By Andra Marquardt
Theresa plopped into a chair and plugged her ears; she couldn’t help herself. But it made no difference. The sound came from within.
A hand squeezed her shoulder. Her husband, Malcolm, studied her, his forehead wrinkled with concern. “The ringing’s back?”
“You could go see another doctor—”
“No.” They had all suggested she was imagining it—Malcomb included—but something inside her kept insisting it was real.
He kissed her forehead and retreated. The ringing stopped at the same time he started the shower. She stood and went to the balcony. Crickets and an occasional rumble of a semi on the interstate punctuated the soft breeze.
No distractions, unwanted sounds, or…
“Theresa? Can you hear me?” A female voice, slightly familiar.
Theresa jumped and looked around. She was still alone. “What the—?”
“Yes! It finally worked.”
The doctors were right. She indeed needed psychological help.
“Theresa? Are you still there?”
Don’t answer. You’ll only feed the delusion.
“Look, I know this seems impossible, but I’m real and I need your help. Or, more accurately, you need mine.”
“What are you talking about?” She couldn’t stop herself from asking aloud.
“Meet me in an hour at 128 Rosser. In the garage. I’ll tell you everything. Your RFID can’t handle this type of hack for long. Already, I risk detection with my signal.”
RFID chips, hacks, and signals? Was her brain concocting a conspiracy? Then again, going there might prove whether or not she was sane.
“I’ll be there.” I’m insane for doing this.
Only when she reached the bathroom and placed her hand on the doorknob did she realize the ringing had stopped. Did that prove the woman was real, or did her brain merely want her to be real and stopped the sound?
She pushed aside those thoughts. What to tell Malcolm? She’d never lied to him before. Yet if she told him the truth, he’d either try to stop her or demand he go with her.
She entered the steam-filled room. “I have to go to the store.” The lie slithered out surprisingly easy.
Malcolm peeked from around the shower curtain, soap bubbles streaming down the sides of his face. “Everything okay?”
“Yep. Just need a few things for supper.”
He nodded and disappeared back into the wall of steam.
Theresa let out a deep breath as she left the bathroom.
An hour later, she drove into the darkened driveway. Her car lights illuminated a one-stall garage, the door slightly askew as if it hadn’t been used in decades. At least there was a garage—further indication the woman was real. Then again, most homes had garages…
“Stop it,” she whispered as she stepped out of the car.
The garage’s side door was open, so she peeked inside. “Hello?”
“Are you alone?”
A light flared in the corner, illuminating a woman with long, purple hair, thick makeup, and piercings in her nose and eyebrow.
“Close the door,” she said.
Theresa shut the door behind her.
“I need to make this quick,” the woman said. “My name is Bethany, and we worked together.”
Not likely. Theresa would have remembered a woman with Bethany’s appearance. And yet, along with her voice, she did seem familiar, almost like déjà vu or a half-remembered dream.
As if reading her thoughts, Bethany said, “They made you forget. Gave you this false life so you wouldn’t remember.”
“They’re trying to control us through RFID chips similar to the one in your head, only more advanced. You invented the technology, but once you realized the government’s intent and tried to speak out, they… silenced you.”
Too far-fetched. “Why not kill me? Surely that would’ve been easier.”
“They pretended to. Look up Belle Fallingsworth. That’s you.”
Theresa remembered the news stories. Including photographs with a face eerily like her own.
“Why not do it for real?”
“Because they still need your expertise. You have dreams, don’t you? Of working in a lab, designing computer components.”
She indeed had those dreams. To the point she started studying lucid dreaming to figure out what they meant.
“They’re memories. They use the RFID to make you think they’re dreams.” Bethany smirked. “That’s my contribution.”
“Why come to me now? What danger am I in?”
“Because the research is almost done. We’ve been slated for termination. For real this time.”
The door behind Theresa slammed open. She whirled to see Malcolm filling the doorway.
“I don’t know what you think you see, Theresa, but none of it’s real.”
Another door, this one behind Bethany, crashed open.
“It’s real! You’re not crazy!” Bethany screamed, as two men dragged her away.
Malcolm grabbed Theresa’s arm, a bit too hard. “Let’s go.”
“You didn’t see that?” she said, too shocked to fight him as he led her outside.
“It’s an empty garage.”
“How did you find me?”
“I tracked your cell. I’m taking you to the hospital before you hurt yourself.”
She searched for Bethany and the two men, but saw no one. Perhaps she imagined everything after all. She didn’t know which was worse—being insane or married to a man conspiring to kill her. Or if not kill her, commit her to an insane asylum.
A week-long hospital stay and an antipsychotic prescription later, Theresa waited until Malcom turned the shower on to pull out the notebook from underneath the mattress. She wrote down all she remembered from her dream. She scanned her earlier notes to verify. Lucid dreaming appeared to be working. The new RFID was almost complete. And if her numbers were right, it would fail. Spectacularly.
The shower switched off, so she hid her notebook away. Now to prepare for her next appointment so she could continue to convince both the doctor and Malcolm that she believed it was all a delusion. Since the ringing had never returned—meaning Bethany was likely dead or imprisoned—no one would ever convince her otherwise.