FORGOTTEN - Ch.5
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 FIVE
My back neighbor, Anne Wiles, left Los Angeles a few months ago. She went to stay with her family in Sedona after hearing that her mother came down with HOV. She’s a studio program executive in Santa Monica and makes a lot of money. Like, a lot.
She has a very nice lightning-blue convertible. And she left me the keys for safekeeping should anything go wrong.
I’d say things have most definitely gone wrong.
I slip into the driver’s side, and the command console lights up when it senses my presence. Franklin hops up into the passenger side, treading lightly, as if she knows she’s stepping on fine leather. I don’t blame her. I feel like I’m ruining something just by breathing.
I touch the pulsing button marked ENGINE IGNITION, and chuckle involuntarily as all eight cylinders roar to life.
“Oh, hell yeah…”
“I know, I know. Swear jar.”
After opening the garage door, I rev the engine and rumble out of the garage. I look back towards my home around the corner. The mob is still there, even larger than before, but they don’t seem to have noticed me yet.
That’s about to change.
Franklin lowers herself down to the floor, then she looks up and sniffs in confirmation.
With both hands on the wheel, I punch the accelerator and peel away with an obnoxiously loud roar. The engine crescendos with each shift of the double-clutch eight-speed automatic transmission, and within seconds, I’m at freeway speeds, defining my own rules of the road.
My route is circuitous and unintuitive, a tactic I’m employing to throw off any potential attacker, but even with my lineup of sudden detours, I make it all the way across town in record time. It helps that almost no one is outside at night anymore, giving me almost free rein of the Los Angeles backroads.
I arrive at my office and pull right up alongside the front entrance, fully expecting an army of the braindead, but there’s not a soul in sight. I put us in park and shut the engine off, then retrieve the pistol from my waistband.
It’s not uncommon anymore for people to open carry personal weapons, even in liberal blue Los Angeles, but even so, I keep my pistol close to me, cradling it as discreetly as I can.
I ride the elevator to the top floor, unlock my office door, and find my badge lying exactly where I thought I left it. After berating myself for such a stupid and costly mistake, I plug it into my laptop, only to find that the internet is still down. I’ll have to bring it home and send my data on the network there.
I’m mildly annoyed, but mostly overwhelmed by a mix of relief and adrenaline-infused apprehension. After all of this, after everything I’ve been through—not just tonight, but also these miserable past months—I’m mere minutes from this all coming to a close, a few clicks away from entering the denouement of this human tragedy.
This could be it. Despite my self-doubt, despite my instinct to imagine the worst-case scenario actualizing, I can’t help but hope.
Rather than wait for the elevator, I elect to descend via the stairs, a choice that Franklin is more than happy to go along with. She’s a very high-energy dog and rarely gets the chance to spread her paws in my tiny backyard at home.
Once at the bottom, I hop back in the convertible, strap myself in, and pull a one-eighty.
And that’s when it strikes.
The burst of dopamine from retrieving my badge, that wonderful taste of possibilities to come, is swept into extinction by a severe, debilitating depression.
It’s enough to make me choke, and I slam on the brakes, jerking us to a violent halt. Despair envelops me with the power of heaven and earth combined, and tears flow down my cheeks unchecked and unmitigated.
No, not now. Please not now, I think to myself, thrown into complete and utter shock by the sudden switch in my mental atmosphere.
Everything I’ve ever done wrong comes rushing to the front of my mind, every mistake I’ve ever made, every awkward thing I’ve ever said, every mean thing I’ve done to my parents. Then come the unknowns, the poisonous what ifs and now whats, the crushing weight of unscalable challenges and unmovable roadblocks. I begin talking down to myself, bullying my own self-confidence and belief in my abilities. I convince myself I’m the worst person for this job, the last person that should be entrusted with the fate of humanity.
I’m a nothing. I’m nobody.
Just a silly little girl playing silly little stupid made-up games, pretending to be a doctor worth something when I’m useless. The last resort when all the other real professionals are unavailable. The jeering is almost palpable, the self-derision and put downs. I begin sobbing uncontrollably, and I drop my head to the steering wheel in defeat.
And then there’s a cold nose on my elbow.
That humble touch is enough to break my downward spiral. A juxtaposing warmth spreads out from my elbow in waves, breaking the chains of doubt binding me and settling my broken spirit.
I take several breaths, purging the darkness from my mind, then turn to Franklin, who is now resting her head on my leg, looking up at me with those chocolate eyes.
“Thank you, girl,” I sigh, wiping the tears from my eyes. “Stay close to me, kay?”
With one hand embedded in Franklin’s hair, I continue my homeward journey.
The return journey is even quicker than before, not even a single rogue vehicle to challenge me. Within minutes, I’m back in my neighborhood, cutting through the side streets at more than twice the speed limit. I’ve already formulated my plan to fight my way through the mob, ready to execute it the moment I stop the car, but what I see when I turn the final corner threatens to send me back down that endless spiral of depression.
My house, my home, is engulfed in flame.