Contemporary Science Fiction Thriller

I am not who I say I am. I am an imposter. Who, for the past seven months, has been living in the shoes of someone who I believe never existed in the first place. This skin is not mine, and everyone around me begs to differ. They observe me with their own eyes, and then, tell me I am the one seeing things. But I know that I do not belong here.

The reasons I am here have not been made clear to me, though I can feel a purpose regardless.

When I first arrived, all I could do was stare at the ceiling, trying to place where I had seen it before—never quite placing it. It was clinical, a sterile environment with only a thin blanket to protect me from the draft. Arms ridged I felt my back stiffen as my lungs adjusted to the air. Thick bandages swaddled my chest, translucent jelly seeping out, and a white paste rubbed thick across the rest of my body. I remember standing up, it felt like two metal rods jammed up my spine running straight down ending at the calf muscles. Each ligament moved like wet cement, though my heart pounded as if it had finished running to the moon and back. Fluorescent lights beamed down on me as I scanned the cramped area, in one corner folded were some clothes. Despite the stiffness of my body, I got dressed. 

Nothing too fancy, beautifully generic from the crisp collar of the shirt, down to the starch white of the socks. No logos, no accessories other than a watch with a silicone band and commonplace sunglasses that everyone seemed to have shoved in their glovebox. Nothing memorable. I put on the tailored garments, throwing on the flannel-lined denim jacket which made me overheat instantaneously. I persisted, feeling the weight in one of the pockets I investigated. Inside were the contents of the identity I unwillingly occupied.

The name did not ring a bell, but there were enough credit and debit cards to validate that this all belonged to one person. Some cash was haphazardly shoved into the compartments of the wallet. With small cut-out pictures of people I also did not know. However, I knew I had to remember those faces, and smile when I saw them again. Making sure that the shirt did not reveal what was pressed against my skin, I tenderly rubbed in the paste as best I could to make it absorb, I threw on the pair of sunglasses thankful for the protection from the lights. Walking towards the stainless-steel door, I expected a struggle, but it practically swung open revealing equally barren halls. Since then, I have been living a lie.

Everyone around me repeats my (supposed) name back at me, and it never feels right. To exist in this body, is to walk around in a rented Halloween costume day in and day out. Never quite knowing what has to be done, just knowing that I am behind. The watch has a timer on it, tried to turn it off, but it just beeped at me as if I had offended it. I had about forty-eight hours left, I completed a majority of the tasks I thought was assigned to me. The only reason I can come to such a conclusion is that when I completed them, the watch lit up. A faint green glow illuminated the deeds best left in the dark. But in the day, I waved back when waved to, and tried to make do with the name that was not mine.

During this time I believe I have learned where I am, it is like my world in every conceivable way. The clouds are still there, office buildings stretching to touch them; with cars darting between it all trying to avoid jittery pedestrians. Though, one difference is becoming overwhelmingly clear. This world is a mere reflection of what I call home, I am unsure what split these two realities, but their severance is in the air. Each breath feels uncanny compared to the last.

In this reality, I have a family. A wife (Carol) and two twin boys (Mathew and Lewis), each one of them seems lukewarm to my presence in their home. One of the boys, Lewis, seems the most in tune with the disturbance. I remember (near the second-week mark) I was helping him with some algebra homework. When out of nowhere he looked up at me—not just at me, but at me. And spoke softly.

“I don’t remember having a dad before this.” I laughed to cause doubt.

“I mean that makes sense, I am the only one you got.” He did not look convinced, if anything I seemed to have confirmed something that laid silent in his mind. We have not spoken much since then, his voice can sometimes be heard in hushed tones over loud dishes when he thinks I am asleep. Though I hear him through it all.

“That isn’t my dad.” No one takes him seriously though, even the woman he confides in brushes him off. She did not repeat his words to me, but told me she was growing concerned about his mental wellbeing. For his sake, I mused that as a boy I too had similar issues—an active imagination is what I referred to it as. This eased her nerves, but mine knew this was the calm before the storm.

My relationship with Lewis became one of a tenuous truce, his brother and mother were none the wiser. The word of me covering for him found its way to his ears. He still struggled with algebra but said my help was no longer needed, I knew he was lying. As he was saying that he finally understood it.

The final tasks were becoming increasingly difficult to complete the more Lewis paid attention. It was the little things he did, the way he would hold his breath when I came inside the house—so I would not realize he was there. How he suddenly became very interested in my job, his brother’s eyebrow arching at why the boy he knew as a snarky reflection of himself suddenly took an interest in construction. To avert suspicion, I played my role as the proud father, going into depth about a job I too knew nothing about.

Because it did not exist, it was an empty lot that sent in checks at the end of the month. It had enough zeros that Carol did not look into it, and it gave me time to get things done. But, Lewis persisted. He talked about how he was nearing the end of the school year and was wondering if he could work with me. I told him it was dangerous, he told me he did not care. His mother insisted I look into it, and I lied and agreed I would.

Time marched on, summer grew ever near, and Lewis was getting closer to the truth. A truth that I was not even sure about, but the watch glowed when I had a moment to spare. The tasks ranged from nefarious to mundane, some of these actions I rather not disclose. As they would involve warehouses full of whirling metal and rogue electrical sparks. People in hazmat suits running for cover, leaving half-shredded files in their rushed escape. These files were soon memorized, but never fully comprehended. Regardless the watch glowed, and my next destination was revealed to me through instinct. The more common tasks however were small things, be at this corner at this time, breathe in this rhythm, only walk on the left side of the street. It felt ridiculous, but its effects were not lost on me. All attempts to get a butterfly to flap its wings. It felt like I was trying to bring someone out of hiding, for all these little things to add up and pull back the curtain. Something I was becoming eager to happen, the forty-eight hours were being plucked apart.

It was the last day of school for the twins, Mathew seemed excited but Lewis acted with more determination. I spoke with Mathew, asking him how things were going for him; he divulged what little a teenage boy was willing to admit to his ‘father’, then I enquired how his brother was doing. He shrugged, saying how Lewis was not as talkative as he used to be. Joking how he preferred this, since his brother never let him get a word in. I pointed out that maybe he should check in on him, how some ‘bro time’ may be good for him. After watching him roll his eyes at my word choice, he casually said my worst fear.     

“I mean that’s not going to happen any time soon.”

“Why is that?”

“Lew is basically living at his work experience, there was even a party tonight…that I was hoping I could go to.” He stopped to give me a hopeful gaze, I sighed and nodded. He looked pleased. “Anyways, asked him if he wanted to go because Gwen is gonna be there (the girl Lewis had been flirtatiously not talking to, because if he did he thought he would hurl) but he brushed me off. Said there was a big final project tonight he had to work on.” I tried to not make it obvious, but the watch felt like it was cutting off blood flow after he had said that. 

“Wait, what work experience program?” Trying my best not to come across as someone not completely oblivious about his life. Luckily Mathew never paid that much attention to me anyway.

“You know, that trades thing. It’s so weird though, when they did the recruitment for it, Lew fell asleep. Now he seems to love it.” I recovered.

“Right, I remember your mother saying something about that. Good for him, glad to see one of my sons is following down their old man’s footsteps.” Mathew chuckled at the idea of turning into his father.

“Yah, I’ll get right on that.” He was about to walk away when I cut him off.

“Where is it again? I mean if it is his last night might as well go and surprise him.” Mathew looked a little shook with how direct that question came across.

“I don’t know, he walks there. The last time he went there he brought me a sandwich from that new place downtown. Said he got it for free because he got his punch card filled, so probably around there.” I smiled, attempting to convey fatherly warmth.

“And where is that party?” this brought him into himself a bit, as he tried to think of an age-appropriate location, and not the old dump where all the kids liked to throw all their gatherings. “and will Arnold be there as well?” His face turned flushed at the name of his best friend, enough to make him look for any escape from talking to his dad about his crush.

“What’s that mom? Yah i’ll do the dishes.” He nearly sprinted to the kitchen, his mother just coming into the house wondering why her son was darting towards dishwater. She looked at the man sitting on the couch.

“He wants to go to a party tonight.” She smiled and nodded, appreciating the work ethic of her second son, who was now looking for anything else to clean to avoid the living room. They both became too occupied to realize I had slipped out.

The watch compelled me, as the clock revealed I had less time than I was comfortable with. And I have a feeling Lewis knew this. I took the car and drove out into the night, passing the sandwich shop and parked. Like every other task, I walked till I had to stop. Each step I took made the watch squeeze increasingly tighter, as I waited to have him pop up at any moment. I did not have any weapons on me, but my fists still tensed up due to some muscle memory I have forgotten.

 I was a few blocks away from my car, and it was finally dark. I felt my joints stiffen once more, each step causing me to slow down my pace—I was close. I looked down at the watch, this was my only chance to get this done, and I had to make sure Lewis was nowhere near when that happened. The summer heat was finally dulling into a thin humidity. Then all of a sudden, I stopped.

I was on the outskirts of town, near the industrial district spitting distance from where the checks are addressed from. It was still a big empty lot, with a plywood sign that said construction would begin soon which was clearly a lie. It was all a front, I was often persuaded back here. I thought if I looked hard enough there would be some sort of clue. Anything that could put this all together, but all I found was some scrap paper which proved of no use to me. The only thing I found worthwhile was a napkin that had a picture of two parallel lines, one with black ink and the other blue. I cannot explain why, but it brought me some comfort. Using the flashlight on my phone I searched for him, afraid to call out his name. The concern grew all the same. A headache began as I looked frantically at the watch, I was now past the twenty-four-hour mark. A metallic taste gathering on my tongue, I swallowed it like a bad shot. Suddenly, I heard something shuffling behind me. I spun on my heels, jaw locked with teeth snarled through my lips. An expression that dropped when I saw the slim frame of Lewis, holding a stray pipe like he was going to hit a home run. I raised my hands, but he was not convinced that I was not a threat to him. His chest heaved, and he stared at me as if through a scope. 

“Who are you?” He demanded.

“I’m your father.” I said in a pleading voice. His nostrils only flared.

“No you aren’t, I don’t know who you are.” The pipe ready to swing at a moment’s notice.

“Lewis don’t be ridiculous, just come over here and we can talk about it.” I took a step closer, causing him to jolt back, a tremble to his stance.

“I found the abandoned hospital, the one on 92nd street.” I froze, how could he have possibly found that? “You forgot this”, he tossed over a picture (now laminated) of the family. Except, I was absent from the image.    

“Let’s just talk about this, please I promise I will not hurt you.” He did not seem convinced, though, he looked like he wanted to be. He held tight to his convictions.

“Who are you, answer the question!” His yelling was sure to bring attention, as I was sure a passer-by would wonder why a grown man was arguing with a teenage boy with a pipe.

“Okay, just lower your voice. Look I can explain, but it might not make sense.” He lowered the pipe and inched closer. Craving answers he listened close, his eyes grew large with the tremor dissolving. I told him everything, everything that I knew at least. Starting with waking up in a strange place, with no memory of where I was or who I was before. and how I stumbled my way into their lives. At some point the pipe fell to the ground, he did not even seem to notice. I told him about the tasks, the ones I thought he could stomach at least. About the money that came from a place that somehow knew what was going on. How everything seemed to be expecting me. When I was done, we stood there in absolute silence. I was waiting for his response to be him turning away and running for the hills, but he did not—he just stood there. His head now looking at the ground, the gravel now collecting around his sneakers. At first, I could not hear him, the cityscape muffling him out. But, there was a sound. He was crying.

I rushed to him, not worrying about the pipe. I wrapped my arms tight around him, his knees buckling as he sobbed into my chest. I held him tight, letting his weight fall into mine. That was the first moment I had where it did not feel like I was anywhere I should not have been. His head lifted towards mine, as he tried to compose himself as best as he could. Wiping away the tears that were quickly replaced, his voice carried words that immediately wanted to recede.    

“Then why am I here?” It was at that moment I knew what all those tasks were leading to. I held him tighter.

“Because accidents happen.” He was now getting ahold of his breath, “now, tell me what you last remember.” Lewis remembered fragments of a blur, just that he woke up in a world that seemed off. How everyone seemed to know him, even though they were all strangers. But he just went along with it, he had a brother that he did not recognize and a mom who claimed he was hers. But no dad, never a mention of him. Not until several months ago. I looked down at him, he was now trying to recover what little tough-guy persona he had to begin with.

“You are in the wrong reality.” It seemed like that was the first thing I had said to him that made sense. The light pollution drowned out the stars, but it felt all the same.

“Dad?” It felt right coming from him.

“Yes, Lewis?”

“Can we go home?”

“Of course we can.” And the watch glowed one last time.  

July 26, 2022 19:33

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