I had my fair share of strange cases over the years, but sure, there’s one that sticks out. One I won’t forget in a hurry.
It was a Tuesday, late. City outside screaming and honking at itself and the neon lights from the skin joint opposite flashing greens and pinks onto the walls of my office. Me, I was three whiskeys deep and in no hurry to go home.
I’d just poured my fourth when I heard the door downstairs slam. Then, a light step on the stairs: Hesitant, unsure. I didn’t even reach for my Glock. Those were sounds I knew well. They meant I had a customer.
Shadow of her on the window and a little tap, like she hoped I weren’t home. Back luck doll.
I yelled for her to come on in and she did. Average-looking broad, familiar-looking almost. Moneyed but not so you’d notice. Educated most likely. No make-up and bags the size ‘a Texas under her eyes. Slacks and flat shoes. Didn’t look like the jealous wife type, more likely a missing cat, or a missing kid perhaps. Something was sure as hell keeping her up nights.
It took her a while to get started. She was a twitchy thing, kept standing and sitting, walking about, starting, stopping. Damn well almost made me jumpy. When she finally started talking it were little more than a whisper and she didn’t look at me, just stared out the window, the pink and green glow playing across her face.
She talked and talked and I listened. I didn’t interrupt, didn’t ask no questions, didn’t say nothing ‘til she was done and didn’t say much then.
Someone was after her, she said. She didn’t know who and she didn’t know why.
It had started slowly, she said, months back, with the sense she was being followed. Then, a couple of times, she thought she could hear someone in the house at night. She rung the police who came and found nothing. Then things got stranger. She started having these dreams, she said, and when she woke, she felt slow, insubstantial, unreal, like she was on heavy sedatives; like she’d been drugged.
She was having trouble concentrating, she said, was disorientated, confused. Then she started getting these attacks of déjà vu, more like flashbacks, but of things she didn’t remember ever happening. Sometimes when she woke in the morning, her belongings had been moved about the house: books, clothes, washing up in the sink that she hadn’t left there.
The dreams got worse. They were terrifying now, dreams that she was being held prisoner, screaming and screaming and no one would help her, dreams where she knew she was dreaming, but couldn’t wake up. Dreams where she was trapped in the dark, alone.
One day, she woke up and discovered she’d slept through a whole day: She’d gone to bed on Wednesday and it was now Friday. When she hauled ass into work, apologetic as hell, her boss told her that she’d been in the day before as normal, that they’d had lunch together. He pointed to her desk which was a mess of papers, a mess she hadn’t left.
She became convinced then, that someone was drugging her and taking her place. She didn’t know why, she said, and her voice broke.
She threw out all the food in the house, changed where she shopped, ate lunch somewhere new each day, just in case they were lacing her food. Still it continued. Sometimes she would sleep, not just through one day, but through two or three. She got too terrified to go to bed. She took stimulants to stay awake, asked friends to sleep over, picked up strangers and took them home. Anything not to be alone in the dark. Nothing helped. The dreams continued, as did the missing days and the awful sense of déjà vu.
Finally she went to the police. They listened carefully, took some notes and sent her to a doctor for tests. The doctor listened carefully, ran some tests and then sent her to a shrink for an assessment. The shrink listened carefully, asked some questions and then prescribed her some drugs. The drugs hadn’t helped. If anything, they’d made it worse. One morning she woke to find a week had passed. Friends and colleagues said they’d seen her, had conversations with her, they showed her messages she’d sent them, work she’d done.
Now, in desperation, she’d come to him. She wanted him to follow her, to catch whoever was doing this to her in the act. It was the only way any one would believe her, she said. When she turned, her cheeks where wet with tears, flashing pink and green in the neon lights.
I know what you’re thinking, I figured the same: Poor broad’s a couple of aces short of a pack. Thing was, I had a couple ’a bad debts ready to come knocking and I needed the money. I told myself I could help her out, put her mind at rest and it was an easy job: Payment up front to trail her for a month. We agreed no contact during the month so as not to tip off the perps and she gave me her spare key to check her place for ‘clues’ and to look in each day in case she’d been left there, drugged, unconscious.
So, next morning I go over while she was at work. House was empty, bed was empty. I go over the place careful like; broad was nuts but she was paying hard cash and I had a reputation to uphold. I didn’t find nothing. House was clean, organised. She lived alone: No flatmate, no boyfriend, no pets. Photos on the fridge of her on holiday, alone. Lonely then. Just a couple of feline friends short of a stereotype.
Still, like I said, she’d paid good money so I started following her, like she’d asked. Turned out she was a scientist. I dug around and found out that the lab where she worked was privately funded, secretive. Figuring that could be important I dug around a little more and finally a source of mine came through: Informed me that the rumours were, they were working on something called ‘Temporal Interstition’; time travel to you and me. Crazy fucking scientists. No wonder the broad was losing it.
I watched her go for lunch with colleagues, drinks with friends – not so lonely then – and found out that she had a morbid fear of cats, would literally cross the road to avoid them, screamed blue murder one time a tabby jumped up next to her on a park bench. So much for the cat lady stereotype.
End of week one I was sure no one was following her: No one’d snuck into her house at night to drug her and every day I checked, the bed was empty.
By the end of week two I was bored and ready to quit.
Then, week three rolls around and I started to get the sense like I was being followed. There’s a guy in a hat is outside the office reading a paper two days in a row and then this black chevvie starts appearing behind me in traffic, three cars back. By the end of the week, I’m sure of it. Maybe the broad ain’t crazy after all, I thought to myself, maybe she was on to something.
Then I had the first dream.
It was exactly like the broad described: Trapped in the dark, shouting to wake up but held under deep, in the dark, alone. I woke up sweating and shouting, bleary like I’d been slugged good or pumped full of horse tranquilizer. I dragged myself out of bed and fought out onto the street, hollering at passers-by, asking for the date like a crazy man or some character from a sci-fi novel.
Turned out I hadn’t missed so much as a morning.
Still, it spooked me good. I went past the office but the man in the hat was a no show so I headed up town, towards the broad’s place. I was thinking to flush out the black chevvie and sure enough, once I hit North Thirty-Second, he pulled out behind me in traffic, three cars back. I was almost glad to see him.
I weren’t in any mood to dance so I headed to the train station like I was fixing to leave town. I parked up outside, strolled in and waited, watching the parking lot from the window. Black chevvie pulls in and parks. Sits a while idling. Then a man gets out the passenger side. A man wearing a hat.
I wait as he says something to the driver, looks around and heads into the station. Walks right past me, scanning the ticket office queues, one hand hovering under his lapel; a wise guy then, I thought. I didn’t waste time. I got my Glock in his ribs and told him, “Easy,” when he stiffened.
“We’re just gonna have us a nice cosy little chat.” I said. “Got some things to discuss you and I…”
Well it turns out he’s a PI, he says, another working stiff like yours truly. Crazy broad hired him to find out if someone was following her. Must’ve forgot she’d already hired me.
Well, as you’d expect, none of us were feeling that trusting, so the only thing to do was to head over to the broad’s place all together and settle things there. When we got there, the broad’s mother answers, explains that, Kim, the daughter, had been admitted to psychiatric care. She’d been suffering from a rare form of something called ‘Temporal Dissociative Disorder’, she said, it messed with her memory and made her paranoid. She herself had just popped by to feed the cat, the mother said, apologising for the mix up. I give her the spare key back and in that moment, I get the strongest feeling of déjà vu it almost dropped me on my ass.
On the drive back, something didn’t feel right and that night something was still nagging at me. But hey, there was nothing to be done. Case closed.
That night I dreamt someone came into my room while I slept and hauled me off. Left a replacement me in my bed. I woke up as normal the next day, but most nights now I have that dream. The dream where I’m held prisoner somewhere: It’s dark and I’m alone and I can’t wake up. I try to sleep as little as possible now. Sit up here, in the dark, alone, listening to the city outside screaming and honking at itself and watching the neon lights from the skin joint opposite flashing greens and pinks onto the walls of my office, in no hurry to go home.
Author Notes: Another Day is an on-running short fiction project in which a new story is released every week. Each story evolves from the substance of those which came before and although each individual story is self-contained, over the year that the project runs these edits will themselves form part of a meta narrative. One story told out of many.
Another Day is a collaboration between Mexican digital artist, Eric Fanghanel and British author, Sophie Langridge. Part collection of short stories, part novel, part blog and part art installation, Another Day seeks to toy with traditional ideas of authorship and publishing, exploring the area between art and storytelling and the opportunities the internet provides for new forms of expression.
Visit the 3D Hompage at sophielangridge.com/anotherday