Curveball Issue 18: A Game of Secrets

Part Four: July 20, 1992

David Bernard wakes up remembering his last rational thought the night before: don’t sleep here, it isn’t safe. Everything after that is a blur, vague images obscured by ever-thickening layers of pain and exhaustion. He’s lying on a mattress with clean sheets. The low hum of an air conditioner kicks in and cool air washes over his face. The constant, faint sound of tropical birds calling to each other can be heard just beyond the bedroom’s window.

I guess I didn’t take my own advice.

He sits up, surprised to feel neither pain nor dizziness. He obviously needed the rest, and it’s done him good—his vision is clear and sharp, and he’s thinking more clearly than he remembers in a long time. Even Crossfire’s special medical treatment, as remarkable as it was, hadn’t worked this well. That thought provokes a sudden surge of relief, as he realizes that the day before he couldn’t actually remember that part of his life. His memory is back—he remembers getting hurt the first time, the second time, seeking out Crossfire, working with them, agreeing to help LaFleur in his investigation, and then they—

David frowns. Then they—there was a—

He’s sitting in the cargo bay of a plane, checking the straps to his parachute for the seventh time. LaFleur is sitting across from him, doing the same.

After we jump it’s likely we’ll be separated.” LaFleur has to raise his voice to be heard over the engines of the plane. “I’m sorry for that. It’s going to be a difficult transition…”

It’s the same thing he remembered yesterday, after reading the paper, but nothing more. So his memory hasn’t returned, not completely. He shrugs. Where he is today is remarkably better than where he was yesterday.

A little too remarkable, perhaps. An unspoken question begins to stir somewhere in the back of his head. He pushes it aside for the moment.

His pistol sits, still holstered, on a small nightstand on the left side of the bed. His clothes are neatly folded on the dresser to the left of the bedroom door. He checks his pistol, pulling it out of its holster, making sure it’s loaded and the safety is set. He gets dressed quickly, stopping only for a moment as he catches the scent of his shirt as he pulls it over his head. It smells clean. All of his clothes smell clean, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, because he distinctly remembers being pretty filthy when he stumbled into the house yesterday. He feels fairly clean too, for that matter—not what you’d expect from a guy who washed up on a beach the day before.

I guess I did the laundry before I passed out? And took a shower… yeah, that doesn’t really make any sense.

His stomach growls. He’s hungry: that makes sense. He finishes getting dressed, straps on his holster, then steps out of the bedroom and into the small living room. Everything is exactly the way it was the day before, including, he notices, the unlocked front door. He tsks in irritation as he locks it, and slides the deadbolt across. He must have been in really bad shape last night if he’d overlooked something like that.

If you were that hurt last night, why do you feel so much better now?

His growling stomach pushes the question aside.

Fresh fruit for breakfast—there’s plenty on hand so he doesn’t have to cook. The milk is still good, and there’s more left than he remembers: he was sure the jug was half empty when he’d finished his second glass last night, but it’s actually a little over three-quarters full. When he’s finished, he goes over to the kitchen sink to wash his hands and splash water on his face.

It’s at that moment he finally realizes he has a beard.

He’s been superficially aware of it all morning, but it hasn’t registered. It’s not until he feels wet hair plastered against his face that he realizes he has hair on his face. The realization sends him running to the bathroom.

Before he was a cop, David was a soldier, and many of his habits come from that time. His hair has always been short, and he has always been clean-shaven. Even when his concussion was at its worst he managed to keep the hair off his face. As he stands in the bathroom, looking at his reflection in the mirror, he feels like he’s staring at a stranger.

The terrible haircut he’d given himself yesterday—the one he gave himself while trying to clean the cut on his head—is gone. In its place is a thatch of medium-brown hair, thick and tangled, falling down past his shoulders. His beard is full and thick, making him look more like a Hell’s Angel than a retired cop.

The part that unnerves him the most is how natural it feels. He’s never had long hair before, never even tried to grow a beard before. He’s gone without shaving for a few days at most, but after a few days his face starts to itch so thoroughly that he’s driven to distraction until he shaves. But the length his hair is now, it would take—six months? Eight? A year to grow out? And it happened overnight?

He looks at his nails. They’re still short. If his hair had magically grown out overnight, why wouldn’t his nails?

The bathroom is too clean. Yesterday he was a mess, chopping off his hair, cleaning a head wound. He certainly hadn’t bothered to clean up after himself in the state he was in, but today the bathroom looks as if nothing had happened there at all. He opens the medicine cabinet and sees everything he used to treat his wound—the gauze, tape, alcohol, scissors, cotton balls, all of it—in exactly the same place he found them, with no sign that they’ve ever been touched. He remembers tearing open the plastic bag of cotton balls, but the bag is completely sealed. It looks as if it was never used.

The sink is spotless. There is a thin streak of red at the bottom, where it looks as if some blood may have worked its way into the seam between the porcelain and the drain, but the rest of the sink is pristine and untouched.

This doesn’t make sense.

Suddenly nothing makes sense. His clean clothes don’t make sense. The full jug of milk doesn’t make sense. The fact that he’s no longer suffering from the effects of a concussion makes absolutely no sense at all. He’s not a metahuman—there’s only one way he’d recover from an injury like that. There’s only one rational explanation for how his hair grew, his beard grew, and his concussion disappeared.

“Time,” he whispers.

He goes back to the kitchen and looks at the calendar. July, 1992. He looks at the newspaper. Friday July 18, 1992. He opens the refrigerator and checks the expiration date on the milk. EXPIR 7/22 1992.

The house is exactly the way it was yesterday. He, however, is not.

He goes back into the bathroom and stares at his reflection once more. His hair is longer, and he looks healthier, but there’s something about his eyes that isn’t the same. They look older. It’s not a scientific conclusion, there’s no data he can think of to test that against, but when he looks into the eyes staring back out at him from the mirror he is absolutely convinced it’s true. Much more time has passed than he’s aware of, and looking at the length of his hair, and taking into account how much better he feels than he did, he’s sure the progression of time can be measured in months rather than days or weeks.

But the house is exactly the same.

He goes into the living room and sinks onto the couch, staring at the house with a new level of suspicion and wariness. Suddenly the comfortable little house looks far more sinister than it did moments ago.

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