Detective Cannen pulls up to a non-discreet building. From the looks of it, it used to be a factory of some kind. Possibly for printing newspapers.
Cannen scribbles in his notepad, “Only paper. No voices in here. Got it?” I nod and he hands me an empty journal from one of his trench coat’s pockets. “This place has been silent for longer than I’ve been alive,” he jots. We walk through the factory floor and into an office. Still, not a single person in sight. Cannen feels around underneath a large, metal desk. He presses a button and a bookshelf behind the desk slides over, revealing an elevator. There’s a note on the elevator door that reads, “Down only.” After what feels like way too long, the elevator hits the basement. We walk through a long, narrow corridor and into a bright interrogation room. An older woman sits on the other side of the large, metal table in the center, with a large set of double doors behind her. I check my phone and the screen flashes. Low battery.
“Welcome. I am Fandellia. Like Detective Cannen, I have had my vocal chords cauterized. These gloves are translator of sorts. Allowing sign gestures to be understood by all,” she says in sign language. I sit down, catching my bearings and look at Cannen. He nods and holds up his notepad, “It’s always a shock to the newbies. In time, you’ll know why I don’t have one.” Fandella holds up a finger. Her large gray eyes are focused and serious. “If you’re here with Cannen, I’m sure he caught you up to speed. You’ve been made, or more specifically, you’ve been marked,” she signs, sighing heavily and shaking her head. “While we cannot tell you what to do, we can give you options. One, we cauterize your vocal chords and give you the Broca-Wernicke Implant. Two, we cauterize your tongue and you walk around with a note pad. Or, three, we escort you out and you fend for yourself.”
I shrug at her callous gaze. Cannen taps me on the shoulder. His pad reads, “She’s serious. There’s only 1 way out of this room. You have to make a choice, Simona. What happened to your lover is the only thing that awaits you. The Wordsworth don’t stop chasing their prey. At least, as far as we are aware.” Cannen tucks his notepad in his coat and shrugs, then leans on the wall beside me. He has a concerned look on his face. “Well?” Fandellia asks, her gestures fast, but smooth. “I am a busy woman and Cannen has things to do. I cannot afford you the luxury of sitting at our doorstep unsupervised.” She sticks her tongue out and points at it. Then, she points at her throat. Finally, Fandellia points at the door. “Which is it?” she signs as a chill runs through my spine.
When I was child, Jacob and I used to play games where the first person to do something would lose. Sometimes it would be talking, blinking, or drinking water after eating something spicy. By no means was he who I pictured spending my life with, but when we dated other people and kept coming back to each other, I knew there was something about us. About him and I belonging together. The way my hand fit in his. I haven’t even had a chance to wrap my head around what happened to him. I don’t even know if he’s dead. Our entire drive here, I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw his face. His twisted, contorted face. Why is this happening? This strange woman is staring at me expectantly while this detective stands still. I have to get out of here. I have to run.
I look at Cannen, then at Fanellia and shake my head while waving my arms. I won’t speak while I’m down here, but I’m not cutting off my tongue or losing my voice. I stand up, slide the heavy metal chair under the table, and make my way to the large set of double doors. Cannen pushes them open for me. He escorts me down another long hallway. At the end, there are doors on our right and our left. We exit through the door on the left and enter into a large train tunnel. Voices, music and wind echo through the subway. Cannen walks with me to the edge of a crowded platform. He scribbles, “My car is unlocked in a parking lot on 4th and Werner. Your bags are in the trunk. What you do is up to you. If you need me, my phone number is in the back cover of this notepad,” then hands me a moleskin pad from his breast pocket. I nod and walk toward the subway exit. Cannen vanishes in the sea of people behind me. Hopefully, this is the last time we have to meet. I can’t imagine living without the ability to talk with anyone. I damn sure won’t get my brain chipped either. Ok. Jacob is dead. Probably.
I’m in Missoula, Montana. Far as hell from New York and even farther from Louisville. I need to make my way back to my apartment and just get back to my life. With the final life remaining in my phone, I hail an Uber from the train station to the airport. I just want to get home.
“Simona?” the driver asks, pulling up. I nod and he hops out of his car. “Dustin. Nice to meet you,” he says and places my bag in his trunk. He holds the door open for me and we take off. “The airport isn’t too far,” Dustin says. If I tell him to shut up, who knows what may happen. I just want to get back to my life. I forcefully adjust my face mask. I hope he gets the hint. “Nice mask,” he says, oblivious. I sigh and stare out the window. “So you were at the train station, huh? That’s cool. Pretty nice train station we got here in Missoula. It’s old and a gosh-darnit, just a modern marvel of traditional, good ol’ America,” Dustin responds to himself. It’s been almost ten minutes and this guy hasn’t stopped talking to himself. My god. I just want to go home! Dustin says something about his parents and his high school. “I graduated, years ago and had a hard time finding work, but you know, it’s like the old folks say, you try hard enough and gosh darnit, you’ll strike gold. It just takes patience. Sometimes even years of patience.” He asks me more questions and stares. I make random gesture with my hands.
“Oh, ASL,” he says, staring through his rearview mirror. “At least you can hear. Am I right? Anyway, sorry. I don’t speak or understand it myself. I reckon many people do though. One time, I picked up a lady who… and, then there was this odd fellow from… Anyway…” he rambles on to himself. He chatters about his day, his drive and how the weather has been crazy this year. We continue down E Broadway St until we reach Missoula International. He helps me with my bags and tells me to have a safe flight. “If you’re ever in town, or you know, feel like texting anyone, hit me up sometime. A girl as pretty as you who can’t talk shouldn’t wander through here alone. I don’t mind colored folk. I actually think you’re pretty attractive, you know,” he declares. I cringe, but take his card anyway. I’ll burn it when I get home.
Several hours later, I’m pulling up to my apartment in Louisville. I fumble with my keys and run to my unit when I finally get into the building. I throw my bags on my bed and run a hot shower. I collapse under the water and sob in the tub, listening to my phone go wild on the sink once it charges back on. After my shower, I check the screen. 11 voicemails from Jacob’s mother, my parents and some of our friends. I sob again and try to get some work done in bed. My mind drifts over Jacob’s lifeless eyes until my sight gets heavy from the tears and exhaustion. After two straight days of being awake, and all the chaos, I’m finally crying myself to sleep.
The doorknob in the living room clicks and the door creaks open. My heart pounds in my chest. The Wordsworth’s pale face pops into my mind. Without taking a breath, I tiptoe off my mattress and crawl under my bed. The bedroom door pushes open, slowly and eerily. Thin legs in black sneakers march around my bedroom, silent and swift. Despite the age of my building, whoever it is manages not to make the floorboards creak. The intruder sits cross-legged on the ground and rolls a water bottle at me.
“I know,” she says, crestfallen. Her voice is soft. “You don’t have to say anything. I saw it. I saw all of it. On the news. I saw what happened to Jacob. He’s not dead, you know? He came to in the hospital and took off after you. He was the only survivor of what some people are calling the Louisville Fog.” She taps her fingers on her sneakers. “If you met Detective Cannen, then you know what it was. He probably took you to their HQ in Missoula, and you made the same choice I did.” I crawl out from under the bed. The lights are off, so I can’t quite see her face. “Just sit down, Simona,” she says. I ignore her and flip the lights on. My blood runs cold and a shriek escapes my chest. It’s me. She’s me. Her face is bloated and she’s covered in flies. Her sneakers and clothes are tattered and her eyeballs are completely white. “This is what happens, Simona. This is what will happen to us. He’s going to find us. He’s going to make us talk and he’s going to eat us! Eat us! Eat us!” My doppelgänger roars. I kick and scream until I finally wake up covered in a cold sweat. I take a deep breath and wash my face. Sitting at the kitchen table, I watch the door to my apartment and stroke my curly hair back. My pot of coffee brews while I get some work done. Did I make the right choice? Should I have come back here?
I stare out the window. It’s a beautiful, cloudy, Louisville morning. Birds chirp in the mist. Cars crawl along the streets, shuffling to work. Across the street, a man in a hoody passes something to a young lady then pats her butt. Men in suits walk beside women in skirts and enter a nearby café. Just a typical morning. A typical day. The way it should be. I respond to emails and pass out at my kitchen table.
“Simona?” Someone calls out, following a series of knocks. I wake up, sprint to the door and look at the peephole. Shit. It’s my parents and Jacob’s mother.
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