I’m in an alley. It’s nighttime. There are dumpsters and garbage bags and I think I can hear a rat or nine snuffling around nearby. I’ve just woken up here. I have no idea where I am or what is going on. But that’s not unusual. I will say what I see.
The evening is cool, and in the distance, where the alley meets the street, I can see people strolling in their autumn clothes. Occasionally I’ll see a scarf on someone’s neck, but it’s not quite that cold yet. Cool, not chilly.
There are doors. Of course there would be. Above the doors are signs. “Deliveries, ring twice”, “Wing’s Famous Chinese Food”, but the one that catches my eye is “Stage Door”. I could approach, I could just walk in on my own, but I’d rather just stay here in the alley, crouching here alone for a little while. The last few times have been so draining and so fast-paced and so poorly written that I need to catch my breath.
There are also a few cars out here. Nothing expensive, no luxury cars, no money here. Utility rules the day for the most part. Small beaters, enough to get you where you’re going if where you’re going is nearby. Don’t make plans for extensive road-tripping in them. The people who own them won’t have the time for road-tripping anyway, I’d imagine, what with them having to hold down two or three jobs just to pay the bills, just to make it through the month without dying.
Bit by bit, as I wait here, the cars drift away. One was the delivery car for the Chinese restaurant, and the scent of fried yummy things was very tempting. Another two belonged to men from the door marked “Deliveries, ring twice”.
Out of the stage door there came a gaggle of young women and men, fit, beautiful. Dancers, I’d imagine. They pile into two of the remaining cars and drive off. There is only one car left.
It’s different than the others, and was hidden from my vantage point until now. It’s old, or at least it’s styled old. Maybe from the 40s or 50s. It’s either very expensive or it’s very not expensive, and I cannot yet tell which.
The stage door opens again and a familiar figure emerges, silhouetted for a moment. As the door slams shut behind her, the figure walks towards the remaining car. I catch a look at her face as she passes under a light.
Well this was all very easy, all I’ve done is sat on my ass and there She is. Convenient! She opens the door to her car, climbs in. The door shuts with a satisfying clunk, the sound of a heavy door without any plastic faff in it. I stand and walk towards her.
She’s checking the rear-view mirror, adjusting her hair. As I get closer, She tweaks to the movement and our eyes meet. She smiles and waves. I start to wave back, but something is wrong. There’s someone in her back seat.
She must have seen the shadow pass over my expression because She also dropped the smile. But before I can scream a warning, the man in her back seat, wearing a mask of the face of She, had put a rag over her face and knocked her out.
I ran towards the car but the man in the mask was too quick and had pushed her aside, climbed into the driver’s seat and started the car. He tried to run me down as he escaped, but I dodged the side. I followed the car out of the alley and as it turned right, I did something I’ve always wanted to do but thought only happened in movies. I hopped in a parked cab and yelled, “Follow that car!” Amazingly enough, that worked.
The cab followed at a good distance as we drove through the city. The kidnapper was in no hurry, and hadn’t noticed that he was being followed. Once, I thought we’d lost them, but my cabbie took a shortcut and there at the end, we refound the car.
Soon enough, we were in the docklands, and the car had pulled into a warehouse. I paid my cabbie double and complimented him on his tailing skills. “I always said I could have been in the CIA! Good luck, whatever you’re doin’, pal.” He drove away and I was alone.
The warehouse wasn’t particularly secure, to be honest. There was a fence with a gate, but around back of the warehouse, the fence was low and the razor wire topping it was gone, so climbing over was no problem. Couldn’t go into the building through the main doors like the car did, that would be too obvious, but there were plenty of open doors and broken windows at this end of the warehouse. Entrance gained, I listened for what I could hear.
Presently, I came to an open door, on the other side of which was a large, bright room. Peeking around the corner, I could see the car. She was back in the driver’s seat, but still knocked out, it seemed. The man in the mask of She was standing outside, watching her. Off to the side, at a console of sorts were two men in white lab coats, sucking their teeth and nodding gravely.
Then, one of the lab-coat fellows looked up and gave the She-masked man a thumbs up. The She-masker than whistled. Within moments the room had filled up with no fewer than 50 more She-maskers, gathered around the car. The leered into the car and they waited for her to wake up.
I was unsure what to do. With so many of them, while it’s perfectly possible that I could take them, I was not confident I could do so without them killing or otherwise damaging She. And so, as much as I hated it, I waited.
Shortly, She woke up. At first, just a slight stirring, then holding her head. When she opened her eyes, at first she just looked around, trying to process what was happening. And then she screamed in terror, as I perfectly expect any of you would in a similar situation. The She-maskers screamed back.
The men in the lab coats peered at their console and then, after making a few notes on a clipboard, gestured that the She-maskers ought to proceed. They opened the door and ripped She out of the car, dragging her kicking and screaming to a cage at one end of the room I’d not noticed. Putting her inside, they all held their fingers to their lips — well her lips, since they wore masks of her face — and everyone was silent.
Reaching into his pocket, the lead She-masker produced a remote control. With a press of a button, She and her cage were pulled aloft. With another press, a curtain (also as yet unnoticed by me) covering the entire far end of the hall parted, revealing a giant-size photo of her face. By now, the terror had seized her so completely that she merely wept in silence.
The She-maskers wheeled in a scaffold next to the photo and they climbed it and with markers, paint, excrement, whatever they could find, they defaced the photo. With knives and keys and their own hands they ripped it to shreds. All the while, She looked on, eyes wide, choking back tears
When the She-maskers had finished their destruction, they waited in front of their handiwork, their masked faces upturned towards where She waited in her cage. And they waited. The lab coat fellows continually took notes.
She composed herself, and looked at each one of them, as if trying to suss out who they were, but the only thing She could see was her own face, disembodied and made vile.
But then she glanced my way. I raised my hand just slightly, and I could tell she had seen. The remaining fright in her eyes melted away. She turned back to the She-maskers, and She began.
Try to do it hard, She sings, try to make me numb. Make me feel despondent and then try to do it hard again. Do it with dignity, always stay aloof. You know many more Mes than you’d imagine.
Continuing without end, She sings, until you reach the exact end of this road. There’s only one chance. You may want to stop along the way, and you may have fashioned a means of escape, but if you do it alone, She sings, it’s meaningless. In truth, there is only one thing that holds value here: love.
So, She continues, around the world, no one knows me. There’s only one. And it’s to you that I’ll show all things. I’m here, but around the world, no one knows me. Really, even you still don’t know I’m here, maybe.
Like the place we struggle to arrive at, She sings, there are too many choices. Though neither of us have the slightest idea, as we perceive the same light cone, walking side by side the only true thing is your profile. But in the end, there is only one thing that holds meaning: love.
And so it’s fine, She sings, that no one around the world knows me; it’s perfectly fine that you’re the only one who knows all about me. It’s perfectly fine that no one knows me. But it’s imperative that We know Us.
The She-maskers whooped and hollered, and then they all fled from whence they’d come, save the first one. He walked to the men in lab coats, gave a curt bow, and turned on his heel. The men in lab coats left the room too.
The final She-masker used his remote control to lower the cage. Now was my chance. I raced from my hiding place, covering the ground between myself and him in a matter of moments. Just as I was about to land a bone-shattering punch–
She opens the door to her car, climbs in. The door shuts with a satisfying clunk, the sound of a heavy door without any plastic faff in it. I stand and walk towards her.
She’s checking the rear-view mirror, adjusting her hair. As I get closer, She tweaks to the movement and our eyes meet. She smiles and waves. I wave back and break into a trot. Reaching the car, I climb in the passenger’s seat. She smiles, and grasps my hand.
Funny, I thought I heard a noise just then.
All is black.