“Today Robert Forder must die.”
The threat did not come without hesitation, nor was it a statement expecting an answer. No one heard it, but a forty-two-year-old Graham Sheppard spoke the words anyway as if to summon the courage—perhaps provoke the genie from the gun, in a piston of lead sure to cut short the life of anyone forced to take it.
Sheppard’s head still hung as if in meditation—wrestling with all thought, testing the precarious see-saw between madness and sanity. He sat on the edge of the bed in his t-shirt and underwear with his bare feet clutching the shitty, blue, motel carpet. The smell of burnt dust still emanated in the air, drifting in from the heat of the overturned table lamp. It now sent a horizontal beam into the dimness illuminating a desk and chest of drawers as it sent ominous shadows cascading up the walls to the ceiling.
A sheath of dark hair hung in front of Sheppard’s deep-set eyes and rested on the narrow of his nose. His elbows swung outward on his knees like a giant V and his hands trapped the smooth handle of the gun. He had done most of his travelling by night, and his skin had gone pale, taking on an almost luminous quality; except for the greying stubble of beard on his face, there would be no colour at all.
The covers lay in mountainous heaps around him—a fortress of sleep disturbed. Only hours ago they had been flat and smooth like the calmness of a lake in the depths of midnight as he’d set his travel bag upon it. But, the storms had come to douse the world of dreams; the nightmares yet again, the searchlight fingers, the fiery penetrating eyes in an endless river of sweat and the sudden jolt to full alertness. It was a continuous struggle causing Sheppard to climb up through the silence of sleep (however restless), into a violent, repetitive gasp for breath.
“How has it come to this?” he said solemnly into the emptiness, but Sheppard already knew the answer. With everything his counterpart Forder had done right, he’d made one critical and now fatal mistake—he had called her, and in the moment of his weakness, he had brought on this final wrath—this ultimate ruin.
“The house of cards you’ve created will tumble in on itself. There’s no escaping death this time old friend.”
The heavy drapes still blocked out the morning in a scrim of impenetrable darkness; not that it would’ve mattered, for today was like so many other days lately—overcast and brooding, casting a pall in a sombre reflection of tempestuous moods, depression, fatigue, despair and the truth; the truth of what Forder knew . . . Could he be allowed to live with the knowledge any longer?
Robert Forder knew something was going to happen—something big—chaos on a global scale forged in the furnace of a New World Order. He knew everything. He knew those behind it and how far they were willing to push the envelope to see their plans come to fruition. To them, the planet had become an ill-tended garden overrun with pests and choked by weeds in need of resolution; oh yes—they would succeed where wars, famine and disease had failed, and cull the population. The Silent Ones, those at the top of the pyramid would make damn sure their envisioned Eden; their heavenly nirvana would find reclamation.
Whatever they had in mind, to be sure, it was coming, and it would start in the sleepy little town of Coram, Montana: population three-hundred and thirty-seven. It would affect those in the surrounding area as well, all the way to Kalispell and spread its dirty infected fingers well into Glacier National Park, reaching, God only knows how many tourists. Forder knew it. He knew their dirty hidden secrets; the experiments swept into tidy piles under the rug, the ever watchful eyes and who they focused on, and he knew if everything went according to plan, few (if any), would live.
How strange that word seemed to Sheppard now, live, if you could call it that? Just four simple letters that contained the essence of what we all strive for, but could quickly morph into “vile,” or “evil.”
Only if to live again, he thought.
Sheppard had not lived for some time now; not since Dr. Robert Forder, a renowned scientist with a B.A, from Sonoma State in environmental studies, graduated with honours and started to crank those wheels in motion long ago. It was a path that would eventually lead to his disappearance.
The good doctor had cut his teeth with various agencies studying the effects of climate change, and a virtual stew of environmental hazards. The work had been extensive and exhausting, but not without accolades. The list of awards and recognition for his work was celebrated and had been dished out from the EPA to the fucking White House. Unfortunately, his motivation and pursuit of truth had caused him to delve too deeply in places. It had triggered some sensitive nerves. He had exposed some vicious enemies and then the anonymous calls and warnings had started.
“Regrettable things can happen to inquisitive people Dr. Forder, remember that. It would be a shame to lose something you cherish. Perhaps a new direction in your line of work would better suit you?”
So Forder had died, for the first time, before someone else embedded a bullet in his brain and did the job for him. He had neatly folded his clothes near the water’s edge and walked naked into the Pacific Ocean leaving everything behind—the career, the house, the dog, the Volvo and her. Helen had been the love of his life, but for love and her safety, he had to let her go. Did he even remember what she looked like?—Beautiful, intelligent, strong, all of the above? Yes, but featureless now as if erased from memory by sheer will to forget the pain of her existence.
The body of Dr. Robert Forder remained missing. Even as the word of a prominent scientist taking his own life had eroded into yesterday’s news and the public interest had once again moved onto the price of gold and oil, social unrest, and foreign conflicts, there were those who suspected he had survived. Sheppard new beyond the shadow of a doubt the man still walked on mortal coil.
It’s why this is so fucked up. It’s why I am here and why it’s come down to this.
A warm sensation, strange yet settling, now radiated from the gun as if trying to calm, or reassure Sheppard everything would be OK.
One moment of strength Shep, of self-control, commitment and it will all be over. Forder doesn’t possess all the puzzle pieces yet, and you can prevent him from pulling at those threads before he does. Don’t let him plead for his life. No barter, no give and take. Kill Forder for good. End it for real this time.
Yes, today Robert Forder must die.
Graham Sheppard understood one thing; he was doing the man a favour. Better his death comes swiftly from Sheppard’s gun then the torturously slow and painful end they would inflict. He knew how the Silent Ones operated; what they were capable of to protect their skin and their envisioned reality. The only question: when the time came, would Sheppard have the guts to pull the trigger?
He couldn’t remember how long it had been since Robert Forder ceased to exist that critical first time and then morphed into the man he now called Graham Sheppard. It seemed like years instead of a few months, but when you’re always looking over your shoulder time has a way of playing tricks on you—of stretching the tick of the clock to an exaggerated ribbon of time, and it now seemed like endless coils of it had flowed down that river.
This man was no longer Dr. Robert Forder the buttoned-down, three-piece suit-type with the manicured fingernails and the clean-shaven face, sitting on the edge of the bed in a musty motel room at forty bucks a night. This man was now, Graham Sheppard, a fugitive running from a deadly game of hide-and-seek. Ready or not, here they come.
After all, he had given it a good run to elude those who suspected he still lived—
The used car Graham Sheppard had paid cash for had been driven to the parking lot a few miles down the beach as instructed. The extra clothes and necessities had all been carefully concealed in a watertight bag in a labyrinth of rock by a cave near the water’s edge. His new identity had been waiting under the spare tire with the gun and the second set of car keys next to enough cash to begin again.
All that remained was to get the fuck out of Dodge, make a clean getaway and try to forget—
But the knowledge—the truth?
It wouldn’t let him rest, not even as Graham Sheppard, and then the dreams had started—the nightmares of an apocalypse too grotesque to imagine as the Silent Ones moved forward with their plans. It was then, Sheppard had resigned himself to the mission of heading north to try and warn the people of Coram, but would anyone believe him? All his work, all his proof, was most certainly gone now, scattered to the winds, ground through shredders, burned beyond recognition to pools of ash. They’d make sure of it. The Silent Ones would add it to the pyres of other relevant research and studies now being destroyed, or classified by manipulated government agencies across the globe.
And now, there’s no fucking time!
Perhaps it wouldn’t have come to this but for—my mistake—my weakness—Helen.
He had called to hear her voice again, however sad and sombre, but they had been there. He sensed them through the phone line as a bloodhound detects the trail of the fox. They had been there listening as Helen answered and unable to stop himself he’d uttered the words, “I’m Sorry.”
After the ensuing shock and silence she had responded in that voice, soft and sweet like velvet honey, “Robert . . . is that you?” and in a sudden retrieval of sheer will, he had hung up before her siren song could lure him from the shadows and back to her warm embrace.
“I’m just glad you’re alive,” She’d say, her eyes far from judging and speculative.
Now, the Silent Ones no longer suspected he lived—they knew. They would find him, and his end would be none too pleasant. They would add him to a roll-call of other prominent scientists and microbiologists who had gone missing or met with unfortunate, tragic ends. It was only a matter of time before they traced the call to a pay phone at a Stop N’ Go outside of Butte, Montana and no need for rocket science to connect the dots to Coram.
I’m sleepwalking on a high-wire with no goddamn net.
Sheppard had driven through the unseasonably cold night along I90 to Missoula then the back way, along highway 200 to route 83 and up past Condon. He had worn a face respirator since Flathead Lake until he’d checked in to the motel south of Columbia Falls while Bob Marley’s, Every Little Thing is Going to be Alright, had assured him from the car speakers on some local radio station. There he had sequestered himself in this dingy room after picking up the keys from the front office. Sheppard had kept a bandana up to his mouth and feigned a contagious cough to keep from breathing the air, away from fear and suspicion.
Everything else had been meticulous and careful—pay cash, take the plates off the car, remove a light bulb from the fixture above his door, break it into shards of eggshell outside his room, chair to the door handle, lock everything and sleep (however restless), with the gun on the mantle of his chest.
Sheppard traced his eyes to the night table where he’d fingered through the Bible in search of a few passages of comfort. Never one for religion over science, he now concluded, with mortality dangerously swinging in the balance between his hands, no harm in crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s.
Perhaps ignorance was indeed bliss, and those in great danger would be better off not knowing what was going to happen?
Sheppard could cheat it now and take the coward’s way out. Gun under the chin; pull the trigger, game over—OK, in the mouth, sure not to miss; precise, instantaneous . . . Finite. Then when they found him, they could make up any story they wanted—but Helen?
Three months ago Robert Forder had died; today so would his alter ego Graham Sheppard.
For a few minutes longer, he brooded over the barrel of the weapon. His muscles coiled like the spring of a clock wound to the point of breaking, but his nerves were calm and his will resolved in differential purity.
Slowly he raised the gun with robotic accuracy and placed it between his teeth. The barrel cold in the mouth, almost the metallic taste like blood—how soon it would taste like blood for real—finger on the trigger ready to rock and roll—One more final explosion; a searing hot sensation in the brain and then the vast barren wasteland of nothingness. The pain would be gone, the paranoia, the running, the memories of her.
I’m sorry, Helen.
Sheppard’s finger cocked the trigger—in the distance, a siren sounded and made him pause.
If you would like to read more of this novel please go here.
If you would like to read more of this novel please go here.