* * *
She was a fifty-year-old woman wearing the ravages of failed dreams and alcohol. She had a life lived not for love, but for money. She painted her face on each day, searching for wrinkles and other perceived imperfections in the mirror attached to the antique vanity that was part of her daily ritual. She always felt she looked too old. She felt it deep in the core of her being that she should look younger. But, her memory had been suspect for the last four months after she fell and hit her head on the marble staircase sweeping from the ground floor to the second of her immaculate home. Her husband had left early that morning – as he did every morning without fail for the last twenty years. They had spent nearly two decades together and he always seemed to disappoint her with the little things.
She didn’t think he did these things intentionally, they just had different ideas on how to prioritize those little things. She felt she often rated pretty low on his list of priorities. He would go on an on about acquiring pop culture objects, like a guitar owned by Jimi Hendrix. He provided her with the finer things in life, but sometimes those fineries only reminded her she was a prisoner of the life she was forced to live. She was contemplating that very life when she received the call that would change her understanding of everything she had believed in. She picked up the faux-antique handset of the telephone displayed next to a small stuffed animal on the dresser next to her vanity.
“Marilyn, is that you?”
She stared at the phone in her hand, unable to respond to the familiar voice on the other end of the line.
Uneasily, she replied, “No one has called me by that name in nearly twenty years.”
“You may think it has been twenty years, but I promise you it has not been that long.”
“I think you have me confused with someone else, I’ve gone by Lynn for as long as my husband and I have been together.”
“I know this sounds weird, but can you remember your life before four months ago?”
She was filled with dread with that single question. The feeling consumed her so completely, she dropped the handset. It didn’t fall to the floor because the coiled handset cord didn’t stretch that far. As the handset swung lazily against the dresser, she could hear an urgent voice coming from it. She paid no attention to the voice as a flood of memories washed over her. She was having difficulty breathing as the new flood of memories contradicted everything she thought she knew.
The eerily familiar voice continued to project concerned, urgent noise into her being as she struggled to stem the tide of confusion. She felt as if she were treading water, and an unseeable force was trying to pull her under. She grabbed the handset with both hands – it was her life line, thrown to her moments before her head dipped below the surface. She could hear a conversation between the familiar voice and another person.
Lance, she’s not responding. Do you think she might be hurt?
A male voice responded, but she couldn’t make out the words.
“What’s going on?” She gasped out each word as if it would be her last.
“Marilynn, it’s Danny, Danny Peterson. You’re in danger and I have someone here who can help you.”
She could make out a rustling as Danny handed the phone to someone. She could hear Danny speaking again.
Lance, she’s on the line again, we’ve got to help her!
“Marilynn, this is Colonel Lance Bishop. I need you to do exactly as I say…”
She regained her composure enough to become combative. “Tell me what’s going on this instant, or I’m hanging up the phone!”
“Marilynn, Danny is a friend of mine and when she told me of your abduction, I knew we had to track you down. It’s taken three months, but we’ve finally found you and are trying to rescue you. Time is running out – will you let us help you?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Put the phone down, walk downstairs and out he front door. We’re in a van at the end of your driveway.”
Marilynn was confused, but Lance’s voice calmed her. She did what he asked of her without any other questions. Through the front door, she moved as fast down the driveway as her body would allow. When she reached the gate at the end of the driveway, a young woman and a man jumped out of the van parked there. She assumed they were Danny and Lance. Danny ran up to the gate and with tears welling in her eyes said, “Oh Marilynn, what have they done to you?”
Danny looked familiar to Marilynn, but she still couldn’t place her. She stared at the young woman and demanded, “Who are you?”
“I told you before, I’m Danny Peterson. We were roommates in college and when you disappeared, I was worried. I was shocked when you turned up a month later, part of a cult! I knew your body had been stolen, so I got Lance involved.”
Colonel Bishop flashed his badge and when Marilynn nodded, he said, “We need to get you out of here before your abductors return. Can you open the gate?”
Marilynn quickly found the gate controls, but it required a security code she didn’t think she had ever known. “I can’t seem to get it open!”
Danny was pleading now, she turned to Bishop. “Can’t we, I dunno, ram the gate or something?”
“That only works in the movies. This gate can probably withstand a pretty high speed impact.”
Danny started to protest his declarations about the gate’s sturdiness when it started to swing open. Marilynn was a few feet away – she hadn’t triggered the gate. The trio turned towards the street to see a Cadillac Escalade turning towards the gate. It stopped, and a man in a suit and tie with a chess piece lapel pin stepped out of the passenger side and pointed a gun at Lance and Danny.
He spoke to the group and stated matter-of-factly, “No one’s going anywhere.”
Next: Memento Mori