When I become conscious, I’m not lying in bed. I’m not lying anywhere. I’m walking.
My stomach lurches. I’ve had another episode.
I sit down on the park bench and take a few deep breaths. It’s okay, I tell myself. Everything will be okay. You’re safe. You’re alive. They’re the same things I tell myself every time I black out. On each occasion, they become a little harder to believe.
The episodes started a few months ago, around the same time I lost my memory. I wake up somewhere with no idea of what I’m doing or how I got there. Sometimes, like today, I’m just walking around on some random street. Other times, I’ve been shopping, bowling, playing darts. Once, I was even driving. There was a massive pile-up that day.
I don’t know how I still exist as a functioning human being. I don’t even know how I’m still alive. But I am. And aside from the whole memory blank issue, I seem to be doing well. Every time I wake up, I’m in warm clothes, with a full belly and a clean bill of health. Well, almost every time. I had a few scrapes and bruises when we woke up in the Clinton Brothers’ garage, but that’s what you expect when gangsters tie you up.
A hand clamps down on my shoulder, and I whirl around, raising my fists.
‘Woah. Easy there, buddy,’ you say, giving me one of your trademark grins.
I relax, as I always do in your presence. I’ve never had an episode while you’re with me. There’s just something about you that makes me feel safe, secure.
‘Hey,’ I say. ‘What can I do for you, pal?’
‘I need cash, fast. You know where I can get some?’
I do, somehow. I can’t remember where I grew up or where I went to school. Hell, I can’t even remember my mother’s name. Yet every time you ask me a question, I know the answer. It’s a good thing, really, even if it is a little strange. It makes me feel special. Needed. That’s not something I get anywhere near enough of these days.
I nod. ‘There’s a little jewellery shop over on 84th that’s ripe for the picking. Business has been booming lately, and they’re stocking some pricey items. But word on the street is they haven’t upgraded their security systems to match the new merchandise. It should be an easy score for someone of your skill set.’
You rub your hands together. ‘Perfect. Can you take me?’
We walk together to the store. It doesn’t take long, only a couple of minutes. I think for a moment that it’s weird how that worked out, that we were so close to the place you needed to be. But I quickly dismiss it. You need me; I can’t afford to be daydreaming.
When I spot the shop, I jab an elbow in your ribs and point. ‘That’s the place.’
You lick your lips. ‘Oh yeah. That’ll do. That’ll do nicely. Good quality stuff. Old cameras and no guard on the door. They’re practically begging to be robbed.’ You slap my back. ‘Thanks, buddy. I knew I could count on you.’
‘Always happy to help.’
‘I’ll meet you at Benny’s later to give you your cut?’
‘Sure. That works.’
That decided, you slip on a mask and sprint towards the store. I stroll away. The physical guns and glory stuff isn’t my jam. But I haven’t even made it 200 yards before my head spins. Dark patches appear in my vision. It’s happening again.
‘No, no no no no,’ I say, ‘Not again. Please, I’ve only just woken up.’ But the thing that causes my episodes, whatever it is, doesn’t feel like listening today.
The next thing I know is the smell of burning grease. I’m sitting in a booth at a diner, a burger and fries in front of me. I glance around. What the hell? How did I get here? How did I order this? Wait… I recognise my surroundings. It’s Benny’s. The place you said you’d meet me.
That soothes me a little. At least there’s a reason for me to be here. It’s not like that time I woke up at a wrestling match just in time to help you escape from some hired thugs. I still have no idea why I was there. I don’t even like wrestling. Boxing’s more my thing.
Before I can fall too deeply into thought, you slump down into the seat opposite. ‘Thanks for the tip, buddy.’
‘Hey, when have I ever let you down?’
You laugh. ‘true that.’ After glancing around to ensure no one’s looking, you take out a thick wad of cash and slide it across the table to me. ‘There’s your cut. 50 grand.’
I let out a low whistle. ‘That much? You must have cleaned the place out.’
‘Oh yeah. There wasn’t even a single ring left once I was done.’ You stand up. ‘Anyway. I gotta go. Got some business to take care of. It’s been a pleasure working with you, as always.’
‘Sure, pal. See you later.’
As I pocket the money, you stride out the door and down the street. I take a bite of my burger, determined to savour it before I black out again. But before I even swallow a single mouthful, the dark spots appear. My head spins.
‘Oh, come on. Not again.’
Something inside me snaps. I’m done letting this condition rule me.
I focus every fibre of my being on my food, using it as an anchor to keep me tethered to reality. I will not black out. You will not win. Not this time.
For a few seconds, the spots continue to grow. My head continues to spin. But then, just as I feel certain my consciousness is about to fade into oblivion, the patches stop growing. They shrink. The spinning slows.
I’m doing it. I’m actually doing it.
My pulse races, and energy rushes through my veins. I’ve never overcome an episode before. This is remarkable. Incredible.
Whooping with joy, I jump out of my seat and race towards the door. Once I step outside, I close my eyes and take a deep breath. My first as a new person. A person who’s the master of their own body.
You’re across the street, peering through the window of an upmarket clothes store. I frown. The last time I saw you, you were walking in the opposite direction. I guess you must have come back to do some shopping.
I consider coming over to say hello but quickly dismiss the idea. We should avoid each other where possible until the heat from the jewellery store job dies down. Instead, I stride down the street and wonder what I should do first with my newfound freedom. I could catch a basketball game, maybe. Or a movie.
But as I reach the end of the block, the dark patches return. It’s okay, I tell myself. You can do this. I pick out a billboard showing a young couple buying a car and focus on it. I imagine buying the car in their place and all the things I could do with it. The places I would visit, the sights I would see. It doesn’t help. The dark patches hold firm, and the spinning starts. This time, no matter how much I focus, no matter how much I strain, I’m unable to overcome the darkness.
Hyperventilating, I stagger a couple of steps back. As if by magic, my head settles. The dark patches vanish.
What in the…
I glance around, looking for anything that might explain my sudden reprieve, but there’s nothing. To my right stands a chicken shop. To my left, a guy in a suit is hailing a cab. You’re still looking through the shop window. Everybody else on the street is going about their daily business. Curious, I take a few steps towards the end of the block. Sure enough, the patches return. And sure enough, they fade when I step back again. I try this a couple more times before deciding to take a different approach.
I jog back down the street and try to leave from the other end. This time, I get out of the block, making it a little way along the next before the patches return. I immediately jump back, and they fade. I study my surroundings, but again, there’s nothing special about this spot. No weird techy gizmos screwing with my mind. No triggers to give me a panic attack.
The only thing the spots have in common is—
The only thing the spots have in common is that they’re both about the same distance from you.
Maybe it’s a placebo effect, I think. Maybe knowing you’re nearby is giving me the strength to hold on. But no. In the diner, I felt better before I even knew you were nearby. So if it’s not a placebo effect…
Why does staying close to you keep the episodes away? I rack my brains, trawling through my memories for an answer. There’s the time we stole those motorbikes and drove them out to the bluff. Or when we got into a fight with those stoners outside your house. And that’s not even mentioning the time we just hung out all day playing video games and drinking beer.
I shake my head. There’s nothing. No common factor in any of that. Except for you.
The realisation hits me like a knife in the guts. All of my memories include you—every single one. As soon as you leave, I black out. I don’t wake up again until the next time you’re near me. No. More than that. Until the next time you need me. It’s like the mother of all cosmic coincidences.
I don’t believe in coincidences, but that only leaves one answer. I need you. I literally need you. Without you, I’m nothing. Without you, I don’t exist.
No, no no no. That can’t be right. I need to test this.
I stride back up the street towards you. As I draw closer, my thoughts become more precise; my body feels more grounded. Usually, that brings me a sense of calm, but today, it only makes my muscles tighten.
When you see me, you smile, though your brow is slightly furrowed. ‘Oh, hey, buddy. What’s up? You need something?’
‘Er,’ I say, not sure how to phrase this. ‘I was thinking maybe we could hang out for a bit. You know, I could help you with stuff.’
You raise your eyebrows. ‘Huh, you wanna be my companion? That’s new. What the hell, why not? You can tag along.’
So I do. We go all across town and get into a whole bunch of mischief. Stealing cars, escaping the cops, getting drunk. I take great care to stick as close to you as possible, even hanging outside the men’s room while you take a leak.
The entire time, I don’t have a single episode. I don’t even come close to having one. It’s the longest I’ve ever gone without one, and it’s all thanks to you.
At the end of the night, we stagger home to your place, more than a little drunk. You head upstairs with your girlfriend and tell me I’m welcome to crash in the cot down in the basement. I take you up the offer gladly.
Now that I know the cause of my situation, I can deal with it. All I have to do is hang around with you, and I won’t lose myself. That shouldn’t be too hard, right? Maybe you’ll find it a little weird after a while, but I could always explain what’s going on. You’re cool. You’d understand. Deciding that I’d tell you everything in the morning, I surrender to sleep’s embrace, safe in the knowledge that I’d wake up in the morning.
Gunshots blare out around me, and I leap out of the cot. The shafts of light shining through the egress windows tell me it’s daylight. I’ve made it through the night. But unless I find out what’s going on, I might not live to see another.
I sprint up the stairs, looking for you. You’re my number one priority. If you die, so do I. But when I arrive in the kitchen, you aren’t there. Your girlfriend, eyes wet and bloodshot, is crouching behind the island.
I ask her what’s going on and where you are, but she just shakes her head. Seizing her shoulders, I ask again.
‘Gone,’ she said. ‘They’re gone.’
‘Far away from here. It turns out the Scolani brothers owned that jewellery store. Now they’re out for revenge.’
Okay, I tell myself. This isn’t ideal, but we can make it work. The Scolani brothers are serious players. If they’re after you, it’s better you lie low for a bit.
I ask her when you’ll be back.
She looks me in the eye. ‘Honey, I don’t think they’ll ever be back. Not with the Scolani’s after them. It’s too dangerous.’
If you never come back…
No. That’s not something I want to think about. My fingers squeeze your girlfriend’s shoulders. ‘Which way did they go? Tell me. Quickly.’
She points towards the front door, and I race onto the street. I’ll help you. We’ll take down these Scolani goons and leave the city together.
Outside, gunshots come from every direction. Several men are dead on the ground, their blood pooling beneath them.
You’re getting into a car across the street. I run toward you, calling your name. But you don’t hear. The car’s engine starts and you race off. I charge forwards, running through a hail of bullets and chasing your car like a dog. I’m too slow.
I fall to my knees. ‘Come back. I need you.’
It’s too late. You’re gone. My head spins. The darkness closes in.
I don’t want to go. I want to—