A Fond Farewell
rating: +43+x

You’re exhausted.

It’s the worst kind of exhaustion too; the paradoxical fatigue of sleeping too long, tense and sore from immobility. Hell, you can barely blink. Each eyelash weighs a solid pound. You launch the first strike in this morning’s battle to stay awake, reaching up to rub the film out of your eyes.

Your arm doesn’t move.

It's war then. You try to again, and again, fighting the urge to fall back asleep. After a few bleary seconds, you recognize this isn't typical early-morning sluggishness. You want to look down, see if your arm is pinned, or restrained in some way.

Your head can’t move.

You're not numb, though. You can feel the pillow pressing into your cheek, and the fresh grown beard bristle grinding against the fabric as your body slumped down through the night. There’s a blanket draped over you, covering shoulder to calf. You can feel the sliver of drool hanging off the corner of your mouth, down your chin, wet and cold below your dry, open lips.

Your mouth won’t move.

Now the panic sets in. The adrenaline crackles through your skin, delayed, hitting you piece by piece. Your heart strains when it wants to hammer. You want to hyperventilate, but all you get is shallow breath. You feel like every sinew of your body has its own personal ball and chain. It’s like trying to out-swim a shark in an ocean of molasses. It’s a nightmare. It’s hell.

It’s ten minutes before that muted hysteria fades and gives way to a more subtle, hollowing fear.

Who are you?

Where are you?

What’s your name?

… Can you remember anything at all?

You expect another panic attack. It doesn't come.

Your memory loss isn't half as frightening as the paralysis. After all, there’s a queer sense of excitement in the right kind of unknown. There’s no good answer to “Why can’t I move”, but coupled with amnesia, it becomes a mystery.

A mystery.

Suddenly, you're wide awake. God, it's like an espresso shot right to the pleasure center of your brain. You can practically feel your synapses delightedly gear shift out of animal panic, straight into a deep, logical focus.

You still have no clue who you are, but you apparently really like puzzles. That’s something.

Okay. Use what you have.

You might not be able to move, but you can see, and feel, and… yes, smell. You inhale deeply, painfully, as if the blanket was made of lead. Your sinuses widen suddenly.

Ocean air.

It rushes through you like a crisp, cool breeze, clearing away the fog of sleep. A few labored blinks, and your vision clears. The atmosphere grows louder and louder, until you can swear the rushing waves are only three feet away.

You’re in a cottage. Or a beach house? A small villa? The furniture, Moroccan inspired, looks recently cleaned and set. No dust, no dirt. Waxed hardwood floors, and the walls are freshly painted. The French floor-length windows are spotless, opening out over a terrace framed in endless, moonlit ocean.

You’re stuck in an IKEA Summer Catalog, it seems.

You’re on a couch, judging from the corner of an arm-rest you can see above you. Speaking of arms, yours is folded under the pillow that supports your head, and the other is dangling down towards the floor.

Your fingers are thin. Wrinkled.

You’re old.

You don’t feel old. You feel damn good, all things considered. That makes sense. If the lavish surroundings are any clue, you’re that kind of well-maintained elderly type that only great wealth can provide.

Directly across from the sofa is a wide, expensive looking television. It’s hooked up to a VHS pla- Wait, a VHS player? That’s a bit outmoded. Maybe you’re the nostalgic type?

Beside the television is a full-length mirror conveniently (perhaps deliberately) positioned so you have a clear view of your own upper body. You wish you’d noticed it sooner.

You take a good look at yourself. Late 50s, early 60s. Peppery white hair. Short beard. Dark eyes. Heavy brow. Narrow, intimidating features. Unfriendly, really. Not the kind of guy you’d ask for directions.

That… doesn’t bother you as much as you think it should.

You spend the next five minutes dissecting every aspect of your own face before you're struck with a burst of light. You’d have jumped, if you could.

The television turned on.

Automated? That, or there's someone incredibly quiet standing behind the couch with a remote. Not an appealing thought.

The VCR flickers on next, and the once pale blue screen is now filled with noisy static.
A click.

A beep.

A video image flickers into focus.

It’s you.

Your face, on the screen, staring back.

You’re clean shaven here, smaller bags under your eyes, and a tight white dress shirt hanging off your shoulders. Or… no, the fabric looks too heavy, and the breast folds too far over… it has a vaguely medical look to it.

You’re lying on a table, the camera angled down at you. There’s a bustle of movement in the far corners of the shot, bodies passing in and out of frame, men mumbling, metal tools picked up and placed down.

He's smiling.

You're smiling.

“Hello Eric!”

You say. That is, the man on the screen says. He can speak, while you only just managed to twitch your upper lip.

“Yes, that’s your name. Don’t get used to it. They’ll be giving you another soon. It won’t feel right but use it anyway. If they hear you calling yourself ‘Eric’, we’ll have to do this all over again, and it’s still not clear if repeated inoculations causes long-term-“

The you-on-film stops when a hand falls on his shoulder. It’s the hand of a much younger man. He says something you can’t quite hear.

“What? No, look, I’m trying to make a point!” The other you says, looking towards the hand’s owner. “I’ve seen enough people go through the ‘program’ to know not everything is lost. There’s more to a man than just his memories.”

When he, you, looks back at the camera, the smile is gone. “That’s why I’m breaking… hell, every rule in the book so that you can see this. Because I know you. I know you don’t stop.”

“I know since grade school you've been smarter than everyone around you, and you don’t care who knows it. I know you don’t give a damn about rules and restrictions because they’re made by stupid, cowardly men so they can feel powerful. I know you hate the idea of just strolling through life, taking the world at face value, assuming A is A, and B is B, and things are how they are because we just 'know so'.”

“…I also know you’ve got an incurably shit attitude, and it’s cost you every meaningful relationship you’ve ever had. The only people who’re helping you with this suicidal breach of protocol are your subordinates. They're the select few who’ve gotten past your acrid personality, or in the very least, know you well enough to think this video is necessary. It’s sure as hell not out of fondness.”

“Eric, listen to me. You’re not liked. You’re not loved. All you care about is the truth.”

“You’ve explored science, philosophy, and even the occult, just to peer behind the curtain. You just had to know what was really going on in the world. Something is hot-wired into that head of yours to know the truth at any cost.”

“Well, my vexatious friend, you found it.”

“Or, I should say 'they' found you.”

“There’s an organization, and let me tell you: they don’t peer behind the curtain, they are the curtain. They’re what keeps secrets secret. They’re the ones who enforce that oh-so-slightly-artificial-feeling normality that's always bothered you. They built it. They maintain it.”

“And we’ve spent the last three decades helping them.”


Because you don’t want to know the truth.”

“Trust me. Just, for once in your miserable life, let it go. The answer isn’t anything you want. You know what’s behind the curtain? Nothing good. The things I've seen in the last thirty years? God, I'm counting the seconds before they give me the needle. Then I can finally fucking forget.”

“But I know you. I know you’ll go looking again. It's just who you are. That’s what the brass just doesn’t understand; no chemical in the world can erase a man’s nature."

“The paralytic should wear off in a few hours, around the same time you were supposed to wake up. A young woman will show up soon after. She’ll claim to be your niece, or something. She’ll expect you to be disoriented, nauseous, and very suggestible.”

“Play along. She’ll tell you who you are, where you’re from, and what you’re expected to do for the rest of your life. Act like it’s the absolute truth the moment she tells it to you. Smile, but not too much. Ask questions, but not too many.”

“She’ll stick close by for the next few days, a week at most. Yearly check-in’s after that, maybe a phone call here or there. She has plenty of other ‘uncles’ to look after.”

“Once in a while, you'll notice someone out of place. A man at the café laughing too loudly. A woman sitting on the park bench, reading the same paragraph in her book over and over. Ignore them.”

“I know, chances are, this little send-off won't stop you. Our first instinct has always been to go looking, and in a few minutes, we’re going to be set right back to 'first instinct'. But… I had to try, you know? For both our sakes."

"I just need you to realize- I just hope you hear me when I say we've already done it. We found it, Eric. We found the truth.”

“And you’re going to be happier than I ever was not knowing.”

The screen, and the VCR, shut off simultaneously. The LED glare leaves a ghostly after image. There’s a soft whirring sound before a fine, black powder spills out of the tape deck and disappears on the breeze.

The sun begins to rise over the ocean.

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