Chapter Eight

by Phillip Irving

Chapter Eight

The door didn't open.  It remained steadfastly shut no matter how hard I pushed, pulled, banged and crashed.  After a good two minute's futile exertion I stopped and stared.

Something was banging on the other side.  I looked at it for a while, puzzled, trying to work out why this was.  What could be banging on the door I was trying to get through?  This gave rise to a new question: why was I trying to get through the door?  In turn, this gave rise to another question: was I trying to get through the door?

I looked around the room.  It was empty and bare save for a locked window and a key on the floor.  I realised I hadn't been trying to get through the door.  I'd locked it.  I'd thrown the key there myself.  At least, that's what it looked like.  So where was I supposed to go now?

The window did open.  Onto a long stretch of flat roof that spanned the length of the side of the building.  I slid my leg over the sill and shifted my body through the gap.  As my trailing leg left the floor I heard splintering.  The wood on the door inside was giving way to something much stronger than I was.  I shut the window behind me, in time for it to muffle a crash within.  I fought the desire to stay and glimpse my pursuer.  It was strong, for my memory was nothing and my curiosity was immense, but I turned and ran along the length of rooftop beyond.

Behind me I heard glass shatter.

Around the corner of the building was a dead end.  The gravel-topped flat roof stopped abruptly before a wall that ran to the rooftop.  Over the side I could see a skip.  I hesitated for only a second.  In that second I heard footsteps and breathing, both very heavy.  I jumped.

Landing in a skip did not make for a soft landing.  I gashed my forearm on a broken bottle.  Shockwaves travelled up to my knees, threatening momentarily to shatter my shins.  Something unyielding sank into my coccyx, leaving a dull, massive pain that I couldn't decipher.

Skidding footsteps from above stopped my damage assessment before it was complete.  I stood awkwardly and vaulted the skip's lid.  No sooner had my feet hit the ground than I heard the dull bong of something very heavy hitting metal.  I slipped.  The floor was wet and dirty.  I heard hands gripping the lip of the skip behind me.  I got to my feet, aching and bleeding, and ran.  Again the footsteps, sliding awkwardly at first but building swiftly to a steady rhythm, came behind me.  Again I resisted the urge to turn, to see.  This time, I found, I dared not.

The alley was short, and I reached its end in time to see a car screech to halt in front of me.  The door opened to the sound of a man shouting 'Get in!', and I did.  We tore away.  Whatever was chasing me hit the rear of the car hard enough to cause it to fishtail as we departed.  Looking back I could see only its silhouette against the streetlight.  It was panting heavily.  I could see steam rising off its huge shoulders.

'What the hell was that?' I said.

'The documents,' the man said in response.  He was wearing a brimmed hat.  The streetlights did not light his face.

'I don't have them,' I replied.  Face or no, I could see he seemed unhappy with my response.

'What went wrong?' he asked.

'I don't know,' I said.  'I don't remember.'

'I was warned of this,' he said, and pulled a gun from his pocket, and raised it to my face.

The bang as it went off was unbelievably loud.  I'd pushed his arm up at the elbow as he'd pulled the trigger, and it discharged harmlessly through the roof of the car, but I knew I'd be unable to hear through that ear for a week.  If ever again.  He pulled the trigger again, but his arm was still raised.  Another hole tore in the car's roof.  I pulled the latch on the door beside me, and rolled.  I hit the ground hard and fast.  I rolled, skidded and slid.  My head bounced off the floor.  My arm tore open along the gash from the bottle.  I lost consciousness.

I woke in a dimly lit room.  The door was opened onto a grubby hallway.  The bedclothes were thin and red and scratchy.  I was naked, and I was sore.

The woman sat on the end of the bed was pretty.  Very pretty.  Her eyes flashed brilliant sapphire as she smiled at me.

'You're awake,' she said.

'Apparently,' I croaked.  'Where am I?'

'My room,' she replied.

'No shit.'

She stood and went out into the hallway and came back with a glass of water and a card of pills.

'Take one,' she said.

'What are they?'

'Trust me,' she said.  'I wouldn't hurt you.'

'Okay,' I said, 'but as I don't know who you are, what are they?'

'Antibiotics.  You don't know who I am?'

'No.  Should I?' I asked

'Yes,' she said, and left the room again.

This time she did not come back.  My mind was a maze of unanswered questions.  Where had I been?  What were the documents?  What had chased me?  Who was the man in the car?  Who was the girl?  Where the hell was I?

The last question bothered me more than the others.  Right now it was the only one that was relevant.  I looked at the card.  It seemed to be antibiotics.  On impulse I took one of the pills.  My arm was heavily bandages and throbbed uncomfortably.  Most of my body ached and throbbed but there was a heat in my arm that left me in no doubt as to what the antibiotics were for.  I recalled with vivid clarity the gash from the old bottle, and the tearing sensation during my fall.  It was a wonder it had any flesh left.  

I resisted the urge to check.  Barely.

I got up, swinging protesting legs over the side of the low bed and rising despite the pain in my lower back.  There was a pair of men's jeans and a T-shirt on a chair.  I put them on, not surprised to find that they fitted.  For a moment the curiosity returns about the woman.  Were we lovers?  Old friends?  Family?  I felt a pang of guilt at the insensitivity of telling her I had no idea who she was but it passed quickly.  There was nothing I could do now.

The hallway was short and lined with doors.  A hotel of some sort.  I walked to the end and opened the double doors that were there.  A car idled in the car park.  There were two bullet holes in the roof.  A man leaned against it, smoking.  I walked quickly around the side of the building, away from him.  If he saw me he gave no indication.  He carried on smoking into the night air.

'I need the documents,' the woman's voice said as I walked along the side of the motel.  She was leaning out of her window, her eyes desperate.  'If you have them, I need them.  We're both in danger.'

'I don't have them,' I replied.  'I'm sorry.'

'Our cover's blown,' she said, with tears in her eyes, 'without them they'll kill us both.'

I looked at her blankly.

'I'm sorry,' I said.

I could hear banging as I jogged away from the hotel.  Some of it was gunfire.  The rest I wasn't sure about.  It sounded like the sound made when cars crash.  I carried on jogging.  I didn't sprint.  I couldn't.  It was a miracle I was still able to move at all.

When I'd got far enough from the hotel to feel safe, I stopped and rested against a wall, fighting for breath.  The building I'd stopped by was a police station, and I thought about going in and explaining the situation.  Maybe they could find out where I lived.  Maybe they could tell me who I was.

Before I could do anything a hand the size of a melon closed around my throat and an arm the size of a thigh hoisted me effortlessly off my feet.

'Where are the documents?' rumbled a surprisingly calm voice.

'I don't know,' I choked, helpless to do anything but reply.  The thing lowered me until I was face to face with it.  It had the face of a man, only larger.  Everything about it was massive.  It was like the Incredible Hulk, only without the green skin and torn clothes.  It wore a security uniform.  It carried a nightstick that I guessed it would never need.  Without warning it dropped me from its grip.

I crumpled on the floor like a worn shirt at the end of a long day.

It leaned down until its face was by mine again before it spoke.

'I'll be watching,' it said.  I was too terrified to do anything but nod.

'Okay,' I managed, eventually, though the word was no more than a croak.

It walked away for six and a half seconds.  Then it stopped, and it turned, and it roared.  I was put in mind of the MGM Lion.  I was put in mind of the MGM lion hearing the roar and whimpering like a small child.  I nearly urinated there and then.  I don't think I've ever been as scared.

It strode purposefully back toward me.  Each step seemed to send tremors through the Earth.  I was helpless to do anything as it picked me up by an ankle, dangled me upside down, and removed my clothes.  I had awful images in my mind of what was going to happen next.  I wanted to die before I experienced anything more at that moment, but the next thing that happened was the thing putting me gently back down on the ground.

It watched me whimpering there for a full minute through narrowed eyes before it walked away.

The police station had my fingerprints on file.  I'd worked for them up until four years ago.  They didn't know what had happened to me then, but they had an address.  Either out of pity or out of a sense of police unity, they dressed me and took me home.  I didn't care.  I was just grateful.  One tall and one short man, both with beards and high-pitched voices that I couldn't remember if I recognised, drove me back to an apartment and let me in the door.

As I entered my living room I felt a sense of relief.  Although vague, there was a sense of familiarity here that I'd not experienced at all so far this evening.  I slumped on a large green sofa in front of a wide screen television, and rubbed the bandage on my arm tentatively.

To my surprise, it didn't hurt.

I removed the bandages slowly, trying not to upset the scabby wound.  The gash was about an inch wide, filled now with a yellow and red mix of whatever healing agents my body had sent forth to repair it.  Only one patch was visible, pure white, almost shining in the dim light from the table lamp beside me.  I touched it gingerly, expecting to feel the hard smoothness of exposed bone.  Instead the patch depressed easily.  Oddly, the area around it felt only tingles where there should have been a roar of pain.  I looked up my arm to my bicep where there was a single puncture mark at its bottom.

Feeling suddenly confident, I grasped the edge of the white patch firmly between thumb and forefinger and pulled.

Inch by tingling inch, a small plastic wallet filled with papers slid wetly out from under the skin and flesh of my arm.

I replaced the bandages, winding them tightly now around the agitated but anaesthetised wound, and stared.

I had the documents after all.

But I had nobody now to give them to.

I sat for a while, looking at them, wondering what they were.

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