They Came in Pairs II

The Uniforms asked for a table to work at, so we made our way, in a slow procession, to the kitchen. I wondered if the bare walls and minimal furniture would seem suspicious to them, given my ‘unique position’. It would have seemed suspicious to me.


According to whispers, a lot of people sold up before they disappeared, or joined the resistance or whatever else the whispers called it. They would write long, winding letters, ceremoniously pay off debts, delete profiles, close accounts, return all their library books. According to whispers, it was all so romantic, so noble. Only the brave would have the willpower to kiss their children one last time. To give their lovers long, lingering looks that could turn ‘bereft’ into ‘proud’.

But I know those whispers are not true. People would just walk out of the door and not come back. Leave a lot of things behind and not come back. Leave everything behind; their family, their friends, their jobs, their soon to be spouses and not come back.


In the kitchen, The One I Did Not Know set himself up at the table, pulling out tools for my submission from his many pockets as I sat opposite, waiting to be probed. The One I Did Know stood behind him at the counter. This did not seem like protocol. Granted every spot check I’d had in the past was in the company of others, but we would be expected to stand while the Uniforms examined us.  I didn’t believe he was doing it to be vigilant. I could tell from the way he would not meet my eyes that he was nervous. Or was it shame? He must have met a lot of old friends along his travels. How many had he sent in for ‘rehabilitation’? It had to be shame he was feeling. To stand in a spot you’d stood in so many times before, laughed and joked before, but now as a bagman could only fill you with shame. But was it the shame of his past or shis present?

The One I Did Not Know produced a cotton swab from his pocket.

Open up.

Aren’t you supposed to ask me if I consent to you taking a DNA sample?

Well, really. I thought we were past all that.

Past the law?

The One I Did Not Know smiled a tight smile. The One I Did Know shook his head quickly.

When you invited us in, I took that as a willingness to be compliant. Don’t ruin it now.

I didn’t say I wasn’t going to do it, I’m just saying, why not do it properly?

You a stickler for rules?

As he asked he leaned in, his head cocked to the side.

When they involve me.

I like that. 

He took hold of my chin and tilted it towards him.

I bet you run a very tight ship around here.

Behind him, The One I Knew braced, and I knew it was because The One I Did Not Know was not talking about my home.


For the longest time, I had no idea what was happening. I’d been there that night, I’d seen him, I’d spoken to him, but none of it made sense. I went over it and over it in my head.

He said he was going on a work trip. Last minute. Had to leave right away.

I knew something was off, given the way he was packing.  He was usually so careful. Even when he was stressed, he had this level-headed control about him- It was one of the things I loved about him. But that night, he rushed from room to room, tucking things under his arm, such random things too. He picked up the first bag he saw, an old laundry bag we had from when the washing machine broke down and we had to ferry our dirty clothes up and down the high street. It was covered in dust and one of the arms was torn. He didn’t even notice, just shoved his things inside.

And there was nothing I could do. He said he had to go, and I trusted him. I had no reason not to trust him. So I just stood aside and watched him.

When are you going to be back?

I don’t know. Could be a couple of days, could be more. 

He turned to me then. Looked me right in the eyes.

I’ll call you. 

Call me. Call me? We never called each other. We’d never left each other’s side long enough to warrant a call. Even when he was at work we were constantly in contact. One time, he forgot his keys and I was asleep so I didn’t hear him knocking. Instead of calling me, he climbed next door’s fence and broke a window.

It was all so wrong but I just didn’t think- I had no reason to think he wouldn’t come back.

I had no idea everything he’d told me about himself up until that point was a lie.


I didn’t like the way The One I Did Not Know gripped my jaw. I didn’t like the way he lingered with the cotton swab. I didn’t like how far into my mouth he reached with it. I didn’t like the way he stared into my eyes as he did it. I didn’t like the way The One I Did Know was shifting about from one leg to the other like he was standing on hot coals. Like he had something he wanted to say or do, but couldn’t. And I did not like the fact that I was alone with these men and they had all the power.

I could feel all the hairs on my body rise. This was not the time or the place, but when you feel threatened your body reacts involuntarily. They call it fight or flight. And my body fought in a way that made me a threat, that earned me the tags that broadcast to the world that I was not like everyone else. If this was a test then I was about to fail it.

I tried my best to stay calm. Tried to remember all the letters of the greek alphabet, to tap out the national anthem in morse code with my feet. I clenched my fists, digging my nails into my palms and tried to focus on-

Oh, of course.

Now it made sense.

The Neighbour. Why I was so focussed on the Neighbour.

The Neighbour was-

Holy shit, who was he?

 


I called him every day that week. No answer.

After that, I called his mum. She had no idea where he was.

After that, I called his workplace. No one knew what I was talking about. Worse still they didn’t know who I was talking about.

After that everything merged into one long, terrible blur. I know that I called him a lot. I know that I cried a lot. I know that his sisters came round. I know that his mother asked for the engagement ring back. I know that, all the while, The Neighbour would come out into his garden and smoke a cigarette at the same time I would go outside to smoke a cigarette. Every day, without fail, we would stand facing each other, without saying a word.

By the time I started looking through his stuff, I wasn’t upset anymore. I was angry. I know that when I’m angry, I give off pulses. People like me, it’s how we can sense each other, warn each other before we snap.

So while all of that was happening, while I tore through folders, and spent hours trying to guess passwords, and searched name after name, The Neighbour knew what I was. He was spying on me. He had ratted me out.


Almost done here. Just need to make sure you don’t have any illegal devices in the house. Do you have anything to declare?

No.

Well then, this should be nice and quick.

It was the way he said it. It was the way he smiled. I’d been in situations like this before, situations where something was going on that I was somehow not a part of but also the main event for. The One I Did Not know stood up and stretched.

Care to show me around?

It’s not a big place, I’m sure the two of you can figure it out.

But it’d be quicker if you came with me. Make sure I can get into everything.

I looked at The One I Did Know. He swallowed but didn’t say anything, wouldn’t look at me. I’d seen him like this once before. When he’d stood on the steps of my parent’s house and told me that his mum had died, and he didn’t have any shoes on. I knew I was going to have to go with the other one. And I knew if he tried anything, I would have to defend myself. I unclenched my fist.

Fine.

Lovely.

 

I drew back my chair slowly.

I really don’t suggest we split up.

The One I Did Know spat it out as though he were yelling after someone who was about to go over a cliff. It wasn’t clear which one of us he was warning, though. His partner turned around, a little irritated.

Why not?

Well, she- Have you checked her clearance level?

Are you worried I won’t be able to take her? I’ve had worse.

We have to check it. It’s protocol. I can’t risk her- can’t risk you getting into danger.

His eyes darted between us. He was stalling.

Make it quick.

The One I Did Not Know stood over me while we waited, looking me up and down. The One I Did Know fumbled with his scanner. His partner grew impatient.

What’s taking so long?

It’s not working.

What do you mean?

The Scanner. Hold on. Maybe if I change the batteries.

His hands were shaking. It should have made me feel better that he was trying to help, but it didn’t. Seeing how nervous he was, how angry his partner was getting, was only making me feel worse. I didn’t want to give anything away, but behind my eyes, my head was swimming and I could feel myself slipping out of control.

I’ll do it. 

The One I Did Not Know pulled his scanner out of his pocket and started fiddling with the buttons. He was distracted and if I was going to act, now would be a good time. I glanced at the One I Did Know. Beads of sweat sat on his brows. He couldn’t save me. But I knew he wouldn’t stand in my way either. I parted my lips, about to pour poison in his partner’s ears, when the doorbell rang.

It scared me.

I’ll get it.

It came out in a whisper as I rushed out of the room.

I flung open the door, ready to run into the street.

But I wouldn’t get that far.

It was The Neighbour.

And he held a finger to his lips.

Advertisements

They Came in Pairs

When I opened the door there was two of them. One of them I had never seen before, but the other I knew. Or had known once. He didn’t acknowledge me, his lips were downturned and his jaw was tense, as though he was scared that if he so much as smiled everyone would know what had passed between us. Know what I was, and what kind of man he really was beneath his uniform.

I wasn’t the only one getting a visit. I could see, over the wall, two men in the blue uniform were scoring a neighbour’s garden, while he stood in the doorway clenching and unclenching his fist. I kept looking over at him, as the two at my door rattled through their introduction. My eyes would move from The One I Did Not Know, to the chin of The One I Did Know, to the Neighbour’s fist. Clenching and unclenching. Everyone clenching and unclenching.

Are you following?

It was The One I Did Not Know who talked the most. His badge was bigger and shinier and reflected in his high, greasy forehead.

You want to see my tag.

Wrist first, then tag. If you’d be so kind. 

He smiled and I noticed his mouth was full of long thin teeth.

I stretched my left arm out and pulled up the sleeve of my jumper. The One I Did Not Know pulled out his handbook to work out what the symbols that snaked up my arm meant. So they were new to the job. There was nothing worse than dealing with a uniform wearing a baton that he hadn’t had a chance to use yet.

The One I Did Know cracked momentarily. I could almost see the cogs turning as his eyes drifted from my wrist to my hand. I wasn’t wearing my engagement ring anymore. And if I wasn’t wearing that then-

Like I said, it was momentary. His eyes went from my wrist to my hands to my eyes and then to the wall behind me so quickly, I don’t think he even realised he’d done it. I only noticed because moments like this always pass by slower for me. You have to be slow and careful. One mistake and-

Well. It seems we’re going to have to come inside.

I blinked slowly as he closed his handbook.

We believe you may be at risk of radicalization, given your…unique position. May we?

I don’t really have a choice, do I?

Of course, you do. We could either do this the easy way or-

He smiled again and I could see that his thin teeth stretched on infinitely.

The longer way.

He didn’t elaborate. He didn’t need to. We all know what the long way is. I glanced at the neighbour one last time. He was staring right back me. I stepped aside as he began to mouth something to me. But The One I Know closed the door before I could catch the rest of it.

Grayson Interrupted

The day before I got fired, I bought a TV. A huge one, that I couldn’t afford. I bought it on credit. I bought it in the good faith that I had a steady income. I bought it like how regular people buy stuff. I walked into a nice shop, in a nice shirt. I combed my hair. My knuckles were not bleeding. I exchanged niceties, even banter with the assistant.

I was in a good mood.

‘What do you need it for?’ The guy asked.

‘You watch a lot of films?’

‘Something is about to start that I intend to see in good colour.’

‘What?’

I smiled.

‘Have you heard about the LRI Trials?’

‘Is that the research facility that fucked up all those kids?’

‘Depends what side your sitting on, but it’s that. That’s what I’m going to watch.’

‘On a three thousand pound TV?’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re daft, mate. Think of the porn you could watch!’

We laughed.

As he was drawing up the contract, he asked me things about myself. Where I lived, what I did for work. He asked me what my name was. I think I paused a little too long because then he said:

‘You’re not in witness protection, are you?’

I smiled.

‘You’re not one of those kids?’

I didn’t break.

‘Watch the trial. I think it will be interesting.’

He nodded, and handed me the paperwork.

I left with a spring in my step and my TV in the back of a van.

I had to make the place nice you see. I needed to prepare for V.

The Regime: Pause

I slide out from under Partner in the middle of the night. Drag feet as I walk into the bathroom. Sit down to pee, and then realise I don’t need to. Go over to the sink, look at myself in the mirror.

Not Verity anymore. To my astonishment.

Just little old me. Jet black eyes, stern mouth. Special.

I think I’m hungry. Or thirsty.

I think I need to get out of this flat.

Pull hoodie on over T-Shirt and slip out into the night. Walk along the street searching for a light. I think about running away. But where would I go? I don’t know where-

I can’t go home, so what’s the point?

I decide I am hungry when I see a petrol station up ahead. Bright light flashing snacks.

Two cars parked, but apart from that, empty. Quiet. Door chimes as I enter. Boy (Man?) looks up from phone. Nods at me. I nod back.

I peruse the aisles. Chocolate. Wrenches. Crisps. Plasters. I pick the colours that I like and head to the counter. He rings me up.

Fourteen pounds.

I blink at him. Startled, like I’ve never heard of currency.

I don’t have any money.

What?

I look down, hands in pockets. I don’t have any money. I didn’t think-

How much did you say it was?

Fourteen pounds.

I feel about in my pockets still, knowing that I have nothing in them. I could put the snacks back…

But I don’t want to.

I want the snacks. And I used to only do things that I wanted. So, I decide to try that again.

I look up at BoyMan. Smile. He doesn’t smile back but he does watch me long enough for me to form a connection. I reflect his eyes back at him. It’s a weak line; I haven’t practiced in a while. But he’s not a challenge. He works in a petrol station after all.

Let me off this time.

He blinks.

I’ll let you off this time.

Really?

I…think so, yeah.

That’s so nice of you.

I smile.

So, so nice.

He nods, a little dazed. I pick up my treats and begin to leave.

But I can’t. I’m wide awake now. I want to play.

Hey.

Yeah?

It’s easier this time to connect. He waits, slack jawed, for my command.

Empty out the till.

He reaches into the till.I act surprised for the CCTV.

What are you doing?

What does it look like I’m doing?

Put it in a bag and give-

Wrong move.

Put it in a bag and leave the bag in the wheelie bin outside 23 Burns Avenue.

He continues to fill the bag. I head out.

I run, actually. All the way home. I dump all my snacks on the kitchen counter and stare at them.

What have I done?

What a stupid-

What if he can’t find my address?

I stay up the rest of the night, sitting at the living room window, overlooking the drive. I brace every time a car goes past. An hour later, maybe four, I see a figure in a hoodie walking up. He opens the wheelie bin, my wheelie bin, and drops something in it. He looks up at the house and I duck. I don’t know if he sees me. But when I next look out, he’s gone.

I go back to bed like nothing has happened.  Five minutes later Partner’s alarm goes off.

We get up, start our morning routine. I take my pills and the night before fades like a dream. Like with every day, I take the rubbish out to the bins. But when I look inside: There is the bag, full of cash, and what looks like a hand gun.

The Supervisor toots the horn of the car. I drop the rubbish in surprise and go towards him.

I should tell him about the cash, but I don’t.

For the first time in a long time, I lie.

For the first time in a long time, I can see the exit sign.

Regime

Wake up in the morning. Can’t recall dream because it’s always blurry and also I don’t actually want to. Slide out from under the human I’ve tricked into loving ‘me’ and head into the bathroom. Stare at self in mirror. Actual self. Verity self. Wait to see if this is the day I get a handle on my shit.

My name is Verity and I-

A vision comes in, blinding and jagged. A lot of blood. All over me. And I like it.

Concede that this not the day I get a handle on my shit. Open cabinet, take out pills. Count them into my shaking hands. One, three, five, nine. Swallow them with a handful of tap water. Lean on sink to steady myself. Wait for the calm to set in. Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight. One more vision, duller this time. The sound of metal connecting with bone. A scream. Or a laugh, then a scream. Three, two, one.

Silence.

Verity who?

Get towel and begin traditional ‘getting ready’ configuration. Become ‘Ivy’. Shit. Shower. Human comes in. Shaves while I clean my teeth. Discuss ‘plans’. Make breakfast. Eat breakfast. Change channels when news about the investigation comes on. Take bins out before we leave. Black car rolls into view. Walk up to it and tap on the window. Handler opens door. Get in.

Have you eaten?

Yes.

Open wide.

Handler puts the worst pill in mouth. Like a battery has exploded on my tongue. Wretch at least once.

Swallow it.

Wretch again.

Have you swallowed it?

Yes.

Look at me.

Look at him. Deep in his hazy green eyes.

Tell me to what to do.

Kiss me. Slide your fingers inside me. Make me moan.

Properly.

Shoot the driver.

Nothing happens, except the blood trickling down my nose. Handler nods and hands me the same old blood monogrammed handkerchief. Wonder why he keeps, what he does with it. Know, deep down, what he does with it.

Enjoy the rest of the day.

Get out of the car. Call him a cunt under my breath. Wretch again one more time before I back into the house. Put on my coat. Wait for human partner to finish charging his phone.

Ready.

Ready.

Go back out into the world. Walk side by side, in time. Remember to blink. Remember to nod and smile. Remember what stop to get off. Remember to kiss him before I go. Remember pass. Remember seat. Remember lunch time. Remember to eat. Wonder what the real ‘Ivy’ would have eaten, would have worn. Remember to go back to work. Remember to get a coffee. Make small talk. Spot dealer. Remember not to follow him into the parking lot. Follow him anyway. Listen to him talk about Rembrandt, Bach. Snort a line off his wrist. Lick his wrist. Let him kiss me, but not on the mouth. Think for a second I can see-

Go back into work. Back to my desk. Become the master of spreadsheets. Leave when the clock hits six. Meet human partner for a drink. Flirt. Touch his leg. Think I see-

Kiss partner on the platform. Barely make it through the door. Clothes in the hallway. The bathroom. Afterwards, put on partner’s sweatshirt. Eat the takeout I don’t remember ordering in bed. Watch a film with my eyes but not my brain. Switch off the lights. Never close eyes. Stare with purpose. I know he’s not really here, but I feel like he is. Will him to be. In the corner of the room, at the window, on the ceiling. I can see him. If I remember him, I can see him. Grayson. I whisper his name over and over and over and over until I fall asleep.

Grayson. Thia. Asher. Blake. Me. Can’t forget.

Won’t forget.

Over and over and over.

It’s morning. Wake up. Can’t recall dream because it’s always blurry and also I don’t actually want to, and also it never happened. I don’t really sleep anymore. Not since they split us up.

Minutes 1517

 [REDACTED]

(the Company)

(Company no: [REDACTED])

Minutes of a meeting of the directors of the Company held at [REDACTED] ON [REDACTED] at [REDACTED].

  1. Preliminary Matters
    [REDACTED] was appointed chairwoman of the meeting. The chairwoman noted that the meeting had not been duly convened and that only a handful of board members were present. Chairwoman noted that on any other occasion this meeting would not have been authorised, but given [REDACTED]’s, (hence forth known as Dr. A) concerns, the meeting  was declared open.
  2. Business of the Meeting
    The chairman reported that the business of the meeting was to:
    2.1. Discuss the recent spate of  incidents in the East facility.
  3. Incidents
    Dr.A acknowledged that the incidents that have occurred are not common to the experiment and that the volatile situation in East Block may be because that facility houses the longest running test subjects. As a result, the statistics are skewed dramatically in that direction. Equally the test subjects involved (17 in total) have reached a level of maturity that previous test subjects had not. He asked that the board consider whether the facility is equipped to deal with the condition in this adult stage of its manifestation.
    [REDACTED], hence forth known as RDG, enquired as to why Dr. A did not submit incident reports until the most recent incident (in which 1543 was subdued and detonated. See Incident Report 1543 9C). Dr. A informed the board that East Block Management did not want to jeopardise the experiment.
    Dr. A urged the board to seriously consider removing East Block from the Experiment, or at least from the control of Senior Management.
    It was agreed that the experiment would continue, but concentrating only on East Block.
    It was not decided whether the other Test Subjects in Blocks North, South and West would be let go or destroyed.
    Dr. A reported growing concern amongst the facilitators about the length of the experiment and whether at this point the extended incarceration of the test subjects is leading to the volatile situation. He argued that this was jeopardising the work done so far. RDG stated that overall the board was not happy with the facilitators in East Block, since the projected progress of the experiment has not been met.
    [REDACTED], henceforth known as QA, suggested gutting the staff of East Block completely and starting again with fresh eyes.
    Dr. A strongly condemned this form of action, stating that a huge change like that could make the situation in East Block even more chaotic. He added that, given the nature of the experiment, the time and effort it would take to find and train a new set of facilitators would extend the experiment beyond its three year projection and push the test subjects to breaking point.
    RDG reminded Dr. A that the test subjects had forfeited their rights when they signed up to the experiment.
    Dr. A then disclosed some information about the East Block test subjects that led to the meeting being promptly adjourned.
  4. Close
    Given the information discovered, concerning the ethics of the test subjects in East Block’s surrender, the chairwoman declared the meeting closed. It was agreed that a meeting would be held once a an investigation into Senior Management at East Block was completed.

Observation 151

41fc8b2c15c1269363d1f1975abd3215

Subject 2514

  • Subject has reached Stage Four of observation: A Game.
  • Subject has been docile throughout process and condition appears dormant, if not non-existent.
  • This is the last observation before subject is potentially struck off from register.
  • Subject is seated on the bed, reading, when Supervisor arrives.
  • She responds cordially to his small talk, but reveals nothing about herself despite pointed questions.
  • Supervisor asks Subject if she would like to play a game. Subject obliges and asks what game they will be playing. Supervisor states that she will pick it up as they go along. Subject seems tense for a split second.
  • Supervisor and Subject begin card game. Supervisor wins first round. Subject asks if the game they are playing is Snap. Supervisor says the game they are playing is the game that they are playing. He asks Subject if she would like to continue playing. She agrees.
  • Supervisor wins second round. Subject states that this was an illegal move. Supervisor insists that it was a legal move. Subject asks for a list of rules for the game. Supervisor states that the Subject will pick them up as they go along. He asks Subject if she wishes to continue playing. She hesitates for a moment but agrees to continue.
  • Subject thinks she has won third round. Supervisor tells her the move was illegal, and therefore he has won the round. Subject firmly asks him to tell her how her move was illegal or how he has won the round because of it. Supervisor states that the rules are obvious, if Subject is paying attention. He asks Subject if she wishes to continue playing. Subject takes a minute and through gritted teeth agrees to continue.
  • This goes on for eight more rounds, Subject is visibly growing more and more tense and angry. She slams her fist on the table, swears profusely and one point sweeps all the cards off the table. However, whenever asked to continue she agrees.
  • Subject has a hard time admitting defeat?
  • At the commencement of the twelfth round, Subject asks the Supervisor again for the rules of the game. Supervisor states that the rules are so simple, even a child could pick them up. Subject calls the Supervisor a cheat. Supervisor suggests that maybe she is just stupid.
  • Subject falls silent. Pulls herself to her full height and stares at supervisor. She says the following: You are the stupid one, coming into this room alone with me.
  • Supervisor asks her what she means. Subject continues to stare at him.
  • The rest of these notes are pieced together from eye witness accounts and surveillance footage.  Observation was disrupted by the following incident (See Appendix titled ‘2514 Overpowers Supvisor’).
  • At this point, on the tape, we notice that her eyes have changed from a dark brown, almost black, to hazel. She whispers something to the Supervisor, which, after viewing the surveillance footage, we believe to be a command to drop the cards he is holding. He does so.
  • She tells him to get up, according to what could be made out from the surveillance footage. The Supervisor does as he is told.
  • Subject tells him to run headfirst into the observation widow until, direct quote: Either the glass cracks or your skull does. He does so.
  • This entire exchange takes less than 30 seconds. Supervisor is running at the window for at least 2 minutes before we think to intervene.
  • When we enter the room and ask him to stop, he does not. It is like he cannot hear us. Attempts to get his attention are useless.
  • Against protocol, we address the Subject.
  •  She is nonchalant when we ask her what she has done. She shrugs and places the cards in neat pile before getting into the bed and facing away from us.
  • Security is called to restrain Supervisor, who at this point is bloody from the effort, but will not stop.
  • We attempt to engage the Subject again but she has fallen asleep.
  • Without empathy?
  • Supervisor is finally subdued, strapped to a stretcher. His hazel eyes appear vacant.
  • Observation is paused to attend to Supervisor.
  • Final Thoughts: As of now, we have no research on this manifestation of the condition. This is the first time we have seen anything like it. We are referring to it as ‘Submission of Will’ until we can study the subject further.
  • The board have signed off on keeping Subject 2514 for further observation.