Chapter 8 Unwelcome Surprises
There are voices, Maggie’s and the rough bark of an older man. She’s arguing with him, and her words fade away instead of gaining clarity. It all becomes white noise until the blankness from my mind clears again and I’m awake again. Only it’s not Maggie in front of me, it’s my mother. And not the nice one either.
They test my pupils the second I open my eyes. My entire family is in the hospital waiting room. They are all fakes, except maybe Joan, my little sister. She’s small and elfin, with dirty blonde hair cut incredibly short. I can’t imagine her without her trademark blankly serious expression. I remember the many times she suggested that I’m adopted. I had been annoyed then, but of all of them she’s the only one I really loved. She’s condescending and snarky, nothing like a little kid should be. But she’s my little sister, even if there is a planet of genetic difference between us.
“You’re awake. I was so worried,” Sharon says as she embraces me. I’m shrink back into the bed and take a look around. I’m back in the psychiatric institute. The nurses regard me warily and there are two IVs plugged into my arms. My throat hurts from the intubation and I start to cough. They remove it and I’m free to talk. What I’m going to say, I have no idea.
“We’ve arranged for the discharge,” Sharon tells me. “You’re coming home.”
I don’t know whether to be happy or sad. I take a look at my hands. They’re normal, everything is normal. Except for my mind which feels like it’s being stretched in two different directions to opposite ends of the universe. My father stands in the corner of the room, absorbed in his phone.
“Can we leave now?” Joan asks.
“One sec, honey,” my mother says. “Why don’t you go the vending machine, okay?”
As soon as Joan leaves Sharon changes. She becomes more guarded, moving closer to the door and that’s when I notice something about the doctors. They’re not doctors at all, they’re just posing, standing around without doing anything, the tell-tale bulges of guns at their back. I see the craftily hidden weapons, the scalpels in close proximity.
“What’s going on? Did I have another seizure or something?” I ask. I’ve been ignorant most of the last ten years, I’m guessing continuing that charade is what’s going to keep me alive.
“Yeah, a minor one. The doctors think it was just from the stress,” Sharon says. “It’s all going be okay now.”
I nod as if I understand, but I see I’ve still got a good chance at escape. And then there’s the bigger question. Should I? I can’t remember the fine details of Laurel’s face. Everything’s fuzzy and disjointed, memories fragmented and almost nonsensical. That almost is the reason why I don’t dismiss it as a dream.
The hospital bed is still, everyone is almost frozen around me. They’re gauging my reaction, micro-analyzing my faces for my thoughts. I’m not dead yet, and if my dreams are true, if Eden is true, I should be. Sharon looks at her watch and steps out of the room. My dad, the one silent observer in this scene, and generally in my life as a whole, stays behind.
I don’t expect him to make conversation. He’s abandoned his conversation and is sitting on the couch, reading the newspaper with an interest that’s almost unnerving. I notice it’s a paper from last month. I look over at his eyes, the brown eyes hidden behind the thick frameless glasses. They’re somber and frantic all at once, speed-reading through the paragraphs like there is no tomorrow.
This is the usual atmosphere of our interaction. I never had the dad that ‘tossed around the old pigskin’ or the kind that taught me how to fix up cars or bikes. My dad, this one, is into equations and theories, things that I now know after waking up. I realize he looks a little like Sheldon Cooper and chuckle.
He mistakes it for a cough and gets up immediately, grabbing a bottle of water and getting an inch from pouring it down my throat. As soon as he realizes I’m fine his hand recedes, impossibly fast and reflexively. I know the reason behind our reason when he gives me a pat on the head and walks back. It’s in the way his shoulders droop the slightest bit, the walk that almost a shuffle. The darkness in his light-brown eyes and the sparse words and silence. It’s all the burden of carrying guilt for seventeen years.
“They’re going to kill me, aren’t they?” I ask. It’s a bold move, and might prove to be a very stupid one. I’ve either confirmed to them my insanity, or let them know that I’m aware of my status as their guinea pig.
My dad, the one that is famous throughout the world for his thoughts and words, his masterpiece of a mind, flounders at my question. For a second I worry that I really am insane, that I’m just messed up beyond help and that I’ve succeeded in the last step to completely alienating my father.
“No, they changed the plan. You started responding after you came back.”
“I started responding?”
“Brain wave activity, heightened reflexes,” he says. “You unlocked it, didn’t you? Repossessed your memories from wherever you stored them?”
It’s disorienting how candid he’s being with me. This is the man that I speak to once a week if he’s in a talkative mood. Chatting away like old friends, like something more than wariness and distance existed between us for whatever I can remember of the past seventeen years.
“You should go,” he says. “They’re going to be back in ten minutes. And you don’t want to be here when they get back.”
“Why are you helping me?”
There are sounds of hurried feet against tile in the hallways. My father is at my side in a second, removing probes and wires, helping me out of the bed. A pair of clothes are thrown at my face and I change. It’s a minute we can’t afford, but I just don’t see a successful escape where I’m in a hospital gown and boxers. I don’t know when he did it, but the door’s locked, and he moves the couch across the door. We’re on the first floor, a bit high for a jump. It’s one thing for a teenager to attempt it, but I highly doubt an academic in his fifties is going to make it. My father is brilliant, but on first look people would describe him as pudgy at best.
We’re through the window, and onto the asphalt. He twisted his ankle but jogs alongside me without complaint. I know the chances of our escape are nil, we’re in the middle of nowhere among a bunch of people that have years of experience in restraining people and locking them away.
It’s the adrenaline that powers us, that fuels our every step. He’s in front of me now, heading for the side of the institute where there’s a forest. I know it’s not the best bet. The sun’s setting and we’re not exactly a camping kind of family. My dad rushes into the trees, and finally we lose them. They know we’re in the forest, and I know it makes them happy.
We’re vulnerable in here. Two guys without supplies. The most we can expect is to survive a couple of days. But the area’s notorious for mountain lions, and I look twice at everything that isn’t green or brown, making sure it isn’t the cause of my death.
“There’s a van waiting for us two miles out. An old camping park before the institute bought it all out.”
I nod quietly. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the last two days, it’s to get with the program. I may not know what the program is, but doing something, moving and acting seems to be the best method of keeping from mind from self-destructing and my pulse from collapsing.
The van’s there, and van is a generous word for what it is. It’s a run-down pile of shit painted the color of well, shit. I think it was part of a cleaning service a few decades ago, but there’s nothing about that’s clean now. It reeks of spoiled leather and what I’m pretty sure is eau de dead rat.
I get in gingerly, trying to touch as little of the thing as possible. My dad, the guy that I know treats his Mercedes-Benz with the affection most people reserve for their wives, gets in the driver’s seat. I didn’t know he could drive shift.
“Open the glove box,” he says.
There’s a lot of stuff that no one could explain in that compartment. There’s weird doll heads and plastered four leaf clovers, miniature idols of unknown deities and plastic flowers, pages from sleazy magazines and receipts on jewelry. But at the bottom, there’s a small brown cover.
There are two sets of documents there. Passports, driving licenses, social security cards and bank checkbooks. Everything in the names of Mark and Daniel Morris, and they have our faces. There’s a wad of cash at the bottom, and two gold credit cards.
“What is this?” I ask. Everywhere I go, it seems the people around me always know more than I do. It doesn’t matter if my memories are restored, I need something more. I need knowledge. The people are prepared, to kill me or save me. All I can do is be a puppet in their hands, following in whatever direction they drag me. I know that if my father hadn’t done this, if my mother didn’t want to kill me, I’d have been perfectly happy to accept that Eden was a dream. I would’ve accepted that I’m mediocre and an outcast in my own family, even with the weight of the years of memories stored in my head.
“You’re not the only one with secrets you know,” he says. The way he says it is different. The syllables are looser, it’s not the starched-and-ironed speech that I’m used to. It sounds warm, middle-class dad, friendly even.
“Just tell me already.”
He takes a deep breath.
“It’s not easy starting, because I wouldn’t know where to begin the story. You think you know so much about me, but in truth half of it is a lie,” he says. “My name’s not even James Handrow. My name is Mark Morris. And I’m not just a physicist.”
“What are you then?”
“Let me tell the story,” he says. “There’s thing called patience. You don’t have it, by the way. And I’m a criminal. Happy?”
And here it is. This is the first chapter of the second part of the book. I want Charlie to be exposed to everything around him before he acts, really acts and grabs ahold of the tornado that is his life... or whatever. I don't know, tell me what you guys think.