FORGOTTEN - Ch.6
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 SIX
Shock and gut-wrenching disbelief overcome me as I watch the flames and thick gray smoke spew out of the windows. The garage door has melted into a puddle, making it look like the home itself is breathing fire. Even as I look on in horror, the roof collapses with a terrible chorus of snapping and smashing of wood.
The whole thing is unnatural, the symmetry of it all, as if it were intentionally started by someone with an intimate knowledge of my home and where it would burn the most efficiently. A chill runs down my spine, one that has nothing to do with the December evening air, and that’s when I realize that I’ve been ignoring my surroundings.
It’s dark enough now that it’s hard to see any defining features, but I can tell by the shuffle of feet on pavement what lies in the shadows.
Uneven breathing. Metronomic pacing.
When Franklin growls, it only confirms what I already dread. I grip her mane out of instinct, and I must be squeezing too hard, because she yips an affronted bark.
Like the shot of a gun at the beginning of a race, her outburst sends me racing away, out of reach, out of my neighborhood. I don’t bother waiting around to see if emergency services will salvage any of my home. Something tells me they’ll never come.
And besides, even if I stayed, what good would it do me? I only needed my home for one thing, really. A connection to the internet. But that’s gone up in smoke now, so to speak.
Where else can I get internet? A friend’s house maybe? I don’t really have any friends left in Los Angeles, I think. There’s my old research assistant, Kim. She lives down in Lawndale. I could try going there?
My thoughts are broken by the sudden appearance of headlights directly in front of me. I swerve into the opposing lane of traffic, barely avoiding a collision. Franklin digs her claws into the leather seat, holding on for dear life.
So, this is going to be a thing again. Great.
In that case, I don’t have the time or the luck to make it all the way down to Lawndale. I’ve got to get somewhere now. A library? No, too late. They’re probably closed. A fast food place? Eh.
I snap my fingers. There’s a local coffee shop just around the corner. They have free Wi-Fi, and it’s pretty fast too, at least from what I’ve seen. For my purposes, it’ll be more than enough.
I revector myself towards a parallel street and double down on the gas. There are a few more attempts to knock me off the road along the way, but then again, it could also just be my paranoia. Aggressive driving is par for the course in Los Angeles.
Two minutes later, I’m pulling up onto the curb alongside the front doors, attracting the indignant glares of a couple walking by. Without remorse, I exit the vehicle and hurry inside, pulling out my laptop as I run.
Come on. Signal, signal. There we go. caffiend_public. That’s the one. I slip into one of the booths and place my laptop down on the table.
I stare at the network icon for a good minute, unable to draw my eyes away from it. Like they’re too exhausted to move.
What am I doing here? Am I really at a coffee shop right now? If I’m here, then I must be trying to stay up to finish a project. But what project?
Dot, dot, dot.
My mind is so empty. And tired. I turn my head to the side and furrow my brow. Gosh, I could just take a nap right here. Whatever I’m working on can’t possibly be important enough for me to fight this hard against well-earned sleep. I should just pack up and head home. I’ll get to it in the mor—
There’s a lick on my elbow. Franklin is nuzzling me, visible concern in her eyes.
Everything comes flooding back in all at once, and I feel a sudden burst of energy bring me back to life.
I’m not here for coffee. There’s no home for me to go back to. And there is nothing more important than the job sitting in front of me now.
Holy hell, that was scary. That was too easy. My mind was out, like a light switch. Gone. If that were to happen again, I don’t know what I’d do.
I look up. There’s a woman leaning over the counter, her whole demeanor exuding the exasperated apathy of someone who’s at the end of her shift. She’s pointing to a sign on the counter that says We love your pups, but take your cups and head ups! with an arrow that’s pointing to the second-floor balcony.
I return her glare with a dry one of my own. “Really?” I chuckle, taking up my laptop. “I roll in here like feckin’ Vin Diesel, and you’re going to hound me about Franklin? Pun intended.”
She just shrugs in response.
We’re the only two people in the entire store, and Franklin has to be the most well-behaved dog anyone has ever seen, but I acquiesce and make my way up to the balcony.
Once I’ve settled down again, I pull up my email, attach my findings, then click the send button. I’m halfway through congratulating myself when an error message pops up, telling me my attachments are too big to send over email.
I grunt in annoyance and pull up a secure file-sharing service the university provides, then I give it another shot. No more error messages this time, but now the files are taking forever to load. A green progress bar moves steadily from left to right, measuring the whole process in irritatingly small increments.
I sigh and lean back in my seat. At least it’s working. Once this finishes loading, all I have to do is enter Austin’s email, and he will be able to retrieve the files instantly.
I keep acting like it’ll be some supernatural fix. Like, the research flies over to Austin and magically humanity is saved. But this could be just another red herring, like the countless others we’ve explored and examined together and that have turned out to be useless. This could be just another dud, and everything that I’ve been through today will have been for nothing.
Jeez, what a day. I’m suddenly reminded of a time my mother took me fishing back in Wyoming. It was a disaster from the very beginning. We left our tent back at home, so we had to snuggle underneath a tarp in the back of our short-bed truck, bumping into each other and tossing back and forth all night. The next morning it began to rain and thunder, and it didn’t stop until we pulled up to our driveway back at home later that evening. And all we had to show for it was a single tiny ol’ trout.
Gosh, I haven’t thought of that trip in forever. I had almost forgotten about it. I wonder why—
Footsteps. Coming up the stairs. Another customer? But why would they come to the balcony? It’s freezing up here, and they haven’t even turned on the propane heaters. Maybe it’s the barista, coming to light one of them for me. Although, I haven’t bought anything yet. That’s probably why.
“Ouch!” I look down at Franklin and give her a sharp look. She’s pawing at my leg, digging into my skin with her sharp claws. “What the heck, girl?”
Franklin only whimpers in response and paws at me again. My heart begins to beat faster, like it’s able to interpret what she’s trying to tell me before my brain can.
I pick up my laptop and stare at the door that separates the lower level from the upper. I may not know who it is coming up the stairs, but I certainly recognize the footsteps. It’s the same pattern I’ve been hearing all day. An even, persistent shuffle drawing steadily nearer.
The door opens, and I watch the barista drift onto the balcony. Her empty eyes search the deserted seating area until they fall on me, then she moves forward once again, ignoring the chairs and other obstacles in her path.
I stumble backwards, away from the barista, until I’m up against the balcony’s railing. There’s nowhere for me to go. She’s blocked the only path to the door, and we’ve got to be a good fifteen feet above the ground.
Twenty percent, twenty-three.
I draw my pistol, chamber a round, and aim it directly at the barista’s chest. “Hey, back up,” I warn her, though my voice lacks the confidence I assumed it would have.
She seems unaffected by my threat and in fact seems to proceed as if she hasn’t heard me at all. Or as if she doesn’t notice the weapon aimed at her.
This is the time to use it. This is what my dad intended when he gave it to me. And yet, I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger. I can’t do it, even though I know the barista is no longer behind those vacant eyes.
A blur of gold rushes by me, snarling with teeth flashing, and before I realize what has happened, the barista is on the floor with Franklin on top of her, snapping at her face. The barista doesn’t seem to register any amount of pain, but she does attempt to shove Franklin off of her with unnatural strength. I realize Franklin is intentionally giving me a window of opportunity, one that is rapidly closing, so I seize my chance and hurry by, over to the door and down the stairs to the ground floor.
I try to ignore the thuds and yipping sounds above me and instead focus on finding somewhere to hide. I can’t leave yet—the upload isn’t complete—but I can’t imagine a scenario where the barista stays down for any prolonged length of time. She’ll be here soon.
My searching eyes finally find a bathroom. I run inside and close the door, locking it behind me. Hopefully this will last long enough for the data to go through.
The yipping has stopped, and I hear the sound of footsteps returning down the stairs. I curl up in the corner with my knees bent and my laptop leaned against them. One hand keeps it in place, while the other holds the 1911, steadying it on top of my knee with the barrel aimed at the door.
All of a sudden, the blood seems to drain from my veins, and something icy, something cruel glances off the gossamer layers of my subconscious. It feels sinister and foreign, yet familiar, like I’ve known it all my life. I can only describe it as a thought. One that’s my own, but also one that’s entirely outside the jurisdiction of my free will and good sense.
My pistol drops to the ground with a sharp clatter, and I watch my hand—almost as if from a third-person perspective—retract inward and hover over the keyboard. Then, my fingers slip across the touchpad, bringing the cursor over the cancel send button.
Panic sears my mind, and I wage an open battle against this sudden intruder. My hand pauses, caught in the crossfire between two competing wills.
The words aren’t my own. And yet, they are. Like an angry retort one would prepare for a bratty sibling, but later discard, knowing it would only make matters worse. But it’s much more powerful than that.
It’s almost like an entity of its own.
And then, we begin to talk.