I woke with a gasp. Where was I? Who was I? My brain wouldn’t cooperate; it felt thick with cotton wool, and I couldn’t think of anything. Then I shivered, and even those questions were driven from my head; the table underneath me was hard and metallic, and the coolness seeped through my shirt. I flexed my arms, but couldn’t move; my body was strapped to the table.
Had there been something in that drink at the bar? It had tasted off. Bar? What bar? I tried to remember more, but the cotton wool … Oh, but it began to fade, ever so slowly, and a chink of light began to appear. My name – my real name – came to me first. Nick Thompson. How odd; despite the fading cotton wool, I could still recall my own name before any of the aliases I had stored in there as well.
Thirty-nine. I’m thirty-nine. And I’m a professional … A moment of panic as multiple jobs flashed before my eyes, and I couldn’t settle on just one. Had I really done all of these different things?
Oh, wait … of course I hadn’t. They were just titles, to go along with all my fake names. Before I had passed out, who had I been? An investment banker? A journalist? Or a civil servant in the Ministry of Defence? My brain wouldn’t give up that particular secret, and I shivered again – but, this time, not from the cold table, but from fear. I couldn’t control my memories. I liked being in control.
I was looking at a dark ceiling. In my peripheral vision, I could detect a light, but that merely made shadows in the darkness. My stomach churned.
My voice rang off the walls, and I flinched at how harsh it sounded. There wasn’t any response; I was all alone. I took in a deep breath, a second, a third … but the churning in my stomach continued, and I squeezed my eyes shut.
Who had done this to me? I swallowed; the list was endless. The Mafia were the organised criminal face of a range of people and organisations that I’d bested over the years, and there were also scientists, engineers, investors … so many.
My most recent con had been the tip of the iceberg. All it required had been high concentrations of credulous people, so I travelled to the United States and set up camp there. Convincing Americans that I had been captured by aliens didn’t take any special efforts on my part – merely appealing to their baser natures.
I’d appear in a town, dishevelled and upset – perhaps with a few rips and tears in my clothes for good measure – and I’d beg to be taken to the local hospital, as I’d just survived a brutal assault by anonymous attackers. During the process of being checked out, I’d “remember” certain things, like … oh, I don’t know, the MRI machine reminding me of a machine that tortured me, or a thermometer being similar to an electrical device.
It was touching how quickly people started to believe in you once you cried and yelled for a little bit. It was sad to see how many people’s good nature could be manipulated into doing something for you; I lost count of the number of people who gave me a room for the night, a decent meal, and even some money.
What they had wasn’t much, and that included their home security. Their loose change, ID, and savings were so often in ovious places, and so many people didn’t check their stashes daily, even after a stranger had been in their home. By the time they did check, I was always long gone, my wallet, stomach, and rucksack would all be bulging from the weight of generosity.
No, of course I never felt guilty; why should I? If these people were more gullible than clever, then they deserved to get fleeced. Everyone’s got to make a living, right? Well, this is mine.
I had been hiding out in a cornfield, waiting for the townsfolk to leave the city limits where they’d waved me off after five days’ worth of kindness and friendship and money. I’d told them I was going to the train station, but sod that; the next town was only a day’s walk away, and why spend money on a train ticket when the shoes that I’d been given were practically new and would get me there quite comfortably.
Why couldn’t I remember how I’d got here?
A figure appeared in my peripheral vision. I couldn’t turn my head, so I was only aware of a vague shape for a moment, until he came more into my eye line directly above me. A grey alien being, with a bulbous head, large, oval eyes and no mouth, peered down at me, no expression on its smooth, blank face.
Now that I was listening properly, I heard some chittering in the background; it sounded like insects. Or was it more beings like this one?
“Oh god!” I cried. “Help me! Please, someone help me!”
In the next room, Andrew Chatterjee watched through the two-way glass. He smiled. As a police lieutenant, he had seen the after-effects of Nick’s lies often enough; communities devestated by their losses. Some people had even committed suicide.
And now he needs to learn what it means to suffer, he thought. This might not be entirely legal, but he deserves every second of it.