With the coming publication of the final volume of the Sojourners Cycle, The Sojourner, on September 30, we’re revisiting how it all began with an excerpt from the first book in the series, The Forgotten:
I crawl from the bathroom, choking back sobs, my whole body shaking with fear and revulsion. I want to peel off this skin, cut off my nose and lips, all of my face. Perhaps beneath it all is the person I am, not this simulacrum. But who is that exactly? I have no sense, no idea of where to even begin. My mind is blank, my thoughts as unfamiliar as the face that stares back at me, though they tantalize at moments, almost seeming to be my own. My instincts have returned me to this place, it is all here somewhere within me. But for now I remain a foreign country to myself.
When I have recovered from my shock enough to get to my feet, I go to the kitchen to see if there is anything to drink. I fumble through the cupboards haphazardly, my search of the apartment only moments before already forgotten, and come across a bottle of rye and some packets of chai tea. I opt for the tea, not trusting my stomach with the alcohol, though the thought of oblivion is tempting. I find the kettle and fill it with water and plug it in, spending a few anxious moments waiting for it to come to a boil.
A phone begins to ring as I wait for the tea to finish steeping. I locate 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 see a name and a number and, while I try to call forth from my memory any details about the Meredith whose name appears there, the call goes to voicemail. The name does not seem familiar to me, but the number is a local one. How I know that I cannot say, but a quick search of the cell for its number shows the same area code. It seems likely that my instincts are correct again.
I nod to myself and go to have my tea, taking the phone with me. Opening up the missed call on the display, I find Meredith’s contact and see that the only information I have on her is this phone number. Flipping through the log it appears that she called quite often, every two or three days in most cases. Strangely, or so I think, there are no outgoing calls from this phone to her and no texts in either direction. She is always calling here and the conversations were short, no more than ten minutes. Unusual for a friendship, so an acquaintance, then. But what sort?
Do I dare phone her back in my current state? I need answers, but it is impossible to say whether or not she has any, or whether I can trust her. The fact that there are no outgoing calls or texts to her number seems significant to me. As I mull these questions the phone starts to ring, vibrating insistently on the table. Meredith again. I stare at the display, a hundred competing thoughts racing through my mind, all ending with the face that stared back at me in the mirror and the depthless black that followed.
“Hello,” I say, my hands shaking as I hold the phone to my ear.
“Where the hell have you been, David?” says the voice on the other end, without preamble.
“I was out for a walk,” I say, after I have recovered from my surprise. My voice, strained and high, filled with tension and adrenaline, sounds more alien than ever to my ears. No more than the name she has just uttered, though, which I immediately feel cannot be mine.
“What a load of…” Her voice trails off in disgust. “Whatever. Look, we need to meet now, as soon as you can.”
I hesitate, unsure what to make of her request. Whether due to her manner, or the clear anxiety that underlay it, I do not trust her. But her familiarity, her presumption to ask for a rendezvous, suggests we have done so before. Will refusing strike her as out of character? Will she insist on meeting, or worse, come over to the apartment? I do not want to face her now, not when I am still out of sorts, without any bearings. If I can delay her somehow…She does not give me the chance.
“I don’t care if you don’t want to,” she says, 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 says, 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 is a pause and I can hear her swear under her breath. “Forget about her. We’ve got bigger problems now. Do you know the Beano?”
“Sure,” I say without hesitation, and am startled to realize that I do know exactly the place she is referring to.
“Good. I can be there in ten minutes. You better be there too.”
She hangs up before I can say anything further. I hold 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 take a sip of my now lukewarm tea. David. It just doesn’t sound right. Nothing felt right about me; it is like an itch I cannot scratch.
There is something not right about Meredith too, I can feel it through the phone. I don’t trust her. The threat she mentioned, is that real? It’s impossible for me to judge. What seems certain is that she knew plenty about me—the woman she mentioned, for one—and she might very well be able to help with all the questions I have. But do I want to hear the answers?
The Sojourners Cycle: