by Dale L. Sproule
She grabbed Daniel’s fingers as he unfastened her jeans. His hands were cool, almost cold. Even though he was little more than a shadow, she could see his eyes glinting in the starlight. Moonlight. More. A glare of headlights swept into the bedroom from the street, catching Daniel in their photographic flash. Something about his visage looked wrong.
Celine said, “We should talk first.”
His arm turned to stone, refusing to be moved. “Why’re you starting that
Celine shrugged and began rebuttoning her blouse. “Did you know that Alan Winston was one of them?”
“Don’t start again,” he said.
“You remember Alan Winston, don’t you?”
“No. I don’t remember Alan-fucking-Winston!” When she didn’t respond, he continued. “This is a crock. Sometimes I wonder what you’d really do if I failed one of these tests.”
“I mean what you’d REALLY do! Know what I think? You wouldn’t kill me,
Celine, because you wouldn’t trust your own judgement. You’d tell yourself you were being paranoid. You wouldn’t kill me.”
He undid the buttons she had just fastened.
She didn’t stop him. Even if the stories were true about the Morphs
absorbing the short term memories of the bodies they’d sucked the life from, the sorts of things Daniel knew about her were more than superficial. Weren’t they?
How could he fake something like that?
He’d known about her paranoia. But then, who wasn’t paranoid these days? Daniel’s bluster and bravado didn’t conceal his fear, they magnified it. If he was a morph, why would he be afraid?
He unfastened her brassiere, cradling her heavy breasts in his hands, rolling her nipples between his fingers. Closing her eyes, Celine tried to not to wince at the sensation of Daniel’s hot breath and tongue gliding like a wet eraser down her neck and between her breasts. His fingers didn’t feel so cold anymore, as they slid up her back, gripping the base of her skull and holding her like that as he kissed her. His
other hand moved down, over her buttocks, his big hand squeezing the flesh of her ass, pulling her firmly to him.
She felt his erection through his jeans and squirmed away with a surge of terror.
“I may not kill you,” she babbled. “But I won’t be with you any more. Not until you tell me about Alan Winston.”
“We worked with him,” Daniel replied sullenly.
“Which department did he work in?”
Celine could see his anger quite clearly, because the headlights had lit up the room again.
Only morphs drove cars anymore. She squinted at the window. “What are
they up to?”
“I called them, when you started freaking out. We’re never gonna catch this woman by surprise, I told them. Might as well take her now. “
A joke. Celine cringed at her uncertainty. Truth was impossible to recognize anymore. Celine wasn’t sure it had ever existed.
He spoke again. “We should make the most of the short lives we have left.” A familiar Daniel sort of sentiment. “If you send me away, you’ll never make love to another man. You’d never be sure. You’ll be afraid of living.”
The air in the room felt thick and hot.
He was right.
Celine walked to the window, peering out into the empty street. After
ensuring that the car didn’t stop in the neighbourhood, she looked back into the darkness where Daniel stood. “You think I can’t live without you? I’ve lived alone for half my adult life, Daniel. I’ll survive.”
He didn’t speak for a long time. Celine began to wonder if he’d left the room.
“Yeah?” was all he finally said.
Celine immediately said, “We were talking about Alan Winston.”
“I’m not playing tonight, Celine,” Daniel said, walking up to her.
“Suits me fine. Neither am I.”
She turned and walked down the stairs to the living room, where she sat down in the candlelight and stared blankly at the smouldering ashes in the fireplace.
The room was filled with things which were becoming more and more important as each day passed. Things made by human hands, which would soon be little more than artifacts. The raku vase her mother had bought her as a housewarming present, the once-valuable blue depression glass water pitcher she’d found at a garage sale, the painting on the wall – a vibrant cityscape, filled with people and cars and busses. She could read the names of the streets, the headlines on the newspapers and the signs. The busses had destinations.
Celine began to cry again. She derived little solace from the thought that if Daniel really had been replaced by a morph, this crying fit would probably drive him away. Negative emotions at the time of ‘conception’ spoiled the pre-natal environment – or so the stories said. But what did anybody really know? Who had actually been on a breeder ship and returned to tell about it? Who had ever seen a morph hatch, flesh of human parents bursting like balloons of blood and bone?
But there were many, many stories. A whole morph lore.
The shapeshifting invaders could take on all sorts of interesting disguises, like the angels they’d first appeared as, announcing that Judgement Day had come.
Millions of people, from radical sects of dozens of different religions followed them to hundreds of different heavens. The converts filled the alien birthing pods… .
Then Daniel was there, sitting on the couch beside her. In this light, he no longer looked as strange as he had upstairs. Not strange at all in fact. He was wearing that boyish look of contrition she’d always found irresistible.
On the one hand, it made her even more determined not to give in.
But then again, it made him seem more like Daniel.
“I need you,” he said earnestly. “You’re all I have.”
When she didn’t respond, he continued. “I thought you felt the same…”
“We don’t love each other,” Celine said. She stared at the tall dark-haired man beside her and really wondered for the first time whether this was actually the man she’d been sleeping with for eight months. Surely they didn’t make duplicate people THIS perfectly? “We only stay together because we’re afraid to find someone else. It’s too dangerous. But it might be worth the gamble.”
“I do love you,” he said, as he put an arm over her shoulder and tried pulling her toward him.
But she pulled away, standing up and staring him in the eye and practically hissing, “then stay and answer my questions.”
“Okay. Alan Whateverhisnameis. Tell me more about him. Maybe, I’ll remember.”
“You really don’t remember, do you?”
“I know the name, I just can’t put a face to it. Gimme a kickstart. It’ll come to me.”
Celine shook her head, but complied just the same. “Medium height. Sort of stocky. I think he was into weightlifting or something.”
“Wait, wait, wait. He was…an analyst from Systems Support.”
“No, that was Ernie Williams.”
“Ernie, Alan, what’s the difference?”
“Alan was the expenditure coordinator from Investment Administration. He and Gary from Payroll were known as the two musketeers cause they couldn’t keep their swords in their scabbards. What was it Gary always used to tease you about?”
“It was so long ago, Celine.”
“Come on! You know the answer to this one.”
He grinned again. “It was about you.”
“That’s better. Why did you ever open your mouth to him in the first place?”
“He might have said something to your wife. What would you have done then?”
He shrugged again.
“Never thought about it.”
She backed away from him. “I want you to leave right now.”
Daniel grinned. “Come on. I’m only teasing. I wasn’t married. I figured that if you could make up a cast of characters to test my memory, I could play the same game. To show you how stupid this whole thing is, how willing you are to believe everything you hear from everywhere.”
Celine rolled her eyes. If this was a morph, it argued exactly the same way Daniel did.
He’d once seemed so gallant and romantic, but now Celine wondered what she had ever seen in him, how she had come to believe that she loved him.
During the years she’d worked with him at the Department of Finance office, Celine’s imagination had claimed and redefined him. And for most of the next eight months she’d visited his apartment once or even twice a week. Her husband had left her after finding out, but Daniel had declined her invitation to move in with her.
Only in bed did their chemistry still seem perfect. Only there did she still need him. Even now, despite her fear and revulsion, Celine still found herself having to fight the urge to give herself to him. He was talking, but she had been tuning him out. “…for so long, it’s getting hard tell the difference between fantasy and reality anymore. You know that?”
She shook her head. “I don’t buy your explanation, Daniel. You should know those people I was just talking about. You worked with them for almost as long as I did.”
Daniel nodded, then went to the closet and got out his jacket.
“What are you doing?” Celine asked.
She stared at him as he fastened the snaps. Christ. She never thought it would really happen, or what she’d do about it. It was only the long term memories which were rumoured to be notoriously incomplete.
“Look. We don’t have to leave just because we’re not going to make love. If you really need me, love me, why can’t we just sit and talk?”
“Because you’ll just be playing memory games the whole time. Trying to trick me into slipping up. You know what I just thought of?” Daniel mumbled.
“What if they’ve found some way to erase chunks of our memories? All of us? If we’ve both forgotten all sorts of things, then if even one of us has been affected, we’d be all screwed up. We’d be sure to have the kind of disagreement we’ve just been having.”
Suddenly realising she’d been nodding, Celine looked up, as disgusted with herself as she was with him. “Why would they do that? Look. I may be gullible, but you’re pushing the bullshit meter a little high even for me. Maybe you should leave. We can talk about this tomorrow.”
“They’d do it to make us afraid of each other. Maybe they even started the story about morphs having incomplete memories,” Daniel said. “If we’re afraid of each other, we’ll be less likely to mount an effective resistance.”
“You can’t bafflegab me anymore. If you won’t humour me by answering a few questions, then you don’t love me enough. Period. This isn’t going to work, Daniel.”
He turned and left without further protest.
Maybe it really was Daniel, she thought, as she watched the door close behind him.
He expected her believe this stupid memory-wipe theory he’d hatched out of the blue?
She would have laughed, if it wasn’t so tragic. For six months, Daniel had been the only male on the planet whom she had dared to trust. And now, he was being taken away from her.
By her own paranoia? Daniel’s well-aimed wisecrack had shaken her. As he knew it would. He was armed with a quiet brutality and even if he was really human, Celine knew she was better rid of him.
She had trouble sleeping that night and while she lay there staring into the darkness, she started to see the logic of Daniel’s assertion. Maybe the stories about the aliens really were propagated by the aliens themselves? That would certainly answer her questions about how any humans had lived to tell the tales. She
wondered if there was any way to test the large-scale memory loss idea.
Encyclopedias! That was it. After Google took over the knowledge brokering industry, Celine’s Mom had found an entire set of the old tomes for ten dollars. Not wanting to tell her mom she’d been ripped off, Celine had accepted them. Historical artifacts themselves, they had anchored her bookcase in the living room for the past ten years. She’d check it to see if she could find historical facts she had forgotten.
Pulling on a housecoat to hide her nakedness, despite the fact that she was alone in the house, Celine descended the staircase slowly in the dim candle light, once in the living room, she walked straight to the bookcase, grabbed an encyclopedia at random and opened it.
A bit more than an hour later, there was a knock on the front door. “It’s me.” was all he said.
He grinned when she opened the door for him. “So you couldn’t sleep either, eh? Look, Celine. I think we’ve got to work this out.”
She nodded. “I think so too. In fact, that’s what I was doing now.” She displayed the volume in her hand. “The letter ‘S’.
“In case they really ARE tampering with all our memories.” Walking back into the living room, she left Daniel standing at the door as she sat down on the couch, peering at the book in the dim, flickering light. “I want to see if there’s anything I’ve forgotten. Anything important. Anything I should remember.”
She opened the big book to the middle. “South Dakota.”
Daniel grinned. “I think you should look for something a little more obscure.”
Running his hand through his hair like a cowboy, he sauntered into the room and sat down beside her. “An event or something. How about that?”
He sat down beside her and pointed. “How about this? Stone Mountain.”
“Oh, come on.”
“No, really. Tell me about Stone Mountain. I don’t…”
“C’mon, Daniel, quit shitting me. Nobody’s ever heard of Stone Mountain.”
Daniel’s eyes opened wide. “You’re serious?”
“Cut it out,” Celine squeaked.
“Look here,” he said, pointing to the encyclopedia entry. “One of the largest granite masses in the world. The Confederate Memorial is carved into the eastern slope, for crying out loud. The figures of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson carved into the mountain. You at least remember Mount Rushmore, don’t you?”
Celine nodded mutely. She could not for the life of her remember ever hearing of Stone Mountain. Being a Canadian, maybe it was simply a point of ignorance on her part. Or maybe she really had lost chunks of memory.
She continued through the pages. “I know about almost everything else in here.”
“Oh, yeah, Mrs. Einstein. Then who’s Snorri Sturluson?”
“A famous medieval Norwegian writer. Ha!”
Daniel nodded, obviously amazed that Celine had known the answer to such an obscure bit of history.
“You weren’t expecting that were you? I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had a chance to use anything I learned in that Mythology course I took in university.”
He shook his head and kissed her on the nose. “You’re a marvel. Now let’s continue with the exercise. What’s the capital of Paraguay?”
She punched him in the arm.
“Give me the book. Now it’s my turn.”
Reluctantly, he handed it to her. After a moment, she said, “Tell me about the Suez Canal. Where is it?”
“It’s in…Arabia or somewhere in the middle east. It connects the Mediterranean with…some other big body of water. The Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, something like that.”
Nodding Celine turned some more pages. “How ’bout the Spanish Inquisition.”
“And how about those Blue Jays.”
“Come on. I’m serious. Who was Torquemada?”
He shook his head. “The designated hitter? I dunno. That’s a bit too obscure.”
“Then tell me something else about the Inquisition.”
“It was in Spain…”
“Good start. What else?”
“Something to do with religion, Christians being persecuted or something?”
“Come on, Daniel. It was the Christians who were doing the persecuting.”
“Maybe that’s why they never talked about it much in school.”
“Hmmmm…” she conceded. Somehow his ignorance was more convincing than his knowledge would have been.
“Besides, history was never my forte. I preferred Sex Education.”
This time, Celine laughed as he kissed her neck. “I’ll bet you did.”
“That’s the thing about memory,” said Daniel. “You can never be sure about something you’ve forgotten.” He kissed her lips. She kissed back, wondering in the back of her mind whether she’d just been conned.
She remembered how lonely she’d felt when Daniel had gone away – the shock and discomfort of the realization that she’d never find anyone else she could be sure about again in her whole life.
When she kissed him back, the book slid off of her lap, landing with a soft thud on the carpet.
She let him untie the belt on her housecoat and run his hands over her breasts.
He was right, the only way she’d ever know for sure would be to take the chance.
“I love you,” he said, as his hand slid down between her legs. She clung to Daniel,to the idea that he really was who he said he was and he really did love her.
She nuzzled her face into Daniel’s neck.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I love you too.”
They undressed right there on t he couch.
As he entered her, his eyes gleamed in the candlelight and despite her determination to believe him, she couldn’t prevent herself staring into those eyes, mining for secrets.
Short story originally appeared in Tesseracts 5 (1996), reprinted in Psychedelia Gothique (2014)