I take a bit more time than I expected chatting with Zhang, catching up so to speak, but when I walk back and get on the cable car as it arrives, I feel a new man. A changed man. The jaunt back down to sea level is a quiet one, naturally, because I’m the only bloody one here. But I’m doing a lot of thinking. My mind is opening up like a cliche flower basking in a beam of sunlight, and the memories are pouring in like life-giving water.
And now I’ve got a sour taste in my mouth. Thanks brain.
I enjoy the sunset on my trip down with a view I never expected to experience in my lifetime. I savor every second of it.
I arrive at the bottom and think: oh shit, they’ve taken the golf buggy and left me with bugger all. I’m going to have to walk all the way to the restaurant. Then I see an EV waiting for me. Oh, how nice of them. They must’ve got me one, or walked themselves. Probably found me one.
I hop in and soon I’m zooming down an echoey empty street, the light weakening and disappearing and I’m going as fast as I can, because I don’t want to get stuck out here in the dark. I do find the switch for some headlamps, and that definitely makes things easier.
It’s not long before I’m where I want to be. I turn things off and reach the door, then I open it as quietly as I can. I can hear Jake and Monica chatting, laughing, and even possibly canoodling. Having a bloody good time by the sounds of it. It makes a warm place in my chest, to be so close to these two. Honestly, we can be dealing with any old shit going on here and I’ll be absolutely fine with these two next to me. They make things so much easier. And they always make me laugh. I suppose that’s a reason to keep them around.
Well, time to make my entrance.
MONICA: Hi honey.
JAKE: Dave! Good to see you man.
STEVE: Hi guys, sorry I’m running a bit late. Had a lot I wanted to try and get out of Zhang.
JAKE: And did you get it out of her?
MONICA: Jake, honey. 1) You don’t know that Zhang is a she. 2) You don’t know what pronoun he, she or they prefers. And 3) That sounds fucking horrible. Please never say that again.
JAKE: As soon as the words were out of my mouth . . . Yeah, you get the idea. Anyway, Dave, how’d it go?
STEVE: Well, first off. It’s Steve now. Permanently.
MONICA: Are you sure? Is this what you want. Don’t let us or anyone or anything else pressure you into this. If you want to be Dave for the rest of your life, that’s perfectly fine by me. By us.
JAKE: Yes. Definitely. Whatever you want, man.
STEVE: Thanks guys. That means a lot. But I had some time to think about it. That cable car ride felt longer than usual. But in a good way. And now I’m ready.
MONICA: Good. I’m very happy for you, honey.
STEVE: Thanks mum. I’m ready to be Steve. And I’m ready to tell you what happened to me.
MONICA: All of it?
STEVE: [short pause] Yes. All of it.
JAKE: You remember it all?
STEVE: With Zhang’s help. It’s all been unlocked now, so to speak. Set free in the paddock of my mind. And I want to tell you both what happened to me.
MONICA: But first: dinner.
JAKE: Oh yeah, it’s just about ready. Come on. We need full stomachs for this.
STEVE: Sounds lovely.
STEVE: Wow. Delicious. That was a meal fit for a king.
JAKE: I thought you said the same thing yesterday?
STEVE: Well . . .
JAKE: Plus your mom helped with this one.
STEVE: Well . . .
MONICA: Steve, are you saying Jake’s cooking is better than our combined cooking?
MONICA: Well, which one is better? Yesterday’s, or today’s?
STEVE: Erm . . . How about dessert?
MONICA: Smooth move.
JAKE: Or is that . . . Cool move?
JAKE: Because we’re having ice cream.
JAKE: For dessert, we’re having ice cream.
MONICA: I don’t get it.
JAKE: Ice. Cream. Which is cool. Because of the ice and being frozen, and . . . Hey, wait a minute: are you fucking with me?
JAKE: I’ll get the dessert.
MONICA: Are you sure you’re ready for this. To tell your story.
STEVE: Yeah. I am. I’m sure. I just don’t know how long it’s going to take. I don’t want to keep you two up late unnecessarily.
MONICA: Honey, we’re going to stay up as late as you need to us to. As late and as long as you need to tell your story the way you want to. To the end. Until you’re satisfied. I think we could probably rustle ourselves up some coffee if we need to. If we need it to stay awake.
STEVE: Coffee sounds good.
MONICA: It does, doesn’t it. I don’t think we’re going to need it to keep our eyes open. Your story is going to have us hooked. Trust me. But coffee would be good.
[Sounds of bowls on table]
JAKE: Yeah, it would. Let’s eat the ice cream first, then I’ll start boiling some water for coffee. You ready to start, Steve?
STEVE: [Breath] Yes. I’ve been thinking for a bit exactly where I want to start and I know it has to be at the right beginning. The right one for you, mum, and the right one for me. That would be when the people in charge first came to me about going through the first door. We’d all be learning and revising and relearning for weeks. Felt like there wasn’t really anything left to be learnt and we were just waiting for something new to happen. They even let us go to the Ostium place while it was still being built. It was incredible to actually see the thing we’d been talked to and learnt about for so long.
STEVE: And then one day two blokes came to my apartment when I didn’t have any classes. Completely unannounced. Scared the shit out of me to be honest. I didn’t really know what to do. What to expect. I offered them tea, with a straight face, mind you. It was bloody hard.
MONICA: Do you remember their names?
STEVE: Erm . . . They just gave me their surnames. Let me have a think . . . Keelin and Takaya. Yep. That was em.
MONICA: You’re sure?
STEVE: Yes! Why?
MONICA: It’s . . . It’s not important right now. Keep going.
STEVE: Okay. So before they’d even tried the tea, the Keelin bloke said we’re ready to have someone go through the Ostium door and we want it to be you. I was . . . Well . . . I was gobsmacked. Couldn’t bloody believe it. Out of all the people in Gibraltar I’d been the one chosen. The chosen one, essentially. We all knew it was going to happen eventually, didn’t we?
STEVE: We were all wanting it to happen. It’s what we’d been working towards. All that learning and revising and practicing and classes and teachers and waiting and waiting . . . And waiting. And then it happened. To me. I was told right there and then. It was me. I didn’t get to decide where or when I wanted to go. That was something that was going to come later. Right now there was one door I’d be going through, to a specific place. And that was it. I had to decide right at that moment. No time to think about, or have any second thoughts, I suppose. It was decide now, or they’d move on to someone else . . .
STEVE: I had to say yes. I’m sorry mom. For not letting you know. For not talking to you about it. I wanted to. Really, I did. But they wouldn’t let me.
MONICA: It’s okay, honey. I know it was something you couldn’t say no to. I don’t think I could’ve either, if it’d been me. But as soon as I found out . . .
STEVE: I know. I know because they told me. After I said yes, I’d do it, no matter what. They said I had to keep it a secret. That it was going to happen that afternoon, leaving me barely any time to prepare for it, both mentally and physically. But that’s how they wanted it. In case I never came back, which is sort of what happened to me. If they lost me they wanted to have their cover story ready for when the shit hit the fan. I didn’t fully realize this until later. Until I was in Ostium and couldn’t go back.
STEVE: They told me I couldn’t bring anything with me, other than the clothes on my back, so dress warm, they said, knowing full well where I was going, while I hadn’t a bloody clue. And then the time came. I’d spent those precious few hours at home, just savoring where I was, and trying to control the building excitement in me. It was just the other one this time – Takaya – and he took me away in one of the EVs to that special building I’d never been to before.
JAKE: The one we found, and checked out?
STEVE: Yeah, that one. I might’ve passed it once or twice before, but it was strictly off limits to the likes of us. So it never entered my head to try and see what it was like inside. But they took me through. Checked me in. I signed my name a few times on some datapad, and then was taken deeper inside. They gave me a new datapad. I’d left mine at home, as I’d been instructed to do. This new one they said wouldn’t have all the same abilities as my usual one, but it would allow me to do video and voice recordings which is mainly what they wanted me to do, to document everything that was happening to me; everything I was experiencing in Ostium. This told me pretty clearly – without them saying in so many words – that they had no bloody clue what it was going to be like for me on the other side. In Ostium. And once I went through that one door I was supposed to go through. It wasn’t exactly encouraging to hear this. But my heart was already thumping like a John Bonham bass drum, and I was sweating, and thankful they didn’t take my blood pressure because it would’ve been through the roof. This was just part of the plan. Part of the mission. Part of my job that I was about to start doing. My real job. Everything before had been practice. Training. Getting me ready. This was the real McCoy. The actual thing I was here to do. I knew it was a monumental first step. Just like Neil Armstrong on the moon. Just like those people who went into space for the first time. Just like those first people who took to the skies. Just like those people who decide to go into the unknown and find out just what the fuck was going on on the other side of the hill. Now it was my turn. The first person in Ostium. One small step through a doorway and voila . . . History made. I was ready. And even if I wasn’t, I told myself over and over – a mantra – that I was ready, whether I liked it or not.
STEVE: It was then they finally bloody told me where and when I’d be going through that one and only door. They told me that door would have a number two on it. The door that had a number one would be my living quarters, with a place to sleep, a toilet and shower, and kitchen stocked with food. Anything and everything I could need, essentially, according to them. They showed me a digital map of the place. Mum and I had been there with everyone else when we’d had that first chance to check it out, but things weren’t finished yet. A lot of stuff was still being built and organized. So the map felt completely different to that place we’d been to. They showed me where I’d be arriving. Where my home base was going to be, and where door number two was. I asked ‘em why I couldn’t have this nifty map on my datapad. They said my new datapad was empty right now, because they weren’t sure what would happen to any files that were on there once I went through the door to Ostium. They thought it would all get wiped or corrupted. I then asked them how they expected to get all these recordings they wanted me to do back to them. They said there was a specific contingency plan in place upon completing of my mission. In the cupboard under the sink at the very back stuck to the top was a box. Inside were specific instructions about what I was supposed to do once I’d finished up with everything. They talked about it as if it was going to be real easy, like a stroll down the lane, having some lunch in the park, feeding the ducks, then coming home. All done and sorted. No problems. I didn’t believe them for a second. But I knew I was too deep in it already and couldn’t turn back now and change my mind. I wouldn’t turn back now.
STEVE: Finally they told me what I’d find on the other side of door number two. I was traveling to the year 1587 to an island called Roanoke. They didn’t really need to give me the details, I knew the story, the history already. It was part of all that training. They knew that and didn’t bother going into any further detail on the subject. They told me I was to search the area for a whole hour. Gather as much information as I could. Make as many video and audio recordings as I could. Document it all to the best of my ability. And then come back to Ostium. Have a rest. Get a good night’s sleep. Eat when I needed to. And the following day I was to do the same bloody thing all over again. And after that was done, do it all over once again. Then, after all that, I was to read those very secret and hidden instructions and carry them out. Alright then, I thought. Seems pretty easy, but very likely won’t be. Almost tedious with how they’re describing in. But I was just as shit scared as I had been when they first told me what I was going to do five hours ago. Then they said it was time. I got myself as ready as I could. Slipped the datapad into an inside coat pocket that was big enough, and followed them to the room.
JAKE: The room where we found the door to Ostium.
STEVE: Yeah. That one. For the first time in my life I knew what it was like to be an animal in a cage. They opened the door to the room and waited, saying nothing. I got the hint and walked in. No goodbye or good luck or anything. They shut the door firmly behind me, spinning the lock in place with a loud clunk. And then they watched me through the glass window. Waiting for me to do my thing. So I gave them a sarcastic wave and toddled over to the other door in the room. I tried to keep my hand from shaking, as I reached for the door handle. Think I did a pretty good job of it. Then turned and opened it onto darkness. That was when I peed myself a little. It was just so black. No indication of anything in there. Just complete and utter night. And as I stepped through, closing the door behind me as I’d been instructed to, all I could think was: oh shit, I didn’t bring any extra underpants.
STEVE: The first thing I did when I was on the other side was I pulled out the datapad and checked it to make sure everything was working. It was. I didn’t really know why I did that at the time, but having thought on it a bit, I believe it was because it was my one and only connection with the Ostium Network, with the world I’d just left. When we came through that first time, the door was left wide open and we could all see the way back easy as pie. This time, once I was through, that door was closed and my way back was gone. Hence the specific instructions once I carried out the mission. It was weird. Bloody weird. Being there completely by my lonesome. But I knew what was done was done and I was here and it was all up to me now. So I put one foot in front of the other and walked into my new home for a bit.
JAKE: Did you enjoy your stay at the Ritz?
STEVE: You what? Oh . . . Right. Yes. It was lovely. Definitely going back there again. It was just like they said it would be. Comfy bed. Fully stocked kitchen. Lots of tinned foods. A working toilet, which is important when you’re eating those tinned foods. But by the time I got there it was late afternoon. It had already been a . . . Traumatic day, to say the least. So I made myself some din-dins. Cleaned everything up and then went to bed. I was bloody tired and slept like a baby.
STEVE: Next morning I was up early, feeling refreshed and ready to go through that door. It took me a little while to find where door number two was. I didn’t have that digital map so I had to recall it from memory, and I don’t have your photographic memory, Jake, so it was bloody hard.
JAKE: [sigh] Sometimes I wish I’d never mentioned the memory thing.
MONICA: But do you? Do you really?
STEVE: And it has allowed for endless jokes . . . Right?
JAKE: Yeah, yeah. Get on with your story.
STEVE: All-right . . .Touchy! Anyway, today was going to be the day and I had no bloody clue what was going to happen. Next I found that map table which helped wonders to point me towards the right door. But I didn’t know if I was going to make it through to the end, if I was going to survive, or what . . . So before I went to the door I recorded a message on the datapad. A video. For you, mum. In case things got weird and I never saw you again. I wanted some record, a message telling you what had happened to me. Just something. So you wouldn’t always wonder. And something that might give you hope if you were looking for me. Because I knew you would be, whether the Ostium Network would let you or not. Once that was done I left. I found the door and it opened without any problems, and I stepped through before I could have any second thoughts. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d been told it was Roanoke in the sixteenth century, but it wasn’t a historical period I was very familiar with. More American history than British. Not part of my repertoire, if you know what I mean. The first thing I noticed was how green it was. Like the Lake District, where I’ve been on holiday a few times with friends. It made me think they must get a lot of rain here, to keep everything so green. The ground was all green; lots of green trees. Oaks possibly? And I saw this wooden fence in the distance. Just as you described it, Jake. But then I saw there was something wrong . . . Something very wrong . . .
JAKE: Was it something to do with the trees? Or the wooden palisade?
STEVE: No . . . No. It was much worse than that. It was something wrong with . . . This reality I was in. I turned my head and Roanoke just . . . Stopped being there. It was as if someone had drawn a division line, ending it there, like a painting or drawing that just cuts off. On the other side of that invisible line was a metal wall and floor and this bloody great big window looking out on a reddish-orange desert. It was . . . It was bloody unbelievable. I think my head started hurting, like when you’re looking at two images and one is out of focus, or just off, and starts to do your head in. I wondered what the bloody hell I was looking at and then saw the spaceship through that window plonked in the sand like it was a completely normal thing. I didn’t have a clue what I was looking at, at the time . . .
JAKE: But you now realize it was the Martian landscape.
STEVE: Right. Though if I’d known, I don’t know if it would’ve made a difference. I was so . . . Discombobulated. There was probably a part of me that was pretty certain I was going bonkers. But that wasn’t the end of it. I kept swiveling my head to the right and there was another hidden line of separation and a new scene: a dark blue ocean and an old ship. I could just make out the name on the back . . .
MONICA: The Mary Celeste.
STEVE: Yes. To me it meant nothing. It made as much sense as everything else I was seeing. What I did know was that this wasn’t right. It was very bloody wrong. Whatever they’d planned on at the Ostium Network. It wasn’t this. And if I was scared before, now I was beyond terrified. It’s the sort of shit you see and think, well, I’m not going to make it out of this alive, am I? Of course, I’m able to approach it this way now because I did. These three . . . Dimensions, for lack of a better word. I’m pretty sure that’s what they were, which were all converging in this once place with me in the middle, took up my horizon, so I had little choice but to turn back to the door I’d come through, wanting to get the fuck out of this place. Except the door had closed. I made sure I kept it open when I came through, just so I’d have a way out if I needed it. I didn’t hesitate. I just turned the handle and opened it and stepped through, looking to save my arse. I stepped into the blackness, but I didn’t end up back in Ostium . . .
STEVE: I’m sorry. I’m taking my time because I’m still trying to put it all together. I remember what happened. But there’s also me viewing it through the lens of time knowing everything now and knowing exactly what happened. I didn’t know for sure for so long. I was in the complete unknown. I’m also trying to put it into words for you now. To make sense of it all . . .
MONICA: Honey, you take as much time as you need. If you’re not ready . . .
STEVE: No. I am. I know I am.
JAKE: Only if you’re sure, man. Maybe just tell and don’t worry about how it all comes out. If it’s jumbled, we can help piece it together. If it doesn’t make sense, we’ll work it out.
STEVE: Thank you guys. [Breath] Okay then. I woke up and found myself inside a flat, well, not exactly, it was the shell of a flat. The structure of a building that wasn’t finished yet. But even though it was during the day, there were no workmen around. I don’t know if it was the weekend or a bank holiday or they were all just scarping. There were . . . Two things that were very worrying for me. A) I had completely lost my memory: I didn’t remember who I was, where I was, or how I’d gotten here. And B) I was starkers. With hindsight I’m able to process this a little more. Whatever that place was on the other side of door number 2 it was a major fuck-up, something that was never meant to happen; something that was never meant to be. A mutation of what Ostium was supposed to be able to do. So I think when I went through and the door closed behind me, it severed me from Ostium. Probably permanently. No bloody clue. When I opened the door again it was to somewhere else. And some-when else. London apparently. And going through there literally stripped me of all my personal belongings. Hence being naked and not knowing who I was. And of course it was just then that someone walked into the room. A middle-aged black woman. She screamed. I screamed. And we had a long awkward moment. When I started trying to explain what had happened to me, I think she could hear the pleading in my voice. The earnestness. Or she just had a very good heart and soul. She believed my story. Gave me her coat. Told me to wait and came back a half hour later with some McDonald’s, a t-shirt, track bottoms and a pair of flip-flops. They were a little small, but I was so grateful. I at least remembered how to speak English properly. So not everything was gone. The woman who helped me . . . It’s funny. For the life of me, I can’t remember her name. No matter how much I try. Well, she took me to a hospital. St. Stephen’s. It’s a mental hospital. They were very nice there. I stayed for six months. They did everything they could to try and help me remember who I was. What happened to me. No such luck. After six months we all pretty much agreed there was nothing that could really be done for me to get my memories back. They seemed to be permanently gone. And that was that. We were all on the same page about this. They’d found an elderly couple who were willing to let me stay with them for a bit. So I could get back on my feet. You see to me I felt like I’d just forgotten who I was and what I did, obviously I’d been someone in London or England and had a job and a family. We thought within those six months my family would’ve gotten in touch with me. Someone would’ve been looking. But I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in that hospital. So I went to live with Bob and Eileen. After a year I started calling them mum and dad. They didn’t mind. They’d never had children, though they’d always wanted to. It’d just never happened. Never worked out. So that was my life for a bit. It felt . . . Lovely and routine and normal.
MONICA: I’m really happy you found someone, some life to live. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like. But I’m very glad you found someone and something to live for.
STEVE: Thanks, mum. Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last that long. One year almost to the day – I swear it was – when I started calling them mum and dad, dad just disappeared. Never came home. No one knew what’d happened. And before I could truly wrap my mind around it, mum disappeared next. I was heartbroken. Really destroyed by it all. Fortunately, I had a few friends who were there for me as I went through . . . Grief I suppose. All that grief. I’d been legally adopted by Bob and Eileen by that point and when nothing was learned about them they were declared legally dead. There was a will and they left everything to me, which was both wonderful and horrible at the same time. I had the house, and I had some money, and I had a job. So I was alright on my own, considering everything. That’s when I started wondering if everything that had happened to me hadn’t been an accident or coincidence. If there was some reason behind it all. Or maybe even someone or a group of people. Yeah, I know, it sounds very conspiracy-theory, but I was very into the X-Files at the time and all that sort of stuff . . .
JAKE: Steve, do you remember when this was? What year?
STEVE: Course I do, you plonka. It was 1999.
MONICA: Oh my god.
STEVE: Yeah. Bloody incredible, isn’t it? I went through that door and back in time. I suppose I should be happy I didn’t end up in the Middle Ages or somewhere much worse. But that’s when I got the first idea for EMU – Enigmatic Mysteries of the Unknown. I started putting it all together for an episodic podcast. I hadn’t seen anything else like it online, so I thought I was doing something new and unique. Got myself a simple website on Geocities and started uploading the recordings. Started getting a fantastic reception almost right way. It was a little bit weird, honestly. And then I found Ostium. Your recordings Jake. That changed everything. And the rest of the story you know . . .
JAKE: That’s . . . Well, I’d say that’s unbelievable if I didn’t know all the steps after that led to you being here with me and meeting back up with your mom. It’s a truly incredible story. You’ve been through so goddamn much.
STEVE: Yeah. Tell me about it.
MONICA: I don’t know how you did it. But I’m so grateful that you’re here now. That we’re all together.
STEVE: Yeah. Me too. But I’m feeling bloody knackered now. Can hardly keep my eyes open.
MONICA: You head off to bed then. Jake and I can finish cleaning all this up. We’ll see you in the morning.
STEVE: Are you sure? Jake?
JAKE: Definitely, man. You get some shut-eye.
STEVE: Alright then. Nighty all. Love you mum.
MONICA: Love you, sweetie.
I’m back in the golf cart and driving slowly back to my flat. I’m very tired. That was lovely food. And it definitely feels like a big weight has been lifted off my chest now that I’ve got my story out. Told them, and made myself realize everything that’s happened to me. It has been a bloody lot. I don’t know where Jake’s going to be sleeping tonight, and I wasn’t going to ask. It’s none of my business really. But I know him and mum were shacking up together back in Ostium, and if they want to keep doing that, I’m perfectly alright with it. We’re all adults here.
And here we are, then. God, I can’t wait to get under those covers.
As they say: tomorrow is another day.