I remember being a little girl…standing there upon a stage. The school stage that we all know about when attending a public school with the thick dingy burgundy curtains…maybe blue. Either way this stage is responsible for many moments of strong failures, fateful wins, and beautiful moments of finally putting yourself out there for people to see you…really see you. Everyone was looking at me in that moment…little, scrawny, nappy headed, unimportant…me. There I was in the talent show, ready to sing my ass off because I swore to my friends, my mother, and my father that I could sound exactly like Whitney Houston. Confidence was sometimes far fetched, but hell if I cared, because I was certainly the one that night. I had on this beautiful navy blue dress that was dripping in sequins. I think there were so many that I could have survived any maze or Hansel and Gretel story because there would be a shining trail leading me back the way that I came. I had made it myself and was so proud that I didn’t care about the faces my family wore when they saw me walk out of that room. The giggle that escaped my bratty little sister’s lips couldn’t deter me from my moment, because it was MINE. The only things I mostly remember…over the laughs, the cheering, the stares….was the announcement of the winner…that was not me.
I was devastated and it was MY first moment of knowing what real failure felt like. Up until this point I was not athletic or really for extroverted enough to get into a lot of clubs. This was my first moment of confidence and putting myself out there to see who I really could be…to go against all odds and just take that leap of faith…come what may. I felt like the universe snatched it from me and gifted it to this ugly ass girl that danced some really provocative dance in barely nothing and won over many others more talented than she.
My eyes watered as the oogling eyes of the judges looked on as she cheered with excitement, breasts bouncing up and down in a black leotard with no tights and took home her trophy and fifty dollar prize. I remember repeating that “it wasn’t fair” at least fifty times on the way home. My mother and father sighed while exchanging awkward looks. ” Well maybe next time honey, it will all work out with more practice.”
They are supposed to say that.
“And I know that you think we’re supposed to say that because we’re you’re parents but we really believe in you and that everything happens for a reason, even situations like this.” They continued smiling and staring ahead as our station wagon made it’s way down the street towards our home with more noise than needed. We were always so happy and I admired my parent’s love and relationship. They were so warm towards each other and in this moment of reminiscing on the past, tears began streaming down my face when I thought of what they could be doing now. I couldn’t even check in on them without compromising myself and my life and that was the hardest part of all of this. What if something happens to them? Or one of them dies? Everything was getting out of hand and I was overthinking everything when I really needed to be putting my plan into motion for the next move off of this ship.
I stood at the railing staring out into the ocean in deep thought when I felt a pair of eyes on me. I knew whom they belonged to and slowly breathed out slow streams of air when he walked up on me looking good as hell in another tailored suit. My mind raced to the moments that passed in my cabin earlier the day before and I clenched my legs together in an attempt to calm the feeling he produced down there whenever he appeared.
“I see you had the same idea as me…came to take in some open ocean air?”
He smirked like he knew he had me. Confident and arrogant at the same time while trying to play this game of making it seem like wanted me to come to him, but of course he knew I wasn’t stupid by a long shot.
“Yeah I guess that you can say that…I would have thought being on this ship was growing a little old on you by now.”
I teased him and looked over the balcony without making eye contact with him while he stood closely to my right.
“I have grown to love cruises, actually. Here we are…in the middle of nowhere. Wide open ocean…no land to be seen for miles and miles. Nowhere to run off to when it gets uncomfortable, it’s made for you to hate or love…it’s perfect and I’m on a mission.”
I swallowed nervously but kept my composure as I listened to the smooth bravado of his voice.
He slowly moved around my frame like a vulture while he continued. Stopping right behind me so that his pelvis was against my back as the bottom of my yellow sundress flew around in the night air. No one was in sight, yet he continued to speak in low tones.
He pressed against me and moved closer to my ear, smelling like the sweetest smell of man that I had ever inhaled. My legs practically trembled and I stared out past the horizon of the ocean, watching the bright orange sun slowly dip down out of sight.
“How long do you figure you have? Weeks?…Maybe months….you think you got a year?”
“For what?” I whispered without moving an inch.
“For this running around. It’s interesting to watch your strategy. At times, it would even take me months to track you…such a rush when I finally did.”
His hand moved up…beneath my sun dress, between my thick thighs in light strokes. My breathing sped up and his other hand swiftly came up and forcefully gripped the back of my neck while he slipped a finger past my panties.
“I am the only thing keeping you alive…and you were going to leave without even telling me goodbye?”
My eyes widened.
“What do you mean I was?-“
“I’m not stupid. We both know that neither of us are. So stop fucking playing with me and let’s just make a deal.”
Every muscle I had tightened in his grip and my legs buckled a little when he pushed his pelvis further into me. I could feel the bulge through his pants…slowly grinding and teasing me while the ocean breeze and mist blew across our faces in the evening light, slightly relieving my flushing demeanor.
“How in the hell do you expect me to trust you?? I am on the run right now, I am the most wanted woman on the run right now! And what do you want? You want me to just be “Bonnie and Clyde” with you traveling the entire planet? For you to get what you want out of me then just give me up for the reward later? You are not about the fuck the common sense out of me and bring down everything that I have worked to hide at this point. I am always living on edge while just being another damn assignment for you!”
My voice began to raise and it made him tighten his grip.
“Calm down and lower your voice.”
An elderly white couple strolled by with bright smiles on their faces because his sadistic ass was smiling right back at them and had let go of the grip he held on the back of my neck, transitioning it into looking as if he was playing in my long hair blowing in the wind and romantically holding me from behind.
“You have a lovely night.” He nodded his head towards them until they walked by and out of sight, continuing his pointless debate with me and trying to make me give in to his plan just like any man would that found a woman like me so interesting just because I’d outsmarted his ass a few times.
He continued in low tones.
“So when you planning on running this time? Where you headed?”
“Wow, you’ve never just straight out asked me. I thought I’d leave you a nice little challenge….”
I turned around and faced him now. He leaned in with the expectation I would kiss him as I moved into his space, then moved close to his ear.
“….just the way that you like.” I whispered then kissed the left side of his cheek and in one swift motion I kneed him in his groin, causing him to double over in pain and wince. I brought my entire elbow down on his head, causing his large frame to crumble to the ground. I grabbed a large bag from behind him and life jacket that sat on the deck.
He attempted to gain his composure and limp towards me, but I sat up on the railing of the ship, smiled, and flipped off backwards, landing into the water with a crash.
I could hear him calling after me and looking as if he wanted to jump in too for a minute but realized he had neither the gear nor the time. I floated in the water until the ship was completely out of sight and it was just me and all of the stars in the sky. I breathed slowly in the dramatically cold temperature of the water but remained calm, pushing through.
The bag I grabbed possessed only my essentials. I eyed my watch as I floated on the large duffel bag and just in time breathed out a sigh of relief as a small fishing boat with one bright light on the side approached and lowered a small ladder for me.
I quickly grabbed it and tossed my bag on deck, shivering and breathing through several sighs of relief.
“Got yourself into a bit of trouble, huh?”
I shook the ocean water from my hair and let out a sigh.
“I guess you can say that. Thanks for deciding to meet me.”
“Hey, I honestly can’t stand the guy and I’ve been out of the game a long time. You have nothing to worry about because the person I can’t stand more than Vincent is that stupid ass president that started all of this bullshit in the first place!”
I let out a light chuckle and shook my head. His southern accent was strong and made me a bit nervous, but he seemed harmless so far. He hovered over me with a cigarette in the side of his mouth, blowing out puffs of smoke and looking me over in amazement that I’d escaped.
Apparently Vincent wasn’t that smooth and dropped some type of book that had names in it before he left me flushed and horny inside of my cabin. My mind went back to me taking it from between the covers and eyeing it’s pages in fascination. The names included were some of the most infamous criminals and gangsters around the world and shocking jobs he’d completed for politicians and celebrities that no one would have ever known. I knew I had to get off of that ship some kind of way and what a better way to contact one of his known enemies just for them to have a rush and something over his head. To know that anything slipped through his fingers unknowingly enraged him and I knew what I’d just done was created the ultimate monster.
Hank Greisman was a retired assassin that never stayed home and never sat still, so when I contacted him and let him know what was going on and what was in it for him, he promised it would only take him until the following evening to find a jet and a boat to reach me and help plan the perfect escape. I realized I had found my first ally from a known enemy.
“Well we can’t sit out here for too long. No use in freezing to death.” He tossed me an extremely thick blanket.
“Thanks…I know it’s a little too late to be asking this…but how do I know that I can really trust you?” I clutched the blanket around my body and eyed him suspiciously.
He chuckled. “Well, I can tell you’re certainly new to this young lady, because this is the worst time to be asking something like that. And the fact that Vincent has not killed you tells me all that I need to know as far as reasoning. You’re a pretty little thing, I can tell you’re smart as a whip. Stop asking questions you already know the answer to and that you don’t want to know the answer to. Now pick up that thermos of coffee there, sit down and enjoy the ride.”
Without another word, he moved towards the front of the boat, grabbed the wheel and revved the engine. I slowly took a seat in the back and snuggled into the blanket. We took off into the night, beneath the stars in the amazing feeling of victory. Inside of my head I could see the little girl that thought losing would be her entire life…the one that stood with a look of disappointment in a homemade blue sequined dress she loved so much. She knew at that moment nobody could take the bursting adrenaline coursing through her body. That feeling of winning a battle in order to take over the entire victory.
She sipped the thermos of coffee in calm and peaceful thoughts as she looked out over the ocean…unsure of what direction she could be heading next….
“Hey, hey little lady, rise and shine.”
I squinted as the sun beamed down into my face, reflecting off of the waves of the ocean water. Hank could have easily killed me in my sleep but here I was.
“Would you like a little chow? It’s not much.”
I looked over and saw that he’d caught some fish or either already had them but they smelled pretty damn good to me.
I was starving and dug in like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. I felt drained by the sun and just wanted to lie back down but there was too much adrenaline rushing through my veins now that I was up and now that I had to keep an eye on Hank.
“I’ve done ya a great favor and need you to listen up carefully, you hear me?”
I quickly stared up at him in mid-chew.
What was this about?
“I have another friend that owes me a favor, he’s about to drop in any minute. His name is Taylor and he’s a great guy, pretty harmless and sure does believe in everything that you’re out here doing too.”
I perked up and cracked a confident smile.
“Seriously? That’s…um…thank you.”
I kept chewing then slowly looked up at him again.
“So…since you haven’t asked me…I take it that you’re also a rebel that didn’t get the chip inserted.”
He kept his back to me.
“I guess that you can say that. It isn’t easy being all alone because you’re not a follower isn’t it?”
I smiled and nodded my head in agreement and reminisced.
“Yeah…I can still remember the day he came on the news and announced it. I was in disbelief then and even more now that they’ve actually gone through with it. They own everyone now and they can’t even see it. American’s have become property right beneath each other’s noses…”
“Well, I guess we both had the balls-” He looked at me and cleared his throat. “And the vagina to not become anybody’s damn property.”
He gave me a fist bump and continued to steer after taking a long swig from a silver flask. I eyed my watch and saw that it was about 8 a.m.
Early starter, I see.
Suddenly I could hear a low humming noise that sounded like something chopping through air.
Hank smiled and looked to the sky.
“Taylor’s here.” He stated with a smile.
My eyes widened when I realized that Taylor was hovering over us in a large helicopter and quickly flipped out a ladder over the boat.
“Well little lady, I guess this is where we part ways. I honestly don’t want you to, but should you ever find yourself in a bind with that asshole then give me a holler.”
He handed me a small sheet of paper with a phone number. I looked it over for five seconds, balled it and swallowed it. I left no traces and I didn’t have a dumb ass book with everyone’s phone number inside of it to contact me for anything.
He smirked and gave me a fist bump.
“Be safe little lady.”
He delicately lifted me into the air to reach the ladder and handed me my duffel bag before zooming off the way that he came. I had so many more questions. Did he have a home or does he just live off the ocean all day just below Africa? This was getting more and more strange ever since the murder of my fiance and the capture of my client.
Once pulled up I looked in the face of a tall and handsome Hispanic man that eyed me over in admiration and looked as if he was honored just to be in my presence.
“Ah….here she is. My goodness, you’re so small. Not tough looking at all.”
“Well I’m a doctor so…nothing’s ever been tough about me.” I timidly sat down.
“Well hold on tight. I’ll get you to a place where nobody should ever be able to find you!”
I smiled and settled into the seats as I pulled the headphones on my head.
“That would be great, Taylor.” I shot him a warm smile. “Thank you so much.”
“Ayyyye, it’s no problem. I’m with you. Nobody was about to put shit in my body!”
He laughed as he zoomed off over the ocean and I looked down and out past the horizon. I felt more calm and at peace that I ever had since this all began and before I knew it I’d drifted into another deep sleep…
When we said that we’d come here, I didn’t think that she was really serious, but here we were standing five blocks down the street just to prove something to ourselves. Well, honestly for me to prove myself more than anything.
“Well, are you just going to stand there or are we really doing this?” Shannon chuckled at the hesitant look on my chubby perspiring face and looked as if she was already prepared to joke about me not being as brave as she was.
I took in a deep breath and didn’t say another word to her, boldly stepping forward into the darkness like I was Rambo and fully prepared for whatever came my way.
“You better be quick.” She urged playfully.
The things that we do to impress girls are the worst, but we were here now and there was no turning back. I stared up in awe at the Vincent family mansion, counting at least four floors. The pillars in the front hovered over our figures like they were the guards of this place. Darkness could be seen in the windows and it already felt like eyes were on us. They say no one even makes it to the third floor and that if you get to the second you’re practically insane by then.
My hands were sweating and I could hear my own breathing as I watched the puffs of smoke from the cold curtail from my dark shivering lips.
“You know Greg, this might not be for you. You already look like you’re having a heart attack.” Shannon giggled and continued to poke fun at me.
“I am fine, woman! This is…I can do this. No one’s scared. How can you be scared of a myth?” I shrugged my shoulders. “There’s not even any proof of the things they say about this place.” I didn’t sound very convincing and my voice had even gone up an octave.
Shannon stood there with her arms folded and a smirk on her face. She already knew what the case really was. How I was trying to convince myself that I was perfectly calm and would show her just what I meant.
She outstretched her slender arm, which was cloaked in a knitted fall sweater sewn with the color of bright fall leaves on a windy day. I stared into her beautiful face…it was the color of brand new shiny pennies my grandmother rolled in papers. I would take them apart when I was little and knew I’d be in trouble but I just had to touch one of those pennies and what I thought was the most beautiful color I’d ever seen…now here it was in front of me at the age of sixteen with curls around its face and a caramel apple sucker in its mouth. Close enough to touch and close enough to-
“GREG??!! Are you ok? I thought you were about to lead the way?”
She interrupted my thoughts with a pretty frown on her face. Her full lips in a pout. Eyeing me impatiently like I needed to come back down to earth while I took in the four interestingly placed beauty marks scattered across her skin.
I totally zoned out again.
That happens quite often around her, but I had to be in the moment. She could have been anywhere else…but here she was in the middle of the night…attempting to explore a historically haunted mansion with me. I huffed out my chest, put my right sneaker forward and ventured up the steps to the porch like I was ready for anything.
She scoffed but followed intently on the back of my heels.
Once we made it to the steps, we’d already jumped out of our skin just from the mere feel of spider webs on our faces and small field rats that were scurrying from beneath the leaves gathered around the large wrap around porch in the front of the house.
I took a deep breath and stepped forward towards the large door that seemed to leer at me for having the audacity to place myself in front of it. I shuddered.
“I think they say you have to knock first.” She whispered from behind my solid frame.
Her voice sent tiny tingles down my spine.
“And who the hell is supposed to answer?” I whispered back through gritted teeth. My chest began to tighten and I found myself still shaking my head and lifting my hand to knock three times in a row just to get this over with.
We both waited as if we knew someone was home and listened to the cold silence. The hairs on the back of my neck began to rise and I thought I could feel someone standing near…piercing our presence in the dark. Suddenly, I felt a strong breath down my neck and something squeezed my sides in one quick movement.
“BOO!!” Shannon shouted into my ear and nearly made me crawl back down the steps and into the front yard where we stood just moments ago contemplating this entire stupid thing.
She giggled and pointed at me hunched over on the lawn and attempting to catch my breath from being startled.
“The look…” She could hardly breathe from laughing so hard. “On your face!! OH MY GOD!” She squealed with laughter. Every muscle in her face could be seen from the kick she was getting out of it.
It wasn’t that damn funny.
I won’t lie I was a little pissed she got one over on me that quick.
“Alright, alright, it wasn’t that funny.” I finally stood up and regained my composure, dusting the dead leaves from my solid black N.W.A. hoodie.
I could still peep her little attitude with her arms folded in the dimness of the dark, the moonlight being our only guide. Her teased and curly hair cascaded around her face perfectly.
“Well obviously you were afraid the whole time and wouldn’t admit it anyway, Watson.” She stated with a neck and eye roll now that she’d called my bluff. She only playfully used my last name when she was trying to get a point across or trying to irritate me because she always said it with an English accent like she was Sherlock Holmes.
I shook my head. “Nothing is in there anyway. Your face is the scariest thing out here I guess.” I teased with a smirk.
Knowing damn well her face was PERFECT
Her mouth instantly dropped and she put her hand up, preparing to lay it on me heavy.
“Boy, shut up! I will-”
Just as she was about really get into her whole spill the door behind her froze her words…
The door swung open from the inside…slowly…and loudly creaking open, as if someone finally decided to answer my knocks.
Shannon froze in horror and the copper color in her face that looked like the pretty new pennies I loved so much suddenly turned the pale color of coffee with too much cream.
My mouth hung open in surprise and I saw a dark and extremely large figure silently standing in the doorway. The silence seemed to last for nearly minutes, when in reality it was only less than ten seconds of silence before a gigantic hand grabbed Shannon by her arm and violently tugged. I screamed when I spotted long dirty nails wrapped around her beautiful sweater….clawing at her and forcing her inside of the entrance.
…for five seconds Shannon screamed at the top of her lungs
…another long five seconds of her being dragged inside
Then merely three seconds for her to be forcefully pulled inside…
Five long trails where her nails desperately clung to the old wood of that porch
Chipping the shiny lavender color that adorned each finger…
Leaving their vibrant remains behind
“GREEEEEEEEEEEEEGGGGGG!!! HELP ME!!! HELP ME PLEASE!! GREEEEEEG!!!!
That was what really hit me in the softest part of my gut…
Finally in one tiny second, the door slammed and there was silence.
Just like that she was gone and I still stood there in that yard…stuck in the silence of not even hearing her shrill cries any longer after just seven seconds…only crickets.
She called out to me…and I did nothing about it because I didn’t even know who…or what exactly took her. I was so lost on what to do and whether I should even go inside or run and find help.
Oh shit…oh shit….oh shit…
Go in there after her man!
I’m not trying to die either.
I don’t even have a damn weapon! SMART!
Call the cops!
Before I knew it, my big ass feet made the decision for me and I raced home. I didn’t look back and I didn’t stop until I made it inside and rushed to a telephone.
I frantically told the police what I saw but that I never really got a good look at whomever pulled her inside of the house. So all that I could say that she was…taken. My hands were shaking and my dark skin was clammy as I went over every thought in my head. How we should have never gone in the first place and the worst thought I didn’t want to think….
is she DEAD?
My head was spinning in circles and I didn’t want to call my mother yet in all of the commotion. The only reason I was out in the first place was because I knew her job would have her working throughout the night and I planned to return before she even knew I ventured into something this dumb. And Shannon’s parents were barely ever home, it had been that way since childhood and it was practically like her grandmother raised her. See how that works out? The saying goes for everyone…
DO NOT GO INSIDE THE VINCENT FAMILY MANSION
There were stories…several stories about disappearances that obviously never scared us enough because we still decided to test our bravery. And that’s just the thing, I don’t know what happened.
Monday morning, I climbed out of bed feeling like a brick hit me in the face. I hadn’t slept a wink and out of everything that happened and Shannon still missing, my mother made me get up and prepare to go to school…to face everyone and everything like a man.
I dragged my body down the steps and to the kitchen table. My mother poured her coffee, shoulders tense and a tiredness in her eyes I knew coffee could never take away.
“Don’t look at me like that Greg. Nobody and I mean nobody told you to take ya ass down to that house.” She shook her head and sighed with a blueberry muffin in her hand.
I hung my head so low that I wished I could become a blob and sink into the kitchen floor.
She walked over to me and gently kissed the top of my head.
“That house has always been bad news baby, we can only pray that they find Shannon. The house is very old and she could have fallen through foundation or anything to where they have to search everywhere.”
“I haven’t even seen the police out here…searching for her…or even at the house trying to find her. Do you know…they can’t even get in touch with her parents because they’re in freaking Europe??!! EUROPE!? There’s nothing on the news! I mean what are they really doing??”
I slammed my fist on the table and broke down, finally releasing everything I’d held in the past 48 hours. The remainder of the weekend since Friday night’s tragedy was the longest I ever lived through and my dreams haunted me with the pure terror in her face each time I attempted to close my eyes and rest. I was exhausted and confused.
I felt nothing like a man. I sulked and slowly walked down the street to school, clutching my royal blue backpack. I didn’t go to school, and no matter how many times something in my conscience urged me to go back to that house to get her, just to see whether or not she was still inside, I instantly change my mind and told myself to allow the police to handle it. I wasn’t sure what their plan was at this point and everyone was being so nonchalant about it.
Even my mom…
“she could be stuck inside of the foundation?“
“it’s an old home?“
No!! Nobody understood exactly what I saw. For the rest of my life, the vision of that hand and those dirty fingernails pulling her away from me would never exit the deepest folds of my mind.
“What’ll it be, love?”
I jerked my head towards a middle aged waitress with a name tag that said “Gloria” standing in front of me, I suddenly realized I had zoned out while walking and made the decision to venture into Fred’s Diner, practically everyone in town’s local eatery and “watering hole” where all of the town gossip could be heard. It was a comfortable safe space for me and I had nowhere else to go.
I sat alone in a corner and only the addition of an older man sat on the other side sipping a cup of coffee and writing inside of a notebook in deep concentration.
It was only around 8:30 a.m. and I’d obviously never skipped school to see Fred’s Diner this empty on a Monday morning.
“Uh…I’ll just take a sweet tea actually.”
My sweaty hands wrung together and I kept my eyes on the door.
She gently smiled, placing her pen and notepad into her apron.
“Well I’ll just let that one be on the house sweetie. You look like you’ve had a long day already and it’s barely started. Make yourself comfortable.” She shook her head and made her way to the back.
My leg anxiously shook and I watched local patrons and work trucks pass by the window outside without a care in the world. Happy and at peace, they were going about their lives and daily routine. Honestly, it was beginning to piss me off and I slammed my fists on the table.
You know what? Fuck this!
I immediately jumped up from the table, slinging my backpack over my shoulder.
“That’s it. I’m going in.” I stated to myself and to the house as if it could hear me. “I’m coming for you!”
Gloria quickly stepped from the back with a smile on her face, then eyed me in confusion.
“What about your sweet tea sweetie? Where are you rushing off to?”
She questioned me through lazy chews of gum and watched me walk to the EXIT.
“Thanks, but I changed my mind. I have somewhere I need to be.” I stated it confidently and as soon as I reached for the door my heart stopped in my chest.
Shannon in all of her glory walked right through the door, radiantly smiling, beaming, and alive as if nothing ever happened.
“What-w-…wait…what the hell??” I nearly fell back into the booth like I’d seen a ghost. Scrambling backwards from her presence.
The darkness in my face had drained and I was pale with fear and disbelief to see her standing in front of me with that goofy ass grin.
“Shannon…what? where? Oh my God! I didn’t know…”
I nearly broke into a sob and exhaled the longest breath of relief I ever had. She smiled and stared at me with her head cocked to side.
Her face, skin, everything was here in front of me. She had her hair up, showing her slender neck and glowing with excitement.
“Awww come on Watson, I know it hasn’t been that long since I’ve seen you. Man up! But I’m happy to see you too.”
She teased me and playfully punched me in my arm.
Our gaze locked for several moments.
She reached up and lovingly caressed my face with her right hand. I melted into it’s warmth.
“Oh Greg…I missed you.”
“What the hell…what happened to you?” I had so many questions and she was standing there like she was perfectly fine. Her nails were even intact and had changed to a deep blue. Not really her style but I guess it suited her.
“Shannon?” I stared into her face and made eye contact like I would get it to somehow click in her head if she looked at me long enough.
“Last time that I saw you…was at…you know…the Vincent Mansion. You disappeared and-“
She stopped and stared at me in awe and smiled.
“Oh my God, Greg…you know who I am? You remember now?”
I twisted my face into a sarcastic frown.
“The hell are you talking about Shannon? I’ve known you since we were little. What is going on?”
“Oh wow! Dr. Haynes, come quick!”
The man that had been sitting in the chair writing and drinking his coffee rose from the chair and strolled over to me with interest; removing his glasses and wiping the lenses with a handkerchief from his pocket.
He examined my face and looked into my eyes like I was some type of experiment.
I gently pushed him away.
“Do you mind?” I squared up and backed away.
He stared down at the notebook he’d been writing in.
“Hmmm…something could have triggered his long term memory or engaged some type of cognitive behavior. I mean it’s been years and the brain has many ways of slowly repairing itself. Things we can’t explain.” His voice drifted off and he removed a bright flashlight from the lapel of his jacket, flashing it back and forth in my eyes in front of the diner counter.
“Hello, Gregory. How’s everything going. Do you know who I am? Do you know what day it is?”
My anger was about to boil over. I was confused about the way Shannon was behaving and where she’d come from and now there’s this guy!
“Man it’s Monday! Will you please back out of my space. Shannon who is this?”
I looked back and forth between the both of them. I even looked at Gloria for some answers and she just lowered her head.
They looked at me with saddened expressions like I’d said something that made no sense.
“Someone better start answering me.” I stated through gritted teeth.
“Forget this! I have to go to the cops and tell them you’ve been found Shannon! We’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
I grabbed her arm and led her towards the door and next thing I knew there was a sharp prick in the side of my neck and the entire diner instantly fell away like a mirage.
The tables disappeared and turned white. The diner booths turned into the the hard clinical chairs with uncomfortable cold metal. Everything became white and I discovered I was inside of an entirely white room with limited windows…with bars and now I was wearing white.
Gloria stood near and no longer wore a waitress apron, but a stark white nurse uniform, holding the very needle that was just pushed into my neck.
The other guy in the diner had on a white doctor’s coat and the only one with any color on was Shannon, standing in front of me adorning a blue dress and a saddened expression on her face.
What is going on??
She slowly stepped forward.
“Greg…do you remember anything?”
I shook my head and just wanted to get my thoughts together. Whatever “nurse” Gloria gave me made me feeling light headed and I squeezed my eyes shut trying to seriously remember how the hell I got here.
“I remember…I remember looking for you. They were supposed to look for you but…no one was doing anything about it.”
The doctor stepped forward with interest and spoke up.
“Where were you going to look for her Gregory?”
I don’t really like this guy saying my entire name like that.
“The last place that I saw her. That damn mansion!” I answered irritably.
I turned away from him and fully turned my attention to Shannon.
“The last place that I saw you…was at that house…something…someone had pulled…you-“
“US…into that house.” She cut me off and replaced the word like it was me that actually was pulled into the house.
“Wait-what? No…no…no…it was YOU. You have been missing for two days and I was looking for you.”
Shannon crouched down in front of me. Her face suddenly looked different. Older.
“Greg, you don’t remember anything?”
“I just told you everything that I remember and now ya’ll got me in here like I did something wrong!” I shouted and jumped up from the table.
Shannon rushed in front of me and took my face into her hands. The look in her eyes stopped me dead in my tracks. It was pity and empathy.
“Greg…I’m found. I’m not missing anymore and neither are you.” She stated slowly then continued. “But your mom is gone…that night when you returned home…without me…you stabbed her to death….”
I doubled over in more pain. Tears streamed from my face and I shook my head, whimpering like a baby.”
This is impossible
“You did come back for me…days later…but at first…you just left me.”
Her eyes narrowed and I sensed a little resentment in them, like she was reminiscing about that night. I squeezed my eyes shut when I saw the disappointment flash in her face.
“You didn’t really look for me the way you’re saying until days later. I was never the same after…but obviously…neither were you. We never should have gone in that house.”
She rose to her feet and looked down on me in sadness.
“The house didn’t seem to like what you did very much…I was released, but you…you’ll never be free.”
I stared at her in disbelief.
I never even got a chance to get back to the house, when did I even go back?
“Wait, how could I-“
“Greg, look, it’s not even 1988 anymore, it’s 2020. And you’re not sixteen anymore, you’re 32. I’ve been visiting you this entire time…every week…up here at Pine Meadows Psychiatric Hospital. Today is the first day you’ve been this calm.“
She showed me some thin black box she removed from her pocket with a glowing screen on it that displayed the time and date once she pressed a button on the side.
What the hell is that??
My body shook and my eyes shifted between them all. I backed away into a corner, whatever they gave me in that needle must have done this!
Shannon eased into my face with an expression of stone and we made direct eye contact.
“You better be quick.”
As soon as she said those words, just as quickly as I blinked, I was no longer in the room with them, but right back in that front of that house…in the yard, hoodie and all with Shannon standing in front of me, smirking once again in that same autumn colored sweater…head back in laughter at the fearful expression etched across my face…
My breathing intensified and I slowly backed away, darting from the scene once again only for it to bring me back each time in a never ending cycle of punishment and a merry-go-round of insanity…
I breathed in the cool air as I looked on towards the horizon. Fisherman with tight dark skin and strong muscular arms tossed their nets and pole lines into Yawri Bay and talked back and forth to each other in Krio. Their skin glistened beneath the bright sun and I sat not too far away in dark shades and a black wide brimmed hat, adorning a simple sundress like I was a tourist with no specific purpose or destination. My brown hair lay in soft natural curls that I often twirled through my fingers when thinking. At this moment a lot of things were on my mind. I admired the fisherman and their strong physiques, remembering I had not had sex in more than five years or less. Memories of Will flooded my mind and I could feel every emotion now that I was in a calm location and able to sit down and think about all that had transpired in just the last 48 hours.
I sat up and looked straight ahead when a random Black guy came and sat down on the bench facing the other direction. I could see him through my peripheral and that he was wearing a dark suit, dark shades and had jet black hair cut into a fade. He was out of place in this location and in this weather and I wondered how many buckets of sweat he’d created just walking over here. One thing was for certain, he smelled good as hell!
He cleared his throat and continued to look ahead.
“Should I call you Doctor Hartley or Justice Young? I’m sure it’s changed once again…”
I froze and never said a word, maintaining my composure as I let him continue in his low baritone voice.
“You are quite to hard find when no one is really looking for you…but for a billion dollars…I certainly found you…again.”
“Well that’s because you know me by now…and how much I love water.”
Vince Cray had to be the only guy that could track me down and always came with the bullshit as if I cared that I was wanted and my head was worth a fortune…alive. He didn’t know whether he wanted to turn me in or remain fascinated by my skill and talented ability to stay out of sight and out of range for years at a time, because the crazy part was that for some reason he was the world’s top assassin and he had not killed me yet, nor had he told anyone where I was for the reward.
“It wasn’t that easy this time, you know. You’re getting better at hiding your scent.”
“Is there something in particular that you wanted to talk to me about?” I asked through gritted teeth while still smiling like everything was all good. This is always the worst part about being on the run, never knowing just how long you could be at some type of peace before someone came and crashed the entire foundation down. The one that I ever think is strong enough to completely shut everyone out. There was too much technology, too many cameras, and nerdy ass experts bored enough (some even rich enough) to hunt me down.
Then there was this guy! I can’t even put a label on him and he’s just really an absolute pain in my ass.. I couldn’t just kill him in the open and blow my cover and he never came around to kill me. It’s was as if he honestly just shows up to let me know that he’s watching me and that he had the authority to do whatever he saw fit with the most wanted target on the planet. A big ass cat toying with a mouse someone pumped with steroids. I knew at this point, he adored our little game and it’s what he lived for! So, therefore…how could he ever live without me? So trust I was never afraid, just irritated.
“Aren’t you just going to do it this time?” I glared at him, turning my full attention toward his solid physique. I found myself licking my lips when my gaze moved down the glisten of his strong dark neck. I watched the vessels move in and out, up and down as he breathed slowly and contemplated his response to my statement. His heart rate was heightening sitting near me and I wondered if he knew that he often did the same to me.
“I could have killed you an hour ago.” He stated it with no emotion, continuing to look on toward the water beyond the horizon.
“And yet…HERE I AM!” I practically shouted loud enough for the fisherman to look up and avert their attention our way. This was on purpose and I could see the perplexed look in his face at the risk I’d just taken. Something in me was amused and I could feel the goosebumps on my skin from being so anxious about what he would do about it…
With a shake of his head and a chuckle he tossed an index card and small envelope my way, rose from the bench, and walked away in the opposite direction that he’d come without another word. I waited at least five minutes before picking it up from the bench beside me and unfolding it’s contents. My face twisted into fear and shock as I read the words and eyed the photos that dropped into my lap, but I kept my composure and folded all of the documents before pulling a lighter from my pocket, setting it all on fire, and dropping it into the waste bin nearby, I could barely catch my breath and hyperventilated as I took a brisk walk around the bay before boarding the nearby luxury cruise liner I’d been waiting for the entire time. I stumbled near the docks and clutched my chest in an attempt to steady my breathing and relax before boarding a ship to take a cruise sailing around the coast of Africa for nearly two weeks.
The ship would take many tourist stops in other locations, but the only thing that concerned me was that it would make it’s final stop in Australia. That was my next destination and what was better than being “down under”? I figured that nobody could track me there but I was wrong before I could even know what being even a little right felt like. I boarded the ship with no luggage, no life, a fake I.D. and my dignity. My large shades hid my face, along with the scarf wrapped around my head like I’d stepped out of the 60’s. I awkwardly greeted everyone who came my way with a shy smile and head nod as I finally found my way to a beautiful and spacious suite with a large balcony that overlooked the entire ocean.
I exhaled and thought out my next move to become invisible again, but one thing was certain…Vince was going to always be my problem until I found a way to fix it. I cringed as I thought about the photos of Will that Vince obviously retrieved by making his way into my home after The Survs got to him. It was disturbing how close he’d gotten to Will’s deadened facial expression and limp body. He was tied to the chair the same way I’d left him, except with his head blown wide open.
I suddenly rushed to the bathroom when I felt the chunks of vomit rise in my throat. I’d endured seeing many things at this point, but seeing the man I loved and nearly married mutilated like that was something no one could ever prepare themselves for. I was really planning to spend the rest of my life with him and now he was only a memory and had gotten caught up because of the pain he felt from me suddenly leaving him and attempting to help the wrong people find me.
I wiped my mouth in exhaustion and let my head rest on my arm over the toilet after flushing down my small lunch of mango and melon from earlier. What in the hell was I supposed to do now? It was as if so many pieces of my life were being exposed and eliminated all for this damn chip! I rinsed my mouth and splashed my face with the cool water cupped in my hands from the faucet. I wanted to cry when I looked at myself in the vanity mirror above the sink. I looked drained and like I lived the life of a person on the run from EVERYTHING. There was nothing relaxed about me and every move I made was frantic, frigid, unplanned, and life threatening at this point.
I was becoming sloppy and desperate to just be out of everyone’s way that I didn’t realize I was only putting myself in more harms way.
I needed a long hot bath, food. and sleep just to make it through the next thought in my head. I never even made it to the food I ordered and when I sat on the bed, before I knew it my body slumped over into a deep and unexpected sleep that went on through the whole night and late into the next day.
I outstretched my arms and let out a long yawn before opening my eyes and emerging from beneath the thick white comforter to invite the sun into my cabin and onto my refreshed and freckled caramel face. I felt as if I’d gotten the best sleep ever with my natural messy curls all over my head like a lion. I smiled from ear to ear before turning over and shrieking in fright when I met the face of Vince sitting up in the recliner chair across the room. His hands were clasped and legs were folded like he’d made some observational notes about my sleep process like he was some type of physician.
“How long have you been sitting there??” I asked in astonishment. I brought the white sheets up to my chest and covered my breasts although I was still wearing my bra.
“Long enough to know that your dreams are going to haunt you the rest of your life.” He never cracked a smile or took his gaze from mine and slowly rose from the chair. I scrambled backwards towards the headboard and eyed his every move as he slowly walked over to me.
His tailored gray suit never moved an inch and was ironed so crisply I wanted to inquire about his dry cleaning.
“Get out of my room.” I bravely stated before I knew it. He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind and before I knew what was happening I was grabbed up by my throat in one swift motion and thrown against the headboard like a rag doll. I winced in pain and heard a ringing in my ears, then I realized he was standing over me with my neck still in one large hand…slowly pressing down my airway bit by bit and staring into my eyes so deeply while taking large grunting breaths that I thought my soul might have been stolen by his. Desperation entered my eyes and the room began to fade. I began flailing my arms and legs in an attempt to fight for my life and I realized I had only seconds until unconsciousness. I didn’t come this far to lose my life now…on a damn cruise liner.
“You know, I do believe I am the only thing keeping you from living this little relaxing runaway life you decided to live after becoming a terrorist and a traitor to your own country. You’re wanted everywhere and there were SO MANY times I could have taken your life and gotten it over with, but if I didn’t have you to track down, what else would I do with my life?” He casually shrugged like I was the only thing keeping him from being bored with everything about his life.
I was right.
My chest tightened and I could feel my oxygen being cut off as I thrashed and scratched at his arms, drawing small streaks of blood. He never moved a muscle. He suddenly let go of my neck in one motion and pushed me back on the bed. I rolled over and violently coughed, sucking in air and desperately gaining my composure while he watched me in a strange way. I scrambled away from him until I was backed against the headboard holding my neck with both hands and fear in my eyes for the first time in a long time.
I saw concern for a brief moment before his face turned to stone again. Emotionless. Numb.
“Look I’m sorry. I just wanted you to know…”
My eyes widened at his sudden empathy and my face grew heated with anger. I felt as if my cheeks were crimson red and certainly knew my neck was.
“What the fuck?! You wanted me to know what? You’re a fucking psycho?” I practically screamed at the top of my lungs now that I could breathe and speak normally again.
“First of all…lower your voice. Second…you’re the only assignment I’ve never killed.”
I looked up at him in confusion and shook my head.
He stood at the end of the bed now, pacing back and forth.
“You’re crazy and you just almost did kill me and since you didn’t…you need to leave.” I stated sternly in a low tone while pointing at the door.
“You’re a doctor, you know good and well the point you were about to lose consciousness and die. Low and behold…you’re still here.”
He straightened his suit jacket and grunted in sarcasm but he slowly made his way to the door before suddenly stopping.
He turned around in deep thought and walked to the bed like he had something else to say but never let a word escape his lips.
I looked at him as he slowly removed his jacket and eased up on me until he was only inches away from my face. He smells so damn good. He took in my hair and the features on my face like he was observing every detail…taking mental photos of each freckle, mole, and blemish. My breathing grew hollow and more noticeable as my breasts rose up and down in a rhythmic motion that made him roughly grab one with his right hand then touch on my pussy with the other.
I didn’t fight back or tell him to go, my body grew weak and excited at the same time and a deep moan escaped my lips immediately. I came in less than two minutes when he brought his hand to my neck again, this time only gently squeezing the sides…making my blood flow. He began caressing my clitoris in circles to the ultimate climax when he stared into my eyes and demanded me to come on his fingers and “let it all out”. I was getting so turned on I was ready! I gyrated on his hand and grabbed for his hard dick, which look promisingly thick and long through his pants; but as soon as I did, he strangely stopped everything out of nowhere, grabbed his jacket and rose from the bed.
I still sat back gasping and getting the sheets wet, leaking and wondering where the hell he was going. His dark eyes lowered when he looked at me and flicked the largest tongue I’d ever seen across my juices that were dripping from his fingers before walking out.
I nearly came again in that moment as I rushed to the bathroom to take a long shower.
What the hell was that??
I was at a loss for words as I touched on my body and thought of his tongue wrapping around his large fingers. That devious and dark “fuck me look” he gave me made it no better.
This was new. This sexual game we started was unexpected and I was questioning the entire situation now. He could have planned it all along to throw me off and turn me in once he fucked me into exhaustion. I shook my head in the shower, scolding myself for being so dumb and naïve.
“Get it together woman! We have a mission to complete.”
I then began trying to tame the tingles down my spine with my fingers…masturbating until I fell back to sleep with thoughts of what transpired in my mind.
You know that feeling? That deep and nagging emotion that never holds a truly particular name, but you just can’t shake it. The majority of America is nearly one month into being urged to stay inside of their homes due to COVID-19, a worldwide sickness…a pandemic that seemed to drop from the sky and turn everyone’s lives, plans, and dreams inside out. A blanket of fear has covered and changed what was once a bustling and extremely busy population into a now slow moving, mask wearing, toilet paper hoarding mass of turtles. I’m not here to contribute any facts or rants because I’m one of the Americans that are quite numb and confused as to what is going on. The few occurrences that I decided to venture out were disturbing and too irritable for comfort. There are only a handful of people allowed in grocery stores, store clerks are acting in the likeness of tyrannous nurses yelling at everyone to stand six feet away from each other in line, which is usually marked by the various colored tape they’ve placed everywhere for measure.
As if things weren’t already complicated and impersonal, it now feels as if things are leaning toward the once outlandish predictions of science fiction movies. Schools are planning to continue education from the comfort of online classrooms at home, court dates, important city and county locations, the DMV, tag renewals and overall socializing are planning to be done electronically only or at least until May 31st. I am an intelligent individual, but when something this serious takes over in a short amount of time, I’m always in the shadows for about a week or so before I speak on it or blog it. I feel it’s better to let the facts manifest than ever to state an opinion based on Tweets, Wikipedia solid facts, or other people’s frustrations. So here are a few things I’m just constantly questioning and that I have personally observed (based on fact) since the pandemic has spread.
1. Toilet paper hoarding??
“On the one hand, [the response is] understandable, but on the other hand it’s excessive,” Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia, told CNN. “We can prepare without panicking.”
What I have been the most confused by since the pandemic began is the toilet paper hoarding. Americans have been doing an extreme overkill on buying nothing other than…toilet paper. I’ve been trying to figure out if COVID-19 entails the symptoms of chronic diarrhea. Maybe it’s to mummify themselves in protection from mucus and germs, but either way…it’s irritating. Those with an I.Q. higher than 20 should know that running out of toilet paper will never be the end of the world once it becomes logical you have actual soap and water inside of your home. If every single roll of toilet paper ceased to exist on Earth I feel as if there would be this disappointing mass of people screaming because they have no idea what to do if they decide to defecate. While the rest are taking showers and wondering what everyone’s so upset about. In reality, they are creating issues for those of us who know this fact and would just like to purchase a pack or two of toilet paper like logical citizens…only to find the shelves completely empty thanks to those with two carts full of toilet paper all because they went into an epic panic.
It’s not only pointless, but its displaying the selfishness of those whom possibly never took the time to use that much toilet paper in the first place. I saw other people standing around in search of just a couple of packs of toilet paper due to empty shelves and an individual with a cart full of it wouldn’t even spare one with an expression of “tough luck” written all over their face. Nothing of importance is being bought in bulk and missing from the shelves, benefits such as medications (i.e. cold remedies, preventatives, and first aid kits), safety supplies like radios, light bulbs, laundry detergent, maybe even Pedialyte…but TOILET PAPER?? I wish the best of luck and health to those with houses full of toilet paper, and cabinets void of any antibacterial Dial soap. May God have mercy on their souls.
“It’s all due to this wave of anticipatory anxiety,” Taylor said. “People become anxious ahead of the actual infection. They haven’t thought about the bigger picture, like what are the consequences of stockpiling toilet paper.”
-Steven Taylor. Author of “The Psychology of Pandemics”
2. Nobody Knows What Really Caused It
I’ve heard guesses on the cause of COVID-19, from the government creating it in order to effectively depopulate Asia to it already being in existence and being enhanced to cause panic and distract from the election. There has even the suggestion of a monkey in some foreign country causing the virus, then somehow it spread from person-to-person by travel. First it was said animals could not contract the virus, now a lion at a New York Zoo has the virus, thanks to his handler, and it’s now discovered that pets have the possibility of passing it around. There are new updates everyday and no matter how calm they appear, I honestly believe no one FACTUALLY knows anything.
Fingers are being pointed in several places and conspiracy theories are at an all time high. Upon visiting a package store to grab some “spirits” for my spirits, an old man slides up to the register with a concerned head shake in an attempt to start a conversation and says, “You just look smart and like you have something to say about all of this going on!” Face full of confusion I answer with, “What do you mean?” With another shake of his head and a serious expression he says, “Can you tell me what’s going on around here with all this coronavirus stuff.” I chuckled and paid for my stuff saying, “I tell you what, when you figure it out, please come and let me know.” He laughs but then proceeds to go into the real bulk and point of this conversation. “I’ll tell you what’s going on and what they’re doing!” He says now with confidence. “The government is going to change the currency and it’ll no longer be the American dollar! That’s where the 2 trillion dollars they just pulled out of their ass came from! Money is going to be all digital!” I looked at him with a smirk before walking away. I mean, who’s to say his point isn’t valid? Or anyone’s for that matter? Can we truthfully tell each other what’s going on? No. Think of what you already know right now besides numbers of cases and death tolls? Facts are missing and holes are being formed in the facts.
Right now, we are on strict orders to venture out for only essentials. Like toilet paper (ha ha), prescriptions and household items. I am a resident of Alabama, which happened to be the very last state to confirm any cases out of the entire country. We are now at 2,241 confirmed cases and 65 deaths. I’m not sure about the cause of it here, but it’s most being blamed on travel and person to person contact. I never believe the exact cause of the pandemic will be discovered, but upon looking at any cleaning product with the ability to kill 99.9% of germs, the coronavirus can be found on the list of illnesses on the back. This makes me ask even more questions, which then just gives me a headache! What are some of your opinions on the cause and the cure?
3. Most People Can’t Stand Themselves
What do you love about yourself? I’ve discovered through social media and social distancing that a lot people CAN NOT stand to be around themselves for too long. People are on literal pins and needles just waiting to get back to the bars, with friends, and outside of their loneliness so they can feel something, literally anything besides silence and the rhythmic boredom of their own breathing. There wasn’t very much thought put into what would happen for some people if they could no longer interact with the world; and the reality is life altering for most. We can no longer slither onto a bar stool with the freedom of ordering a cold and delicious draft beer (sigh). Through this beautiful and blissful spring weather, we are void of music festivals, public alcohol tastings, barbecues, and even simple park time for children. All that is social and gave us comfort and routine has been snatched from beneath us too quickly.
Every blog and news segment offers new suggestions to beat the complacency of quarantine; ironically board games, scavenger hunts, and cleaning up are a few they’ve thrown out. I believe the affirmation of most individuals loving themselves becomes transparent when it needs to be proven. We aren’t confined in boxes, cells, or underground prisons…just the absolute and safe comfort of our own homes, with our things, yet it’s so apparent that rules create anxiety and people would rather be out in the world with friends where the danger is than to seethe alone. I understand there are both introverts and extroverts, I’m hoping this time helps extroverts slow down and appreciate the essence of hanging with themselves. The beauty in being confined is being left alone with the person who matters most…YOU. Being confined and becoming more personal with family and significant others wouldn’t hurt either. I have the believe in slowing down to really look at yourself, and analyzing your flaws, as well as your positives.
4. Little Proof Raises Reasonable Doubt
Nobody wants to be sad about something as serious as this. I’ve been praying daily for my loved ones to remain in perfect health and dodge the entire pandemic. As if things aren’t bad enough, I’d never like to possess the addition of grieving because someone didn’t happen to wash their hands and catch it. Honestly, I know not one soul who’s been diagnosed, nor does anyone that I know speak of anyone. So, forgive me if it’s there’s a little doubt about everything being as serious as they make it. As with all humans, when something isn’t presented directly and there’s no legit proof, then we start to question things. Then, come the conspiracies theories, government bashing, and assumptions of them trying to destroy the entire human raise for their own selfish gain. I’m not stuck on one well known reasoning and factor of everything going on, but I’ve never been one to fall for anything either. I’d rather do my own research or see how everything unfolds; plus, I’m just really ready for everything to be over and life to resume it’s normal rhythm. The terrible part in all of this is that NOTHING will ever be the same and it will take quite a while for everything to seem normalized. I’d just like to know that there is something in living color that I can feel panicked about, but at this point I don’t see anything but panic and preparation for the worst on a television screen that doesn’t seem to be taking place around me or my family…and I’m thankful for it.
5. The Process of Emerging
At this point, the pandemic has taken more lives in New York than 9/11 ever did. Deaths are climbing each day and the lock down is predicted to continue until the end of April, but could be extended if the numbers do not change. I’m curious to see how everything will fall back into place once everything is over. How will jobs and shifts be continued? How will small businesses be able to get back up and proceed with all of the goals they had for their business to thrive this year? What will be done about the 6 million Americans that were forced to apply for unemployment? It’s all a huge whirlwind in my head and I’m anxious about the process, because not only was I hired into a new position; but also am in process of moving to a new home. Everything happens for a reason and maybe the Earth needed to pause for a moment and appreciate its existence, but I pray that everything falls into place. Our sad excuse for a president makes everything appear as if it’s a circus act so terrible it makes you cringe everyday. We need all of the help that we can get and need to support each other now more than ever.
I wish everyone nothing but the best and that your days are productive and positive enough to carry you through the rest of this very eccentric and unexpected year!