As of this segment, I’m up to 4871 words of my novel. Still having fun. Already missing sleep.
If you haven’t read from the beginning, it started here: http://blog.paulidin.com/?p=378
I’ve passed out before. Back in my competitive days, I might get to that point where all of my usual sources of energy were used up. And if I thought I needed to push myself further, then I’d dig deep down and tap into my last reserves to fight harder.
On at least one occasion, I worked myself so hard that when our heat was over and I sat down to rest, I passed out. When I woke up in the emergency room, I freaked out. The location didn’t bother me, as I figured I must have overexerted myself. What got to me was that I was missing time.
Even when I’m asleep, some part of me always keeps track of how much time has passed. I use an alarm clock not to know what time to get up but to irritate me enough to get out of bed. Except, when I pass out, that part of me seems to stop working and I get very disoriented.
This time, as I swam back up through the murkiness and into the painful shallows of consciousness, I remembered that the innocuous old man had done something to me to knock me out. I checked my internal clock and was relieved to find that I could feel just an hour had passed.
Still, I kept my eyes closed and listened. I heard nature sounds as if I were on a beach near a forest. I smelled some marshiness in the air and there was a warm breeze. I was lying on my back on something that felt like a bed.
Something I hate about movies and mystery novels is that almost everyone uses the trite expository tradition of having the protagonist wake up and ask where he is and what happened. Well, I remembered how I lost consciousness and I’m either going to be in a holding cell as a prisoner of the old man, or in some sort of hospital bed. What I could perceive of my surroundings didn’t change my conclusions, it just made me suspicious.
I slowly opened my eyes.
I appeared to be on a four-post bed situated on some marshy green land on the banks of either a very unimpressive ocean or thoroughly impressive lake. The sun was visible in the distance, just touching down at the horizon on the water. There were leafy trees on my left and right and tilting my head back I could see that they were behind me as well. As another gentle waft of warm air brushed over my face, I saw the leaves rustle along with it.
I looked back toward the lake and this time noticed there was a patio table set up a little to my right. It bore two tea settings and a blue and white ceramic pot from whose spout a little steam was escaping. The chair closest to me was empty and the chair on the other side of the table carried a brunette woman. She was quietly examining something on a little tablet computer held in her left hand while she flicked the fingers of her other hand across its surface. She was angled toward me in such a way that I could make out her left profile and her back.
She was thin and seemed tall, though I’m never good at making that estimation when people are seated. She wore a well-tailored charcoal pantsuit as effortlessly as if it were a yoga outfit. Her two-inch flat black heels plainly told the world that she could have worn higher heels but was much too professional to do that.
The patio chairs were made of some sort of bent blonde wood but had plenty of openings in the back to allow air to circulate. From my vantage point, I could see that the woman had a taught and finely curved–
“I’m glad you’re awake, Mr. Bauser,” she interrupted my thoughts. “Perhaps if you’re done assessing my assets, you’d care to join me?”
I liked her already. She’d stressed the ‘ass’ in both of those words and without rancor. I might even have heard a smile in there. If you don’t know how to hear a smile, you need to work on your flirting.
Without a word, I slid smoothly off the bed to move to the seat next to her. It’s a good thing they hadn’t tucked me in under the covers since it’s hard to appear confident as you’re trying to kick your way out from inside a bed. Sitting down next to Miss Confident, I could see that she had a very lean face. It was hungry like the wolf, if Duran Duran will pardon the expression.
She set her tablet face down on the table and turned bright gray eyes to face me. The smile that was tugging at the corners of her mouth (knew it) fell away to reveal a frown in its place.
“Aren’t you going to ask what happened or where you are?” she asked me.
I leaned back in my chair and slowly looked around me again as I tapped my feet. I reached some conclusions and decided to offer them up for verification.
“Your old boy was startled that I entered Wishbook without being in search of something. That must not usually happen and it must indicate some sort of problem. He knocked me out with some sort of taser thing. In order to question me, you had me brought here to an underground level of the store. I don’t think I need to ask those questions. Do you?”
Her frown deepened and I really can’t be blamed for thinking she got more attractive as it did. I’m sure she planned that somehow, too. She picked up the electronic tablet and flicked her finger across it a few times again as her eyes darted around the screen.
After a moment, she set it back on the table, facedown just as before.
“You’re not supposed to be that clever,” she said. “How did you reach those conclusions?”
Avoiding her question, I asked one of my own. “What’s your name? I’m uncomfortable that you can say mine but I can’t say yours.”
She pursed her lips and I won’t bother to tell you what I thought about that. The point is that she was a very attractive wolf.
“Gwendolyn,” she said. “My name is Gwendolyn. Now, please answer my question and any further questions I may have, lest you force this conversation to become an interrogation.”
I could hear some sort of accent but I’m bad at recognizing those. It didn’t sound quite like any of the British accents I knew, nor South African. But it felt similar to the latter; it was an accent that was a little overeducated.
I couldn’t think of any good reason not to answer her, so I did.
“The greeter inside the entrance of the Wishbook had a casual and friendly demeanor, but he just watched other people walking past without saying a word to them. When he spotted me just standing still and looking around, he scampered directly over. I’m pretty sure that a regular store greeter would just let me walk past him or not and wouldn’t care much either way. No, he honed in on me like I was the trouble he was looking for. His questions and his response pretty much told me that people aren’t supposed to enter this place without a specific goal in mind, though I don’t know how you can expect that to happen. Bethesda’s full of window shoppers, even when the windows are on the inside of a building.
“I can tell that I’ve only been knocked out for about an hour. I don’t know how I can tell that, but I can. There’s nowhere you could have taken me outside of the store within one hour that would look like this sunset time of day in this warm air on this calm beach. I can feel a hard surface under my feet, but it’s muffled by whatever this material is on the ground. Still, you wouldn’t find anything that hard this close to a shore, so the shore can’t be real. Therefore, this must all be a fake setting of some kind.
“You’d need a pretty big space in order to be able to rig up something like this. You’d need a big room to set this up, room and power for fairly expensive equipment to calculate and generate this imagery, and a means of getting me there without people noticing and talking about it. It’s possible that you could have some other building available for your kidnap victims. It’s possible. But if you’re able to knock out an entire senior citizen community and put up a two story, neighborhood-block-sized department store in its place overnight, then you could just as easily have added some extra floors below ground level.
“Owning the property would allow you to customize it to these specifications, the power draw would be negligible compared to the existing power needs of a giant department store, and it would be easy to keep me out of sight by taking me through employee-only passages. Thus, I’m still in your Wishbook store, underground.
“The part I haven’t been able to figure out is how your equipment is able to alter the perspective of the generated images to match where I’m looking. Even if I just accepted that money were no object for you, you’d still need some sort of sensors able to detect my line of sight and I haven’t spotted any. I’ve looked around at every…”
I trailed off as I figured out the last bit.
“The sun. The sun is hiding your sensors, isn’t it? I’m reflexively avoiding looking at it because it looks like the sun, but I’ll bet that’s where your machines are monitoring where I’m looking to keep the illusion consistent.”
I smiled and leaned back in triumph as I finished speaking. Wouldn’t you? Come on, that was pretty sweet reasoning right there.
Except as I turned to look at Charcoal Gwendolyn, she was smiling, too. She should have been annoyed with me. That smile made me more edgy than her frown. Come to think of it, I’d have had the same reaction to an actual wolf.
“Very close, Mr. Bauser,” she said. “Very close, except you’re completely wrong about the most important part. I think we’re done here. Allow me to show you–“
She was getting up as she was speaking, no longer showing any signs of flirtatiousness and projecting a get-the-hell-out vibe, when we heard a voice interrupt from somewhere.
“I think he’s our solution, Gwendolyn,” said the unseen speaker. He sounded like every avuncular wizard ever, with the same indecipherable accent.
The wolf’s face fell and I swear I actually heard her growl under her breath.
“If you think so, Clifton,” she said aloud toward the illusory sky.
She sighed and beckoned that I should come with her. I gamely stood to follow.
Now, at this point you might be wondering why I went along with everything without complaining or panicking. I had three reasons for my complacency: First of all, I had nothing better to do. Remember, I just had a DVR waiting for me at home and that’s it. Second of all, my curiosity was so piqued by what was going on here, I could practically smell the dead cat of my future. And lastly, have I mentioned she was attractive? That’s an understatement. Lingerie-clad supermodels would stare daggers at Gwendolyn for looking that much sexier while trying so much less.
Men have done worse for that last reason. I was just trying to find out what was going on. Really, my behavior was pretty understandable in the whole scheme of things. Right?
Gwendolyn started walking toward the forest behind the bed and I trailed behind. I had a nice view, but frankly she just moved much faster than you might expect from looking at her. As she walked, she clapped her hands twice, just like in those stupid old commercials and the illusion stopped.
With no discernible transition, the surrounding sky, forest, and grassy ground beneath my feet all disappeared. They were replaced by walls, a ceiling, and a floor all covered in tiny flexible white squares. The springiness under my feet that had felt like mossy ground still felt the same but was due to some sort of material under the tiles. I wondered if they used memory foam?
The only objects in the room that stayed there were the bed, the patio table, and the chairs. Even the tea service was gone from atop the table and that made me wish I’d thought to try a cup.
Something that seemingly appeared out of nowhere was a door in the wall behind the bed. When the wolf in model’s clothing pushed where a doorknob would usually be, the door swung back away. The opening revealed a brightly lit corridor into which Gwendolyn turned right and strode away. I ignored the movie watcher in the back of my mind who was yelling, “You’re gonna die! Run away” and followed her.