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:
The Cafe Beano is a coffee shop on the corner of a busy avenue not far from the apartment building, a place I am convinced I have been before, though no memory comes to me. Yet I know where it is and can picture its cluttered interior, with tables and chairs strewn about seemingly at random, can smell the bitter coffee and hear the chatter of the menagerie of people gathered within its walls.
It is the specificity of these memories that seems the strangest of all to me. Why can I recall with exacting detail everything about the Beano, but not remember having been there or anywhere else in this city, wherever it is? It’s as if someone planted the memory whole within me, but left aside all the context, all the things that make a memory personal. This recollection could be anyone’s, just as I could be anyone, and that is what bothers me most of all.
Meredith might be able to help there, I reason, as I walk back through the park to the coffee shop. All those things that seemed so significant earlier—the couple talking, the movement of the light through the tree branches, the damp smell of the earth—I note 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 have no memory of who I am? Can I trust her with this information? Best to wait until I better understand what she wants and go from there, I decide.
I have a sudden moment of panic as I step into the Cafe Beano, glancing about at the faces of those sitting at the tables or standing in line for coffee, and realize I have no idea what Meredith looks like. If she is already here I have no way of finding her—how did this not occur to me before, I wonder, feeling my face go red—and there will be no hiding my memory loss from her. Realizing there is nothing else for it now that I am here, I go and stand in line, fidgeting and glancing about to see if anyone in the place is trying to meet my eyes.
As I wait, 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, comes alongside me and says in a quiet voice, so unlike the one she used on the phone, “I’ll get a table at the back. Get me a latte.”
I nod, our eyes meeting and lingering, before she slips by, disappearing behind me. That brief moment of contact, electric with unspoken thoughts and emotions I cannot even begin to parse, unsettles me deeply. The low level of anxiety I have felt from the moment I stepped into the cafe, overfull with people, talk, and heat, blossoms within me now that this confrontation is at hand.
It is all too much, too quickly. I still haven’t recovered from my first glimpse of myself, still do not feel comfortable, even to stand in line, my body, too large or small or just wrong. And now I am out under the unforgiving gaze of others, who I imagine can somehow pierce through whatever disguise I have on and see the falseness at my core.
The woman behind the counter smiles at me as my turn comes to order. “Back already,” she says and, when I look at her blankly, adds, “You were just here this morning.”
“Right,” I say, nodding, not saying anything else and looking away.
The next thing I know I am walking away, coffee in hand. I do not remember ordering or paying, though I must have. My breathing is unsteady and sounds loud in my ears and my hands are numb, so that with each step I worry I will drop the cups. Stopping to gather myself, I see Meredith watching me from a table by the window at the back of the cafe, her face unreadable. The table is near a door leading out to a patio where a few smokers linger, and I note that she will have a clear view of both entrances, as well as the whole of the place. That is not an accident, I think, as I start toward her.
“What is the matter with you?” she says as I sit down. “I thought you were going to faint right there.”
I shrug, passing her the latte, and took the lid off mine to blow on it. “Just had a moment.”
“What does that mean?” she says, and then waves a hand in exasperation. “Never mind. We’ve got more important things to talk about.”
“You said they were here looking for us?”
Meredith leans forward, her eyes darting around, pitching her voice low. “You remember what I told you about them?”
“Who?” I say automatically, forgetting myself. I flush red, almost wincing as Meredith’s steady eyes try to read mine.
“I’m not going to say their name,” she says, as though I could not be a greater fool. “You know who. They’ve brought a Seeker over here.”
“Over here?” I say. Something about the way she emphasizes those words draws my attention.
“Here,” she says. “If they have a Seeker they will find us. It’s a matter of time.”
I nod as though I understand. Meredith looks doubtful and she seems about to say something else when her gaze is drawn to the cafe’s main entrance. Seeing her eyes transfixed, horror and fear growing in them, I turn to look and see two men standing in the doorway casting their hard eyes around the room as if they are looking for someone.
They are massive in size, tall and broad-shouldered, their muscle evident even beneath the long jackets they wear. Except they are not jackets I notice, as I look closer, more like robes, black in color, except for the red symbol upon the shoulder. Something tugs at my mind as I stare at them, trying to remember where I have seen the figure before, a thought almost taking shape.
It does not come, for the two men step aside and a third comes into view. He is much shorter than they, with a slight build, wearing a similar cut robe, though his is dark grey. His head is 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 is wearing what appears to be a mutant pair of aviator goggles. The lenses are a deep violet the light reflects strangely off of. It seems impossible that their wearer could see anything out of them. There are no straps extending from the goggles and, as I look closer to determine how they are kept in place, I realize they are fused to his skin in some manner.
As I am wondering how that can be possible, Meredith is standing and taking me by the arm.
“Don’t look at them,” she whispers, as she pulls me from my chair toward the door. “We have to go.”
Dumbfounded by everything that is happening, I let her lead me out the door, though my body feels limp and it is a struggle to move.
“Quickly,” Meredith says, her hand pressing hard on my arm as she leads me down the street. “Don’t look back.”
I am unable to stop myself, though; I have to see the man with the impossible eyes and the robes with the rune I can almost recall having seen before. As I turn to get my last glimpse, Meredith jerking my shoulder hard and swearing at me under her breath, I can just see three of them. They have moved to the center of the cafe, their presence drawing curious stares from those sitting nearby. The man with the grotesque eyes is staring out the window in our direction. I feel a chill run up my spine as I can feel his alien gaze fall upon me.
“They see us,” I say to Meredith.
“We’ll have to run.”
The Sojourners Cycle: