up the stairs to the fifth, had a slightly unpleasant odor in its hallway, all of them distinct from the others somehow.
The apartment that Meredith brought me to was cramped and narrow, filled with ornate antique furniture too large for its rooms, forcing us to navigate with care in order to move about the place. There were shelves heavy with books, some of them very old, and the air was heavy with the smell of them. Everything here seemed to run counter to the person I had met that afternoon, it had none of Meredith’s care or precision.
Seeing the look on my face, Meredith said, “It’s a friends. Someone they couldn’t possibly know, so it should take them awhile to find us again.”
“We can spend the night.” What would happen after that she left unsaid. She told me to sit and make myself comfortable while she got us something to eat, which I tried to do, though I was seized by a restlessness that would not quiet. All the tension and fear of the day, which at times had seemed remote, even when the Seeker had been staring directly at me and our discovery seemed imminent, fell upon me now that the danger was past. As smells of the meal Meredith was preparing wafted over to me, I tried to steady myself by staring out the window to watch the sun descend, bathing the city’s downtown in fiery purples and reds.
A sense of hopelessness seized me as I sat there, the little that I knew, and the vast ocean of all I did not, overwhelming me. The wrongness of myself, of this body, resurfaced now that I was left alone with my thoughts and I wanted nothing more than to lie on the couch and sob. I knew I could not though, not while Meredith was here. Until I had better sense of what was happening and of who I was, I could not trust her or anyone. There were too many mysteries and, to this point, no answers, beyond the fact that my life was in danger.
Though I could remember nothing of my past the world seemed to me no longer the one I had known. Men with insect eyes who could find me seemingly at will. Buttons that hid people in plain sight. Languages and symbols unlike anything I had seen or heard. It was all too much to process, on top of everything else I was dealing with. And yet from moment to moment I had the sense that it was all there, all the understanding and knowledge I needed was somewhere in my mind, always slipping just beyond my grasp.
Meredith brought me our supper—mushroom soup and toast—and we ate in silence, both of us uneasy in the other’s presence. I could not even begin to think of what I might say, where to begin with all that had occurred. The food pushed aside all such worries, for I was ravenous beyond belief, unsurprising given that I had no idea when I had last eaten. When we were both done I did the dishes, enjoying the simplicity of the task and the distraction it provided.
I returned to the living room when I was done where Meredith sat on the couch, her legs curled up underneath her, a book on her lap. “It’s about religion,” she said, noticing my interest, “My friend studies it.”
“All religion. Or a religion?”
“Well, he’s interested in the philosophy, I guess, and the history of them.”
“Trying to find the right one,” I said, trying and failing to sound lighthearted.
Meredith shrugged. “Aren’t we all.” She set the book aside and motioned for me to sit down. “How are you feeling? I know it was probably not the day you were expecting.”
“No,” I said, “I guess not.”
She looked away from me, hesitating again, staring at the darkness beyond the window. “How much do you remember?”
“What do you mean?” I said, smiling, even as my heart began to race and sweat gathered on my palms. What could I tell her that might make some sense.
“No,” she said. “I need to know for sure. The Seeker will not stop, he will find us, and we’ll need to be prepared. Do you remember anything at all?”
She looked at me, concern etched upon her face, yet all I could think was that she had known what the Seeker had whispered in the apartment. She had the buttons. None of the day’s events proved that she was any more trustworthy than the Seeker and his minions. There was something about her that made me question her motives. The concern on her face, the emotion in her eyes, it all felt false somehow. But I had no other choice.
“No,” I said, “I don’t remember anything before this afternoon.”
This is the fifth part of The Forgotten, a science fiction thriller. A new section will be published here every Thursday.