FORGOTTEN - Ch.3
To call it a "virus" is a bit of a misnomer. It crosses closed borders, defies quarantines, survives incineration. But how else do you explain everyone around the world suddenly losing their memories?
Silva Kashanian is one of the few researchers still left capable of fighting the unknown pathogen. But an ominous chain of inexplicable accidents leaves her wondering if perhaps this pandemic isn't as natural, or as random, as the world believes.
FORGOTTEN - CHAPTER THREE
“Easy, buddy,” I say, holding a protective arm out in front of Franklin. The man’s breathing intensifies and he takes several stumbling steps towards me.
Do I know this guy? I don’t think so. But why else would he be acting like this? HOV does a lot of things, but this certainly doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen before.
The man takes another step, and this time Franklin bares her teeth and hunches her shoulders defensively. I slide along the wall behind me towards the building’s exit, towards safety, but keep my eyes trained on each of his uneven moves.
He doesn’t look angry or irritated, and nothing about him suggests aggression, but there’s something about the way he acts, the way he places his feet down in front of him with wide, sweeping motions. It’s almost like he’s not himself, like he’s some sort of puppet being controlled by some unseen force.
His pace quickens, and I drop all pretense, rushing for the door like a bunny from a lion. The man follows me, but I’m quicker. Even so, it’s only once I’m three blocks away do I allow myself to slow down and catch my breath.
With sweat beginning to bead on my forehead, I lean against a bench with both hands and lower my shaking knees to the sidewalk. I drop my head. The metal feels sweet against the fire raging in my temples.
I feel like throwing up. I can’t remember the last time I was that scared. And I don’t even know why! It’s not like he did anything to hurt me. Or even threaten me, for that matter.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the course of this pandemic, it’s to trust your gut, no matter what.
The few other people outside besides myself are starting to stare at me. So, after composing myself, I stand up and head back around the far side of the block, back the way I came. Of course, when I started running, I didn’t have the sense enough to run towards where I parked my car, so I’ll have to double back using a roundabout route.
A soft pitter, pitter accompanies the sound of my steps as I walk, along with the humble clink of Franklin’s dog tag. “You okay, cutie?” I ask, suddenly ashamed of myself. I feel awful; I wasn’t even thinking of her that whole time I was running away. She could have gotten hurt or disappeared entirely, and I wouldn’t have noticed until well after the fact. But she seems more than forgiving, trotting alongside me with her head leaned against my upper thigh.
I arrive back at my car without further incident, though I stare each passerby in the eyes as we cross paths, wary of any additional threats.
Should I even say the word threat? Ugh, now I feel stupid. Maybe that guy just wasn’t feeling well. Who knows what was wrong with him or what he was planning on doing. Maybe I’m just making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe he had some sort of disability, and now he thinks I’m some sort of jerk or a freak.
I chastise myself as I buckle in, horrified by the mental images of the incident playing on repeat in my mind. Whatever. What’s done is done. The important thing now is that I get this info to Austin.
Austin! Dang it, my card! I’ve still got to get my card. I unbuckle myself and grab my keys from the ignition. “Stay here,” I command Franklin.
Just as I’m opening the door, a glint catches the corner of my eye. A reflection, in the mirror. Another car. It’s—
My head whips back as the car rams into my rear bumper, and Franklin lets out a surprised yelp.
“What in the—”
I barely have time to look in the mirror again before the car begins to rev, pushing me forward, out of my parking spot and over towards the edge of the garage. Too terrified to make a sound, I thrust my keys back in the ignition and start the engine.
This is not an accident. This is most definitely intentional. The entire top level is almost completely empty; there’s no way someone could have just bumped into me without noticing.
And the look in the driver’s eyes…
This is not the same person as before, it’s someone entirely different. But the eyes are the same. That same blank expression of indifference, veiling something more sinister beneath.
No, there’s nothing coincidental about any of this.
I shove the gear into drive and peel away down the ramp towards the exit. My attacker doesn’t attempt to match my speed, but the last thing I see before descending down to the next level is her wheels turning slowly towards me, rolling persistently despite my apparent escape.
My mind goes into overdrive as I fly downwards towards the exit. What do I do now? I still don’t have my card, but I certainly can’t go back to my office. But without it, I can’t send anything to Austin. I have a backup username and password with two-factor authentication that can get me into my computer, but there’s no way around the encrypted files. I won’t be able to get into them or convert them into something he can access.
I’ll just have to make do. Me being alive takes priority. Science will just have to settle for second place today.
My bumper falls off about two blocks from the garage, which is all the same to me. It was dragging on the pavement and making an embarrassingly loud screeching sound. Not that there are very many people around who would care, but still.
I make it onto the freeway without any further attacks, but I continue to look in the rear-view window the whole way. There are a few cars off in the distance, that’s all. No one else in my immediate vicinity, thank goodness.
I take the exchange to the ten, then I make my way off the freeway using the second exit and head towards the local municipal airport, towards home. The airport itself actually closed late last year, and there were plans to develop it into a botanical preserve with community gardens and tennis courts, or something like that. But the pandemic put all those plans on ice. Now, it’s full of abandoned aircraft and construction equipment, all scattered around mounds of dirt and piles of rebar.
My home is on the far side of the airport, just south of an adjacent golf course. I bought it during a housing slump, and it’s a real junker, but even so, the price tag was enough to make my eyes water.
Still, the neighborhood is nice, and there’s plenty of backyard space for Franklin. I thought about snagging a roommate to help defray the mortgage, but everyone’s been moving back to their hometowns or out to the country recently. They seem to think that solitude is synonymous with safety.
I guess time will tell if that theory holds true.
I pull up to a red light at one of the major intersections by the airport and listen to Franklin’s steady breathing. She’s dropped down to the ground for safety and has placed her head on the center console.
“Don’t worry, princess. We’re almost out of the woods.”
Poor girl. Probably frightened out of her mind.
What am I going to do? I have to go back to work eventually. It’s not like I can avoid my office, seeing as that’s where my entire life’s work is at. But the mere thought of facing that guy from the lobby again…Ugh, it makes me shudder.
I know aggression is one of the symptoms of late-stage HOV, but usually the National Guard and healthcare workers are able to catch victims who are in such an advanced stage before they become a threat. Maybe a few of them slipped through their fingers undetected? People who refused treatment and preferred to handle it themselves?
I place my head on the steering wheel and look out the window to my right. There are a couple people standing there, waiting for the light to change. A couple, holding each other by the waist. I see they’ve caught me staring at them, so I hurry and look away, but something makes me pause, something only my subconscious could have caught.
They’re facing the wrong way.
They’re facing me. If they were waiting for the light, they’d be facing the red light, the one towards which I’m pointed. But they’re not. They’re just standing, staring at me, ignoring the blinking palm that’s counting down the time they have left to cross.
I take a closer look at them, and what I see nearly sends me into cardiac arrest.
That same misty stare, the soulless transfixion that seems to freeze me in place.
“Franklin…” I whimper. She ignores me, simply ducking down lower in response.
The couple takes a jarring, yet synchronized step into the street towards me, and I let out a scream. Before I know what I’m doing, my foot slams on the accelerator, and I plow straight through the red light, narrowly avoiding a car traveling perpendicular to me. For the next few moments, I push my poor little one-and-some liter engine to speeds it could have only imagined, flying down the boulevard with a style of driving that would, in normal times, be considered reckless.
Instinct determines my heading, and before I know it, I’m drifting into my neighborhood, unabashedly blowing past every stop sign and traffic light that I encounter. Thankfully, there are hardly any cars out, or else I’d most likely be wrapped around a tree by now.
Up ahead, I note a T-intersection and a street sign with the name of my street on it. I breathe a heavy sigh of relief and ease up on the gas, finally allowing myself to exhale for the first time in what feels like an hour.
And that’s when the firetruck appears.
Big and red, lights flashing, siren blaring. One of those big ones with the ladder, crashing across the street and slamming into the wall on the other side, effectively blocking my path forward. I jump on the brakes and feel myself fishtail to a halt.
The driver turns and looks at me.
Misty eyes, staring straight through me.
I turn the wheel and peel out, zooming back up the road to find an alternate path home, but I’m quickly met by another two cars, one in either lane of the road, both headed directly towards me. I spin around again, then hop the curb to my left and proceed to drive through the local park, oblivious to the sounds of panic coming from Franklin.
I jostle around from side to side, slamming my head against the side of the car as I bumble along the uneven fields. I’m only going about thirty miles an hour, but any faster and I’d be catching air.
I reach the other side of the park and navigate back onto the roads, knuckles white, breathing rapid and erratic. The other cars are still behind me about a hundred yards back, but the path forward is clear, thankfully. For now.
One more turn and I’m on the home stretch. Another two blocks, then I’m at my house, driving right up onto the lawn with the driver’s side door already open. “Franklin, go!” I yell, abandoning my car without bothering to even put it in park, I think.
The sound of revving engines draws closer, but another second later I’m at my front door, jamming the keys into the lock, and tumbling inside. Franklin leaps by me, and I slam the door shut, twisting every lock before collapsing onto the floor with heaving gasps.