Do You Wish You Could Disappear?
rating: +50+x

June. June 1st. It's not a bad day for you. To your knowledge, you've never had a bad June 1st; spring pollen is gone, spring tourism is gone, and summer temperatures and business hours are here to stay for at least three or four months. Things are good, you tell yourself as you pull your tired legs up onto the base of the barstool. Things are good, you tell yourself as you take a halfhearted sip of flavorless domestic beer. You're as unconvinced as you ever were.

A man stops you on the way out of the bar. "Hey, you from around here?"

You turn around. "Just moved here from DC three days ago, actually."

"You got somethin' funny-lookin' about you."

"I could say the same about you," you mutter. Redneck drunkard.

"Aha- I like that! You feisty! I don't mean no harm. All I mean to say is you look like you from the city. Whatcha doin' down here at the beach?"

"Fishing and drinking, I guess. What are any of us doing?"

The man ambles closer to you. "Look, out-of-towner, let me tell you a thing or two. You say you like to fish? You won't be pickin' up normal fish around these parts, here. Not anymore. You know them military folks at Sunny Point, across the Cape Fear, there? Buddy of mine says they're up to somethin', and I can smell it. There's somethin' not quite right about all that across the river. That Sunny Point over there, and that nuke plant. It's messin' with the fish, I reckon, the water ain't right no more."

"Is that so. Well, I have to get home." You pick up your pace and motion to the sidewalk, wishing you'd taken the car.

"Aww, shucks, if you don't wanna be bothered, I can skedaddle. But I saw an out-of-towner in there at the bar, I just had to warn 'em. Me 'n the guys have been readin'. Readin' about some freaky military stuff you won't believe is real, I tell ya."

"Okay. I'll keep it in mind. Have a good night."

The man mumbles something and stumbles back toward the bar. You've only lived in Carolina Beach for a little over 72 hours, and it's about how you expected thus far. You amble back through the windy, sand-covered streets to your apartment complex and double-lock your door for the night.

"Good morning. It is 10:15 AM, June 2nd, 20-"

You roll over and swipe left on your phone to silence the robotic voice of the alarm. The pure white light of the sun reflects off the Atlantic and into your balcony's sliding glass doors. You remind yourself of how thankful you are to have moved towns, and use the energy to propel yourself up out of bed.

While you're brushing your teeth, you hear your phone ring. You ignore it until you're ready to leave the bathroom. Upon looking at your notifications, you see a new text message from the number that called you. Hey, how you been? It's your old pal Wes from Washington. IDK if you had my number saved. How's North Carolina? Got that lack of government presence you'd been looking for? ;)

You sigh and prepare to type a reply. Sorry, I was in the bathroom. Good to hear from you. And yeah, it does, though this conspiracy theorist was haranguing me last night at the bar, going on and on about how the nearby military base and nuclear plant are poisoning the fish or whatever. Other than that, don't have to think about those things too much. How are you? You hit send and put your phone on the kitchen counter while you pour yourself some cereal.

You consider going out for the day, but figure you might as well take advantage of your one remaining week of post-moving break before you have to go back to work. You sit down on the couch in your pajamas, trying to appreciate the ocean view and bright, friendly color scheme of the decor. You find yourself missing Washington DC's white marble and black asphalt quickly.

A new text from Wes appears on your phone. Remind me, did you stick with the Bureau or go back the civilian route?

You answer, I'm a real estate agent now. I want nothing to do with that world anymore.

I feel ya, his response says.

You figure you'll have a real conversation later, and turn on the television to waste away a few hours.

"What's the date?"

"The third."

"Right, thanks." You finish scribbling on the check and hand it to the gas station cashier. "Sorry, I just moved to town and I'm a mess. Usually I'd pay with card."

"We're fine with the old-fashioned route down here, don't you worry."

"Appreciate it. Have a good one."

"You do the same. Welcome to town."

You smile and walk out to your car. As you're pumping gas, your phone rings. It's the first time someone from the local 910 area code has called you.

"Hello?"

The person on the other end is clear and friendly, and asks for your name.

"Depends, who's asking?"

"I was informed of how to contact you via channels at the Federal Bur-"

"Oh, no no no. I'm gonna have to stop you there. I told all of my superiors that I was cutting all ties. Not on bad terms or anything, but government work wasn't for me. I'm not interested."

"I'm afraid this isn't negotiable. Is there a good time and place for a few of our operatives to meet with you and discuss a matter of urgent security?"

"This doesn't sound real. Look, if someone at the Bureau needs me, you guys need to do it through the right channels. I don't trust this local area code. Are you the FBI's Wilmington office?"

"No, we are not."

"Are you going to tell me which part of the Bureau you're from, then?"

"All of that is sensitive information, but can be discussed in-person if you can just inform us of what location works for you and what time."

"I don't mean to be rude, but I'm not inclined to follow someone to a shady meeting when they won't even tell me which part of the agency they work for. Please inform whoever you talked to at the Bureau that there are more secure and straightforward ways to contact me. I cut all my ties with the Bureau fully legally, no loose ends. I work in real estate now. If it's really, truly urgent, you know the right way to reach me."

The other end is silent for about five seconds. You hang up and take the gas pump out of your car. You make a note to yourself to text Wes about it when you get home.

"Only a month until fireworks!" a young girl pipes up to her mother.

"That's right, honey!"

You give a small smirk at the family hiking in front of you as you scoot around them and further down the trail. It's only 75 Fahrenheit today, but the sun is beating down; still not too bad for June in the southeast, you figure, and you've packed water with you for the day.

As you're taking a picture of the Cape Fear River from the shore by the trail, an incoming call pops up over the screen. It's a 202 area code — Washington. You sigh and answer it. "Hello? Yes, that's me. No, you- Are you the department that called me yesterday? I can't meet in person. I don't know what else to tell you. I quit. I'm not in the business anymore. I don't know what legal recourse you have for trying so hard to contact me, but- Excuse me, how can it be mandatory? I told you I quit. I have an apartment now, and a new job. You can't take me anywhere. No, don't argue with me. Either tell me which department you're from or leave me alone."

The call goes about as badly as the last one. You hang up and try to focus on nature for the day, but the hair on the back of your neck stands on end for the next few hours.

Around 9:30 PM, you arrive back at your vehicle in a rush. You still have 30 minutes until the park closes, but nightfall was heavy and dark and had you jogging out of discomfort for the last half-mile or so. You guzzle water as soon as you're locked in your car, make all attempts to shake off the leftovers of the eerie sensations of the forest, and drive the short distance home.

There is a man in black clothing standing on your porch. You sling your backpack over your seawater-splattered shoulders and walk up the stairs to your door. "Hi, can I help you?"

The stranger greets you by name, confirming your suspicions, and motions to your door as if he's inviting you into your own apartment.

"No, uh- Just slow down, please. I just got back. Are you the branch of the Bureau that keeps calling me? I know you had to have my new address on record, but you guys weren't supposed to come here unless it's an emergency."

"My name is Agent Rogers. I work for the SCP Foundation. We attempted multiple times to explain to you on the phone that we can't disclose that except in person."

"I don't know who you are, then. Are you FBI?"

"No, we are not."

"Then what do you want with me? There are plenty of other ex-government agents to harass."

"Your history as a government employee qualified you for a serious career opportunity. One you may be interested in considering."

"I told the Bureau and I'll tell you: I'm done with government work. Period. I sell beach houses and drink beer now, okay? I'm not a Washington drone anymore."

"We are not government. I would be happy to give you more details if we can go inside."

You suck your teeth and eye your vehicle over your shoulder, watching for any movement. "You're awfully pushy."

"I don't mean to be rude. These are simply urgent matters."

You keep scanning the parking lot, trying to figure out which vehicle is his. You realize you haven't lived here long enough to tell who owns what, and turn back to the man. "Okay. Fine. You can come in and talk."

"Thank you." He smiles with expressionless eyes and follows you through the door, seating himself at your barstools as you walk to the sink to wash your face and hands. "In your time at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, did you ever hear of the Unusual Incidents Unit?"

"Yeah. Once. Figured it wasn't real." You splash your filthy face with cold water, hoping enough small talk will make the man realize you're not interested in the offer.

"It's very real. The UIU does what we do, but on a much smaller scale. You are aware of what the UIU is tasked with, no?"

"All that weird shit. Area 51, Men in Black shit. I never see those things actually happen, they're always hoaxes, so I never thought much of it."

"You never see 'it' happening because my organization contains it. 'It' being anything anomalous. Things regular government and law enforcement don't know how to handle. One such anomaly is here, in our ocean, with our largest research facility situated a few hundred kilometers offshore." He points out the balcony at the smooth, moonlit surface of the Atlantic. "And that one is flaring up. Badly. We need more personnel to staff that site, and if necessary, explore the anomalous structure under-"

You throw your hands down, splattering water. "Okay, and why are you telling me this? Are you going to have to kill me afterward, or something? I don't know why you people won't listen when I tell you that I don't want to know. I'm done with government work. And you say you're not government, okay, fine, but you act like government, with all this sneaking around and hiding phone numbers and not speaking over the phone, and I'm ready to leave that part of my life behind."

"I understand. What you need to understand is that 'that part of your life' is not ready to leave you behind, so to speak. Due to your history with the FBI, you have been selected for mandatory service. At least temporarily."

You freeze and slowly move around the kitchen, trying to keep your panic under control. You just saw two figures flit past your porch window. You wince and look for your phone. It's still in your pocket. You breathe a sigh of relief and take a microwave meal out of the fridge.

"Okay, well, I'm not going to be okay with that. So go have a nice night and I'll take you to court about it, I guess."

"We do not function that way, I'm afraid."

You swallow. "What do expect me to do, then?" you ask, slitting the overwrap on the meal with shaking fingers.

"We expect you to come with us."

"…Right now?"

"Eat your dinner and pack your things and leave within the next hour, yes."

You feel a little anger rise over your nervousness, slamming the microwave shut. "Look, Agent… Rogers, right? You seem like a nice guy. You're nonthreatening, you're well-spoken, you're just doing your job, I get it. I was you once, just without, uh, all of… whatever that is that you guys do. And that's where I'm not you, you know? I'm not your type. I don't think I'd function well around 'anomalous' things. I barely functioned around real human criminals. This work isn't for me, man, and I just want to enjoy this new apartment and my new life."

"Like I said, this can be temporary. And the organization will pay your rent while you're gone. Plus some, obviously."

"I don't want to go. I'm not going."

He raises an eyebrow. "Look, I'm really trying here. You have the background to know how these things work. Are you absolutely certain that you want your official response to be refusal?"

"Okay, you know, you're making me so nervous. Please get out of my apartment."

"I'm not going to leave, but I'm also not going to hurt you. If you would just let us talk about this a few minutes more, I really think you'd be pleasantly surprised with the opportunity."

"I'm sure it's great, really. And I do mean that. I get that there are people who are good at this sort of thing. But it's not for me."

"The Foundation disagrees on that. Your history shows-"

"And does your Foundation know me better than I do?" You start moving toward the door to lock it. You do so slowly, not breaking eye contact with Rogers. He doesn't do anything in response. You shuffle back over to the microwave and take out your food.

"No, I do not think we know you better than you do. But we do know what your previous government employers have told us about you, and you are a perfect candidate for this assignment."

"Or so your superiors have told you. How do I know — how do you, the agent the higher-ups send to do dirty work, know that that's the truth? Like I said, I was you once. You're not always operating for the purposes they tell you that you are."

Rogers sighs. "I have not seen any reason to doubt that the Foundation's motives for contacting you are truthful."

"Right. You haven't seen any. I'm not going with you. I'm really, really not. You can leave now."

A pained expression crosses Rogers' face. "I'm not going to leave. This can be done the easy way."

A lump rises in your throat. The microwave meal suddenly seems inedible. You seat yourself next to the agent at the counter and eat slow, methodical bites. The two of you sit in silence for a few minutes.

"…Are you going to comply?"

You cough and sputter on a bite of meat and reach for your glass of water. "I'm actually kind of panicking right now," you say quietly, looking to the side.

"I understand."

"Please just help me understand, then. Why does my history with the FBI give some agency I've never heard of the power to demand that I work for them? What happens if I refuse?"

"If you refuse, which you have been, I will continue to explain-"

"No, I mean how is this going to happen? I'm saying no. What's your response?" Your pulse is pounding in your head.

"Our response is that this will be easier for you if you don't resist."

"Hooooly fuck, okay. Okay, I can't believe this is happening right now." You put your head in your hands, grasping your hair with sweaty fingers. You shoot a glance at Rogers. He looks somewhat sympathetic, which somehow makes the situation even more unsettling.

"So, again, if you want to eat, shower, change clothes, that's fine. But I'm expected to return to the facility with you sometime tonight."

You look from the balcony to your food to Rogers' holstered pistol and back again. "…Okay. Well, uh, this killed my appetite, so I guess I'll… go get in the shower? Is that okay?"

"You'll come willingly, then?"

"Um… no? I mean, I would not call this willing. You're just making it pretty clear that it's not really an option, so I'm kind of still processing this."

"Alright. Go ahead and take a shower, then. I don't recommend changing into anything too nice, because we'll give you new clothing when we get to the Site."

"Okay." You duck into the bathroom and brace your head against the wall. "Uh, feel free to get a drink or snack or something if you need. I guess." You don't know how to be polite in a situation like this, or if it even applies.

You walk into your closet and take out a plain black T-shirt and pants.

You'll take a shower to get the grime off, leave the water running, and then climb off your bedroom balcony. That's what you'll do. It'll be a 30-second sprint to the bar, where you can tell the bartender what happened, they'll call the cops, and you'll be back in the real world. That's all it takes. In 15 minutes this will already just be a crazy story. You just have to get there.

You turn on the water and wash yourself in a four-minute blitz. When you're out and dressed, you leave the water running against the side of the tub, turn the bathroom vent on for extra noise, and begin sneaking through your closet and into your bedroom. There's one part where the hallway is visible from the open bedroom door, and you wince as Rogers almost looks at you, but he misses you by a split-second.

The fresh air hits your open mouth and eyes in a salty blast. You try to get your bearings as you put your hands on the weathered wood railing. It's only 15 feet down. What's one uncomfortable fall into some bushes in exchange for avoiding kidnapping? You brace yourself to jump over, taking one final look toward the lights of the bar on the other side of the wall of thick foliage by the parking lot.

You're glad you notice them before they notice you. Two people dressed in all black just like Rogers, standing on the sidewalk by your car. Fuck. If there are still two of them on the porch, that means these people sent five agents to come get you. Maybe it actually is important.

Think, think, think.

Maybe it's the action of Rogers standing up and walking toward you that does it, or maybe it's just the panic all spilling over at once, but something compels you to swing over the railing anyway. You crash into the bushes and take far too long to roll out of them; by the time you're on your feet, you can hear the two agents that had been standing outside running a few meters behind you. You make a beeline for the bar, unsure of what's going to happen once people see you, but desperate to reach that point anyway.

You're sprinting down the sidewalk, relieved by the glow of the bright streetlights, when one of the men tackles you from the bushes and puts you in a choke hold. You scream into his palm as he clamps it over your mouth. "You are going to walk back to your apartment with us calmly and slowly when I let you go," he mutters, "or I will inject you with a sedative more powerful than horse tranquilizer and you will be unconscious for twelve hours. Is that clear?"

You nod against his hand, tears flooding your eyes. He lets go of you and you stumble out of the other side of the underbrush and into your apartment parking lot. The two men follow a few meters behind you as you walk up to your porch. You left your door locked. You curse under your breath and knock. Rogers opens it with a less sarcastic expression than you expected.

"Now that we've made it clear that this is non-negotiable, I will ask again: Are you going to comply?"

"Fuck. Fine. Yes. Whatever answer you wanna write in your fucking paperwork," you mumble, wiping your eyes and nose.

"Noted."

You sniff and stumble into your bedroom to pack whatever they'll let you take, and as slowly as possible. You turn the water off in the bathroom and take out your phone. No service. Go figure.

"What is the date?"

"June 5th."

"What is your designation?"

"D-104-E."

"To what facility are you assigned?"

"Sites 3069 and 42."

"Okay, thank you. You may proceed to the deck. We'll be leaving port in about an hour."

You nod silently. 104-E. 3069. 42. June 5th. Numbers are all that can occupy your head. Numbers and data. You're smart enough to know there used to be different things in your head, but attempting to articulate what they were gives you a throbbing headache, and you prefer to focus on the numbers.

"104 of 500 cleared," the interviewer says into her microphone. You shudder and zip up your jumpsuit against the harsh winds as you walk out across the deck of the aircraft carrier and toward the endless Atlantic horizon, a sour chemical taste on your tongue.

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