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Resonance: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Thursday, July 14, 2005 21:04 EDT



    Blackness, breaths coming fast, chest heaving, hands shaking, leg tapping. His world contracted into a few cubic metres, he sat, hunched over, knees drawn up, hands locked around them, head bowed, hair brushing against the roof of the box.


    Stark and raw.


    People want you dead.

    Words whispered in the black of night. PeopleDead… Want you.

    The words wouldn’t go away. He rocked back and forth, closed his ears, pulled his world in tighter and tighter. No one else existed. Just him, the box and the night.

    And the sound of a car coming closer and closer.

    No! He clamped his hands to his ears and rocked faster, his hair swishing against the cardboard roof.

    The car kept coming, its engine whining through the gears - first, second, third - louder and louder. A roar, a squeal of brakes, the car thrown into reverse, another squeal of brakes.

    "You see a man run this way?"

    "Yeah," said the girl. "He ran down there."

    The car pulled away, screeching, whining, roaring into the distance. Graham held his breath - three, four, five seconds - the car kept going, quieter and quieter. Breathe and pray, count and hope. Six, seven, another squeal. Brakes? Panic welling. The car accelerating again, its sound muffling. It must have turned a corner, taken the left fork at the top of the High Street. Eleven, twelve…

    "He’s gone," said the girl. "You’re safe now."

    A scrabbling noise came from the far end of the box. Graham looked up and blinked at the sudden influx of light as the girl drew back the flaps. Her face appeared, tilted to one side, framed in light from the shops, her hair falling over one cheek. She smiled and held out a hand.

    "Hi, I’m Annalise, Annalise Mercado and you’d better be Graham Smith."

    He took her hand nervously, forced a smile and nodded a thank you.

    "I know about the not talking thing, that’s cool."

    A car engine roared in the distance. She turned and listened. Graham rocked gently back and forth, praying for the car to go away, praying for the night to end and for everything to return to normal.

    The car was coming closer.

    Annalise ducked her head back in the box, "I’d better close this up. Can’t be too careful."

    Darkness descended once more. The car, the night, the endless chase, the fear. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He couldn’t handle this, he couldn’t handle this at all. He rocked, he shook, he pulled his arms tighter around his knees. Make it go away, make it all go away.

    The car raced by closely followed by another. Time dragged, Graham counted, the sound of the two cars taking forever to die. The flaps opened on eleven.

    "All clear," she said, smiling. "Wasn’t him."

    Graham tried to return the smile but couldn’t.

    "You know, you’re a difficult person to meet. You don’t go out, your house is watched, people like follow you everywhere. I bet they even open your mail. And I’ve been like trying to get your attention for days without anyone noticing. You know, the walk and the eye contact thing? And now here you are. How’d you know I was gonna be here?"

    Graham shrugged, his shoulders still hunched from gripping his knees. He felt cold and his throat was dry.

    "Just lucky I guess," the girl continued. "I’m only here so that I could catch you on your way to work. I was going to slip this note into your pocket. Here." She dug into her jeans and pulled out a folded scrap of paper. "You might as well have it now. You’re lucky I’m a light sleeper. Not that you were exactly quiet. You are no stealthy fugitive."

    He took the note, glancing at it briefly as it shook in his hand. What would it say? Even more people want you dead? He found his jacket pocket with difficulty and stuffed it inside.

    "Anyway," said the girl. "It’s all in the note. What I’ve managed to figure out anyway. It’s all linked to ParaDim. Don’t know where you fit in but they are way interested in you. And me. Though no one wants to kill me. Which is a big plus. And they give me money - I’m a kinda consultant. Yeah, I know the kind that lives in a box but, hey, a box is bigger than a suitcase, right? Anyway, it saved your ass."

    Her words flowed right over him. It was like she was talking to him down a long dark tunnel. Her words echoed and ran into each other. He felt light-headed and tired and cold and wanted everything to stop. This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening.

    He rocked back and forth, wringing his hands, repeating the same phrase over and over to himself. This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening.

    Arms enfolded him. Warmth pressed into his cold, dark world.

    "Everything’ll be okay," whispered someone very close.

    And for a while he believed her.



    He awoke with a start. The ground vibrating, the roar of an engine - a lorry - passing within feet of his head.

    He panicked, thrashing in the dark, his feet hitting cardboard. He was…

    In a box?

    Fragments of the previous night drifted back into memory. The chase, the girl, the cardboard box.

    Where was she? He reached out, hesitantly, his hand ready to draw back the instant it encountered anything soft.

    It didn’t.

    He was alone.

    He turned and pushed at the end flaps of the box. It was light outside, traffic was building up, a few pedestrians walked by on the other side of the road.

    He crawled out, feeling conspicuous, confused and dishevelled. He brushed himself off and stepped out onto the pavement.

    Where was she?

    He looked up and down the street. There were about a dozen people but no Annalise. Where had she gone? Had she stepped out for breakfast or a call of nature?

    He didn’t know what to do. Was he still in danger? Should he look for her, hide, go home?

    His little voice told him to go home. Go home, keep out of other peoples’ way and they’ll keep out of yours.

    But he couldn’t. She might be in trouble. She might need money for food. He couldn’t abandon her. She’d helped him. He owed her.

    He ran along the High Street, first in one direction then the other, quartering the area, looking inside the handful of shops that were open - the sandwich bars, the paper shops. He couldn’t find her anywhere. The girl had disappeared.

    He lingered in the last sandwich bar, overpowered by the smell of bacon. He glanced at the clock above the counter - six forty five. He’d be having breakfast now. If he hadn’t been chased from his home in the middle of the night.

    He ordered a bacon sandwich and wondered what he should do next. Could he go home? Should he contact the police? Would they believe him this time?

    He doubted it, there was probably a file on him several inches thick. Come to report another missing person have you, sir?

    He wasn’t going through that again.

    He’d give the High Street one more go. Maybe the girl had returned, maybe she was back in the doorway wondering what had happened to him.

    She wasn’t.

    And neither was the box.

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