I tend to avoid paranormal stories, for the reasons I discuss in the third installment of my literary memoir. I got the idea for this one while I was coping with the side effects of chemotherapy and decided to give it a try. I thought of it as a pulpy noire crime story.
A STRANGER FROM A FOREIGN SHIP
The people in this city had developed a taste for formality in their after-hours garb. Most of the men were wearing black coats. The women had opted for more color but black coats had won the vote in their bloc, too. The women added the color with accents like scarves and hatbands. Nobody gave Gerdon a second glance as he slipped through the crowds hurrying between dinner and curtain time. He didn’t try to keep up with fashion in the places he visited. He had learned he could fade into the crowd if he merely looked like what he was—a stranger from a foreign ship.
The target was a slender young woman, six feet in low heels, brisk walk, light coat, long face that matched her build. Gerdon picked her up, as planned, a block and a half from the concert hall, twenty minutes before show time. She lived in an apartment building five blocks from the pickup point. She subscribed to a six-concert Thursday night series. This was one of her Thursdays.
The client had given him some very precise details. He had wondered, in fact, why the client had needed him.
He had only been hanging around the corner for three or four minutes when he saw her crossing the street with the other people who had been waiting for the light. He had been standing near the bus stop, looking down the street as if he was watching for the bus. He fell in behind her, a middle aged couple between them, and rested his shoulder against a patch of wall just before he made the swap.
The disorientation always hit him harder when the target was a woman. The body felt off balance. Strange hormones played with your emotions.
He couldn’t have taken this job when he first started. They wanted her bank account and credit card numbers. Most people didn’t memorize information like that. He had to search for visualizations—for the last time she had looked at a card or a statement and her brain had laid down a memory.
It took him longer than he liked. Behind him, through her ears, he could hear people stirring. The man leaning against the wall was attracting attention. The woman locked inside the man’s head was reacting to the jolt of the shift—to the shock of suddenly finding herself riding in another body, staring out of someone else’s eyes.
Most of them never understood what had happened. How could they? You were walking down the street or sitting in a theater and blam, flick, you found yourself connected to strange muscles and strange glands, inches taller or shorter, looking at the world from a different place. You might even glimpse your own body, seen from the outside.
He had never been a target himself but he could remember all the times it had happened spontaneously when he had been young, before he had learned to control it. Most of his targets probably assumed it was an odd glitch in their brains—a hallucination created by a deficit in blood sugar or understandable fatigue from all those extra hours they were virtuously logging at work.
You couldn’t search through a brain the way you searched a computer, with key words and logical connections. The links were foggier and less rational. Odors. Emotions. Childhood associations. Arline Morse had an exceptionally well organized brain but the images he needed forked from a trail that started with the label on the wallet tucked in the suit she was wearing under her coat.
He severed contact and discovered his body had started sliding down the wall while she had been inside it. He waved off the people around him and straightened up. He ran his hand over his face. He threw out reassuring gestures.
Arly Morse’s body had slipped to her knees while he was playing with her brain. Two men were offering her their hands. He turned around, eyes fixed on the sidewalk, and drove toward the corner while she was still reorienting.
She liked to be called Arly. The name permeated most of her memories. He had knocked a few seconds off the search when he had realized her account numbers would be linked to memories associated with Arline.
Copyright 2013 by Tom Purdom. All rights reserved. This document may be printed out and archived for personal use. All other use is strictly prohibited.
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