Gone For Good – A Short Story

By Meg Sorick; 2017

Moving day was finally here. I’d always hated living in the Philadelphia suburbs and at long last I was saying goodbye for good. The plan was pretty simple. Kim and I would recruit friends and neighbors to help load up the moving truck on Sunday, we’d stay with her family Sunday night, and first thing Monday morning, we’d go to settlement. With cash in the bank account, I would hit the highway in the truck, towing one of the cars. Kim hated the idea of a coast to coast road trip so I suggested she fly out five days later. “You’ll have some private time with your mom that way,” I had said.

The sale of the house netted us $53,000. Not a fortune, but enough to get started someplace new. Kim kissed me goodbye outside the realtor’s office and I took the cashier’s check with me to the bank on my way out of town. I promised to call her when I stopped for the night. My plan for the first day was to reach Knoxville, Tennessee.

At the bank, I deposited the check in our joint checking account and withdrew the small balance in our savings account which I added to the stash of currency I’d been accumulating over the past few months. The black Addidas backpack held $21,000 in tens and twenties.

The trip to Knoxville would take longer than if I were simply traveling by car. I was counting on that fact in keeping Kim from worrying if I didn’t call until late in the day. My first stop was actually going to be in Lancaster, at an auction, where weeks ago, I had negotiated a lump sum for all my worldly goods. The proprietor had also agreed to pay me in cash. When I drove away with my empty moving truck, I had another $8,000 to add to the backpack.

Next, I returned the truck to the local rental office and transferred my bags to the back of the Subaru. Now, I would hit the road for Knoxville. I arrived only an hour past my estimated travel time. Kim hadn’t worried at all.

The bank had said the money from the cashier’s check deposit would be available in increments of $10,000 per day on the first four days and the final $13,000 on the fifth day. I wouldn’t have time to access all of it before Kim boarded the plane for San Fransisco, but I’d be able to get a sizable chunk. I had planned my route based on branches of the national bank being close by. First thing Tuesday morning, I withdrew $9,990, just below the limit that would attract attention from the Internal Revenue Service. I did the same thing in Asheville, North Carolina the next day. And again in Atlanta, the day after that. Enough was enough. I was cutting it close.

That night in the hotel, I smashed my phone to pieces, cut my driver’s license and my credit cards into tiny bits and said goodbye to Perry Reynolds for good. My new driver’s license issued in Florida, read Michael Johnson, a name so common, it would never stand out.

The next morning, I parked the Subaru in the long term parking lot of the Atlanta airport and took the shuttle to the terminal for international flights. Instead of boarding a plane, though, I circled through the terminal to the area for arriving flights and hailed a taxi to take me back to the city center. After replacing my cell phone using my new identity, I made a single phone call.

“Hey, it’s me,” I said, the smile apparent in my voice. “I’m on my way.”

Inhuman (13)

To read from the beginning, please visit the Inhuman Page.

The feeling of weightlessness quickly abated as the cramped elevator descended through the earth. With her hands braced against Nathan’s chest, Amanda closed her eyes and held her breath until the motion stopped and the door opened into a lobby area. Here, the workers were boarding standard-sized elevators for further descent into the facility’s warren of laboratories and offices.

“This way,” Nathan directed, leading her down one of the corridors to the Human Resources Department. After a brief physical exam, neurological exam and eye test, she was retina scanned (at which she mentally rolled her eyes), and photographed for her ID badge. She was returned to Nathan at the front desk an hour later. He gestured for her to follow. After they had walked out into the hallway, Amanda put an arm out to stop him. “You haven’t even told me what my new job is.”

“Same as your old job at Jason Mechanical. Purchasing.”

“Purchasing?”

“Yes,” he replied, resuming his pace. “You will be in charge of ordering material and products necessary for some of the agency’s programs. You’ll be working for Lydia Castle. You met her on your first visit.”

“How could I forget,” she muttered.

Nathan stoped and faced her. “Look, it only made sense that the agency make use of your job skills. You know how to do this. It’ll be just different vendors from the ones you’ve been dealing with.”

“So how does this…” she threw her hands up. “… big, secret, underground laboratory manage to purchase material from companies in the real world?”

They reached the elevators and Nathan paused. “Try scanning your retina and make sure it works.”

She stepped to the panel and opened her eyes wide. When the scan was complete, and they had stepped into the elevator, she said, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“All the purchases are made for a phony manufacturing company about ten miles away. The material is delivered to them and then transferred here using our own private trucks.”

“But how …?”

“How do we get it underground?”

She nodded.

“The trucks only run between midnight and three AM —not that there’s any traffic around here anyway. When they arrive at the old road leading to the main Centralia mine, the barricades are moved and they pass through. Beyond sight from the highway, the road is well-maintained. It’s just the first hundred yards or so that are rough going. Then, at the main mine tunnel, there’s a barn concealing the freight elevators that deliver goods and material to the subterranean warehouse. The trucks are garaged there during the daylight hours, too.”

“So I make orders on behalf of this fake manufacturing company?”

“Yes,” he said. “Don’t worry. Lydia will explain everything in exhaustive detail.”

“Great,” she said sarcastically.

They continued the rest of the journey in silence. The purchasing department looked as normal as any office space Amanda had ever worked in. Lydia Castle waved from inside the glass door. Nathan said, “Here’s where I leave you.” He hesitated, then leaned close. “Have dinner with me tonight?”

Amanda’s eyes widened. “Dinner?”

He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, maybe that was inappropriate. I just thought…”

“You could answer some more of my questions?” she finished for him. “I would like that.”

He gave her a smile of relief. “Great. I’ll call you later then.”

Amanda stepped through the door and was greeted by Lydia. After introductions were made to the men and women she’d be working with, she was shown a training video and given a desk near the woman who was to be her mentor. The day passed quickly as she became acquainted with her new job.

At five o’clock, she accompanied her coworkers to the elevators and waited for a car to carry her back to the main lobby and the surface above. While she waited, she looked around at the other people walking the hallway and froze at the sight of a familiar face. Brian. As he passed by, his eyes met hers without so much as a glimmer of recognition. He’s really gone, she thought as he turned the corner and was out of sight.

Inhuman (12)

To read from the beginning, please visit the Inhuman Page.

Sunday had proved uneventful. After a fitful night’s sleep, Amanda set to work putting her house together: hanging artwork, shelving books, organizing the kitchen and bathroom. By dinner time, she was weary and ready to put her feet up. She heated some soup and had just turned on the television when her phone rang. Nathan’s name came up on the ID. “Hello?” she answered nervously.

“Amanda, how are you settling in? The house to your liking?” he asked.

“Um, yeah. It’s great, just great.”

“Good. I called to give you instructions for coming to work tomorrow. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” As if there was an option, she thought.

“Excellent. We have a bus service dedicated to bringing our staff into the facility. That way we don’t have a lot of traffic or wasted space for parking cars. You need to walk out of your development to the main road where you will see an unmarked shelter. That is the pickup location. Be there by 8:00 sharp for your bus.”

“Alright. I’ll be there,” she replied.

“When you arrive at the facility, I will meet you and take you to Human Resources where you will be issued a photo ID badge…”

“What no retina scan?” she asked sarcastically.

He ignored the remark. “…and then I’ll take you to your department. After tomorrow you’ll be on your own. Any questions?”

She sighed. “Nathan, I have a million questions…”

“About tomorrow, Amanda,” he cut her off. “Anything else you need to ask me can wait, do you understand?”

Not safe to talk on the phone, then, she thought. “No, I guess not.”

“Good. I’ll see you in the morning,” he said and disconnected abruptly.

Amanda set the phone down and chewed her thumbnail. A bus. She wasn’t the only agency employee in town, then. It made sense. She had checked the area on the map and saw that besides Makepeace, there were no other towns within ten miles, just a few isolated farms and a truck stop out on the interstate. Wouldn’t a bus service attract attention, though? The rest of the people in town surely would wonder about it, wouldn’t they? There must be some sort of cover story… Just one more question to add to the list.

Despite her exhaustion, apprehension kept her tossing and turning all night. In the morning, she showered and dressed on autopilot. Then, after coffee and cereal, she made the short walk to the bus stop. Three other people were already waiting. She pasted on a smile and said hello. They all returned the greeting but when Amanda looked away, she immediately felt their eyes on her again. She stared at her phone and checked her email to avoid the stares. The bus arrived exactly on time and as the passengers all boarded, they quietly acknowledged the driver and found seats. Amanda sat next to a woman who appeared to be in her late forties or early fifties, reading a paperback novel. In fact, everyone on the bus seemed to be middle aged or older. I’m so much younger, she thought. Maybe that’s why they’re all staring.

The bus made its journey not out to the main road, but along a narrow, winding country road which eventually left all signs of civilization behind. Not long after leaving the town, a chain link fence perimeter, marked with warning signs for the hazards of the underground coal fire beyond, appeared along the right side of the road. When the bus stopped, there was no evidence whatsoever of the sprawling facility beneath their feet. Unsure what else to do, Amanda rose and followed the other passengers exiting the bus. They swiftly and wordlessly hurried toward a small, dilapidated building just outside the fence, which must have once been a storage shed or garage for the mine. Amanda followed at the end of the line. Once inside the building, she found Nathan waiting for her. Relieved, she squeezed through the crowd to his side.

“Amanda, good to see you,” he said. “All’s well so far?”

“I suppose. Except I feel like everyone is watching me,” she replied.

He gestured for her to walk with him. “Hm, well, considering we haven’t had a new employee join the team in over ten years…”

“You’re kidding. Isn’t there any turnover? People retiring? That kind of thing?”

“Not yet. The original staff and support personnel are aging, but this program is new enough that no one has retired yet.” They joined a queue of people at the back of the building. Amanda couldn’t tell what was happening at the front, but the line steadily moved forward.

“And no one just decides to leave? To find a new job elsewhere?” Amanda lowered her voice. “Or isn’t anyone allowed to leave?”

Nathan frowned. “It’s a situation we have yet to encounter. The doctor is the first person who demonstrated a desire to leave. Anyone else who may want to go has kept it to themselves,” he said quietly. Then looking at her out of the corner of his eye, he added, “So far.”

When the line of people had dwindled to just a few, Amanda was able to see that one by one, the employees were being retina scanned at a panel discreetly camouflaged as an intercom. As the employees were cleared, a hidden door opened and closed behind them. After everyone had passed through and she and Nathan were the last ones left, he stepped forward to be scanned and pulled Amanda close to his side. “We’ve got to go through together, Amanda. It might be a tight squeeze.”

As the door opened, Nathan stepped in and pulled Amanda into his arms. Amanda gasped as she was pressed up against his body and the floor seemed to drop beneath their feet.