The man with the terrible eyes wakes up on Friday morning to a great weight on his chest.
"Geddoff," he half-groans. He tries to roll, but the weights won't let him. The dog, seeing he's awake, immediately begins nosing his face, thumping its tail against the covers. Dog stands and the man with the terrible eyes shoves him away. He sits up and sees a dozen beetles tossed aside by the force of the dog's tail.
"Hey, bud," he says, absently petting Dog.
Red numbers on the clock by the bed say it's six am. He groans. He'd had another nightmare, but didn't remember anything about it. He hated that; what a crappy way to end a day off-
Shit, he thinks, heart and stomach both sinking. I have to go to work today.
No, he thinks again, sitting up straighter. No I don't.
He tries to get up, but the dog won't let him. It whimpers and licks his face and puts all it's weight on him until he's certain something is going to break.
"Relax, Dog," he says. He shoves tries to shove Dog aside. It's harder than he'd expected. Dog does not want him to leave.
"Jeez," he says. "What's got into you? I'm not going anywhere!"
Dog licks his face and, with obvious regret, finally rolls to the side, allowing him to and get up. Dog whines and lumbers down the hall after him, followed by fifty or so black beetles. In the kitchen, he picks up the phone and calls his Supervisor.
"I don't think I can come in today," he says.
"Is something wrong?"
You have a basement full of monsters. Some guy dragged me around at gunpoint. You tried to erase my memory.
"I'm not feeling well." And to his surprise, he finds that he's telling the truth. His head is killing him. His neck and shoulders are sore. He must have slept on them wrong.
"You're running out of sick days," his Supervisor says.
"Feel better. I'll see you tomorrow."
He hangs up the phone and, for the first time in the last two days, tries to think.
Iotech had a bunch of monsters. Iotech wanted to keep those monsters secret, and was willing to erase people's memories to do that. Bridges was part of a group that. . . wanted the monsters? To kill them? He didn't know.
And I can open doors if someone tases me, he thinks sourly. A smaller, foreign-feeling thought echoes, electricity helps, but he shakes it off.
Well that was just great.
He sighs and goes to the fridge. A tupperware container full of day-old chicken sits on the top shelf. He digs it out. He cuts some of the chicken for himself, puts some on a plate for the dog, wraps some more for later, and then puts the remainders on the floor in front of the sofa.
Dozens of beetles rush out from beneath the sofa and over the tray. In seconds, they retreat back under the sofa and the tray is completely clean, free of meat, skin, and bones. He smiles a little; it had taken a few tries before the beetles had understood that they weren't supposed to eat the dishes, too. He picks up the tray and puts it in the kitchen sink to be washed later. Then he has breakfast.
After that, he goes into the living room and stands in front of the TV.
Okay, he thinks. I can do this.
He holds his hand over the TV and tries to make something happen. Anything.
Do something, he thinks.
Do something! he thinks a little louder.
He scowls. His head hurts and he knows, he knows he can do this. He takes a nine-volt battery out of his pocket and licks the charged end, one hand still resting on the TV.
There's a flood of energy far greater than a mere nine volts. Electric fire floods through his veins and behind his eyes and there is a whiteness gathering around the edges of his vision. But it doesn't hurt. It's uncomfortable, like a pressure in his head, like being too far underwater, or too high in the air, but there's no real pain.
The TV flickers to life. He pulls back his hand, and it turns off. He touches it again, and it turns on again. He removes his hand and breathes. At first, quick, panicked breaths, but when he notices what he's doing, he forces himself to breathe deep, solid ones.
He isn't panicking. He's surprised, and a little afraid, but not panicking. The fact surprises him. He ought to be panicking, he thinks. He ought to be losing his mind.
But instead he stands, completely empty of any feeling aside from mild interest, as though this ability isn't a revolutionary new discovery, but something he knew already and just simply needed to be reminded of. He points at the radio.
There's no visible connection between his finger and the machine, but he feels it; an invisible and fleeting tendril of- of something between them for only an instant as the energy passes through from him to the radio. The radio bursts, sending bits of plastic and metal clattering.
He winces. That wasn't what he'd meant to happen. Something whines behind him. The dog is there, standing in the kitchen doorway, looking concerned. On its back and at its feet are a few dozen beetles. They, too, look concerned.
"I'm fine!" he says, a little louder than he intended. "I'm fine," he says again, this time more quietly. And he is fine, he just needs to get a breath of fresh air; the room is suddenly too stuffy, too hot, as though the temperature has been raised.
"I'll be back," he tells them, heading for the door. They watch him go. He can feel their gazes on his back as he leaves.
* * * * *
The surveillance van is waiting outside, this time directly parked across the street. They, the great predatory "they" who owned the van, had dispensed with frivolities and hadn't bothered disguising this one; the van is solid black with the camera on top trained solely on his house.
He resists the urge to flip it the bird. Instead, he turns down the sidewalk and heads for the park. The sound of padding feet comes from behind him.
"Hey, Dog," he says without looking. Dog trots along side him and nudges his leg. He looks down and sees that Dog, displaying more sense than he had any right to, had brought along his leash. He holds it in his mouth and, when the man with the terrible eyes opens his hand, drops it into his palms.
He doesn't question this and hooks the leash onto Dog's collar in silence. When he stands, he catches the slightest movement out of the corner of his eye. He looks and is just in time to see the van, creeping along at five miles an hour, abruptly stop. The camera is pointed at him.
He glares at the van and wishes something would happen to it. Nothing does. Maybe it was too far away. Maybe whatever ability he had was only temporary.
He plucks the battery from his pocket and licks the end. Again, white hot electricity scours his veins, burning his blood and starting fires behind his eyes. He doesn't even have to think; he just looks at the van and the whole thing collapses. The tires sink, as though losing air. Smoke billows out from under the hood and from the camera on top. He grins, imagining the people inside frantically trying to find out what went wrong.
He leaves them to wonder and takes Dog out for a walk around the park.
* * * * *
For the first time in recent memory, the man with the terrible eyes is having fun.
He points at a spot on the grass, and a tiny bolt of lightning flies from his fingertips and strikes the spot with a tiny crack!. He snaps his fingers, and they send sparks flying, fluttering briefly in the air, and then fading to nothing, like he's struck a flint.
"Hey Dog," he says. "Look."
He tosses a rock into the air and sends a bolt of lightning streaking after it. It knocks the rock another several feet away in mid-air. Dog dutifully chases after it and brings it back. They spend the next few hours wandering around the park, playing fetch with anything and everything he can throw, with him occasionally licking the battery again to get a boost. Aim doesn't seem to be an issue: so long as he can see it, he can hit it. There might've been a distance limit, but he doesn't run into it. A few times, he experiments, starting- and putting out- small fires, or making miniature fireworks displays with the sparks.
It's only sometime around six that he realizes that he's been playing all afternoon and has gathered an audience. A handful of kids on bikes have been following him around, and when he stops, they shout for him to zap more rocks.
He grins sheepishly and hurries away, Dog at his side.
It's not until he gets home and finally sits down that he realizes how tired he is, like he'd been running for several hours instead of walking. He barely has the energy to feed the dog before collapsing on the couch. He sleeps soundly for the rest of the night.
* * * * *
He does not want to go to work. He wants to stay home with is dog and bugs and play with electricity. He can hear it. The electricity hums in the walls, traveling along the wires. But the humming doesn't bother him. It's almost comforting. He lightly touches an outlet in the kitchen and siphons off a small bit of electricity. Yellow threads flow around his fingers. He grins and sends it back into the outlet.
For the first time in his life, he's good at something. For the first time in his life, he has something nobody else has, and he can control it. It's not like the eyes. This is a good thing.
He lets the dog out into the backyard and tries to think.
Iotech is insane. It's full of monsters and people who don't mind altering his memory, who spy on him and do who knows what else. But it's also a regular paycheck. It's also the reason he has a house. And a car. And clothes. Everything he owns came from Iotech, one way or another.
Damn he thinks. Iotech's the first place that's kept him longer than a few weeks. He debates with himself: stability versus what he assumes to be the occasional attempted memory wipe. He knows the memory erasure attempt wasn't the first; the way Bridges had gone on, it made it sound like his Supervisor did this to a lot of people.
Was it so bad, forgetting something every now and then?
He sighs and rubs his aching neck. He has to go in, if only to give his two weeks notice.
He goes out to the car and, instead of putting in the key, places his hand on the ignition and wills for something to happen. Anything. After a second, his palm grows hot, right at the center, but the heat is trapped under his skin, and no amount of wanting will make anything happen. He grumbles and licks the battery. Searing heat tears through his hand and into the metal, and the engine roars to life.
He should be worried. None of this can be healthy, can it? But he can't make himself care. He has a talent now, and it's something good. He puts the key in the ignition for real and pulls out of the drive.
* * * * * *
At work, he tries to pretend that nothing has changed. And it works. He goes to his cubicle, nodding at Sam the security guard on the way in, and sits down. The security camera in the corner whirrs gently, with the occasional soft click. He frowns. Is it broken? It's not normally that loud, is it?
He sighs and puts his head in his hands. He can hear the camera whirring. He can hear- no, he can feel the electricity in the walls, trapped inside wires behind the plaster-
"Knock knock," says Sam, entering the room. "Boss wants to talk to you."
Sam chuckles. "I'm sure whatever it is isn't too bad. He didn't sound mad."
He heaves himself out of the chair and makes for the door. Sam escorts him to his Supervisor's office on the fourth floor, keeping a respectable three foot distance. Just within tackling reach, he finds himself thinking. In case I try to make a run for it.
They reach the door and Sam discreetly stops outside, standing near the doorway, facing the hall. He goes in alone.
While the rest of Iotech, or at least all the parts he has seen, are sterile in whites and grays with short carpets or tiled floors, his Supervisor's office is full of warm woods and earth tones. Bookshelves line the wall and while the floor is hardwood, there are patterned carpets on top.
His Supervisor is standing in front of the wall-length window, looking out at the view. He turns when he hears the man with the terrible eyes comes in, and offers a small smile.
“Hello, hello,” his Supervisor say. “Good to see you. Please, have a seat.” He gestures to the chair placed in front of the cherry-wood desk.
“Uh. Thanks.” He sits. His Supervisor remains standing.
"Tell me," his Supervisor says, facing the window again. "How long have you been working with us? Five years? Six?"
"Two, sir. Almost two."
"Two? Really? Huh. I'dve figured it'd been longer."
"No, just two, sir."
"Feels longer. Time's funny like that, I suppose. . ." He trails off, and the room fills with an uncomfortable silence.
“So. . .what did you call me in for?”
“Just checking up on you. It’s good to check in sometimes, don’t you think?”
He doesn't think. Or he tries not to. But the thought that comes, despite his efforts is The only time you check in on me is when something horrible is about to happen.
“Oh, yes,” he says aloud.
“Tell me something,” his Supervisor says. “How have you been feeling?”
His Supervisor finally turns away from the window and looks at him. “Just okay? That’s it?”
“Pretty okay, yeah. Uh. Why? Shouldn’t I be?”
“No, no. Okay is fine. Not ecstatic? Not joyful? Deliriously happy?”
He smiles thinly. “Only on the weekends.”
His Supervisor makes an amused “hmm” noise. “Well that’s good. Nothing unusual happening? No more . . . incidents?”
He thinks of the shadow creatures. Of his new-found powers. Of the black dog. Of the hole in the ground, and the beetles. “Nope.”
“You’ve been taking your medications? Seeing your doctor?”
This conversation has lasted too long and is taking turns in a direction he does not want it to go. What is he, my nanny? And then he remembers: for all intents and purposes, yes. “Yes, every Tuesday. He says I’m doing well.”
It’s a lie. He dumped the pills into the hole in the ground weeks ago, after the dog had shown up. He’d seen the doctor all of three times before giving up. Psychiatric aid only helped when you were actually delusional. Positive thinking and self-actualization didn’t mean a damn thing when the shadows in your house sometimes came alive and fought with your dog. Medications didn’t help when there was a reoccurring, self-emptying grave in the backyard.
His Supervisor makes a noncommittal sound and checks a folder on his desk. “Just one more thing. This will sound silly. I feel silly for asking it, but we must make sure of these things. Can’t be too careful. Safe than sorry and all that. What is your name?”
“Your name. No peeking.” He moves his hand over the file header.
“You know my name.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“This is stupid.”
“I agree. But it’s a simple question. Tell me your name, and I’ll let you get back to work.” He smiles. “Just indulge me for a moment. Your name?”
The man with the terrible eyes wants to ask what his Supervisor is trying to pull. He wants to say that this is ridiculous. He wants to say that his name is-
His name is-
His name is. . .
“I. . .”
“Take your time.”
“I don’t. . .” he looks up, eyes wide and afraid, though his Supervisor cannot see them behind the sunglasses. “I- my name. I can’t remember.” His fists are clenched, his knuckles white. “What’s happening? I can’t remember my name. Why can’t I remember my name? It’s my name! How can I not remember it?”
“Calm down,” his Supervisor says. “Take a deep breath.”
“It’s my name! It’s gone! I- I remember people calling me it. I remember writing it on papers and signing checks and why can’t I remember.” He can't breathe. His heart beats too quickly, and the room is suddenly unbearably hot and small. “What happened to my name?”
“Will I need to sedate you?” His Supervisor’s voice is not angry. He does not threaten, he merely asks. His voice is completely level. “I have some tranquilizers in my desk if you’d like some.” The man is unshaken. He has never been shaken. He remains calm and polite and bewilderingly optimistic.
The man with the terrible eyes and no name stares at him. “Are you a robot?” he blurts.
“I assure you I’m not,” his Supervisor says with a small smile. There is something in his eyes. The man with the terrible eyes is not good at identifying other’s emotions through their eyes, as he has made a habit of not looking at the eyes of others, but here he sees a lightness in those of his Supervisor. Amusement.
“You think it's funny?” he snaps, getting to his feet. “I just have a fucking brain aneurysm and you think it’s funny?”
“You didn’t have an aneurysm.”
“Stroke, seizure, random fucking bout of selective amnesia- what the hell ever. I can’t remember my name! I gotta- I gotta get to a hospital. I gotta see a doctor. I gotta-“ He stops suddenly and begins searching for his phone.
“What?” says his Supervisor. “Who are you calling?”
“My mom,” he says, dialing the number. He feels a flood of relief when he remembers the number without difficulty. At least there was still that.
“Your mother?” For the first time, his Supervisor sounds confused. It’s a mild, controlled kind of confusion, but confusion nevertheless.
“Yeah. She- I just need to talk to her. Maybe ask her my name since you won’t tell me.”
Someone picks up. “Hello?” it is a woman’s voice, but not one he recognizes. For a split second, he is terrified that he has forgotten the sound of his mother’s voice.
“Mom?” he says.
“Mom it’s me-“ he falters. “Uh. Me.”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “You have the wrong number.” And the phone goes dead.
He stands there in the middle of the room, phone still pressed against his ear, dumbstruck.
“I’m sorry,” his Supervisor says.
“It wasn’t her. I dialed the number wrong.”
“I’m so, so sorry.” He moves closer.
“No. No, no! Don’t be sorry. Just tell me what’s going on!”
“Your name is Alan Campbell. Alan Jacob Campbell. And I'm afraid your mother has been dead for over four years. I am so sorry."
And he is. The man with the terrible eyes- Alan? Was his name really Alan? The name meant nothing to him- sees that his Supervisor is sorry, the same way he can feel the electricity in the wall. Too sorry, even, as though it wasn't sympathy, but guilt.
This is your fault. He doesn't say it, but he knows he's right. How many times have you messed with my head?
Out loud, he says, "This is insane. You're insane."
"Didn't you- do you remember where you were when we hired you?"
"Uh. A street." A crowded street. Some hazy, gray street with hazy gray buildings and half-formed figures he assumed were people.
"Okay, and do you remember why you were on the street?"
"I. . ." He concentrates. "I. . .was homeless, wasn't I?"
"Yes. And do you remember that?"
"No," he says. "I don't remember. At all."
It's like one day he was sixteen, going to school, and the next he was walking on the street, turning around when he heard the man who would become his Supervisor calling out to him.
"This is crazy. My mom's not dead. My father-"
"Dead too, I'm afraid. They were in the same car."
But it feels like the truth. It feels like he's being reminded of something, not learning something new, and he's overcome with the overwhelming urge to run.
"Alan," his Supervisor steps closer. "Please, calm down. We can work through this together." His voice is solid, reassuring. He places a hand on Alan- that name, it can't be his- shoulder. "Iotech has some of the best doctors in the country under our employ. We can figure this out. We can help you."
You did this. You did this to me. You've done it before-
"What?" says his Supervisor. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
He realizes he'd been staring. "Sorry," he says. "It's. . . it's a lot to take in."
Without warning, his Supervisor wraps his arms around him, engulfing him in a bear hug. The hug is brief, but solid, and the man with terrible eyes is too surprised to react. "You're going to have to trust me, Alan. Things will be. . . Odd. But I assure you that Iotech has your best interests at heart. Do you trust me?"
About as far as I can throw you.
For a split second, his Supervisor smiles. Then he's all business. "Good," he says, adjusting his tie. "Pardon if I'm a bit forward, but I've always considered you something like a son to me."
He has nothing to say to that, so he says nothing.
"I'll schedule you in for some tests tomorrow. You'll like the doctors, I promise. They're very understanding people. And I promise you there'll be nothing invasive-"
He talks on. The man with- Alan he thinks. Alan! - Alan doesn't listen. The notion of quitting worms its way into his mind, but he can't think about it. He can't think about anything. All he can do is stare at the carpet and let his Supervisor's voice wash over him, saying nothing important.
Eventually he's led back to his cubicle, where he spends the rest of the work day staring at nothing.
* * * * *
That night, he wakes up slowly, by levels. His breathing is soft and even, and he is vaguely aware of the comforting pressure of a very large dog and several hundred black beetles hogging the blankets. And someone is singing to him. He doesn't recognize the voice, it's almost a whisper. The sound is soft, playing just at the edge of his hearing. At first, he thinks he's still asleep, and he lies in bed and listens. Music plays, not the usual loud, disjointed the neighbor kids sometimes played, but soft, fluid music, something like harps and something like the high tinkling of pianos.
The longer he listens, the more awake he becomes, though he never really wakes up. The song calls to him, urging him to come find the source. So he does. He eases out from the covers, trying not to disturb the dog or bugs.
Dog wakes immediately, and looks at him curiously. He barely notices.
"Hang on a sec," he mumbles. "Just gonna go check something."
The singing in his head grows louder. It leads him though the house, down the hall, into the living room, and out the front door. The air is cold and dark and misty, and the grass is wet, but he doesn't care.
It was one of the void creatures with the unmistakable darkness entirely different from the darkness surrounding it. This one has a humanoid figure, albeit a human over nine feet tall, with an extra four arms protruding from its sides and insect-like gossamer wings sprouting from its back. Unlike the other void creatures, this one has a mouth, and the mouth is in the center of its belly. it is full of teeth.
All of this he notices absently, the way he usually notices how the ground feels when he walked on it, or the way air felt when he breathed. Nothing important. All that mattered was the song.
The void creature stands motionless across the street. His head throbs painfully; the pressure the void creatures give off is starting to kick in, and the closer he goes, the worse it becomes. Coupled with that pressure is a slick, foreign feeling that creeps over him like oil.
Want. Hunger. It was going to kill him. It wanted him to die, and he was completely okay with that.
He was just leaving the sidewalk when-
Pain. Discord. Like a record scratch in a suddenly silences symphony. Like glass shattering, like a gunshot. He drops to one knee, trying desperately to hear the song. He needs to hear the song! But it's too late: the song splinters and whatever tie it had is severed, and he suddenly realizes what he's doing. He scrambles to his feet and the dog, barking madly, teeth shining white in the darkness despite there being no light, runs past him, towards the void creature.
The creature darts forward, grabbing the dog with all six arms, but he tears through them like they're nothing. Black blood spills on the street, vanishing seconds after it lands. The dog rips out the creature's throat, and it falls over dead. The body steams and writhes and, eventually, disintegrates into nothing.
Dog, apparently satisfied, trots back to him and sits expectantly.
"Good boy," he says fairly, scratching Dog behind the ears. "Uh." He coughs. "Thanks."
Dog licks his hand, then nudges his leg, indicating they should go back into the house, which they do.
Alan Jacob Campbell, the man with the terrible eyes, does not sleep at all for the rest of the night.