"I want to go HOME!" Wade's eyes darted back and forth, between the two large men who were making their way towards him from opposite sides of the room.
"Calm down, okay?" one of the men said, as he took another slow step forward, "Nobody's going to hurt you."
"Stay away from me!" Wade pleaded, sniffling loudly and wiping his sleeve across his face. Everything felt strange and scary, and all he wanted was to get as far away from this awful place as possible.
He looked around the room, never letting his gaze completely leave the men, who appeared to be standing still, but always seemed to somehow edge a little closer every time he glanced away, as if they were playing some kind of frightening game of 1-2-3 red light.
Nothing was familiar. Nothing felt safe. He was alone and terrified, and he could feel his heart pounding in his chest. Even that felt wrong somehow. Everything felt wrong -- this place, these people, even Wade himself. Nothing seemed to be as it should be.
He tried to shrink further back into the corner, stumbling awkwardly, before steadying himself by grabbing the bedside table.
"Christ!" one of the men exclaimed, "He's going to hurt himself!"
"Where's my mother?" Wade cried weakly, as he crouched down, trying to make himself as small as possible.
The men looked at each other, and one of them silently mouthed Wade's question, leading the other one to shrug.
"Did you call Dr. Hagen?" asked the man nearest the door. He seemed to be in charge, or at least more so than the other man.
"She's on her way," the other man nodded, "She said not to upset him."
"Jam up job on that so far."
"Hey, you can't blame that me."
"I'm not. I'm just saying he definitely seems upset."
"What do we do?"
"I say we wait on the doc," the man said, looking over towards the corner, where Wade was hiding, "He seems calm enough for the moment."
Wade peered around the edge of the table, relieved that the men didn't seem to be coming any closer, for the moment anyway. He didn't understand most of what they were talking about, but it seemed obvious that it was about him somehow.
He could feel the tears building up behind his eyes, in spite of himself, as he fought not to start crying. What was it he was supposed to do if he ever got lost? Get to a phone and call home. That's right.
Wade concentrated, trying to remember his phone number. His mother had made him repeat it, over and over, until she was sure he knew it.
He recited the numbers under his breath. If he could ever get away from these awful men, he would call home and his parents would come and get him. Then everything would be okay.
He stopped, stumbling over the last number. It was either a 6 or an 8, but he couldn't remember which. He was supposed to remember this. He'd PROMISED that he would remember it. How was he going to call home, if he couldn't remember the last number?
Without warning, the tears burst through, and he began crying, in huge gasping sobs.
"Oh God, is he crying?"
"I think so, yeah... Should we try to talk to him or something?"
"Right, like that worked so well before."
Wade wiped his eyes and peeked out again. The man beside the door looked angry and the other one just looked like he didn't know what was going on, which made more sense to Wade, since he didn't know what was going on either.
He didn't like either of these men, but he decided that he didn't like the one by the door even more. He'd never seen either one of them before, but there was something about that one that frightened him.
He had a sudden flash of the angry man yelling at some old man to just shut up already, but he didn't know why. He certainly didn't remember ever seeing anything like that before.
"Where is he?" a new voice asked, from outside the doorway.
"Hello, Dr. Hagen."
"Where is he?" she repeated.
"Over there," the man answered, pointing towards Wade, "He's hiding in the corner."
"Hell if I know," the man shrugged, "He just started screaming for his mother, and when we tried to calm him down, he tried to hide."
"Wade?" the woman said gently, as she stepped into the room, "Do you know where you are?"
Wade frowned and looked cautiously around the room again. The other three people in the room were all wearing white coats, although the woman's was different. He was sure he'd seen a coat like that somewhere before, even though he didn't recognise her.
"That right," the woman nodded, "You're in a hospital, and I'm a doctor. I'm Dr. Hagen."
"I'm not sick," Wade insisted.
"No," Dr. Hagen said, "Not exactly."
"If I'm not sick, I don't need to be here," Wade said stubbornly, "I want to go home."
"I know, but you can't go home right now. I'm sorry."
Wade started crying again.
"It's okay," Dr. Hagen said, walking around to the foot of the bed, "Everything's going to be okay. I promise."
"Where's my mother?"
"Wade," she said, "I need to ask you something, okay?"
"How old are you?"
"CHRIST!" the angry man yelled, causing Wade to retreat further back into his corner.
Dr. Hagen scowled at the man, and he fell silent.
"Do you remember where you were just before you came here?"
"I don't know how I got here."
"That's okay, but do you remember where you were before."
"I was at school. We were colouring. Ms. Aron was about to hand out snacks."
Dr. Hagen sat down on the end of the bed. "Would you like to come out and sit down next to me? It can't be very comfortable crouched down in the corner like that."
Wade was suddenly aware of just how uncomfortable he was. His knees and back were hurting terribly, and he felt tired all over, as if he'd been running all day.
He looked over at Dr. Hagen. She seemed nice enough, and the other men were both standing back, out of the way. Maybe it wouldn't hurt anything to go over there and sit down.
"Okay," he mumbled. He was surprised at how difficult it was to stand up. Walking over to the bed, he felt unsteady, as if he'd been spinning around first. He sat down on the bed and looked over at Dr. Hagen.
"It's going to be okay," she said again, reaching out and putting her hand on his shoulder.
He instinctively threw his arms around her and buried his head against her neck, as his tears started flowing again. "I'm scared," he admitted.
"I know," she whispered, patting his back.
He heard a hiss and felt a slight sting, and looked up, alarmed to see one of the men standing behind him, holding a hypo. He looked back at Dr. Hagen, feeling shocked and betrayed.
"It's just something to help you sleep," Dr. Hagen reassured him.
"I don't want to sleep," Wade insisted, but his eyelids felt unbearably heavy.
"I don't want to sleep," he said again, as he felt himself going limp.
Dr. Hagen caught him as he slumped forward, and he could feel other pairs of hands on him, as the two men helped her get him into the bed.
He watched the men leave, but Dr. Hagen stayed by his bed, gently patting his hand and whispering reassuring words.
He looked down at her smooth hand, lying across his old and wrinkled one.
"That's not my hand," he croaked weakly.
"Get some sleep, Mr. Pravat," she whispered, "Things will be better when you wake up."
[end excerpt from Chapter 1]
Wade looked around the room. He knew this place. Even though he hadn't been here in years, everything about it seemed familiar, from the pseudo-random stippling on the ceiling to the way the early morning light fractured across the far wall.
This was the place he always thought of, when he thought of home. He had spent his happiest years in this house, and he could feel its presence seeping into him, filling him with a strange sense of comfort and well-being.
He had lived here for many years, right up until... He paused. Not he, they. THEY had lived here.
He looked over, surprisingly unsurprised by the impossible sight of the woman who was sleeping peacefully beside him.
Amanda! Of course she was here. If he was really where he seemed to be, or more likely was IMAGINING himself to be where he seemed to be, she would be there too.
His face erupted in one of the first genuine, heart-felt smiles that he could remember in a very long time, as he lay there content in the simple pleasure that came from the barely-audible sound of her steady breathing.
Suddenly the alarm began to bleep annoyingly, and she blinked and yawned, before reaching over to turn it off, then turned back to stare at Wade with one eye half-closed.
"You're awake?" she asked, "You're never up before the alarm."
"I just woke up early," Wade shrugged, suppressing the urge to express the myriad of emotions that were coursing through him at the moment.
"Okay," she said, taking on an exaggerated stern expression, "Who are you and what have you done with my husband?"
"You caught me," he laughed, "I'm an alien pod person, and I'm here to take over your planet."
"Oh, okay," Amanda said, leaning over and kissing him on the side of his face, "I was worried it might be something serious."
Her touch was devastating. Wade had to fight to keep from collapsing into tears. It had been so long since he'd been able to see her, talk to her, touch her.
"Are you okay?" she asked, noticing his troubled expression.
"I'm fine," he replied, although he wasn't entirely sure how true that statement actually was. He paused for a moment, and then added, in his best dramatic monotone, "I am just trying to determine the best way to conquer you primitive humans."
Amanda shook her head disapprovingly, but the grin on her face gave her away. "Oh, that's easy," she said, kissing him again, "We're suckers for a handsome man with a questionable sense of humour. That'll get us every time."
"Questionable?" Wade asked.
"I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, dear."
[end excerpt from Chapter 2]
"You ready for another burger, Wade?"
Wade turned towards the voice, squinting slightly from the bright mid-afternoon sun. He knew this place. He was at Gil's house, and Gil's dad was grilling hamburgers.
He looked around. He must be 13 or 14, since Gil's family had been in a different house before that, and he and Gil and kind of drifted apart later.
Gil's dad whistled and snapped his fingers. "Yo, Wade? Burger?"
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Andrews," Wade replied, still trying to get himself oriented, but not wanting to come off as rude.
He looked up. Mr. Andrews was standing there, holding a spatula with a burger, which was dripping onto the lawn. Wade looked down at his plate and the closed bun that was sitting there.
He shrugged slightly and mouthed 'sorry', then opened the bun and held the plate out to Mr. Andrews.
Wade went over and sat down near where Gil was sitting, eating his hamburger with a fork. "How is it?" he asked.
"Good," Gil said, as he cut off another piece with his fork, carefully making sure to include some of each ingredient. Gil was definitely a strange one, but he and Wade had been best friends since they'd started school together.
Wade put a slice of cheese on his burger, pressed the bun down slightly for several seconds, so that the heat of the freshly-grilled meat could slightly melt the cheese, then opened it again and added a small amount of mustard. Wade had always been a bit of a burger minimalist. Meat, bread, cheese and mustard, and that was all. Not even catsup, but then he didn't like catsup on anything, unlike his sister, who seemed to put in everything.
Thinking of his sister, Wade suddenly realised that she would be at home right now, as would his parents. How old would Tris be now? 12 or 13?
He took in a deep breath of the warm summer air. It felt really good to be back here. REALLY good. It was slightly disturbing how easily he had started thinking of all of this as being some kind of trip, instead of memories or visions, but everything was just so vivid, so real.
Technically, if Dr. Hagen was correct, they were actually seizures of some kind, but given how clearly he was able to remember everything from so long ago, maybe she should be trying to figure out how to package and market them, instead of curing them.
[end excerpt from Chapter 3]
Wade caught a glimpse of his sister's face, before she slammed the door shut in his face.
He blinked a couple of times, trying to get his bearings. He was standing in a hallway, outside the apartment that his sister had lived in pretty much all of her adult life. He had been here many times, but he couldn't remember a time when she hadn't let him in.
Just as he was trying to decide whether or not he should knock, he heard the chain sliding back and then the door opened slightly. Apparently she had closed the door so that she could undo the security chain. That was a relief. He'd hate to start off with her being mad at him for something that he didn't remember.
He still didn't know when this was. The hallways and doors here seemed to never change, so they weren't any help. He couldn't see himself to try to gauge how old he was, and he'd only briefly caught sight of Tris, so he couldn't be sure how old she was either, although he didn't think she'd looked elderly.
"Are you just going to stand out there all day," Tris called out, from behind the door, "or are you going to come inside?"
Wade pushed open the door and stepped into his sister's apartment. As soon as he was inside, she closed the door behind him, locking it. She then also locked the deadbolt and re-attached the security chain.
"Sorry, Tris," he said, as he looked around the small apartment. It was clean, but there was a musty feel to the air, like the contents of a box that has been stored in the attic for too long.
Tris shrugged, and walked past him into the room. She couldn't be any older than 30, if she was that old, although it was difficult to be sure, because of the dark circles under her eyes.
At first he thought that maybe she was sick, but then he remembered that she'd pretty much always looked like that -- as if she was just on the verge of exhaustion.
Wade had never noticed, of course. It was exactly what he'd been talking to Mason about; how could he have seen his sister so many times, and never notice how tired and run down she looked?
She was wearing a housecoat, but he didn't think he'd ever been here when she was wearing anything else, and stray strands of hair hung down in front of her face. Her eyes were filled with so much sadness that it seemed unlikely that her small frame could possibly hold it all.
How long had she been like this? Wade wracked his memory, trying to recall every time he'd visited his sister throughout the rest of her life, and it was always the same. She'd grown older and older, just as he had, but otherwise she'd been just as she was now.
[end excerpt from Chapter 4]
"Granddad, please!" Olin pleaded, "Try to calm down."
Wade was standing in a doorway, with his arms crossed in front of him, and he could feel his heart racing and his face flush with anger, although he had no idea what he would've been so upset about.
He wasn't quite sure what to do. He could still feel an overpowering sense of anger, but it wasn't his; it belonged to that other Wade, the one who belonged here, whenever here was.
There didn't seem to be much point in trying to resolve whatever disagreement he'd been having with his grandson, since in a few minutes he would forget everything back to the point of the argument, and he'd most likely start it up again. On the other hand, it didn't feel right to fake being upset either.
Finally he just sighed and let his arms fall by his sides.
"I'm just trying to help," Olin insisted, "I promise you that nobody is going to throw away anything, until you've had a chance to go through it all. Okay?"
With those words, Wade knew exactly when this was. It had to be 5 years ago, when his deteriorating health had forced him to move out of his apartment and into the rest home. Olin was here helping him sort out which of his belongings to take with him, which ones to put into storage, and what to dispose of altogether.
Wade nodded. "It's just so frustrating. These things are mine; I shouldn't have to get rid of them."
"I know," Olin said, "but there's just not enough room at the home for you to keep everything there."
Wade sat down on his sofa, next to a stack of boxes. He was surprised at how strongly he still felt about this, even after 5 years. All of these things were really long since gone, but he still found himself wanting to fight to keep them.
"I'm sorry," Olin said, sitting down in another chair.
"It's not your fault," Wade said, "That's just what I get for having the audacity to outlive everyone--" He looked over at his grandson. "almost everyone," he corrected himself.
Olin looked around. "I think we've pretty much decided about all of the furniture," he said, "We just need to decide about all of the personal belongings. Do you feel like going through a few more boxes?"
Wade nodded. Why not? It didn't seem likely that present-Wade was going to make any better decisions that past-Wade had done the first time around, but he was here, and it did need to be done. Besides, he was sure to lose his memories of the next 5 years before long anyway.
[end excerpt from Chapter 5]
"I'm sorry, but he's gone."
Wade blinked. He was in a hospital, but he was standing outside a room, not lying in a bed, and the doctor who was talking to him wasn't Dr. Hagen.
Looking past the doctor, into the room, Wade saw a frail figure lying on the bed, covered with a sheet, and he knew immediately where and when this was.
That was his father in there, and he had just died.
Wade felt his breath catch. It had been almost 30 years ago, but being here again brought all of those old feelings back.
He heard a quiet sob beside him, and turned to see his mother standing there, holding on to his arm.
His mother. His emotions were thrown into turmoil by seeing her. It was so good to see her again, after all of these years, but knowing that he'd just missed the chance to do the same with his father was hard to take.
"Oh, Mum," Wade said, letting himself cry as he hugged her. "I'm so glad you're here."
"Your father wouldn't have wanted me here," she said, sniffing in her tears.
Wade wanted to say that wasn't true, but sadly, it was. They had divorced, almost immediately after their children were out on their own. Surprisingly, they had remained friends for years, and often got together for family occasions.
Years later, when Wade's father got very sick, his mother had even moved back in for a while, just to take care of him. Unfortunately, Wade's dad had read more into it than that, and when he recovered, he was shocked and disappointed that she moved back out.
She'd tried to explain, but friends or not, he'd never really gotten over her, and he felt terribly hurt and betrayed.
From that time on, he'd had nothing to do with her at all. He wouldn't even come to visit Wade and Amanda or Tris, unless they assured him that their mother would not be there.
"Well, I'M glad you're here," Wade said.
"I did love him," his mother said, "I never could get him to understand that. We couldn't live together; we drove each other crazy, but I did love him."
"I know, Mum."
"We should let your sister know."
Tris. That's right; she wouldn't be here, of course. "I'll go call her," Wade said.
"Don't be too hard on her, Wade," his mother said, "She'd be here, if she could."
Wade nodded. The truth was, that was why he wanted to hurry up and call her as quickly as possible, while his memories and identity were still intact.
He remembered how that phone call had gone the first time, and it had not been good. He had lashed out at her for not coming to the hospital to see their father before he died, and by the time the conversation was over, he had reduced her to tears.
He was determined not to let that happen this time, but he couldn't afford to waste time. He could already feel some of his memories slipping around in his head, and he knew it wouldn't be long, before he would start losing them.
[end excerpt from Chapter 6]
Wade looked around, confused.
The last thing he remember was being in his father's apartment, 29 years ago. Now he was... somewhere else. Somehow he didn't seem to have gone back this time, before making his next 'trip', although he must have spent SOME time there, because his memories seemed to be intact.
He looked around again. He knew this place. It was very familiar, in a long-ago kind of way. It was the house his family had lived in during his teenage years.
He dashed down the hallways and peered into each room, but there didn't appear to be anyone else there.
As he walked by the telephone, he looked down. There was that number again -- the one he'd remembered from before. If he was going to mad delusions, at least he was doing it in a consistent manner.
So, when was this exactly? He looked around for some clue, eventually finding a calendar, which let him narrow it down to within a month. He was 17 and it was April.
He wished his parents would come home, and Tris too. He really wanted to see them again, to see them all together, as they'd been so long ago.
[end excerpt from Chapter 7]
Wade looked around. He was in an airport, and he had luggage, but he didn't know if he was supposed to be getting on a plane, or if he'd just got off one.
He set down his bags, and started patting his pockets, looking for a ticket or boarding pass.
"Dad!" a familiar voice called out from the crowd, "Dad! Over here!"
He looked up to see Gayle trying to get his attention. He must've just arrived then. He had gone out to visit his daughter's family several times over the years, although they more frequently came to see him.
He picked up his bags, and headed over to where she was waiting for him.
"How was your flight?" she asked.
"It was fine," he answered. He didn't actually remember it, but he was sure it had been okay.
"I'm so glad you decided to come stay with us for a while," she said, taking one of his bags, after giving him a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Me too," Wade said. He was still upset about everything that happened with Tris, but he was trying his best not to let that distract him from what was going on here and now. Even though it felt as if it had just happened, it had really been many years ago, and there was nothing he could do about it now.
Right now, he was here, and his daughter was here, and he wanted to focus all of his attention on that -- at least for as long he could remember what a big deal that was.
"Best birthday present ever," she said, smiling as they walked towards her car.
Birthday? He had only visited her on her birthday once. He felt his breath catch, and he stumbled slightly.
"Dad, are you okay?" she asked, looking concerned.
No, he wasn't okay at all. Wade's mind raced. Maybe it wasn't too late. If he could get her to a hospital; if they could start the tests now, maybe they could save her.
"Dad?" she repeated, worry creeping into her voice.
How could he get her to go to the hospital, without making her think he was crazy? Suddenly he had an idea. "I need you to take me to the hospital," he said. If she thought HE was one who needed to go, she would be less likely to question it.
[end excerpt from Chapter 8]
"Face it, Wade. It's time to take your medicine."
Medicine? Wade blinked. He was back in the rest home, sitting in one of the large common areas. He looked around, but didn't see a nurse or any medicine nearby.
So, his last vision of the past was to be during his time at the rest home? Great. Why did it have to be wasted on the sad, boring end years of his life?
If he was here, then that meant it was some time within the past 5 years, not that it mattered much. Other than his grandsons and Olin's wife and daughter, everyone who had ever meant anything to him was gone by now. He was alone, and back there in his own time, he was dying.
"You can't change it with your mind, buddy." What? Wade looked towards the voice. It was Mason. "You might as well play a card and face the music."
Apparently, he was in the middle of a card game with Mason, Lorinda and Pete. He looked at the cards on the table: the Two and Three of Diamonds and the Queen of Spades. Then he looked at the cards in his hand.
From the order of the cards on the table, he suspected that diamonds had been led, but he couldn't be sure. Since he didn't have any diamonds anyway, he played the 10 of Spades; that was a valid play either way, and a safe one at that.
"You have to follow suit," Mason said sternly.
"No diamonds," Wade said.
"No way!" Mason exclaimed, "You have to have one left."
Wade shook his head.
"Oh, ho!" Lorinda laughed, "I think somebody miscounted."
"Impossible!" Mason insisted, then paused and thought for a moment, "Okay... maybe, but I don't think so."
"Now who gets to take the medicine and pay the piper and all of those other expressions you've been throwing around, eh?" Lorinda laughed again.
Mason frowned and picked up the cards.
Wade had to admit that, truth be told, this wasn't such a bad way to spend his last 'trip' after all. At least he could do things like play cards with his friends again, and they didn't even have to gather around his bed to do it.
He was still too feeble to do most things, but he still felt good enough to do a lot of things that were no longer possible back there. He stopped. Wait a minute; there were actually quite a few things he could do, things he would've done in his own time, if he hadn't been tied down to a bed. He could do them now -- assuming, of course, that he could manage it before his memories escaped him.
"Would you guys mind if we finish this later?" Wade asked.
"Is something wrong?" Lorinda asked.
"I just remember a few things that I've absolutely got to take care of right away," Wade replied, "You don't mind, do you?"
"But I'm winning," Mason protested.
"No you're not," Lorinda pointed out.
"Not at this exact moment, no," Mason admitted, "But I was just about to turn things around."
Wade laughed, and the others joined in.
"Seriously though," Mason said, "Go do what you need to. We'll be here later, if you want to play some more."
"Thanks, guys," Wade said, standing up.
"So, do we play something 3-handed," Mason asked the others, as Wade walked away, "or do we try to get a fourth?"
[end excerpt from Chapter 9]
Okay, so now what?
Wade was dead; he was sure of it. He had felt everything go cold, and he'd heard the steady tone of the heart monitor, as he faded away. So, what was supposed to happen now? Was he headed to some kind of afterlife, or would he just cease to be, like a light switch that had been turned off?
Right now, the only things he was aware of were that it was dark and that he wasn't breathing. He could sort of feel a general sense of 'self' -- he thought he could still feel his arms and legs, but he seemed to be surrounded by nothing in every direction.
There was no noise that he could hear, but he could almost feel a sound of some kind, resonating deep inside him.
Where the hell was he, and what was going on?
Surely this wasn't it. You just die and end up in this inky black void forever, trapped with nothing but your thoughts to keep you company for eternity. Wade suddenly jerked, frightened by the thought.
Well, he could definitely move; he had felt himself move, and he could think, so he must still exist, even if he clearly was no longer alive. You pretty much needed to breath to be alive, and he was not breathing.
[end excerpt from Chapter 10]