Whenever you or others are walking in secluded areas and start talking about not having seen people in a while, then special individuals pop into existence for that very moment, to fill the need for people to pass by.
When they’ve been passed by, they disappear from existence again. Generally, they don’t know this is happening to them, but there was one individual who kept his memories of each experience.
They momentary existences of these special individuals are controlled by a bureaucratic organisation, and this one person fell through the cracks and kept their memory. The correct procedure of erasing the memories after each occurrence didn’t happen for some reason.
Consider, have you ever had that moment when you’re walking outside in the world, and you’re completely alone. And you think to yourself; ‘there’s literally no one around, I haven’t seen people in so long’. Then suddenly a few seconds later people appear, as if out of thin air. You pass each other, exchange pleasantries and then they essentially disappear again out of existence for you when they leave your sight.
Well, this odd experience is what these three people have undergone, Sally, Richard and Frank.
Sally and Richard.
As with most of these kinds of stories, it started on a regular day, a weekend day actually. Sally and Richard, a pair of avid walkers set out on one of their regular excursions. They enjoyed walking out in the local wildernesses, there was a solitude to it that they both enjoyed.
Very rarely would they encounter people, but if they did it would only ever for the briefest of moments, just enough time to give a greeting of hello, pass each other like ships in the night and then continue with each other’s day.
Sally and Richard would at time’s mention to each other that when they were that alone, in a forest for example, and no one was around, that they hadn’t seen people in a while and that perhaps they were completely alone in the whole world. The inevitable joke would always be that as soon as they stated this fact, people would appear, suddenly, as if some god-like being deemed it necessary for them to appear right then and there to disprove Sally and Richards theories. And that as soon as they were out of sight of Sally and Richard again, this being would snap those individuals out of existence.
This was an amusing thought for Sally and Richard, if not a ridiculous one. They never gave it more of a thought beyond those moments, because why would they, even if it were true, unlikely, then how would they ever prove it. Sheer silliness really…
Frank was a guy, like any other guy, he wore sneakers, jeans, a shirt, which could probably have used a wash and he had short unkempt hair and a dark 5 o’clock shadow. He didn’t smell, but in a certain light, you would’ve expected him to have a body odour of some kind. Frank didn’t consider himself much of a walker, let alone someone that would do trail running, but there he was, against his apparent better judgement in a forest.
He wasn’t sure why he wanted to go on a walk through the forest that day, but there he was. As he walked along the stony path, Frank was coming to the realisation that he probably wasn’t wearing the right kind of footwear for this kind of walk. Why on earth did he leave the house with just sneakers. Though to be honest he had trouble remembering why he wanted to leave his house at all.
A few seconds had gone by, maybe, while Frank was lost in his thoughts, and a couple walked by. A man and a woman, both wearing the right kind of footwear for this outing. As well as the rest of their get up, and with backpacks. Likely they had food and water in there. That would also have been smart, take something with for this trip…So many things he had forgotten to do before he left his house, wherever that was at this point.
The man with short cut hair and the woman with her hair tied back, greeted Frank in a cordial manner, it was a simple hi, nothing more. Frank said hi back, keeping it brief out of respect for their mutual choices of going for a quiet walk. But why had he gone for a quiet walk, it wasn’t like he felt a current need for it.
He kept walking, he heard the couple talk in the distance and laugh, he couldn’t understand what they were talking about but the joke clearly was amusing between them. And then that was all there was to it.
Sally and Richard enjoyed these walks in the forest, the air was cool and fresh and the noises of the city and civilisation were pleasantly absent. Only the occasional fellow trekker disrupted this illusion.
They usually came across fellow couples or groups who were going on a walk, just as they were, likely wanting to stop somewhere midway and have a quick picknick, or something to that effect.
At one point on one of their walks, as they remember it, they came across an odd man. He seemed out of place in the forest. ‘Sneakers and jeans, really?’ they thought to themselves, and he was clearly struggling, his shirt had sweat stains on it, he wasn’t used to going for a walk and had clearly done this as a spur of the moment thing.
As they walked past him, they exchanged a quick hello and realised, despite his exterior look, he didn’t smell of sweat or body odour, strange.
As they walked past him, Sally and Richard mentioned to each other that it was odd that he didn’t smell funky and then joked that maybe he was one of them, the ones that appear out of thin air into existence and then disappear again like magic, maybe that’s why he didn’t smell, he wasn’t really real!
They laughed and continued on, having one last look back as the man disappeared behind a ridge and out of their lives forever.
There he was again, in a forest, Frank wasn’t sure why he kept going to the forest. And he wasn’t sure why he always had that thought when he was so deep in the forest.
‘I should really buy some better shoes for this…’ he told himself. Why didn’t he buy some better ones after the last time?
He tried to think why it was he hadn’t remembered to do that. Last time he was in the forest he saw that couple who laughed and then he just let it be. But why did he do that? He got home and…then what?
Frank tried to remember his home, but it was blurry for some reason. Did he not get a good night’s sleep or maybe it was the fresh forest air and the physical excursion that was making his mind foggy. Frank thought he’d be used to it now after the second…no wait third…fourth time that he’d gone to the forest? ‘Was it the fourth already? The couple, the man, was there a group at some point?’ He wasn’t quite sure anymore.
As he stood there for a few seconds trying to remember a group of early 20 something ramblers crested the ridge of the small hill. They greeted him enthusiastically, asking how his day was going but not really hanging around long enough to care for the answer. One or two of them remarked on his attire, laughing and wishing him good luck before they left. Frank tried to retort but found all he could really say in return was a quick hi and a shy smile. ‘Damn it’ he thought, ‘wish I was quicker with a smart comeback, damn kids…they’re not that much younger than me, I’m only…’ He tried to remember how old he was at that moment as he watched the ramblers disappear in the distance. But the thought faded from him and that was it.
Richard and Sally had been doing these weekend excursions for quite a while now. They always tried to go somewhere new, somewhere they could explore and hopefully somewhere that was exciting. But after a while you do tend to come back to one or two that you had been before, unless you wanted to travel somewhere else for a day just to go walk for another day that is.
And all the time they had been doing these walks, even the ones they repeated because, well it was close by, they never came across the same people. Strange really they said to each other, you would think in a local area you would at least come across some of the regulars. But it was that a densely populated area that you would likely never come across a familiar face.
Though on that day, in a local hilly forested area, they hadn’t come across anyone at all for almost the entire day. Maybe there were still areas mostly untouched by man’s hand. But that was a bad thought to have, as luck would have it they suddenly saw someone in the distance. Always as they thought they were alone, a person would then appear. Richard and Sally were starting to think that perhaps they were being watched…they laughed it away as usual, because it’d be ridiculous if people actually came into being because you said you hadn’t seen anyone in a while.
As they neared the person they realised he wasn’t actually walking, he was just standing there, looking around, a little wide eyed. They’d seen him somewhere before, sneakers, jeans, sweat stained shirt…was it on another walk? Or was it a semi-homeless person from the city? He was definitely familiar.
Frank was there in the forest again, why the fuck was he in the forest again?!? What urge in god’s name propelled to go to the fucking forest every time? And why could he never remember how he got there, was he always lost in thought while walking from home to the forest and then came out of it once it was too late? Was he that much of scatter brain? No, he couldn’t be… ‘Wait…I’ve been here before…I know this, I saw a couple here, just a few…days ago? Or was it weeks? How many times had I done this?…It must have been weeks, right?’ Frank started counting frantically on his fingers, how many days or weeks had gone by? He couldn’t remember. Was he losing his mind, was he blacking out and wandering aimlessly into the forest? What did he do when he left the forest? He tried to think, and think hard, but nothing just a dark fog came over his mind…Wait, hold on there were people there, after the forest, men? With white coats, and a tablet, did he go to a shopping mall, was that one of those survey groups that ask about your political affiliation or who your energy provider is? So many questions…it felt like his brain was going to explode. He looked around in a panic, why back here to this spot, then he saw them, a couple, a man and a woman walking towards him, they looked mildly confused. He knew them, he’d seen them before, they were after the men with the white coats, but before the group of kids and that elderly procession, and that other group, and…
They got close to him, they smiled and said ‘heya, fancy seeing you here again!’
Frank stared at them, intensely, they seemed to take a step back. Inside his head he screamed ‘where the fuck am I?! Who are you people?!’ but all that came out was a hello back and his face contorted into a horrid stretched smile with far too many teeth. The couple nodded sheepishly at him and then went on. Frank tried to will his legs to follow them, his body groaned and it went the opposite way a little.
His brain on fire with agony as he watched them walk away, disappearing behind some trees. His voice came back and in a whisper he yelled, ‘help…’ And then darkness came.
Sally and Richard both thought what a strange man that was. Richard was even friendly enough to acknowledge that they’d seen each other before. Some people…best to keep away from them. ‘I mean I said hi and all I got back was that terrifying smile and just a simple hello, not even a hint of recognition…’. ‘I know dear…’ Sally joined her partner in berating humanity ‘Some people are just odd, he probably wasn’t well. Just look at his clothes he’s clearly not right in the head going multiple times hiking with those clothes. Best we leave it, probably won’t see him again, was weird enough seeing him twice…you know lightning never striking more than twice.’ ‘Doesn’t strike twice Sal…’ Sally waved him away, he looked back once more and saw the man turning with what looked like a lot of pain and then swung himself around and walked the opposite direction. They could have sworn he said something but it was too far away and when the trees became too dense they couldn’t see him anymore anyway.
‘Where am I? What is this place?’ Frank was in some pool of liquid, it wasn’t water, it was milky and thick. He tried to look around, at least he was still wearing his clothes, they didn’t feel wet though, strangely enough. Then he saw them, the men with the white jackets, they had dark sunglasses or goggles on, they weren’t close to him. Was he in some sort of container? He flailed a bit, his arms didn’t touch the glass. One of the them came closer to where he was, they stared at each other, the man tapped something on his tablet and walked away re-joining the group. The group left whatever room he was in.
What on earth was going? He was in a forest a moment ago, he saw that couple again. He had tried to say something to them but couldn’t and then when he wanted to follow them, his body moved on its own and then…then he was here. Frank remembered seeing the people with the white coats before, he had been here, maybe or somewhere else where they were. He tried to swim away, maybe get a better angle or viewpoint. But he didn’t move, well least not from that spot. He could kick his legs and flail his arms but he would just remain there. His breathing also didn’t change, was he even breathing? How? Was this like that oxygenated liquid that deep-sea divers have? Why would he be in that. ‘Shit…I’ve been kidnapped and drugged…These are harvesters…I’ve read about them, they traffic in human organs…’ Frank started to shiver at the thought, he really didn’t want to die this way. He tried to find a way out, but there wasn’t any movement, nor was there an exit that he could see.
After what seemed like an eternity of flapping around, one of the non-descript men in a white jacket came back. Frank had stopped by now and just lay there, exhausted, at least mentally. He wasn’t sure if he felt whether his body was exhausted. The man with the dark glasses stared at him, maybe it was the same guy, maybe not. He tapped something on his tablet and the liquid started to swirl. Frank’s eyes shot open; ‘This is it, I’m being flushed out, time to harvest…Maybe I can fight my way out when I land.’ The liquid started to swirl faster and faster and faster, Frank was getting nauseous now, not sure he’d be able to stand after this. Then the lights went out and the motion stopped. It was black and quiet.
Sally and Richard had decided to take a break from their walks for a few weeks. After the last odd experience with the extreme-smiley man. They’d also seen through their various walking and hiking apps that there was news of one other incident where a strange man had assaulted a group of boy scouts, or something like, with both genders in troupe. The group had gotten away and the man hadn’t followed very far before they’d lost sight of him. Richard wondered if it was the same man, maybe he lived in the forests and had just gone funny in the head. That would explain a lot really. But the incident had taken place somewhere else, not far from their forest, it wasn’t the same place and it was a different route.
‘Maybe we should go for a walk again this weekend?’ he thought aloud. Sally chimed in and agreed that as the weather was nice, they should make the best of it.
Back in the forest, just like all the other times, on the path waiting. Frank still couldn’t understand why he was being sent here time and time again. But he knew now that wasn’t mad, at least he was pretty sure he didn’t dream it all. He wasn’t wet from the vat he was in, but the men in white coats were definitely real.
Maybe he could convince someone of his situation, were there any people around? Usually people would appear when he was alone like that. Frank looked around, and there they were, a couple hiking along. He’d seen this couple before, he knew them. This was his chance, maybe they could help him.
He moved towards them, surprisingly his body allowed him to move in that direction. He got closer, they seemed to recognise him as well, relieved he continued. Though they didn’t seem pleased when they recognised him. He hadn’t said anything wrong, he was sure, maybe the smile put them off last time. He waved at them, they started to turn around. He yelled ‘No wai—Hello There!’ Wait, what? He didn’t want to say hello… He tried again with more force, ‘Helpppp…meee—Hi!’ What the fuck was this? Franks mind burned every time he tried say anything other than a variation of hello.
The couple turned at the last thing, looking frightened and confused. They had understood Frank. ‘I’mmmm F-F-F-Frankkk…ple— Hello!—ple—helpppp mee…’ Standing still, they stared at the contorted visage that Frank had become as he tried to force words out that his mind wasn’t happy with him saying.
‘We’re Richard and Sally, do you need something’ Richard answered, receiving a kick in the shin from Sally for his efforts. He looked wounded and pleaded with Sally, ‘The man’s in distress, we should at least see if he needs medical attention’. ‘But he’s the creep from the other day and probably the other forest’ Sally retorted. Waving her away he turned back to the slowly approaching Frank, it looked like he wanted to run but his legs would only allow him a walking pace. Maybe his legs are injured, that’s a terrible thing to have if you’re stuck in a forest.
Frank pushed himself with every fibre of his body to get closer to Sally and Richard. They could help him, he was sure of it, they could release him from his prison. As he neared them he suddenly felt his body groan, something pulled at the pit of his stomach. No this can’t be good, like a rope attached to his navel started pulling him away, but it wasn’t really in a direction. His bod lurched forward, he was now within grabbing distance of Richard. ‘Beiiingg…pull…..hellpp—Hiya—err…hhelp meee..’ He sent out a hand to Richard, it half bent into a wave but he managed to force it down. Richard stared blankly at him, Sally stood terrified behind him. Frank felt sorry for them in that moment, they hadn’t wanted this, nor had he wanted this either. But here they were, fate had somehow fucked up and led them together.
The pull got stronger on his navel, the direction felt inward. He grabbed Richard’s hand, and clasped it firmly, ‘Don’t let go!’ he implored Richard. Sally grabbed Richard’s now locked arm as Frank eye’s went bloodshot and he lifted of his feet. He went up a few centimetres of the ground and then dropped with a crack to his knees. He screamed in agony. Richard still holding fast, unable to let go stared in horror now.
Frank could feel the world leaving him, the black emptiness was coming back. They were recalling him, he knew it. But not this time, this time he had anchor. Looking back at Richard and Sally, he knew it in his gut that he’d stay this time. He was yanked again, he appeared to be hovering now, and his belly exploded in a balloon of pain. If he could endure he’d be free.
Screaming in the air now, Richard tried to let go, but couldn’t his arm was being pulled closer to Frank, Sally slowly sliding with. ‘Let him go damnit Richard! What the fuck are you doing?!’ Sally screamed at him. Realising suddenly that the wind and leaves were rustling as if a storm had hit them. ‘I’m trying, but I can’t, his grip’s too tight or something’ Richard shouted back over the hurricane of noise.
Frank looked down at his saviours; just a little longer, please.
Frank opened his eyes, he’d made it, he was released…He vision going from blurry to clear, the realisation came over him, he was back in the vat. He tried to turn, slowly with a great deal of effort he managed to actually turn around in the vat. Maybe his ordeal had strengthened him a little.
As he looked behind him, his world shattered…there were so many more vats behind, all filled with people. Some were asleep others looked frightened and there he saw one that contained Sally and Richard, they were screaming. They saw and they tried to mime something to him. Frank had no way of knowing what it was what they were saying, but he knew, he had somehow trapped them in here with him. His saviours had become his victims. Maybe that’s how he had gotten in here, he had tried to save someone and the otherworldly pull was simply too much. As he stared at the couple going mad in the vat, a man in a white coat walked up to them. He stared at them with his dark goggles, tapped something on his tablet, stared for a while, scratched his head quizzically and then tapped again. As he turned to walk away, Frank saw that the liquid in the vat started swirl in dimensions he didn’t think were possible. Richard and Sally were being sucked into the centre somehow, and then with a brief pop, they vanished. Did the men in the coats release them? Were they a mistake? Frank felt a little relieved, maybe he hadn’t condemned them to an eternal prison. The man in the coat walked to his vat, no emotion could be read on his face. He stared at Frank, tapped his tablet again, walked around the container, Frank turning with him. The man tapped again and then Frank felt the pull on his navel…’Wait this isn’t what happened last time, last time you made it swirl, why am I being pulled now?!’ He screamed into the soundless liquid. Though there was no pain with the pull, unlike in the forest. Was he being released? Then a white hot blinding sensation tore through his body. It felt like he was being ripped apart at every seam. And then it went away…he was still there in the vat. The man was gone as well. What exactly was happening?
Some time passed, minutes, maybe hours. Then a whole group of men in white coats appeared out of the shadows beyond Franks vat. They all scurried to him, stared at him and simultaneously they tapped something on their tablets. The place lit up, he was in some unimaginably huge warehouse, he couldn’t see the end of it. They all tapped their tablet again and then the water swirled. Ah going back to the forest after all again thought Frank and in a moment it went pop and all was black.
Richard woke up in bed, Sally next to him. What a strange and terrifying dream…They had seen that man in the forest and tried to help him and it all went weird. It felt so real, but it couldn’t have been real, because how did they get home then. There was also a man in a coat…was he there in the forest…He looked over to Sally she was still sound asleep. Thinking better of it Richard rolled over again and went to sleep.
Frank opened his eyes yet again, ‘Well lets see who I say hello to today’ He said to himself, though without sound, his mouth didn’t open. He looked around and he could see the endless warehouse, with a limitless amount of vats in front of him. His body moved forward, his feet scurried of their own will. He neared a vat with a woman, his head looked her up and down and then his hands came in front of him with a tablet. One let go and randomly tapped on a screen pictograms that seemed to morph in and out of existence. ‘What the fuck is going on? Why am I here, why can’t I do anything?’ Again all in his mind, no sound escaped him. His hand finished tapping whatever it was they were tapping for and the liquid in front of him swirled and the woman disappeared. Frank’s body then moved on, and repeated it with the next occupied vat, and so on and so on. Frank suddenly realised, in his attempt to escape, they, whoever they are, had placed him into a container he could never escape…one of them…His new home, for lack of a better word, scurried on into the shadows, tapping away and Frank sank away into nothingness.