Mrs. O’Riley smoothed out her house dress and stared at the men.
“Ma’am, you say yourself that you were the last person to see your husband. We just want to get the details straight so we can help you find him.” The taller of the two men said.
“You know what happened.” She replied, sucking her tongue against her teeth.
“No, ma’am, we don’t.”
“Really? But isn’t it obvious?” Mrs. O’Riley stared at the men. They were government men. But who wasn’t these days? The men stood opposite her in the room. They were wearing the standard grey uniform seen on all agents of the city, from maintenance workers to classified interrogators. The uniformity of clothing made it difficult to place where exactly they fit into the government hierarchy. But it didn’t particularly matter. Mrs. O’Riley glared at them; they were all the same anyway. “Disgusting little clones, walking around like a swarm of flies,” She thought, a bitter taste rising in her mouth. She felt the inclination to spit.
Still smoothing out the wrinkles in her paisley housedress, she eased back into her worn green chair. It was her favorite chair. It was made before the government standardizations for living room furniture came out. Having such a piece of furniture could be seen as an act of rebellion against the government. But people hardly bothered a woman her age, and most likely the possession of her chair would be attributed to sentimentalism or senility rather than any act of subversion.
It was a complete act of subversion. She had found the chair at a dumpsite eight years ago — all furniture and other household items deemed non-regulation were being ordered into neighborhood dumping grounds for the nightly burnings that were organized that summer. She had pulled it out and carried in back to her flat, with no assistance, and surprisingly, with no resistance. Still, she had felt then, as she often did now, that someone was watching and taking note.
“Ma’am please, tell us what happened.”
“I told you,” she muttered after giving them a cold, hard stare, “Government men, such as yourselves, came into our apartment last week and began questioning us about our political beliefs…”
One of the men interrupted her, “Ma’am, specifically what political beliefs?”
Mrs. O’Riley hesitated, a look of anxiety briefly crossing her face. What does it matter if I tell them or not? I am an old woman and what do I have left that they haven’t taken from me? A memory of Richard came back to her; young and sweethearts, living in Washington. They were lying on some blankets, spread thick against the dry, tall grass. Richard had his hands behind his head and was staring up at the stars. “We’ll go there someday, Catherine,” he said suddenly pointing up to the brightest one, “just you and me.” Catherine rolled over, tucking herself into his side, a smile on her face. She didn’t want to go anywhere, her heaven was here.
“Earthbound. The Earthbound Society, “Mrs. O’Riley answered, coming back to the present, the momentary anxiety dissipating into blankness. Richard was gone.
“Earthbound? Can you tell us about Earthbound?” The taller of the two men pressed.
She remembered Richard standing in their living room, a dozen or more people gathered around, tense and serious. The lights were dimmed, making his face look all the more urgent. “We aren’t safe here, none of us are, can’t you see that?” His voice rose in pitch, “They’ve been using us for years, and we didn’t even know it. The things we have worked for will be used to kill hundreds of thousands of people. Haven’t you all realized that yet? The government isn’t trying to save people, it’s trying to destroy them. And as long as we have the knowledge that we do, we are enemies of the state, and they will kill us too.” He took a deep breath, the room was silent. “Our only hope is to take it to Earth.”
“I’ll tell you exactly the same thing that I told them.” Mrs. O’Riley glared at the men, making full eye contact for the first time, “I told them I knew nothing about what they were talking about,” She picked up a glass from the table next to her, took a sip and then spit the water back into the glass before continuing, “then they put a blade to my husband’s throat and promised to kill him unless I cooperated and handed over all information regarding Earthbound…” She took another sip and spit again.
“Then what?” One of the men prompted.
“What do you mean ‘then what?’ You know then what. You know the whole story already. I told them to fuck themselves, that I had no idea what they were talking about. Then they took my husband, and I haven’t seen him since. It’s been two weeks. But I’m sure you can probably tell me more about whether he’s dead or alive than I can.”
“Ma’am, I think you need to calm down, those are some pretty serious accusations you’re making against the government, ones that could very easily lead to…” The shorter of the two started in. He had a round face that easily turned red when he was angry.
“Let’s all just calm down,” The second man interrupted his companion. “No one here is trying to make any judgment or decision about your patriotism. We understand you’re in grief and probably still in shock. Let’s just try to get to the bottom of this so we can get your husband back. Ma’am, I know we’ve already asked you, but I think it’s important. This Earthbound Society? Please, if you know anything?”
Mrs. O’Riley smiled. These men always talked to her like they thought she’d tell them something if they asked nice enough. She’d seen a hundred just like them. Fuck them. She wouldn’t tell them shit. Richard was gone, and she supposed she would be next. Soon. But there were still a dozen people out there who knew the secret. They would get home, and she would protect them with her life.
They sat in silence for about ten minutes. The taller man, who was clearly in charge — reached over and felt her forehead and checked her pulse. Mrs. O’Riley sat mutely staring at the corner of the room. The man sighed. “She’s checked out,” he says to his companion, the round-face intern. “This usually happens. We’ll have to come back another time.” And then speaking loudly, “Mrs. O’Riley, we’re leaving now, but we’ll be back to see you later. Please have a good rest and we’ll talk to you soon.”
The two men walked out the door and into the hospital corridor. “How long has she been like this?” the shorter, round-faced intern asked.
“About two months now. I don’t know how much of her background chart you got to read before you got here, but she witnessed her husband being murdered. We think murdered — his body was never found. After it happened, Catherine withdrew into this alternative world. This is going to sound strange, but from what we can gather she thinks she’s on a planet other than earth and is trying to get back home. She keeps mentioning an EarthBound Society. The police, who are still involved in the case, think it might have something to do with her husband’s death.”
“If she’s in another world, does she know she’s talking to us, interacting with us? Because it seemed like she was making conversation. Can she hear us at all?”
“We believe so. But only bits and pieces. It appears that some of what we say and do are manipulated by her mind to fit into her delusion.” The taller doctor glanced at his watch. It was almost time for lunch. He headed towards the cafeteria with the intern following.
“There’s something strange going on though.” They both grabbed trays from the lunchroom and started piling fruit and sandwich wedges on their plates. The taller doctor leaned in and whispered to the intern, “I don’t know how comfortable I am saying this out loud, but I think they were involved in something, something serious. It’s not just the police who are involved in her case, but I’ve had calls from all kinds of people. High up people. I think Catherine might know something that they want. Does that sound crazy?’
The intern shook his head. “I don’t know, I mean I only just started.”
“Yeah, I guess,” The taller doctor hesitated, staring down at his tray, “I guess it really doesn’t matter though, my job is to help pull her back to our world. I shouldn’t speculate past that.”
The young intern raised his milk carton, “Well, here’s to getting her Earthbound then.”
“I suppose yeah,” The head doctor grimaced. “Earthbound.”
The intern excused himself, “I need to wash my hands, I’ll be right back.” He walked out into the hall and around a corner. He pulled a phone out of his pocket, “I think she does know something, and I think she could be a potential threat.” He listened for a while. “O.K. I’ll take care of it,” he responded, hung up the phone, glanced around the corridor, and walked back to the lunch room.
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Portland Fiction Project
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