Who. Are. You.
“Go ahead, open it.”
I pulled the thick rubber band off the envelope and shook its contents onto the bed. A rainbow of passports and several thin stacks of currency spilled out, the crisp bills neatly bound with the same black bands that sealed the envelope.
The man smoked his cigarette by the window, his eyes burning into my flesh like the ember on his cigarette. He studied me with the same type of curiosity that I was studying the items on the bed with. “Do you recognize any of this, Frank?”
The stacks were small, but loaded with bills in very high denominations. I wasn’t even sure what country some of them belonged to.
“Is this real money?”
“Some of it, anyway. It’s all real enough for our purposes.”
A sharp bolt of panic struck me in the gut; it made me want to get up and run, to leave this man and his envelope and his cigarettes far behind me. But I was exhausted, and the pulsing in my head demanded I remain seated for a few moments longer.
“No, I have no idea what any of this is, but I really do think I need to be on my way.” He came across the room and brought his face to within inches from mine. I could smell the smoke coming off of him, threatening to engulf him. “I need you to think, Frank-“
“Please, stop calling me that.”
He stood up. “Okay, then. You don’t want me to call you Frank. What do you want me to call you, then? You’re so adamant that isn’t who you are… perhaps it’s time for you to introduce yourself, then. Go on. Who are you?”
The pain in my head had made such a simple solution escape me entirely. Just tell him who I really am and put all of this to rest. “Michael. My name is Michael Kirkland.”
From the look of confusion on his face, this obviously wasn’t what he was expecting to hear. “Kirkland? Michael Kirkland. That’s your name?”
I nodded. “Yes sir.”
He walked back to the window, his hand on his neck, wringing it as if his thoughts were stuck under his skin. ‘That can’t be. That doesn’t make any sense, none at all.”
A sense of relief washed over me. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, friend. I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”
He stood by the window for a bit before walking back to the bed. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I slowly began to rise to my feet as he leaned over the bed and began collecting up the passports from the bed. I reached out to him to shake his hand and bid him farewell; he quickly selected a blue passport from the stack in his hand and thrust it into my open palm. “Take a look at this one. Please.”
I stared at him for a moment before opening the cover. The man looking up from the page was unmistakably me. Surname, KIRKLAND; Given names, MICHAEL PHILIP; Place of Birth, New York, NY, USA. My hair was cut extremely short, virtually bald in comparison to the head full of hair I was sporting at the moment… but it was me, without question. I was more confused than ever. I don’t actually recall sitting back down on the bed, but there I was.
“Where did you get this? I – I don’t understand. Where did this picture come from? I’ve never had my hair this short…”
The man sat down beside me and rested his hand on my shoulder, an unsettling look of kindness on his face. “Those are good questions, and I promise you’ll have answers soon. But we need to get back to my question: Why am I here?” He reached behind us and collected the other six or seven passports on the bed before handing them to me. “I need you to look through those and tell me what you think.”
I flipped through them as he instructed. The men in the photos were all me; my hair, names, birthdates, and citizenships were different in each. SCHNEIDER, DOUGLAS – Country of Birth, Switzerland; AMSEL, ERIK – Place of Birth, Berlin, Germany; GILLIAM, JONATHAN – Place of Birth, London, England; ROBINSON, ADAM – Nationality, Australian… on and on it went. Aside from the fact that I had no idea where these came from or why they existed at all, I could see there was something missing.
“I don’t understand,” I said, “none of these belong to a Frank.” I tried to stand again, but it felt like a weight sat heavily on my shoulders, trying to push me through the floor. “Why would I need to have these?”
“You have the answer to that Frank. You have the answer to all of your questions, you just need to remember. And from the looks of you, we are running out of time.”
He nodded. The pain in my head was intensifying, something was very wrong in there. “My name really isn’t Michael – or Jonathan, or any of these is it?”
He looked at me with real concern before reaching into his pocket for his cigarettes again. He selected one and quickly lit it with the silver lighter. He pointed the pack at me and I pulled one out and put it in my mouth, absent-mindedly leaning in for a light. “That wouldn’t be entirely true. You have been all of those people, at some point. They are as real as you and I are right now, and you’ll revisit them all again when you need to. But right now, I need to get the real you back. You’re stuck, and I need to get you unstuck before it’s too late.”
The pain was near blinding. “Stuck?”
He began to walk across the room. “Yes, and time is of the essence. It always is with us, isn’t it?” The awkward laugh he emitted wasn’t one of amusement, but more that shaky kind of laugh that one does when they’re scared, unsure of what happens next. “I thought my presence here would be enough to break this, but it’s clear to me that we’re going to have to try something a bit more radical. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, honestly… I have no idea how you’re going to react.”
I was barely taking in the words he was saying. My head was spinning with the faces and names in the passports, the stacks of money on the bed, the nightmarish images from my dreams, only to realize that I was half-way through the cigarette he handed me, that I was enjoying the comforting feeling it gave me instead of the repulsion I thought I harboured for it.
After what could have been hours, minutes, or seconds, he spoke again. His words snapping me out of the trance-like state I was in. “You have two identical suitcases sitting in the corner. Why is that?”
“Hm? Oh, the cases. One has my clothes, toiletries, and such. The other has my products in it.”
“Yes, but why two identical ones? Why didn’t you leave the one in your trunk?”
I replied without thinking; I don’t even know where the words came from. “I take them everywhere, always. They stay with me.”
His face had that stern look on it again as he spoke his next words. “I know that. But why? Think Frank, this is important.”
The words because they aren’t safe anywhere else echoed through my head, said in an over-amplified, barely controlled voice, the words as clear as if they were being spoken by someone standing right next to me.
And neither are you, it continued. Do something. Now.
I looked up at him and he was nodding, as if he heard the words, too. “That’s right Frank. You know what you need. Get it, now.”
Hurry, it said. There’s no more time.
The pain in my head was so intense it was hard to focus on anything. I stood and staggered toward my cases; I reached down and gripped the heavy handles and realized my hands were trembling as I pulled the big cases to the bed. Through my haze, I heard him shouting and yelling at me from across the room:
“Why am I here, Frank?? WHO AM I?? Answer me!!”
Before I could respond, he pulled a small silver handgun from his waistband and pointed it straight at my chest. I looked down at my hands and watched as my thumbs slid over two latches I hadn’t noticed on the tops of my cases, moving as if they were someone else’s hands entirely. They twisted the thick steel handles up and toward my body, heaving on the cases as if I was going to hurl them across the room at him. But instead of watching them leave the ground and fly through the air, two ugly revolvers emerged from the top of the cases; my alien hands trained them at his head, my fingers twitched and steadied themselves against the triggers, and I was powerless to stop it.
Do it, said the voice said. Finish this.
My hands shook furiously. The man’s face was filled with fear but he held his ground, his gun raised and aimed at me, a slightest hint of a shake to be seen. We stood like this for a moment before I lowered my arms and my hands suddenly opened, letting the guns fall to my feet. My mind was on fire and I found it hard to form any real thoughts, but words emerged.
“Charles – your name is Charles Mayer.”
He smiled weakly. “Yes, it’s me Frank.” He wiped away the sweat that began to run down his temple with his free hand.
I was confused, and felt a sudden burst of anger. “Jesus Christ… I could have killed you. What the fuck were you thinking?”
He still held his gun trained at my chest, but he was obviously shaken. “I didn’t know what else to do, you didn’t leave me with a lot of choices. I wasn’t sure how you were going to come out of that, or if you even would before you – well, I’m not sure you’re capable of missing with those things, even in that state. They’re almost a part of you now, it seems.”
I sat down on the bed.
“How is your head now?”, he asked.
The pain was still brutal, but subsiding rapidly; it was as if someone opened a valve and the pressure was rushing out. “Like hell, if I’m being honest.”
Charles smiled at me, as a father would at his child. “That will pass, you know it will.” He took a few steps closer, his gun still trained on me. “Now, tell me why I’m here.”
A flood of new thoughts and memories were rushing in to fill the voids in my memory, the random images and seemingly disjointed thoughts of the past weeks started piecing together into context. My mind was still a mess, the pounding in my temples had faded but was still very present, but I finally found what he was seeking.
“Debriefing. I’m here for debriefing, sir.” I stared blankly at the guns by my feet. “Two months? How is that even possible? Where have I been?”
Charles shook his head. “We’re not really sure. Your last assignment didn’t go well, to say the least. You were injured and we lost communication with you shortly after – but we will get to all of that, I promise you. I’m just glad we found you before it was too late. You on the loose and in the state you were in was troubling, to say the least.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off my guns on the floor. Ugly, utilitarian pieces of cold steel, the handles on each well worn. All too familiar tools, like extensions of my own hands, the stars of my dreams. “I could have killed you. What would I have done if…” My voice trailed off.
He let out a large sigh.”That was a risk I needed to take, for your sake. And you didn’t kill me, for which I can’t thank you enough.”
I nodded. “Think of it as an early Christmas present.”
He smiled. “I will. Now, who are you? Tell me your name.”
I paused before I spoke; it had been so long since the words had passed my lips, I wasn’t even sure they were real anymore. “Captain Franklin Patrick Mayer, Black Squad Three, sir.”
Charles nodded. “Good. Codename?”
“The Hunter, sir.”
He finally lowered his gun, and raised his other hand to form a salute before coming over to sit with me on the bed. “Welcome back, son… let’s get you home.”