She was in a room, a big room, a room in a building that she knew with lots of other rooms somewhere. It was white without being dazzling, clinical without being medical, it felt like a ship, but it wasn't a ship. This room, the one she was in, was a sort of common room, but it had the appearance of a pure white gym. A gym for angels she thought, but she knew that she wasn't dead. No not dead.
There was no gym-type equipment, none of those horsy things that could do you a permanent nasty if you leap-frogged onto them too hard. No ropes like angel braids dangling from the ceiling. No profusely sweating men in tight, tight things with their jiggly bits on display through lycra. So why then did it resemble a gym? Maybe it didn't. And why do men wear those things? Surely they know lycra was invented for woman and isn't attractive from a front-on view when poached by man. Bums though, now bums were quite another matter and she'd gladly share her fantasies with lycra clad Adonis's as long as they all had their backs to her. Not that she had anything at all against genitalia mind. Dick's n stuff were all well and good in their proper place. It's just that it's like dining on exotic fare, sometimes it's better to not know what you are eating. Her mind was wandering, she knew that. She didn't think she was on drugs, drugs had no place in white gymless gyms. Focus Emmaline focus. She laughed just a little bit, she was taking the piss out of herself now, she knew perfectly well that her name was Alice. So who the fuck was Emmaline? No one, just a pretty name to play with so that she didn't have to give herself a headache wondering where the hell she was, or what was going on.
There was discordance in her world; everything was just half a cock off spaniel. See there she was off at a tangent on genitalia again. Tangent was quite a phallic sounding word she thought, like todger. Maybe she should go off on a todger instead.
"Wheeeee," she said aloud and giggled.
All this Tom, Dick, and Harry tomfoolery was getting her nowhere, she reasoned. She had a whole hat full of questions, but no hat, and no bloody answers either. It wasn't good.
She'd been here some time, how much time she had no idea, but awhile. She was perturbed, but not alarmed. Whatever here was, she had become accustomed to it. There were other people around her. Sometimes lots of other people, sometimes not so many, sometimes none. But now there were some, a few, here and there doing un-gym-like things in the un-gym. She knew them, knew of them, recognised them. She recognised most of them anyway, all except the new one. He was over in the corner hanging onto a bar, heater, radiator, something, thing, looking freaked. She should go and introduce herself, help to put him at his ease, make him welcome. Maybe not, two minutes with her and her rambles and he'd be a glazed over, dribbling wreck.
She had at some point asked herself if she was mad. She vaguely remembered asking other people, but they didn't know, so she tended to stick with her own opinion, it seemed a reliable source of information sometimes. She was not mad, and this was not an establishment for those who had tossed their mental cookies in a powerful headwind of insanity. And anyway she hadn't started to masturbate in public so she couldn't be nuts. The point where she knew that it wasn't an alien abduction had also been a pinnacle moment in her time here. How she knew, she couldn't remember, but she knew.
Enough of this drugless mental meandering. She had things to do, people to see, a man to see, in fact, about a dog. That's a point, there were no animals in this here. There were some men though. That was good.
Alice moved off and her place was taken by Bob. People here tended to move close to the walls, there was a sense of great insecurity if you were in the middle of anything. Walls were good Bob decided, middles were not.
June felt sick; the last one had made her feel sick. She hoped that the next one was a long time away. People often got sick at first, until they got used to it. She smiled at Bob.
Alice walked past a group of young people, student types, upper age schoolkids. Paul and Ben were arguing. Paul was a bit of a ringleader; he had been here longer than Alice had. At least she thought he had. He was a nice lad; they talked sometimes when Paul got weary of his own age group. He was an intelligent young bloke and put forward some strong theories about things. Ben was newer; Alice thought that he was having trouble settling in, he didn't get on very well with some of them. Most of the people seemed to get on most of the time. She didn't like Ben very much, but she did feel sorry for him. Paul liked to say his name. Paul Ferguson. It was so that he didn't forget it too often.
"Tain't going to happen. I am telling you, it is not going to happen." Said Paul stabbing his finger towards Ben to make his point.
"Oh Yeah, and whose gonna stop me?"
"Me if I have to."
Ben looked behind Paul to the other lad's minions. They were standing round with their hands bravely in their pockets, or on their hips. This was a status signal; a sign of being rock solid as the young ones called it. The lesser braves of the tribe had at least one hand on the bars behind them. They were united, offering support. Not just to Paul but support in general, to Paul and to Ben too. They'd all been there. Still were.
Ben decided the odds for battle were too stacked and lowered his head. For now the blot to collective harmony had passed.
"Come on then if you think you're hard enough," it was a face-saving bluff; he was already walking away in a huff.
Alice smiled. That was just what what's-his-name .her son, used to say. She wished it reminded her of him properly, but as usual it was a half memory, just something he used to say to boys much bigger and older than himself. Then he'd rush at them head down, arms and legs flailing. Her What? Three? Five? Six year old son, would fly like a rottweiler as the teenagers laughed at his bravado. She remembered this but she wished she could see what he looked like, it would be nice to remember that. She only ever remembered smoky wafts of memories from home.
It was a while ago.
She felt a bell. Things weren't exactly heard here. The thing with the bell was, that it was so small, more of an idea of feeling a bell ring than an actual bell feeling. That's why it had taken her so long to connect the two, the bell ringing and then afterwards, unsure how long afterwards but certainly after, It came.
Alice felt a rising feeling of panic. She should be used to it now, but she wasn't. At least she had stopped feeling sick most of the time. Only the biggest ones made her feel sick now.
She moved off to find something to hold. But already the atmosphere was changing. With each step forward she could feel the air around her thickening. Her breath started rasping and she tried to tell the new people in the middle to move to the edges of the room and find something to hold onto. Nobody was looking at her though, they were fighting their own war of panic, or looking confused and scared if they hadn't been through 'it' before.
Oh God it was happening and she wouldn't make it to the wall in time, why had she felt safe enough to move more than an arms length from the wall? Oh yes the kids were in her way, she'd had to move around them. She should have known better.
She couldn't breathe, perhaps if she could manage to relax through it, she'd find that she didn't need to breathe, but relaxation was a word that she couldn't even bring to mind, let alone act on.
The noise was in her body now. It was a shrill piercing drone that shook her insides. It didn't hurt her ears because it wasn't a noise that you heard, it was like the almost-not-bell, you felt this noise all the way along the inside of your skeleton and it hurt.
The lucky ones at the edge were clinging now with both hands. Their faces pale and drawn. Just concentrating on hanging on and riding it through. She tried to force her mind to think about the new boy, but she'd forgotten there was a new boy.
In the middle people were clutching at each other as the movement started. They looked like people drowning, clutching at anything that moved past them. The other person trying to push them away at first before giving up and clinging to them just as fiercely as they clung to him.
"Hang on it'll pass," she tried to say as someone crashed past her, arm outstretched, just out of reach. But she was herself moving, looking for anchorage. She was thrown into one of the central padded posts, reached for it, but was pushed on by the vortex force before she could grab it.
And then it stopped.
The world was silent. People dropped to the floor.
Afterwards people tended not to move. Perhaps they were always frightened that they wouldn't be able to. Maybe it was the stopping of the noise; it was bliss, the silence, the airflow.
Thought was difficult here; you weren't encouraged to think. Thinking was made as awkward as possible. Purposefully so? Yes she thought it was purposeful this inability to think. To order thoughts and make them work as you wanted them to.
It happened many many times before she finally realised what its purpose was. Because people were often forgotten as soon as they were seen, it was hard to keep track of them. People went around connecting, trying to remember names and faces for next time they met. It was all right when you were with someone, but if they went or were moved out of sight then sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes you forgot them. So keeping tabs on anyone was hard.
She made the discovery after what's-her-name had moved away. She'd said something. Alice could remember today what it was, but it would be gone again tomorrow. She'd mentioned books. Alice had forgotten books. She wanted to ask the woman about them. It was so important to know about the books. But then the woman had forgotten she was talking to Alice and moved off. Was she really called Alice, she wondered, or was she just getting mixed up again? Maybe Alice was not her own name but the name of the other woman. Perhaps there was no Alice, only a Jane. Did it matter?
It came then.
And afterwards, after the silence, after the calm, Alice remembered, she remembered the books and she even remembered the face of the woman who had said them. She went to look for her but she had gone.
That's when she had the first inkling of an idea of what it was. It came and it took people. She tried to tell the others but they didn't understand, or if they did understand they forgot. Now when it came she always tried to see if someone was gone, they always were, but she didn't always see that they were gone, she couldn't always find a familiar face that wasn't there anymore.
It was hard enough finding a face, without having to find a face that was gone.
Somebody once remembered food. The word passed from one person to another like Chinese whispers. Some people understood and some just looked blank.
She passed the young people again, they were still standing in their aggressive stances, top-dogging each other, but they had forgotten words. All apart from the little one with the sad eyes, she was saying "sock" over and over again. Each time she pointed at her sock, but after awhile she misplaced what she was pointing at and just pointed anywhere.
Bill walked past, he looked sick. Alice wanted to say something nice, but she'd forgotten her name again and it was taking all her time to find it. Maybe someone else would know. She went to find someone who might know her name, but then she remembered 'flowers' and wanted to pass it on to another person, but everyone had moved away. She drew flowers on the wall with the fingers of her right hand; her left hand clutched the bar firmly.
She was concentrating so hard on 'flowers' that this time she almost didn't feel the bell. She couldn't breathe, it took all the will and control that she had to hang on to the bar. She couldn't breathe, she couldn't think, she couldn't draw whatever it was she had been drawing.
She couldn't breathe.
"Okay, two-sixty, clear."
She couldn't breathe.
The defribulators connected with the static pads on the patient's chest.
She couldn't breathe.
"Again, two-sixty, clear."
"Okay doctor we've got output."
Doctor Sloan leaned forward.
"Mary can you hear me? You're in hospital, you were involved in an accident. Come on now open your eyes."
"Alice," she muttered.
"Whose Alice?" asked Sloan of his crew. They shrugged.
"Now Mary don't you worry about a thing, you're going to be all right we're going to put a little canular in your hand and take you straight down to theatre okay?"
"Hang on it'll pass," whispered Mary as she tried to focus on the swarming eyes of the medical crew leaning over her.
Maybe, just maybe, they could save this one. Five minutes earlier Paul Ferguson had died. Seventeen years old with a brand spanking new driving licence and a heart full of bravado. His dad's Mondeo had hit Mary Tyler's fiesta in a head on. Sloan had seen it many times before. One dead, one almost dead, and him with a motor boat to pay for.