“You’re kidding, right?”
It wasn’t until after I’d asked the question that I truly questioned my own sanity because I was very likely talking to a figment of my imagination.
So that more or less equated to me talking to myself.
Shit! What if I was still standing in line at the bank? The teller was probably about to hit the duress alarm any second.
And if I was lucky, it would pop me back into the real world.
“No Eric,” she said softly. “I’m not kidding.”
“So, if you were my partner then you must be with the FBI too. Why did you stop them from taking me back at my house? Aren’t you going against some oath you’re sworn to?”
“I’m going against everything I swore to uphold, but Eric…I know you, even if you don’t know who you are, and I know you’re not one of the bad guys. Hell, the fact that you’re even questioning my motives tells me that you are in there somewhere.”
Then she smirked and added, “You’ve been people-watching me for the last couple of minutes.”
It was true and she almost had me there – believing she might actually be real – until I realized my own mind would know about my little pastime, even if it was hallucinating.
I really wished the teller would hit the alarm already, so I would wake up now.
She adopted a more detached tone and explained, “The Bureau will be looking for me now too, but I’ve been out on…leave for a few months and have already prepared for that. They won’t find anything I don’t want them to find. And I’ve made sure the people closest to me won’t be around for them to use to try and lure me back before we’re ready.”
Dream girl had other people besides me she was close to?
This was so…strange, even for me.
While I tried to conjure up a life story for her – good guy or bad guy – I only got more frustrated when I couldn’t. It was a first for me, but she distracted me from my failure by asking, “Why don’t you tell me about your life as you know it and I’ll set you straight. Where do you think you grew up?”
“Reno,” I automatically replied, humoring her.
Or was I humoring myself?
“Richmond,” she shot back, while shaking her head. “Parents?”
I played along, even though I’d never been to Richmond, and answered, “There’s no father listed on my birth certificate and I never knew who he was. My mother, Pamela, committed suicide when I was a freshman at UNLV.”
“That’s just wrong!” she yelled in outrage. “Your father Rick – only call him Godric if you want your ass kicked – was a naval war hero and is still happily married to your very much alive mother, Pamela. And they’re still living in the house they bought in Richmond when he got out of the service.”
I could feel my mouth hanging open and once again questioned my own sanity for even entertaining the notion of believing her, but I was still staring at her in shock when she added, “By the way, you went to Duke. Double major in Criminal Justice and Computer Science.”
“You…you…” I stuttered. “You’re saying my mother – my parents – are both still alive and well?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “And there’s going to be a lot of tears when they lay eyes on you. Pam is going to blame me for ruining her makeup and then hug me to death if she can ever convince herself to let go of you.”
Why was my mind so cruel to me?
“Eric,” she said softly. “Whatever it is they did to you to erase your memories and put false ones in their place, we’ll figure out a way to fix it. Even if you don’t believe a word I’ve said, what else would explain everything that’s happened tonight? Earlier you said you thought you were dreaming, but this is all very real.”
She pinched my leg to prove her point and when I flinched, she smiled and asked, “Why are you having such a hard time believing it all?”
Finally fed up with dream girl and me for unduly torturing myself with tales of happily married parents who missed me, I yelled, “BECAUSE I’M CRAZY! WACKO! A COMPLETE AND UTTER LOON!” At her surprised reaction, I spat out, “I’m a fucking schizophrenic – I was diagnosed years ago – and I missed getting my fucking injection today – or hell, maybe I’m still sitting in my shop or in my car outside of the doctor’s office and I’m having a really bad reaction because I got my shot. Fuck if I know.”
I turned to look out the window so I wouldn’t have to stare at my fantasy turned nightmare and heard her mutter, “Those mother fuckers,” but other than that she remained quiet. In the silence I replayed everything she’d just said and none of it sounded familiar. Wouldn’t my life sound familiar if it was my life? The only thing that came close was the fact I’d always rooted for Duke’s basketball team, but it wasn’t like UNLV’s was anything to brag about while I’d been attending.
And that was where I met Sophie – my wife. I remembered every goddamn thing about that day, including when I proposed along with our wedding day. And yet here I was, possibly going God knows where with a woman I’d only ever known in my dreams, but that was only if I hadn’t actually had some sort of psychotic break and was really lying in a gutter somewhere.
It’s not like it hadn’t happened before.
“Where are we going?” I asked as I turned to face her. Imaginary or not, I needed some sort of answers. “I need to call my wife. If what you’re saying about those guys at the house is true, then she’s going to be worried.”
“Worried about who?” she asked venomously. “Her husband, Andre Paul or you, Eric Northman? Either way, I can guarantee you she’s shitting bricks because you got away from her before they got what they were after. Felipe won’t be happy.”
“My father-in-law’s name is Philip and just what are they after? Some doomsday computer virus that doesn’t exist? You know what? Don’t answer that. Just let me out of the car and I’ll find my own way back to my fucking sanity and you and your leather outfit can go save the world all by your fucking self, Lara Croft Suburbia Raider.”
Instead of getting angry at me she slowly smiled until she was wearing an unmistakable grin.
“What?” I snapped.
“I missed your assholery,” she smiled sadly, but the weird thing was her eyes misted up like it was true.
Fucking chemically imbalanced brain.
“Well, soak it up,” I snapped again. “I have plenty to go around.”
We continued to drive throughout the night with no conversation between us. I don’t know what she was thinking, but as the minutes continued to pass by with every mile, I kept waiting – hoping I would wake up. So when that didn’t happen I finally opened the file on my lap that I’d forgotten all about.
The top sheet was an FBI personnel fact sheet with all of ‘my’ background information on it. The picture caught my attention first and it wasn’t one I’d ever seen before. I looked a lot younger, bright eyed with a serious expression and my hair was a lot shorter.
“When was this taken?” I asked, breaking the silence for the first time in hours.
I saw her shrug out of the corner of my eye as she said, “More than likely on your first day on the job, so around eight years ago. It’s the photo from your ID badge.”
She didn’t say anything after that, so I continued to read what was in front of me. I would’ve been proud seeing the nearly perfect test scores and commendations I’d received. But given the situation I was in, I was only disgusted with my psychosis since I had such a deep-seated need to be that bad ass mother fucker.
I no longer had the desire to yell, ‘Yippee kai yay mother fucker.’
A long stretch of time passed by and the sun was coming up behind us, so I knew we were traveling west even though I hadn’t bothered to look at any of the signs that had passed us by. Dream girl Sookie – just another piece of evidence this was all in my head since I’d given her such a fucked up name – hadn’t said a word, so I was a little startled when I heard her say, “I’m sorry Eric,” just as I felt a sharp pain in my thigh.
I looked down in time to see her pulling back a hypodermic needle and immediately started to feel woozy, but before I blacked out completely she explained, “We need to stop for gas and I can’t have you making a scene, but…everything will be okay.”
Sure. Maybe when I wake up I’ll have actually woken up and this nightmare will be over.
The soft din of voices entered my consciousness as I slowly started coming to and from the sounds I was hearing I knew it was coming from the TV because I recognized CNN on in the background. My head felt like I’d been hit with a ton of bricks, but the pain was good because I hoped it meant I’d finally woken up from my nightmare.
Only as soon as my eyes started to flutter open I heard, before I saw, a man’s voice I didn’t recognize saying, “Sleeping beauty is awake.”
When I looked over there was a man with Middle Eastern features sitting in a chair beside the bed I found myself in and he smiled widely, saying with a slight accent, “It is good to see you again my friend. We’d thought you’d gone to the great Bureau in the sky.” When all I could do was stare at him suspiciously, he added, “Well, not all of us. Sookie never gave up hope you were alive, but then she had…”
“Rasul!” dream girl interrupted just as she walked into view. She’d changed out of her Lara Croft dominatrix outfit into a pair of jeans and snug t-shirt and was glaring at him in some sort of warning. But he only smiled and shrugged, so she turned to me and said, “Rasul is an old…friend. We always kept him off the books so no one knows about him, but we can trust him. He’s very resourceful and can help us try to piece things back together.”
“A criminal,” I clarified, reading between the lines.
They both smiled, with neither one of them denying it, as she offered offhandedly, “He works to the left of the law, but nothing I’d ever lose sleep over.”
Wonderful. My bad ass mother fucking mind was going rogue.
“Where are we?” I asked now taking in our surroundings.
The bed I was in wasn’t in any hotel room or house, but looked to be in some sort of dilapidated warehouse. The floor was a concrete slab and steel beams crisscrossed above our heads, but in the distant corners there were various types of vehicles parked, along with a workout area with a wrestling mat on the floor. There was a high-tech looking computer station setup to our left and the TV I’d heard was one of three flat screens hanging side by side, with the other two muted.
But seeing what was on the screen, I didn’t give either of them a chance to answer by asking, “Is…is that us?”
Sookie seemed nonplussed as she shrugged and nodded her head, while I stared open mouthed seeing our pictures on all three screens, with the words ‘FBI’s MOST WANTED’ emblazoned underneath.
“What?” I asked incredulously. “How? Why? What do they think we did?”
Even seeing ‘my’ name captioned as Eric Northman didn’t make the feeling that this was some sort of nightmare a probability anymore. The psychotic episodes I’d had in the past didn’t draw themselves out for this long and it all felt very real – too real – to continue discounting it as a very real and very frightening possibility this was really happening.
“The Bureau did it to try and slow us down. By flashing our names and pictures across the country they’re hoping we’ll fuck up and be spotted. They’re accusing us of masterminding that bank robbery you foiled yesterday and telling the public at large it was to fund our diabolical homegrown terrorist organization because we hate the country we swore ourselves to protect. It’s a bunch of bullshit and most of the guys we worked with know it, but they know they’re going to need all the help they can get to bring us in.” Her eyes turned from the screens back to my own and she winked, adding, “They’ll need it. We’re no slouches.”
The other guy, Rasul, responded before I could and laughed, “HA! I’ve never seen him so bad,” and motioned towards me. Turning to face her he chuckled, “Not even on the morning after you drank us all under the table in New York City on the American holiday when you all say ‘everyone is Irish.’”
“You two are lightweights,” she laughed and the sound of it oddly made me feel a warmth in my chest. “Not my fault I was more Irish than the both of you combined.”
“I’ve never been to New York City,” I argued feebly, after listening to them tell stories of a life I couldn’t remember and didn’t know whether or not to believe I’d lived.
They both turned to look at me with identical grins as she said, “Even without the memory whammy they did on you, you might not have remembered it anyway.” Then pointing at me, she added, “Lightweight.”
Rasul leaned over and smacked me on my gut – hard – and chuckled, “Not so much a lightweight now. Come along, my friend. If you’re going to get your life back, first we must start with your body.”
I stared down at my pooching stomach – something that had grown at an exponential rate once we’d gotten to Shreveport – but I was never a gym rat to begin with and asked, “What do you mean?”
He stood up and raised his shirt, showing off more like a twelve pack than a six pack, and rubbed his abs, saying, “There was a time when you put this to shame, but now it looks like you were the one who had a baby only weeks ago.”
“Rasul,” Sookie said lowly, with her eyes narrowed at him.
When he finally broke their gaze by looking away, she turned to me and added, “You need to get your strength back. You were lucky you didn’t get yourself killed yesterday when you took on those bank robbers, but it seems that your muscle memory didn’t skip town with the rest of it.” In a softer tone, she said, “You’re not that bad off, so it shouldn’t take long for you to get back in shape.”
Uh…thanks? Dream girl never inferred I was an out of shape weakling before.
One more thing pointing out this might not be a dream.
It turned out Rasul was a sadistic mother fucker and I couldn’t possibly imagine ever calling him my friend after the paces he put me through. I also couldn’t fathom why I was going through those paces when a part of me still wondered over whether or not any of this real. But I told myself it was better than making a tinfoil hat to keep out the alien’s invisible brain wave lasers and the sweating actually felt good, even if the dry heaving afterwards didn’t.
Gravity eventually took over, with me landing face down on the mat we’d been sparring on, and I literally couldn’t get up again. Not from being knocked around, but because every muscle in my body protested against supporting my weight any longer.
But he just laughed and patted me on the back, declaring, “Pitiful! You’ll do better tomorrow.”
I doubted it.
It was a very good possibility he’d find me in that same exact spot tomorrow.
I heard him walk over to the corner where Sookie had been perched at the computer station and they spoke briefly, but I couldn’t hear what was said before the sound of a door slamming echoed through the cavernous room. She appeared at my side a moment later – or at least her feet did since that was all I could see – and said, “Come on. You’ll feel better after you’ve had a shower and something to eat.”
“Can’t you just hose me down and put me on a liquid diet? I don’t think even my jaw muscles would be able to work hard enough to chew,” I whined.
It wasn’t my manliest moment, but I was too tired to care.
She started pushing at my side enough to get me to roll over onto my back and then pulled at my arm with more strength than I would’ve guessed she had, saying, “You’re not this lazy Eric. Get up before I kick your ass all over again.”
“You’re not very maternal, are you?” I grumbled, while doing as she’d ordered. She punched me in my arm just as I got to my feet, but didn’t say anything else and instead pushed me along until we came to a door I hadn’t noticed before.
Inside was a small bathroom with the bare minimum – a shower, toilet, and sink – and she left me there before returning with a towel and a change of clothes.
Not recognizing them, I held them up and asked, “How do you know they’ll fit?”
I was tall so it was hard to find clothes that fit my six foot four frame, but she only grimaced before walking away and returned a second later with my duffle bag.
Dropping it on the floor at my feet, she spat out, “They would have fit the old you, but you can just wear these if it’ll make your whiney ass more compliant.”
And then she stormed back out, without another word.
Why was she so fucking mad all of the sudden?
Since it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea to ask for her help undressing – no matter how many times she’d done that very thing in my dreams – I slowly stripped my clothes off and got under the hot spray of the shower. Even with how tired my body was from the workout I’d just done, my mind felt clearer than it had in a long time. I normally walked around with a haze or fog filtering through my head, but it felt like it was slowly dissipating, so maybe all of the sweating was good for something besides wearing me out.
When I finally emerged from the steamy room I found Sookie where she’d spent the majority of the day – in front of the computer screens – and she gestured at a plate off to the side that had a sandwich on it, saying, “Eat that.”
The hunger pains outweighed the want to ask her where the off switch to her ‘bitch’ setting was, so I lifted the bread, surprised that it was made just how I liked it.
But not knowing what I was thinking she huffed, “Just eat it. It’s not like there’s a full kitchen here and my maternal instincts are for shit, so I wouldn’t cook for you anyway.”
Just then a flash of a dream I couldn’t remember having before came into my mind and I found myself saying, “But you like to cook – southern cooking. You fry everything and said you’d fry sweet tea if you could.”
The anger she’d been wearing on her face disappeared, with a hopeful expression taking its place, as she smiled and asked, “Remember that, do you? Where were we?”
Just as quickly as the dream had come to me, it disappeared again and I strained to hold onto it before it was gone completely.
So I shrugged, answering, “I…I don’t know. It’s gone.”
She looked as disappointed as I felt and sounded it when she said, “Well, it’s something.”
Turning back to face the computer screen, with nothing more said by her, I eventually sat down and took a bite of the sandwich.
Being the computer nerd I was, after swallowing my second bite, I asked, “What are you doing?”
She clicked on one of the window tabs and pointed at the screen, asking, “Look familiar?”
It was a picture of Sophie and from the looks of it, it had been taken at a distance. I recognized the area as being in Las Vegas outside of Phil’s corporate headquarters and said, “That’s my wife. Why do you have stalker pictures of her?”
Her face contorted angrily, but all she said was, “That is Sophie-Anne Leclerq. We knew she worked for de Castro – who, by the way, never had any kids. We just didn’t know in what capacity she worked for him, other than her accountant cover.”
Then she huffed, adding, “But, I guess now we can add actress/spy to her resume.”
Before I could argue her logic she hit a few keys so that the blank computer screen in front of me lit up with a collage of photos and said, “Here, do any of these people look familiar?”
I was lucky there hadn’t been any food in my mouth because I would’ve choked on it. Every person in my life – the one I could remember – was there, only they all had different names to go along with nefarious descriptions of their lives I wouldn’t have thought possible.
The shop’s landlord.
Three of my regular customers and both of my neighbors on each side of our house.
Even my previous employer from back in Las Vegas and all I could do for the next couple of hours was sit there and read each of their profiles, wondering what to believe.
When I finished with the last of them, my eyes were burning and I rubbed them asking, “How? Why?”
She didn’t answer and instead asked, “Who are they to you?”
So I clicked back to the beginning and explained the roles each one of them had in my life and once I was done, she offered, “My best guess would be that they were all put in place to keep an eye on you, hoping something you did or said would give them a clue as to what you did with the virus. I’m hoping whatever it was they were injecting you with will clear out of your system and your memories will start returning.”
She glanced down at my left arm where I only now noticed a puncture mark – not surprising since every inch of my body ached, so I hadn’t felt it earlier – before looking back up at me and saying, “I took a sample of your blood while you were out of it. Rasul is going to have it analyzed to see what they were injecting into your system and hopefully there’s something out there we can get our hands on to counteract it.”
Remembering exactly why I’d been out of it, I accused, “You mean other than whatever it was you injected me with?”
She shrugged unapologetically answering, “You can be pissed all you want. You’ll thank me for it later when you get your memories back and then I’ll kick your ass for being an asshole about it.”
I stared at her, willing my faulty brain to remember something of the life she was telling me I’d lived, but when nothing came back to me I asked, “Who are you? To me? If everything you’re telling me is true – that this isn’t just some fucked up psychotic break from reality – and you were my partner, then why did I dream the things about you that I did?”
Her eyes dropped away from mine as she softly asked, “What did you dream about me?”
“We fucked. A lot,” I answered bluntly.
Now wasn’t the time to be shy.
She continued to stare at the keyboard before asking, “And is that what you did in real life with your wife?”
I had memories of Sophie and me together, but nothing was concrete. They were a strange foggy mix of dream and reality, but while I was trying to suss out what was real, she stood up saying, “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. As for your dreams about me,” she shrugged and offered without apology, “I’m hot and you were always a pervert, so it’s not surprising.”
She headed into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her, and stayed in there, while I sat there in a stupor, feeling a strange mix of betrayal.
But – strangely – not towards the woman I could remember marrying.
It was towards the woman in the bathroom I couldn’t remember.
When she finally emerged, freshly showered and in a tank top and shorts that did little to hide what God had blessed her with, she said, “We should call your parents so they know you’re alright. We already had a contingency plan in place in case something like this happened because the bureau would’ve been all over them, but they’ll be worried until they hear your voice and they’ve done enough of that for several lifetimes.”
“But…” I stuttered. “I…I don’t remember them,” I added, suddenly feeling nervous at the thought this was all real. That they were real.
“Doesn’t matter,” she shrugged, while grabbing a cell phone from the desk. “I’m not doing it for you – I’m doing it for them.”
She dialed before I could offer another protest and smiled hearing whoever answered, saying, “It’s me. I have him and he’s fine. Mostly.”
Then she went through the process of explaining my supposed memory loss and laughed that I couldn’t figure out why I wanted her so much – which seemed like a strange thing to say to my parents – but when she handed me the phone I froze.
“Take it Eric,” she scolded. “Your parents have been worried sick about you for a year, but they never once gave up hope you were out there somewhere. You were never a coward, so talk to them.”
She put the phone at my ear with one hand and used her free one to twist my nipple through my shirt, making me say, “Ouch!”
Which in turn brought out a gasp, followed by a hitched voice over the receiver, cautiously asking, “Eric?”