That meal was exquisite. The quintessential cliche: a meal fit for a king. And I was full. Satiated. I didn’t want another bite. I tried to remember a meal on par with this and the first thing that comes to mind is that lunch Monica and I had in Covelo. Yeah, that was a good meal. Almost as good as this one. Except I’m with different people. And would I be okay sitting here, in this strange place with Monica? Or Dave and Monica? The three of us? After everything that’s happened between me and her. After everything she did. To me. And everything that happened . . . After. With her. And to me . . .
Would I still want her here, with me right now?
[Strong, decisive] In a heartbeat.
Dave took a while to find some dessert, which was fine by me. I needed to make some room in the stomach region, if you catch my drift. When he came back out, eventually, he had a tray of flan. I couldn’t help laughing. We were in a magical place that to the best of my knowledge didn’t exist anywhere in the known world. And after enjoying a truly out-of-this-world steak – although that may have had something to do with my not having had something as good as steak in a really long time; plus we were no longer in the “known world” – seeing the final course, the piece de resistance, the dessert to end all desserts . . . Flan. Well, I guess it makes perfect sense, in a way: The actual rock of Gibraltar is a part of the southern coast of Spain, where flan is as common as . . . Paella and flamenco, right?
This may be a different Rock of Gibraltar. An alternate one. Perhaps on another plane of existence. But the Spanish influence is still there, that’s for sure.
Dave had this worried look on his face when he came out from the kitchen, like he’d just found a human head in the . . . You know, let’s just not got there. It still hasn’t been long enough.
As if he’d just seen a ghost.
JAKE: “Is there something wrong Dave? Was the flan hard to find?”
He takes a while to respond; his mind is clearly on something. The eyes . . . Aren’t focused, glazed over. What the hell happened in there?
He snaps back to attention, looking at me.
DAVE: “Erm . . . It’s . . . It’s the food. I noticed something weird with it.”
That’s when alarm bells start ringing for me.
JAKE: “What do you mean? What we just ate? Am I about to get fucking food poisoning?”
DAVE: “No, no . . . Nothing like that. At least I don’t think so. No. It’s not that. I’m definitely sure it isn’t. It’s just . . . Bloody weird. I saw it when I was cleaning up. Throwing away all the packages the food was in. It was all perfectly organized. Everything packaged. And on all those packages was an expiry date.”
JAKE: “Oh shit! You missed that? It was expired, wasn’t it?”
DAVE: “No . . . You see, that’s the thing: they’re not expired. Absolutely not. They’re . . . They’re a long fucking way from expired, in fact.”
JAKE: “Oh . . . Oh? That’s . . . What? Really?”
DAVE: “Yeah, but get this: I’m not just talking about a few months from expiring, or even a few years.”
DAVE: “How about eighty years?”
JAKE: “What the fuck. No.”
DAVE: “I’m being serious.”
JAKE: “And how the hell can you tell? That would be like in the year 2100? Don’t they just have double digits for the year?”
DAVE: “No, mate. The entire date is printed on the package.”
JAKE [Disbelief]: “No fucking way.”
He stares at me then, angry all of a sudden.
DAVE [Quiet voice]: “Follow me”
I follow him into the kitchen and he opens the refrigerator and steps back, waiting. I take him up on the offer, reaching in and grabbing a mysterious package of brown meat. Another steak. Different marinade. And there’s the expiration date printed on the packaging, clear as day. May 22nd . . . 2103.”
I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
JAKE: “Holy. Fucking. Shit.”
Minutes pass. Then more.
JAKE [Breath]: “I’m sorry, Dave. For doubting you. It was just so hard to believe.”
DAVE: “I know mate. Couldn’t believe it myself.”
JAKE: “Okay. Good.” I turn to him. “We good?”
DAVE: “Yeah. Bffs.”
JAKE: “So where are we headed next?”
He turns serious suddenly.
DAVE: “Why are you asking me?”
JAKE: “It’s okay, I don’t mean anything by it. You know as much about this place as I do. Maybe . . . I dunno, maybe I wanna take a step back from always being the first one through the door and making all the decisions. Calling all the shots. Monica was great at getting shit done, but I was always the one that had to take that first step. Make that first choice. I . . . I want to let someone else lead for a change.”
Dave breaks into a smile.
DAVE: “Okay, mate. You just follow me then. I’ve got a few ideas. First, we start by having a look at all the buildings in the vicinity. Find out what they all are. What they’re like. What’s going on inside. I think that should give us some starting thoughts about what is actually going on in this bloody strange place.”
JAKE: “That sounds . . . Fantastic. Amazing.”
JAKE: “Yeah, that too.”
DAVE: “No, I meant . . . Good. As in: glad you’re happy with my idea.”
JAKE: “Ah right. A Britishism.”
DAVE: “Righty-oh, let’s get a move-on then.”
JAKE: “Right behind ya.”
He leaves the kitchen, and I put the package of meat back in the refrigerator, on top of all the others and close the door. It gives a nice sucking sound; airtight. I look at the row of refrigerators along one wall, and then the other. Then I turn to the other end of the kitchen and see more, and other units that are probably freezers.
There’s a lot of fucking food here. More than you’d need for a rainy day. And with those ridiculous expiration dates, I don’t know whether to half believe, or just prepare myself to be near the bathroom for the next day or two.
No. If I’d have to guess: I’d say this is enough food for a decent-sized group of people for something like . . . The end of the world.
I’m . . . I’m starting to remember more things. Lots of things. About here. About being here. With others. With friends. With . . . My mum. In this place. This other Gib. This alternate Rock. I’m . . . I’m keeping ahead of Jake. I don’t want him hearing any of this. Not at the moment at least. Jake’s had his own share of secrets and going through his own thoughts to understand them completely, so now it’s my turn.
And . . . And I don’t know what to think about this. What does it all mean? Are these memories that are slotting themselves back inside my head real ones? Real memories? Actual pieces of my past life? They feel like they are. Though . . . With everything that’s happened . . . Here. Happening in Ostium. Happened to me, personally. I . . . There’s just no actual way I can definitely know. They feel correct. A part of me. Like they should be there. Inside. Those memories of earlier times – more nightmares – of killing those men when that entity had control over me . . . Even though they’re inside me too, they don’t fit properly. Differently shaped pieces of the puzzle that don’t match at all, but someone . . . Something has mashed them into the puzzle so they’ll stay there . . . Even if they don’t belong.
So what am I to do?
Stay the course. For the moment. Just keep going and see what happens.
I truly never know what’s round the next corner in Ostium, and the same applies here. To the Rock. Actually, just saying those words . . . The Rock . . . It feels . . . Natural, as if it’s the right way to say it. The comfortable way. I know it’s been called Gib for a long time, but being here now, in this “other” Rock and saying it . . . Makes me feel like I’ve said it a lot of times before. And dare I say: I feel at home saying it and feeling it?
Yes, I think I do.
I have a vague idea . . . A vague sense for where I’m going. It’s nothing as elaborate and detailed as those infrared maps Jake and Monica had in their heads. This is more intuition based; a sense and feeling for where things are; where they’re supposed to be. I suppose you’d call it a spidey-sense. Didn’t Jake have something like that happen to him right in the beginning? When he was first trying to find Ostium? I think I remember hearing him talk about being outside a Starbucks, in a carpark, honing in on Ostium, or something. Well, that’s what it feels like for me, right now. I have a strong sense where certain places and buildings are. Possibly because they’re connected with these new memories that are being shoved into my head.
Anyway, I not telling Jake what’s been going on with me. Not yet. There’s just too much happening, with my thoughts and feelings and all that. I want to understand it all first, before I let Jake know what’s going on with me.
So that’s why I cross the street with Jake in tow, stopping at the first building that’s there. We find the front door and go in with no problem. Fifteen minutes later we’re all done. The bottom floor had a reception area, a waiting room, and some offices. Upstairs – and there was a lift, but we both decided we needed some exercise after ingesting all those calories – are four doctor’s offices with a full range of equipment and amenities. Fuck knows what it all does, but there’s a lot of tech up there that makes me think this must be the equivalent of what a hospital is in this place. When something happened to you, whether it was a skinned knee or a broken arm, this was where you’d come to get help. They could do it all: if you needed a plaster or a set of x-rays or an MRI, they had the machinery and ability to get the job done.
We’re outside now. Jake’s walking around a bit, taking in what he’s just seen in the building, and also having a look around. Getting a feel for the place, I suppose he’d say.
And it’s at about this time that a new memory falls into place in me old noggin. It’s hazy, dream-like, but I know it’s me. From my life. My past. I can remember being in one of those hospital rooms. Sitting on the bed. Talking with a doctor, I presume. I’m in one of those hospital gowns. Must’ve been having stuff done to me. Can’t really remember what. I remember talking to the doctor. Telling her about myself. My medical history and stuff. It’s still not that clear. But I feel comfortable. Relaxed. So what I was going through must’ve been . . . Alright. Something I fully agreed to. Maybe it was from early on, when I first came here, possibly.
I just don’t know. Like so much else here. But . . . But it’s a step in the right direction. I’m starting to learn.
I know more than I did before.
This feels good. Really good. Great in fact! I know. It’s not really that big a deal. But I meant what I said earlier, when I told Dave how I felt like I’d been running the show and calling the shots since . . . Well, since I set foot in Ostium I guess. Monica is . . . I guess Monica “was” is more accurate . . . She’s still out there, technically, somewhere, so there’s always a chance we’ll meet again . . . On some sunny day . . . An infinitesimal chance. Monica was awesome in many ways and in the many things she did for me and with me. For us. I’ve had time to think about it quite a bit. I’m obviously not happy with what she was doing to me, but I can also see where she was coming from. With Steve being her son. A parent looking for her child. It supersedes everything. I understand that. I’ve not forgiven her. I’m not over it. Yet. Not by a long shot. But in time . . . The wounds will heal.
And now I’m getting to step back a bit. I know. It doesn’t seem that big of a thing, really. Letting Dave take the reins and decide on where we’re going . . . In this place that neither of us knows anything about. But it kind of is a big deal for me, personally. It’s allowing me to relax and not worry so much. Not that I was that much before, but it’s felt like my foot has been on the throttle from the beginning. And that’s because I’ve wanted it that way. That’s . . . That’s how I am. I deliberately put myself in those positions because that’s how and where I like to be. That’s where I thrive, so to speak. And it feels like that’s never let up. Especially when I was having those memory problems courtesy of those deadly gloves Monica had.
But now . . . We’re in a new place. Things are different. We’re not going through doors like before. There’s no blackness coming after us here. And hopefully that thing, that crone won’t be following us to this place. And it feels like the right time and the right place to ease off that accelerator, take a step back, and . . . And just chill for a change.
Of course, it’s one thing to acknowledge and tell yourself to take it easy, and another to actually do it. Yeah, I’m letting Dave go wherever he wants right now and I’m just following. Learning as much about this place as he is. That hospital was interesting. Definitely felt like I was in some scifi movie, with how clean and simple everything looked. There were machines and tech, but not wires anywhere. No tools or objects sitting around. All clean and sterile and like a medical bay on the Enterprise – pick the series.
We start checking out other buildings. Don’t have any problems getting in. But they’re nothing special; nothing’s really standing out, although I don’t really know what to expect. Should something stand out? Am I looking for a special Ostium door to be waiting for me, open and inviting me to a world utterly different from this one? Is that because that’s been my way of life for weeks now? This may be the never-before-discovered island of Gibraltar but so far other than the tech and feel of it being a good step into the future, it’s all been pretty mundane . . . When compared to say a special little town that takes you through doors to different places in time and space.
It’s been about a couple hours and we’ve checked out sixteen other buildings, which have all been nothing special: offices, classrooms, a gym, conference rooms. Though we did see a couple weird things that should be pointed out.
In one room that was most likely an office, the desk and chairs had all been pushed to the side of the room and in the center was . . . [breath] . . . This giant pentagram drawn in chalk. No, not drawn exactly. More like someone had made it by pouring chalk in the shape of a pentagram.
In another room, this was a conference room, big table with lots of chairs . . . Except the chairs were all stacked up in the middle of the table in the shape of a tower. Dave actually walked up to it and reached out to touch the strange stack. I was about to yell at him not to, but nothing happened. The tower didn’t fall down in a noisy cacophony as I’d expected. It didn’t even move. Dave then shook it. Nothing. No movement whatsoever. I walked closer, wanting to know what the hell was going on here.
DAVE: “They’re fused.”
I didn’t believe him. Again. But once I was standing next to him I saw he was totally right. Not just the metal, but the plastic too. It was like they been melted and become one solid mass and then re-hardened.
JAKE: “Fucking weird, man,” were the only words I had to say.
Emphatic nod from Dave.
In the last room of the last building – this was the gym – and it was in the women’s shower room. It wasn’t immediately noticeable. We checked each shower stall and were about to leave when Dave said:
DAVE: “Hang on a sec.”
I looked at him, eyebrows raised.
DAVE: “Just . . . Just be quiet for a minute and listen.”
So I did. Didn’t hear anything. What the hell was he talking about? There were no strange sounds, no weird . . .
And then I did hear it. It was the showers. The shower heads. They were all dripping. A drop ever few seconds. Nothing special, except that all twelve showers were dripping. Not at the same time, but in sequence. But the sequence didn’t repeat. Well, sometimes it did. Other times it didn’t.
It . . . It was a fucking song. The drip sounds were just different enough to be making music . . . Somehow.
JAKE: “It’s music?”
JAKE: “Damn, it’s real familiar. I can almost guess it . . .”
DAVE: “Clair de lune.”
JAKE: “That’s it.”
We kept listening for a few more seconds, then we both looked at each other.
It was really fucking creepy.
We got the hell out of there.
And now we’ve crossed the street and we’re headed to what looks like . . . Townhouses? I don’t know. I’m getting the residential vibe off of them. How they’re in a long row along the street here, all numbered, and all identical.
We go up to the first one and the door doesn’t have a handle or anything. But there is a panel on the left and now that we’re standing in the door-well it’s lit up with a numerical light-up display. I try tapping in some numbers, but nothing happens. I look at Dave. He just shrugs.
We check each townhouse along the street and they’ve all got the same doorway unsurprisingly. Each panel lights up at we reach the door.
At the fifth door Dave seems a little more excited. I’m not sure what it is. Like he’s expecting something with this door. But it’s exactly the same as all the others. We step up to it and the panel lights up.
DAVE: “Tell you what. I want to try something here. You watch the door and let me know if anything happens.”
JAKE: “Sure,” I say, willing to try anything at this point. Fuck all is happening.
I watch the door like I’m playing a game of Geoguessr: impatiently waiting for something to materialize; some sign that I recognize.
Why thank you, yes, that was a good callback. I thought so too.
And as I’m joking around, there’s an audible click and the door pops open. Just like that.
I’m give Dave a look that you can probably easily imagine, but let me put it in perspective for you: it’s that look you give your favorite band when you’re seeing them live for the first time and you won front-row seats for free.
He wiggles his fingers at me and says:
DAVE: “Magic hands, mate.”
Then he steps in front of me and walks inside.
I need to be ahead of Jake. It’s for a reason. I know he’s been letting me lead the way which has worked out just fine in my book, but now it’s more crucial than ever. Because I picked this particular pad for a reason. A big bloody reason. You see the memories keep coming to me as more time passes and once I saw the row of houses that reminded me a lot of my mother country with them all joined together in a row, for the first time, I think, I actually recognized myself. I’ve definitely been here before. By myself, and with other people. I could remember that. Not who I was with, but just having a physical presence here. In this exact spot. At one point. And when we went up to the first house, I knew immediately we weren’t going to be able to get in. Because you need a special code for that. A six-digit one. Jake tried a few things, which of course didn’t work. And then we started moving on down the road, from one house to the next.
When we got to this one I had to come up with something quick to distract Jake.
Because I knew the code to get in . . .
Because this used to be my house . . .
Back when there were lots of people in this town. I can remember that now. I was one of them. And this was where I slept. Where I lived. And the code worked just like it always did.
I charge up the stairs, going two at a time, and sometimes three, to get to the top as quick as possible. I can hear Jake coming up behind me, but not as fast. That’s good. I don’t know what I’m going to find at the top, but I’m not ready for Jake to know everything going on with me. Yet. I will tell him. Soon. I promise. Just not now. So I need to make sure there are no triggers here. Nothing bloody blatant that’ll make it completely obvious to him.
Stepping into the room truly feels like . . . Coming home to me. There’s a blossoming warm feeling in my chest. I’m actually getting a little dewy-eyed. I blink a few times and have a look around. Everything seems pretty normal. A bit dusty I suppose. Quite a bit, actually. But nothing out of the ordinary that says: “Welcome to Chez Dave,” except for that bloody framed photograph on the table there. I’ve just got tens of seconds now before Jake’s at the top of the stairs and looking in. I dive onto the sofa and grab the photo. Now what the hell am I going to do with it? I shove it down my trousers for now, the band of my boxers holding it decently in place.
Good. Okay then. Will need to be careful not to make any sudden moves. And especially watch it when sitting down. Fine. I just won’t do that then.
Jake’s at the top of the stairs now, eyes on me. Eyebrows raised in confusion.
I’m still on the sofa. I mime grabbing my calf muscle.
DAVE: “I knew I shouldn’t have run up the stairs like that, I was just . . . Really excited at getting and seeing the place.”
JAKE: “Charlie horse?”
DAVE: “You what?”
JAKE: “Er . . . I mean leg cramp?”
DAVE: “Oh, yeah. Me right calf. Give me a few minutes and I’ll be fine.”
Jake nods and starts walking around the living room.
I continue my acting bit, pretending to massage the muscle like it really hurts.
After I’ve decided enough time has passed I get up and follow Jake who’s already checked out the kitchen and now he’s in the bedroom. He’s looking through the wardrobe. Lots of clothes hanging from coat-hangers. My clothes. I recognize some of them immediately.
Then Jake and I see the datapad on the bedside table. He gets there before me and picks it up.
JAKE: “Hmm,” he says, looking at it intently. “Seems like it’s password protected. You wanna have a go?”
DAVE: “Sure,” I say, taking it from his hands. I turn and leave the bedroom, letting out a deep breath.
JAKE: “You know what.”
I come to a full stop and slowly turn around. Worried.
JAKE: “We should stay here. Sleep here tonight. Use this as a place to rest. There’s a bed and a couch. We could take turns. At least we’d have a roof over our heads and sleep comfortably?”
I think quickly, don’t want to take too long or he’ll become suspicious.
DAVE: “Sure, mate, that sounds smashing. Good idea. You ready to keep looking around? We’ve still got a good three hours of daylight left.”
JAKE: “Yeah. Sounds good. Will you be able to get us back in here, or do we need to keep the door ajar?”
DAVE: “No worries, mate. Magic hands, remember?
His smile is a good enough answer and I’m leading the away back down the stairs and out onto the street.
I notice Jake leaves the door open a bit anyway. I’m all right with that.
I’ve got somewhere very particular in mind I want to go next. The memory is making itself known to me now, and I think if I find what I’m looking for it’s going to go a long way to making me remember everything.
And I’ve managed to move the frame around to my bum where it’s sitting much more comfortably.
It’s funny how one’s outlook to the day can totally change when you know there’s a soft piece of furniture waiting for you come nightfall. I didn’t really know where we were going to sleep tonight. Pretty much everything we’ve seen so far has been hard chairs and hard tables and hard floor.
This changes everything!
Well, not really. But it makes things a lot better. Since we’re going to be here for the indefinite future. Having a place to stay . . . What is it they say that the requirements for survival are: water, food, and shelter. In that order. Check, check, and check!
I feel like something’s going on with Dave. I don’t know what it is, but the longer we’re here, the weirder he’s starting to act. Like the way he ran up those stairs. He gave me an excuse, and I knew it was an excuse. The lie was painted clearly across his face. So what’s he covering up? Apparently he knows something I don’t, and it’s big enough that he doesn’t want to tell me.
Well, I definitely know how he feels. So for the time being I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and see where he takes us next.
That’s another thing I’ve worked out about Dave. At first he was just checking out buildings, but somewhere along the way he found his path and knew where he wanted to go next. Just like now. I don’t know if he realizes it, but we’re going past buildings we haven’t checked yet. He’s got a destination in mind and I’m just going to go with it.
And here we are. A nondescript building. Unassuming. One like any other. The door is unlocked like the others too and we step inside.
There’s a sort of waiting room with a couch and a couple chairs and a desk. It feels like a waiting room at a small time doctor or a dentist, but there’s something off about it. Something’s not . . . Oh. Dave’s seen it right away and is already standing in front of another door that grants one access to the next room. The one where the assistant comes out to bring you back you go through a normal opening. Here it’s all about security and whether you’re allowed back there. Or not.
But this door is also unlocked. So much for security.
And Dave’s already through and making his way down the hall. I have to speed up to keep close.
We pass more doors, all closed. Then we reach a T-stop. He turns left without hesitation.
I’m almost jogging now. I could call out to him. Yell his name. But I know it wouldn’t do anything. The guy is locked in. He’s got somewhere he wants to be; he knows where he’s going; and nothing’s gonna stop him or slow him down.
I’m just glad I got invited along for the ride.
And then we’re in a booth with an instrument panel. There are no actual buttons, but I can tell what it is because it’s lit up like the navigation station on the Enterprise. Above the panel is a big window looking into an unassuming room.
Dave has stopped, taking everything in, and now he’s moving again over to the pressurized door that gives one access to the special room. Has he seen something I missed? I look back through the window and see plain walls and no furniture or objects in the room, and then I do see something. I take three steps to the right to get a better angle on it.
There it is. Along one of the walls.
It’s a door.
A certain kind of door.
An Ostium door. It looks exactly like every single door I’ve ever seen there. Without a number
Now I’m following Dave. He’s got the door unlocked somehow and as it opens there’s a sharp hiss.
I follow him inside and we both walk up to the door.
He looks at me and I’m surprised by the look on his face. He’s not confused. He’s confident. Aware.
He knows what this door is.
Why it’s here.
And what here is.
And that’s when we both hear another booming sound from outside somewhere.
JAKE: Okay Dave, time to spill the beans?
JAKE: I know you know what this place is. I don’t. I don’t have a fucking clue. And that thing right there . . . Is really scaring the crap out of me. So what the hell is going on here? And how do you know about it?
I take a long, deep breath.
DAVE: Alright, Jake. I’m going to tell you. It’s time. I’m going to tell you everything I know. Everything that’s at least come back to me. But not here.
JAKE: What? Why?
DAVE: It holds too many memories for me. This room. This place. Let’s go back to the house. We’ll make dinner. And I’ll tell you everything.
Jake isn’t saying anything, thinking things over. Can’t blame him. Then his frowny face clears and he gives me a nod.
JAKE: But you’re going to have to show me how the hell we get out of here, because I’m totally lost.
He’s smiling now, which is good. It makes me smile.
DAVE: Okay, mate. Follow me.