“Where have you been Gary?” his wife said as he neared the front door of their house.
“I met my brother today, and I am thinking about meeting up with him tonight as well. You know, for coffee.” A brother I cannot remember.
“What is wrong with you Gary?” she asked, arms crossed, and face scrunched.
“Obviously not. You keep leaving suddenly, all times of the day and night. You are meeting up with your dead brother. Where are you going? What are you doing?”
“Your brother? — He’s been dead for over twenty years Gary!”
“Who have I been talking to then?”
“Either you are going crazy or it is someone else. What did you talk about with–your brother?”
“Not much really. He asked how you were doing.”
“I never met your brother. We’ve only been together for fifteen years. You have told me stories about him, of when you were children. You never talk about what happened to him after that. Hell, you don’t even own a picture of him.”
“Uh, yeah. My mind still isn’t right. I’m trying to fit things back together,” he said as he grasped his hair, hoping for some more of his memory to resurface.
“You look like you are on drugs.”
“I promise. I’m not on drugs,” Gary said.
“I don’t know what’s worse, drugs or crazy Gary.”
“Just give me some time to sort it out. I’m just tired. I need some sleep.”
“Ok, but if things don’t go back to normal, I want you to get checked out. You know? By a professional.”
“Sounds fair,” he said as he walked to the bedroom, kicked off his slippers and drifted away into nothingness.
His dreams were vivid. He could see himself, tying people to chairs. It was his duty to save them. The nameless people in his dreams had microchips in the back of their heads. Right at the base of the skull. He watched as he cut the microchips out with a sharp knife, cleaned them, and placed them back into the people’s heads. He was their savior. When he made eye contact with himself, he awoke.
The clock was showing eight p.m. He slept most of the day. It was a fact that his name was Gary. He remembered his wife’s name, his kids, and the conversation he had with his brother. The meetup with James was to take place in an hour, and he needed to go now.
The sun was beginning to set as he arrived at the coffee shop. James had claimed the same table from the morning.
“Now, you can talk to me here?” Gary asked as he sat down across from James.
“It was for your safety. I couldn’t have you freaking out in front of so many people when you remembered that your whole life was a lie.”
“My life, a lie?”
“Well, your family is not your family Gary.”
“What…What do you mean?”
“They were assigned to you. It’s their job to keep you in line Gary. Focused on their agenda.”
“Is that why my wife told me that you died over twenty years ago?”
“That’s a lie. If I were dead, how could I be speaking to you right now?”
“She said I don’t even own a picture of you. What happened between us that I wouldn’t want to remember you?”
“We went our separate ways a long time ago. After the government got to you. They reprogrammed your mind, changed your thoughts. They wanted you to forget everything, become a slave.”
“What did we do to make us so important to them and…and our government?”
“You don’t remember? Did you lock away those memories? Well, I would have. I would have trashed those memories a long time ago.”
“Why? What happened to me?”
“All you need to know are the facts, Gary. They altered your brain. They placed you with a family. And in some sort of social experiment that went terribly wrong, you forgot where you came from and all the good that we did for the people. We were brothers, a team and we stumbled onto some deep dark secrets involving some very, very powerful people– That’s when it happened.”
“You disappeared. I didn’t know where you were for ten years. They didn’t want anyone to track you. Your new family either. They gave all of you new memories.”
“My kids look real. Are they mine?”
“Do they look like you? Of course not. They were planted there. Oh, they think they are your children, but they’re not. You raised them, but your whole family is part of this huge experiment.”
“You sound crazy, man!”
“I’m not the one who didn’t know who I was this morning, am I? I’m not the one who doesn’t know my past.”
Gary looked down at the ground. He had his brother back, but it was a brother he didn’t remember. It was as if his brother was erased from his memories. He also had his wife and kids in his life. He knew everything about them, but the government planted those memories. Why? What is my reality?
“I bet you are wondering what is real, right?” James said as he sipped on his coffee.
“What do I do?”
“You need to sleep on it. I will be in touch. Think about what I told you. Think about what your wife told you. Then make your decision. Are you with your brother or your wife? Which family do you choose? Remember, you can’t have it both ways. I will be here at nine a.m. sharp tomorrow, same table. Drop the children off at school and make your decision. If you are not here by nine in the morning, I will assume that you chose them over me. If you do, you won’t hear from me again. Of course, that isn’t awfully hard to do is it?” James got up and swiftly made his exit from the coffee shop for the second time that day.
Gary arrived at home. Exhausted, Gary walked into the house and saw his wife sitting in the living room chair. The music was soothing, jazz playing in the background, with a terribly upset wife staring at him.
“What’s wrong? I don’t know what’s been going on with me, but I had to clear my head. I got a coffee and now that I am home, I’m just going to sleep.”
She nodded, tears in her eyes. He walked to the bedroom. The bed was still unmade from his afternoon nap, so he slid under the covers. Still wearing his pajamas, he shut his eyes. And then they opened. The doorbell rang making him jump out of bed. He quickly slid on his slippers. As he looked down, he could see “Gary” was written on them.
Gliding across the living room to the front door, he viewed his brother through the peep hole. Then he opened the door.
“Come in,” Gary said.
James walked in and made himself comfortable on the sofa.
“We need to talk,” James said.
“I thought we were going to meet in the morning?”
“That was three days ago. What’s going on with you?”
“I must have slept for a while,” Gary said.
“That is why I am here. I know you probably didn’t want to see me, but I have some questions and it’s important that I get honest answers.”
“Go ahead, ask me anything.”
“Where are your wife and kids?”
“They should be here, somewhere. Unless they decided to go out or something,” Gary said.
“Do you mind if I look around?”
“Go ahead, I mean, you don’t know them. But I guess that’s ok.”
“I know them very well,” James said as he slowly snaked through the hallway, peering into each bedroom. When he reached the very back, where the family room was, his eyes widened, and jaw dropped.
“What the hell Gary!” he yelled. “Why is your family tied up back here?”
“They’re tied up? I didn’t tie them up,” he said as he ran to the back, only to see his wife answering with a nod, tape around her mouth.
“You said they weren’t my family, James,”
“Why the hell are you calling me James? What’s wrong with you, Gary?”
“You told me to call you James. You told me you were my brother.”
“Gary! Your brother James was the only James in your life, as far as I know, and he has been dead for over twenty years! We’ve been friends ever since he died.”
At that moment, Milton remembered watching the SWAT team kill Gary’s brother. He remembered like it was yesterday. Being a young officer, it was the first and only time he was involved in a hostage situation, until now. James had people tied up, just like Gary had his family, bound to chairs. He remembered the look of terror on James face when he was put down like a rabid animal.
“You know me. I’m Milton. Milt. All along, you were the one that kidnapped those people, weren’t you? Your brother was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I don’t remember anything,” Gary said. “What about the business card you gave me that said memory specialist?”
“What are you talking about? The business card you were looking at when I met up with you at the coffee shop?”
“Met up with me, I had never seen you before that moment. And you say we have been friends for years?”
“You called me in the middle of the night. You wanted to meet up at that coffee shop. And you weren’t looking well when I arrived, so I told you we should meet at the park bench. The same one where we ate lunch together countless times after your brother died,” Milton said.
Gary froze and, in a panic, his breathing grew heavier. He began sounding raspy and a tingling sensation began to pulse throughout his body.
“I don’t remember anything,” he whispered this time.
“This is a convenient time not to remember anything. Let your wife and kids go, Gary!”
“I can’t!” he screamed.
Sweat was now pouring from his face. And the look of panic turned into a look of emptiness and anger. He stared around the room trying to piece things together. He was grabbing for random memories, trying to hold on to anything he thought could help him. His eyes shifted for a moment, until he focused on Milton’s eyes.
“I understand everything Milt!” There was a rage running through him, and just like that, everything became familiar. “It feels really nice to be back in control. I know everything about them,” Gary said in singsong as he pointed at his family and cackled.
“What the hell are you talking about man? Of course you do, that’s your wife and kids for fucks sake.”
“No, they are not my wife and kids. They are part of the system. They were assigned to me. And it is my responsibility to reprogram them,” Gary said as he glanced at the terrified group.
“Again man, what the fuck are you talking about? Reprogramming? That is fuckin crazy talk.”
Gary looked to the right as a shadow quickly passed over the outside of the window. It was the second shadow that he saw clearly, a silhouette of a man running by.
“You have a choice now Gary. You haven’t killed anybody, your brother made sure of that. He protected you,” Milton said.
“I’m not going to kill anybody. I just want to reprogram them. You see their brain chips need to be cleaned. When it’s over, they will be like me. Wasn’t Eve created in Adam’s image? Women in men’s image. Something like that right? My family needs to be in my image,” he said. His eye twitched rapidly as he pointed at his family.
Gary pulled out a large kitchen knife that he had put in his right pajama pocket days before. He stared at his tied-up family, pondering his next move.
At the same time, Milton kept his eyes on the family that he had grown close to over the years, and Gary with his knife. Without hesitation, Milton charged him, even though he knew he couldn’t avoid the knife or the impact. He slapped at Gary’s outstretched arm as the knife shoved into his right shoulder. Gary fell backwards, smashing his head into the hard, white tile. Bleeding and in pain, Milton lay on top of Gary, trying to pin him down with all his weight, knowing all their lives depended on it.
In a moment of confusion again, Gary wondered how he ended up on the floor. There was blood soaking his shirt and a man lying firmly on top of him. As he tilted his head to one side, he saw three sets of eyes staring back at him. There was a crashing sound and the echo of shattering glass on kitchen tile resonated throughout the house. Looking up, he watched as the limp stranger was staring down at him with a satisfied smile. Then, Gary watched as a man in full tactical gear rushed down the hall, from the kitchen, toward the bloody scene. Clueless about what was going on around him, he couldn’t help but glance at the mirror on the wall to his right. He stared at the mirror for a moment. The reflection was of a man’s body on the ground, bloody, with a blurry face.
“Who am I?” he weakly asked before he felt a clunk on his head, followed by blackness.
Copyright © 2020 by Ryan Barnard-Stoker