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Chapter 2

December 26, 2011

The footsteps in my corridor were the only warning I had.  Within seconds the door had been flung wide open and Richter and three guards swarmed into the room.  I just had time to stuff the folded paper into my pocket and stand up from the table.

Richter paced up and down the room, his nostrils dilated and sweat shimmering on his brow.  He clenched and unclenched his fists in agitation, before reaching into his pocket.  He turned to face me, his features livid, a vein on his temple throbbing as if it was about to explode.  The three guards were as impassive as ever, standing there like chunks of granite in uniform.  The dull grey of their jackets and trousers increased the rock-like impression.  It looked like a standard uniform for a private security firm, even down to the emblem emblazoned on the chest pocket. The emblem depicted an unusual lamp being held aloft by a slender hand.  A small flame burned at the top, rays of light radiating around it.

Abruptly Richter stopped pacing and pulled up the chair at the table.  Panic clawed at my throat for a brief second when I thought he would notice the fractured laminate, my blood still marking the razor sharp edge.

“Are you enjoying your daily exercise Dr Collins?”  His words contained none of the forced friendliness.

“It has its moments,” I replied.  It seemed we were going to dance around the incident with the guard.  Fine by me.

Richter looked up from the table, his eyes burning with anger.

“I hope you realise that abuse of the privileges we offer you will not be tolerated?”

This clearly wasn’t a question that needed reply.

Richter gave a long sigh and removed his hand from his pocket.

“Look, it is not that I don’t appreciate how confusing this all must seem, but truly, you must trust us.”  The tightness at his lips and temples showed the extreme effort it cost him to appear friendly.  His eyes still looked murderous.  My patience snapped.

“Trust you!”  I gripped edge of the table hard, my knuckles standing out white on the back of my hand.  “How in the hell can I trust you?  You won’t let me leave here, and you won’t tell me anything of use.  What the hell is this place, why and I here?  Who the bloody hell am I?”

I span away from the table in rage.  My own reflection in the window shocked me.  My lips were twisted into a snarl and the threat of violence was clear on my features.  The scar that ran the length of my face seemed more pronounced, the livid red matching my boiling anger.

“Very well Dr Collins, you want answers, we will give you answers.  That is why I am here.”

I turned back to Richter and studied his face for a hint of the lie.  He looked tired, almost used up, but I sensed he was telling the truth.

“You’ll answer all my questions?  How about some more detail on who I am.”

Richter’s short laugh was tinged with madness.

“Oh, not me Dr Collins.  There is someone here far better placed to answer your questions.  If you will come with us you will see all your questions addressed.”

The three guards flexed their arms and patted the tasers that hung at each hip.  Clearly they hadn’t forgotten what had happened yesterday.  I was too angry for pissing around.

“Well let’s get going then,” I said, pushing my way past them and into the corridor.  Let them tase me again if they wanted, I’d had enough.

 

After a moment of confusion the guards fell into step by my side, Richter squirming past and assuming the lead.  I hadn’t truly realised how large this facility was.  We walked for well over ten minutes through a maze of white walled corridors.  As we walked I tried to memorise as much of the route as possible, but it soon became a hopeless task.  Every corridor we passed through looked the same.  White walls, grey floor, concrete ceiling.  Fluorescent tubes lit the way.  They were activated by movement and flickered into life as we approached a new section of corridor, winking back into darkness not long after we had passed.  In a few sections the system was sluggish, the lights only finishing their flickering after we had passed.  Doors lined most of the corridors, but no windows.  We saw no one else until we reached what looked like a security checkpoint.  The corridor widened out, a large gate of thick metal bars standing across it.  A window in the left hand wall showed a room where a man and a woman sat in tall black chairs.  Arrayed around them were about forty or so security cameras, each showing a grainy black and white image of somewhere in the facility.

To the right of the gate was a small metal box with grill, card reader and a keypad.  Richter pulled a small white card from his pocket, swiped this through the card reader and keyed in a 12 digit number.  A tiny voice from the grill above the keypad crackled something unintelligible.

“Collins to see Dante,” replied Richter.

There was a buzz followed by a loud click and the metal gate swung inwards.  I followed Richter through.  The guards remained on the other side as the gate swung closed and locked.  Richter noticed my glance.

“Oh, we don’t need these here.  On this side of the gate, the only way out is death.”  I waited for the strained, hysterical laughter, but none came.

We halted in front of a large wooden door.  A brass plaque in the centre read ‘G Dante, Facility Director’.

Richter gripped my hand.  It was the first time he had touched me, his cold and clammy flesh making my skin crawl.  I wanted to shake my hand free from his grip, but something in his eyes stopped me.

“Dante can answer all of your questions, if he wants to.  Be careful in there Collins.  In this place he is master of all, and on his whim you are a dead man.  Remember this advice.”

His choice of words left me momentarily shaken.  They were so close to the message from Sarah.  How much did he know?  My thoughts drifted back to the small piece of folded paper in my pocket.  Maybe that would hold answers too?

The heavy door clicked shut behind me.  I stood in some sort of small antechamber.  Against the opposite wall was a black leather couch.  The floor was a rich cream carpet, the walls panelled in the same wood as the door.  Overhead a small chandelier let out a warm and welcoming light, so different from the harsh fluorescents of the facility.  The only other way out of the room was an open doorway to the right of the couch.

“Come on in Adrian, no need to wait around out there,” called a deep voice from the other room.

The room beyond was as grand as the antechamber had suggested.  The wood panelling continued, with the exception of one wall that was a vast picture window.  It looked out over the same forest that I could see from my window and flooded the room with daylight.  On the opposite wall stood a tall painting of a red haired woman holding a lamp and what looked like a candle holder.  Near to the painting were two high backed leather chairs around a low dark wood coffee table.  Two used coffee mugs sat on the table, and I could smell the thick odour of cigar smoke on the air.  Against the wall, just where I had entered the room, stood a large elegant drinks cabinet.

The other furnishings in the room consisted of a fern in a white ceramic pot and a huge wooden desk with a chair in front.  The desk sat just in front of the large window, running almost from wall to wall.  Behind the desk stood a tall figure.  The voice told me it was a man, but the bright light streaming from around him made it impossible to see his features.

“Adrian, my god it is good to see you old friend.”  The man swooped around the desk and made his way swiftly across the carpeted room, capturing my hand in a brisk hand shake.  With a repressed gasp I took in the height, the white hair and red eyes.  This was the albino from my dream.

“Come, come.  You are not long recovered.  Take a seat.”  My hand still in his grasp the albino lead me to the chair by the coffee table.  He was dressed very neatly in a grey three piece suit, a dark crimson tie matching a handkerchief I could just see pocking from his top pocket.

“Would you like a drink?  Some water, or perhaps something stronger?  God knows what the nurses have you on.  Wait, I know!”

The white haired giant swept the empty coffee mugs to the far end of the table and bounded over to the drinks cabinet.

“It really is a tonic to see you up and walking around Adrian, we’ve all been so worried.”  The man’s tone was genuine and warm.  Friendly, but not forced.  While he was doubtlessly physically capable of it, it was difficult to imagine him hauling another man off his feet by his collar in a rage.  But I now realised that the dream was a memory, and I didn’t have many of those, so I had to trust what I had.  It had happened, and I was there.

The front of the cabinet was down and the albino was mixing a drink, the clink of glass on glass adding to the refined ambience of the room.

He turned around from the cabinet and carried two drinks to the table, thrusting one into my hand.

“Now, I bet you’ve not had one of these in a while.  Your favourite, whisky sour!”

The glass was cut crystal and looked very fine.  I hesitated.  The albino gave a sad smile, sympathy etched on his features.

“I know, Richter keeps me updated.  It’s all still a struggle isn’t it my friend?  But we can only be patient.  Sooner or later it will all come back.  Your true memories, your real self, are locked in there somewhere.  We’ll help you get there.”  He took a gulp of his drink and laid the glass down on the table.  I took a sip of my own.  It tasted vile.  Richter’s warning rang in my ears though, and I knew enough of myself not to refuse courtesy.

“Thank you.”  I smiled and put the glass down on the table.

“Good man!  Now, Adrian, I understand that you can still remember very little, is that so?”

I nodded.

“And you want answers?  Of course you bloody do!  Running this place gives me little time, not even for an old friend, but ask away and I will tell you everything you want to know.”

What I wanted to know, more than anything else, was who I was.  But I couldn’t start with that, not come straight out with it.  Besides, my second question was nearly as pressing.

“What is this place?”

The albino let out a roar of laughter before taking a gulp of his drink.

“Sorry my friend, I don’t mock you, but I’ll be damned if that’s not the Adrian I know.  Straight down to brass tacks.”  He took another gulp.

“You have every right to know of course, if it weren’t for you then I suspect none of us would be here.  This facility is the central research laboratory for the Mnemosyne Corporation.  We are a global leader, if not the global leader, in human cognitive function restoration and augmentation.  Life is bloody cruel sometimes isn’t it?  You’re the lead scientist for a company that works exclusively on healing and enhancing brain function and you can’t remember a thing.  Ironic.  Bloody cruel too.”

The albino reached under the table and pulled out a glossy brochure.  The front was white with a blue logo – a hand holding a torch, the same as on the guard’s uniform – printed on the centre.

“Here, take a copy of the investor prospectus.  It’s mostly puff of course, but some light reading for you nonetheless.”  He pushed the brochure across the table to me.

“Now, in lay terms our work consists of finding novel ways to treat degenerative brain diseases, and R&D into new ways to augment existing human capabilities.  It’s big business, as I am sure you will have noted from the security around the place.”

The albino chuckled and winked at me, before taking another sip from his drink.

“I heard about your run in of course.  Some of those guards can be a bit officious.  Of course I don’t have to resort to smashing their heads into the concrete!”  With that he let out a deep bass rolling laugh.

“More importantly though,” he continued once he had stopped laughing, “this facility really is the best place for you to get better.  We’ve consulted the world’s best at every stage of your treatment.  There were many that thought you would lose that arm of yours, but we found a superb surgeon in Basel who worked wonders.  Still hurts though I bet?  Not to worry, we’ll take you the rest of the way, just give it time and relax, it will all come back.”

“Now, you didn’t ask this, but I’ll tell you all the same.  My name is Professor Dante, but you can call me Gabriel, and I can tell you there are less than a handful of people who can do that.  I’ve known you for over thirty years.  We met when we were both doing research at Cambridge, and we’ve been friends since.  It was me that brought you to this lab, and you’ve done a power of good since you’ve been here.  Talking of which, I thought you might like to see our progress.  We’ve been working on a way to reverse dementia, and you were bloody close to cracking it before your accident.  It’s complicated, I won’t tire you with the details now, but we think we are down to the last piece of the puzzle.”

Sitting up straight he patted his jacket before reaching in a pulling out a piece of folded paper.

“By Jove I have it with me.  This is the big one Adrian, this could alter millions of lives.”  He unfolded the paper and flattened it out on the coffee table.  I recognised it.  It was the equation I’d seen earlier, copied exactly from the whiteboard.  I studied it for a second, waiting for the flicker of recognition, but nothing came.  It was meaningless scrawl, nothing more than chicken scratching.

Dante looked slightly disappointed, but his voice had lost none of its gusto.

“Well, that’s where we’ve got to, and Richter and his people are chiselling away at it as we speak.  Say, why not take this with you too, see if it helps to rattle anything loose.  Here, jot down anything that comes to mind.”  He reached into his pocket and pulled out an expensive looking pen, before pushing it and the piece of paper across the table.  I folded the paper and placed it in the brochure.  Dante glanced at his watch.

“Look, I am terribly sorry old friend, but I’ve only got a few minutes before a shareholder’s meeting, what else is on your mind?”

I couldn’t shake the feeling of uneasiness, but Richter has said this man had all the answers.  I had to ask.

“Well, I was hoping you could tell me a bit more about myself, who I am?”

Dante chuckled.

“At last the personal.  Same old Adrian.  Work first, life second.  Well, I haven’t got long, but that’s all the better for a potted history.  You are Dr Collins, esteemed neurosurgeon turned celebrated academic.  You are the only child of parents who were tragically killed in a car accident when you were fifteen.  It seems strange to be delivering bad news all these years later, sorry Adrian.  You are wedded to your work, your friends are your colleagues and I have seen you go months at a time without leaving this facility.  You’ve been wondering no doubt, where your family are?  They are all around you old friend, and we eagerly await the return of your memory!”

He checked his watch again and sighed.

“And now I really must go, but we will speak again soon.”  He rose from his seat and hurried round to his desk.

“You can show yourself out, can’t you?  Don’t forget the brochure!”

 

Richter hadn’t pressed for any details on the way back to my room and I had been glad not to give them.  I had some answers, but I just felt more unsettled.  My mind ached as if it was trying to process all this new information.  As I walked back I studied my hands.  These were the hands of a neurosurgeon.  I guess it was better than finding out I was a vagrant.  Or a criminal of some kind.

“He answered your questions?”  I hadn’t noticed Richter enter the room behind me.  He closed the door behind himself.

“Some of them.  He was pushed for time.  There was more I could have asked.”

Richter nodded slowly.

“That’s good.”  He seemed thoughtful for a second, and then the half simper, half sneer resumed its position on his face.

“Well, I am sure he said how well we want to look after you, but it’s fair to say it doesn’t look like your memory is going to come back on its own.  It might still of course, but I think we need to give it a little shunt.”

Something about his use of the word shunt raised my hackles.

“Starting tomorrow you’re going to have daily sessions with Christa.  She’s the resident shrink in this place.  I’m pleased to say I’ve not had to spend that much time with her, although there is some compensation for that too.  She’ll try and see what she can winkle out of that precious memory of yours!”

He gave a sickly grin and motioned at the brochure in my hand.

“In the meantime, enjoy your light reading.  Don’t strain your cranium too much on that investor nonsense.  We just so the science, we’re not the ones that pay for it.”

The door clicked shut behind him and was immediately bolted.

 

The Mnemosyne investment prospectus proved to be of no interest.  It showed that the corporation ran at a massive overall loss, but spoke of immense intangible assets that were close to realisation.  That could be the dementia research that Dante had mentioned, or something else.  Taking out Dante’s pen I Idly wrote ‘what is this?’ in the margin next to the intangible assets line on the financial statement.  Without that $250 million the Mnemosyne Corporation was underwater.  Seriously underwater.

Nothing in the brochure tickled my memory at all.  It was all pretty much as Dante had described.  The Corporation ran research into brain diseases and human brain function.  They produced a range of pharmaceuticals and were pioneering research into ‘non standard treatment’, whatever that was.  I took out the piece of paper with the equation and stared at it.  Still nothing.  After twenty minutes my eyes had started to film over.  The only effect it had was to make me feel sleepy.

I folded the paper up and tucked it into my pocket, my fingers brushing the small paper parcel already in there.  The note!  With the visit to Dante I had forgotten all about it.  For several seconds I sat absolutely still, listening for footsteps in the corridor.  There was nothing.  Quickly I took the small folded paper from my pocket.

It was definitely the missing page from the book, I could see the printed page facing me.  Quickly I unfolded the paper.  Something metallic dropped from it and clattered onto the table.  Before it could bounce twice I swept it up and held it tightly in my hand, my heart racing.  For another minute I sat stock still, listening for sounds.  Nothing.

The metallic object was a silver key, not more than a few centimetres in length.  The small number of teeth indicated it was for a simple lock, only three barrels, and it looked scratched and well used.  I glanced up at the door.  The lock there was a heavy duty deadbolt, so had nothing to do with this key.

Also inside the page was a photo, or at least part of a photo, the right hand side ending in a jagged tear.  It was of a man dressed in a white shirt and dark blue jeans.  He was looking at the camera and laughing, a glass of what looked like wine in his hand.  Behind him was a wall of dark red stone, the edge of a leaded window just visible, dark ivy clawing up the side.  I studied the face, it looked familiar.  With a grunt of stupidity I realised why.  It was my face.  The man was me, by the looks of things maybe five or so years younger.  I had no memory of the picture of course.

Putting the photograph down on the table I finished unfolding the page from the book.  A note was written on the back in the same smudged brown ink that had been used in the paperback.

‘You are in more danger than you realise.  This is the key to some answers.  Marshall 42.  Trust yourself, no one else.’

My blood ran cold.  The message was chilling enough, but there was something else that struck me as I read the four short sentences.  Flipping open the Mnemosyne prospectus I quickly turned to the financial statement page, to where I had written ’what is this?’.  Holding the note next to it there was no denying the obvious.  The note was in my handwriting, the note was from me.

 

I had my first appointment with Christa.  I couldn’t think of anywhere safe to leave the key and the note, so I carried them with me.  The best I could manage was to fold them up inside the equation paper and tuck them down the front of my trousers.  If the warning of the note was to be believed I didn’t want to be found carrying a strange key.  Or a note from myself for that matter, but I had no choice.  When had I written this?  Why didn’t I say more?  ‘Danger’ wasn’t much to go on.  I desperately wanted to speak to Sarah.  She had known about the message in the book, she might know when I had written the note, what it meant.  And also what this key fitted.

It seemed that three guards was now my quota.  The walk this time was a short one, the door in front read Christa Mayhew, Facility Counsellor.

“Still no conversation from you guys, huh?”  The guards stared back at me impassively.  One raised his fist and knocked twice on the door.  There was a pause, then a loud “come in!”

The room inside wasn’t much different to my cell.  After the opulence of Dante’s office this made me feel better.  This was altogether more familiar.

The walls were the standard nicotine white, although the floor was carpeted in a dark blue commercial grade carpet.  It looked like it was probably scratchy and uncomfortable on bare skin.  Instead of blinds the two windows were draped with heavy blue curtains.  They were closed, despite the fact it was the middle of the day, the light just creeping around the edges.  There was a desk and a chair, a green shaded light on it letting out a pitiful amount of light.  A tatty wooden wardrobe stood in one corner, a large mirror covering most of the wall to its side.  In the centre of the room two chairs were arranged opposite each other.  In one sat a very attractive red haired woman, her legs crossed and a clipboard propped against her bare knee.

“Come on in Dr, take a seat.”  Her voice was smooth, slow and unhurried.

The seat she offered was immensely yielding, my body sinking into the fabric as if it were consuming me.  Once the chair had ceased collapsing I was virtually laying back, looking up her.  The door clicked closed.

“My name is Christa Mayhew, as you will have seen from the door.  Let me start with the most important point of all.  I am here to help you.  Full stop.”

I had heard that so much over the past few days it was losing all currency.  Christa picked up her pen and jotted a couple of words on the clipboard before smoothing her hair back behind one ear.  It was a pointless gesture, as the crimson waves quickly fell forward again, framing her delicate face.  She had a light dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose.  Her white blouse seemed just a touch too tight, and maybe a touch too low cut, exposing two millimetres of what looked tantalisingly like lace.  Her blue velvet dress rustled as she adjusted how she was sitting.  She really was spectacularly pretty.  Somewhere deep in my mind the words ‘trust yourself, no one else’ rustled around.  The voice was so clear that for a second I thought someone else in the room had spoken.

“You have trust issues, don’t you Dr?”

Christa’s blue eyes met mine with a note of challenge.  Damn straight!  I’m locked up at 24/7 and yesterday I was tased.

“It’s too difficult for me to tell,” I replied.  “I don’t really remember enough to know what to trust, what to believe.”

Christa nodded and made some more notes on the clipboard.

“Amnesia is very difficult to deal with, that is true.  Every case is different, but we have no reason to believe you won’t make a full recovery.”  Christa paused, some colour rising to her cheeks and her eyes watering a little.  “I certainly hope so,” she finished.

‘Trust yourself, no one else’ came the whisper.  I shook my head to clear the noise and rubbed my eyes.  This was all too confusing.

Christa gave a small laugh, the sound like tinkling bells.

“You really don’t remember anything do you?  You don’t remember me, you don’t remember… us?”

So there was an us?  Well done Dr Collins, I thought.  But no, I didn’t remember us.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and as she flipped back her hair I truly was.

She laughed again, this time almost a giggle.

“Not to worry, let’s see what we can do about that.  Right, professional mode now I think.  After all, we were colleagues long before we were… anything else.”

She flipped over the pages on her clipboard, too quickly for me to see what she had written on them.

“OK Dr, I want you to relax.  Sit back and close your eyes, just concentrate on the sound of my voice.  Let everything else slip away.  Drift in the darkness, your mind attuned to my voice.”

I did as she asked, trying my best to relax.  Her voice was melodious and gentle, and it did make me feel calmer.  I settled back into the chair, which rather than swallowing me now seemed to be cradling me in an embrace.

“Good.  Now, I want you to picture your first memory.  The first thing that you can see clearly in your mind’s eye.  Can you do that for me?”

I nodded.  I thought I could, I didn’t have many memories to choose from.

In my mind I could see the small white dot of light.  It hovered there for a few seconds, and then it exploded, shredding my world with light.

“The flash,” I mumbled.

“Umhum.  Yes, the flash.  You were in a terrible car accident.  Can you remember what happened immediately after the flash?”

Nothing happened after the flash. It had obliterated everything, and the next thing I had woken up in my room, just over a week ago.  Wait, there was something in between.  It was indistinct.  Just voices in the darkness.

Will he recover?  That sounded like the big albino, Dante.  There was genuine concern in his voice.

We think so, it’s too soon to tell.  That was definitely Richter.

There was a long pause.  I could hear beeping in the background, and a steady repetitive puffing noise.  A ventilator maybe.

Will he be, you know, intact?

Only time will tell.

The voices faded, the noise trailing away, until a third voice whispered trust yourself, no one else.

“There are some voices.  I can’t tell what they are saying,” I lied.

“OK, good Dr, that’s good.  Now, let’s try going the other way.  Can you picture anything from before?  Anything from before the accident?”

I concentrated hard.  The dot of white light returned.  I tried to wind it back, run it backwards, but something was pushing against me.  A tickle of pain wormed its way into my temples.  I balled up my will and pushed it against the dot.  I wrapped my mind around it and tried to crush it to blackness, tried to shrink the white away and get at my memories.  The light flexed against me, I could feel it wanting to expand out and scour me away with the flash.

The pain in my temples grew but I held on to the dot tightly.  This had become more than an attempt to remember, something told me this was a battle for survival.  This time the flash, when it came, would kill me.  It would lobotomise me, wiping my mind clean away.

Slowly the white light was expanding, clawing its way through my barriers.  It had too much weight.  It was as if all of my memories were condensed into the dot, the growing blob.  I had little more than a week of experiences.  It wasn’t enough.  I bent all of my will against the blob and it buckled a little and then carried on growing.

The vice of my grip trembled, my head exploded with pain.  The blob surged outwards, slashing its way towards the flash.  The final flash, the last thing I would ever see.  I made one last desperate move.  Releasing the light I fashioned my will into a blade, a single point of darkness.  As the light ran rampant the flash started to explode, forcing slivers of white through my mind.  With a yell I slammed the dark blade into the centre of the light, piercing it, making a hole in the immense density.  The flash shivered into nothing, colour flooded my mind.

I stood dressed head to toe in khaki combat gear.  A group of men, soldiers, slapped me on the back and laughed.  Abruptly they all aged, and half of them fell down dead, silent onto the dusty floor.  The others stopped laughing.

I stood in a wide open space, vast and yet stuffy.  Hundreds of people hurried around me.  A small girl with yellow hair dropped her teddy.  I picked it up and handed it back.  She smiled at me.  I looked up and saw that my train to Edinburgh was almost ready to leave.

I was breathing hard, my left arm limp and bleeding.  I leaned against the cabinet, the metal cold against my sweat drenched back.  The pounding on the door grew louder, only to be replaced by the crashing of a door ram.  I put it in my mouth and swallowed.

The scalpel trembled in my hand.  I wasn’t ready for this.  No one was ever ready for this.

Everyone in the room got to their feet at once.  Nearly two thousand people staring at me, their claps and cheers ringing around the sloped auditorium.  Sarah stood in the second row, her outfit a perfect match for the red velvet chairs.  I gripped the edge of the glass lectern and raised my hand in thanks.

I wrestled with the controls as we slammed into the ground.

I’d cut him along the right thigh.  He’d bleed to death before long, but still he came for me, snarling in rage.  I buried my blade in his chest and stumbled backwards, exhausted.

“Sure you can handle one of these?”  She was cute, the desert wind curling her light brown hair around above her head.  I gripped the controls and we leapt into the air, the laugh rolling from my lips.

“With this we can change the world.” I said excitedly into the mouthpiece of the telephone.  There was a pause, then a voice replied, “we’ll be rich beyond our wildest dreams”.

The pilot wrestled with the controls as we slammed into the ground.

Amongst the tumbling memories I felt a presence, an otherness.

You shouldn’t fight.  The words whispered across my mind like the rustling of dried leaves, the gentle susurrus of small waves.  Sleeeeeep.

I could just feel something under my hand, in my palm.  Sharp, needling.  I held onto it.

“Who are you?  Get out of my head!”  I screamed into the darkness.

Who are you, who are you, who are you, who are you? echoed the voice.  Get out of my head.

My eyes flew open, my lungs dragging in a huge ragged breath.  Christa stood over me, her eyes wide with terror.  I sucked in more air and my vision slowly cleared.

“Are you OK?” she said, crouching down beside me and feeling for my pulse.  I was on the carpet.  It was scratchy.  Struggling to a sitting position I rubbed my face.  The squishy chair was in front of me.  Somehow I had come over the back of it onto the floor.  There was something sticky on my cheek.  I tried to rub it off but it just got worse.  Looking down I could see blood smeared across the palm of both hands, and now no doubt across my face.  Shallow gouges showed where I had driven my nails through the flesh, the blood still welling up.

“Here,” said Christa, handing me a length of bandage.  I grunted a thank you and wound it around the wounds.  The blood slowly oozed through the material, a spreading stain.  Abruptly I realised the note in my pocket was written with blood.  Possibly my own blood, as it came from me.

“Are you OK?” Christa repeated.  She looked more in control now, less terrified.  I nodded groggily.  My head felt full and sore, like it was stuffed with wool and glass.  She put her hand under my arms and helped me to my feet.  She was stronger than she looked.  Considerably stronger.  My legs wobbled but held.

“This way, let’s get you cleaned up.”  Gently she led me to a doorway and through it into a bathroom.

“You had some sort of seizure.  Your whole body tensed up in a spasm.  Sent you clean over the back of the chair.  Did you hit your head at all?”

I didn’t think so.  It was difficult to tell, but the pain felt like it was coming from the inside, not something outside.

The bathroom was just about the mirror image of mine, although this one looked less well used.  Clearly Christa didn’t live at the facility.  Or at least not here, but then the absence of a bed should have told me that.  My mind was so fuzzy.  In a mug on the sink was a toothbrush, a red comb and a metal nailfile.  She was running a sink of hot water, her pretty mouth still showing concern.

Above the sink was a medicine cabinet, the front door a mirror.  My face was a sight.  My grey eyes looked washed out and hollow.  My brown hair was dishevelled, the left hand side matted with blood.  Blood streaks ran down both sides of my face, the scar showing up red and livid.  Steam rose up from the sink

Christa turned off both taps.  “I’ll get some towels,” she said.

The second she left the room I grabbed the nail file and tucked it behind my belt.  I did it without thought, one hundred percent instinctive.  Five seconds later she was back

“Here, face me.”  Christa pushed a flannel under the water and rung it out, gently sponging my head and face.

“Well, this is just all from your hands, thank goodness.  No wounds here.  Let’s see your hands.”  I peeled off the bandages, the blood still oozing from the eight shallow wounds.

Christa opened the medicine cabinet.  Inside there was a bar of soap, a tube of toothpaste, a small can of hairspray, some tampons, a bottle of hand cream and a hairbrush.  I only got a glance, but I took the inventory in one look.  If I got the chance I would steal the hairspray.  Christa took out the soap and handed it to me, closing the cupboard door.

“Use this soap, make sure they are clean.”  I did as I was told.  It made sense.  There was a small window in the room.  It was open a fraction, but it was far too small for a person to fit through.

Christa handed me a towel and two fresh lengths of bandage.  I wound it around my hands and Christa offered to cut off the excess.  I refused and just would it round a few more times before tucking it under.  Bandaging could be useful.  My legs were feeling stronger now.

“Thank you,” I said.

Christa looked deep into my eyes, her expression confusing.

“Did you remember anything?”

I didn’t know how best to answer.  Yes, I had, but none of it made any sense.  The voice in my head had tried to kill me.  As nuts as that sounded it was true.  But I couldn’t shake the wisdom of what it tried to remind me.  It was my own advice after all.  Trust no one but yourself.

“Just fragments, tiny fragments,” I answered, careful to maintain eye contact with every word.  “I can remember voices while I was being treated after the car crash.  Nothing more.”

Christa nodded.

“Well, that’s more than before, that’s progress.”  She paused and bit her lower lip.  It was a very cute expression, and I was certain that she knew it.

“You really don’t remember anything about me, do you?”  Her voice had taken on its husky smooth tone, and she had moved in closer to me, her finger trailing up the side of my thigh.

I shook my head.

“Nothing at all, not even one, tiny, glimmer?”  Her breath was hot on my face, and with her words her hand had slipped from my thigh and around my back, pulling her body close to me.

I started to shake my head and her lips closed on mine, soft and yielding yet insistent.  She arched her back and pressed the length of her body against me, her full breasts warm against my chest, the flesh straining against the lace and tight fabric of her blouse.  My mind reeling I felt my body respond, my lips hungry on hers.  Abruptly she was gone, dancing lightly back from my arms with a sly smile on her lips.

“Even now, still nothing?”

Despite myself I laughed, a genuine chuckle.  With it some of the tension flowed from me.  Christa’s smile broadened.

“No gentleman on earth would say he’d forgotten that. Not and still call himself a gentleman at least.  I’m happy if you want to remind me further though.”

Christa adjusted her blouse and smoothed down her skirt.

“We shall see, we shall see.  But for now we have your session to finish.”

 

The session had lasted another hour and half.  There were no more flash backs, no more voices in my head trying to kill me.  No more kissing either.  Christa tried a number of angles to try and flush out what I could and couldn’t remember.  I still held back as much as I could, but this was an opportunity for me to get some information as well.  To do that I needed to risk some details of my own.  I said I could remember an impact, the sound of screaming metal.  She said this would be the car accident.  I knew it was a helicopter crash.  I mentioned Edinburgh and for a second she had looked worried.  A tiny reaction that most would miss.  I said I thought I had lectured there and she had laughed.  Apparently I had lectured in most places.

I now sat on my bed, flipping the metal nail file over and over in my hands.  For a while with Christa everything had seemed so clear.  I was fully present.  I wasn’t sure if it was her, or maybe the strange fit, but even now things were fogging over again.  The sun was about half way to the horizon, afternoon light flowing into the room through the small window.  The light flashed from the file as it turned over and over in my hand.  Flicker, flicker.  It felt like something important was just out of reach in my mind.  I felt that if I could turn round quickly enough I could confront the answer, get my memory back.  Get my life back.  But by the time I turned it was gone.  Just me alone in a room.  Flip, flip went the file.  Flicker, flicker went the light.

The room was in complete darkness, my head was pounding.  I fumbled for the nylon cord that controlled the light and pulled.  The bulb fitted into life and ugly fluorescent light exploded into the room, causing me to cover my eyes. Blood stained the sheets either side of me, too much to have come from the wounds to my palms.  Something dripped from my arm onto my chest.  More blood.  It was smeared up to my elbows, oozing slowly from jagged wounds to my wrists.  I stared in horror at the gashes, zig zagged across the back of each wrist.  The blood had started to clot but was still flowing.  Quickly I unwrapped the bandages from my hands and bound each wrist firmly.  It wasn’t an easy way to die.  Open to the air it was odds on your that blood would congeal before death.

I stumbled to the window and looked out.  It was indeed night, or at least late evening.  I had blacked out again, at least four hours must have passed.  Not only did I have no memory of the time, this time I had tried to kill myself.  I could feel panic rising up and threatening to overcome me.  Brutally I crushed it down.  Not now, I needed to understand what was happening here if I was going to survive.

Firstly I had to tidy up.  Whatever else was going on here I didn’t need Richter putting me on suicide watch.  There was nothing at all I could do about the sheets.  I had no chance of washing out the stain before it was discovered, but I could try and pass it off as having come from my palms.  Rushing to the bathroom I washed down my arms, scrubbing all the blood from my skin.  In my bedside table was a spare shirt, thankfully one with long sleeves.  With the sleeves all the way down the bandages were hidden.  Taking my t-shirt I mopped up as much of the blood from the sheets as I could.  It still looked too much for the superficial wounds to my hands but it was the best I could do.  I threw the cover across it.  The longer it took to be discovered the better.  Balling up the t-shirt I wedged it behind the toilet cistern.

Only then did I succumb to the weakness I felt in my legs.  Settling into the chair I held my head in my hands.  I couldn’t remember a shred from the past few hours.  I had no way of knowing when the blackouts would come, and now it seemed they could be deadly.  Why would I kill myself?  Or was it something else?  I had little trust for the people in this place.  Was this really an attempted murder?  Rationally I thought it through.  First of all was the wounds themselves.  They were deep, but ragged.  Not the work of a knife then.  I looked around for the nail file, it had been in my hands before I blacked out, but I couldn’t see it.  Instead, laying just to the side of the bed, was a long sliver of laminate from the table.  It was jagged and serrated, its edge red with blood.  Scooping this up I snapped it in two and tucked it under the mattress.

It didn’t look like murder then, having been done so sloppily and with whatever came to hand.  No, there was no one else involved in this.  There was something badly wrong with me.  A part of me had been content to wait it out, to accept the help of these people and see what came.  Now I realised time was not on my side.  Any moment could bring another blackout.  Abruptly I realised I wasn’t safe with myself.  I had to get answers.

The floor was freezing under my bare feet.  An annoying tapping noise caught my ear.  It was metallic sounding and muffled, but loud enough to put my teeth on edge.  Around and around it looped, until abruptly it stopped.

Answers.  The note from the book had promised answers from the key.  I heard the key turn in the lock.  A pause, and then the door swung open.  It was Sarah.

 

I was perched on the edge of the bed.  I’d offered Sarah the chair.  She seemed to think I was being gallant.  Maybe I was, but mainly I wanted to prevent her sitting on my drying blood.

“Looks like you’re hungry,” she said with a small smile.

I felt like she meant the smile.  It wasn’t that Sarah was particularly friendly.  On the contrary, she was reserved, almost controlled.  It was just that I felt that when she smiled she meant it.  And I could remember her.

I smiled from around the spoonful of yoghurt.

“I can remember you.”

Sarah looked surprised, and almost a little scared.

“Really? What can you remember?”

“Not much at all really.  Just you standing in the front row as I stood on a stage.”

For a second she looked thoughtful, the small smile returning, before her face darkened.

“Have you told anyone else about this?”

I shook my head.  Keeping things back had felt like the right thing to do.  Besides, I didn’t see that this memory, exciting as it was to have any, was going to rock anyone’s world.

“Good, you must keep it that way!”  Her eyes flashed, her voice a little strangled.

“But why?”

Sarah ignored the question.

“What else can you remember from before?”

I hesitated.  Why was she acting this way?

“Not very much at all, it’s all a jumbled mess anyway.”

Sarah grunted and rose to leave.

“Wait, you’re not going already.  I haven’t even asked you, how did you know about the note?”

Again her face looked shaken, but it was like a brief flash as her cold mask fell back into place.

“I don’t know anything about a note, and I don’t remember ever having seen you on stage.  I can assure you that is the truth.  Good night.”  With that she snatched the spoon from my hand, grabbed the empty tray and hurried from the room.

For a second I wanted to scream.  My life hung in the balance and every step took me face first into a brick wall.  In frustration I threw the yoghurt pot after her, the plastic making a pathetic sound as it hit the door, twin white streaks marring the solid steel.

I stood up and paced the room, brimming with agitation.  Pausing by the window I rested my head on the cool glass, the light breeze a welcome relief.  Something caught my eye and I saw the metal nail file, wedged into the casing of the window.  Grabbing the small handle I pulled it free, the metal strip flexing as I did so.  It looked like I had been busy during the blackout.  A small pile of dust on the floor showed that I had scraped out the glue along most of the metal strip.  Quickly I turned off the light, took the metal file and began working on the remaining glue.  Within 15 minutes I was able to pry the entire strip from the window.

Behind the metal strip were a couple of screws.  I held my breath as I tried the pointed end of the file.  After a couple of slips it turned, and within a minute I had both out of the window casing.  I gave an experimental push and the pane of glass rotated in the frame.  Time really wasn’t on my side, I needed answers now.  I put the file in my pocket, checked the key, note and photo were still there, and then pushed the window open as wide as it would go.

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