Part 3 of Slide to Unlock
See John Explain
Recap: John wakes up in a lab run by armed orderlies. He is restrained. His health is deteriorating. He passes out with all hope fading.
I want to make an aside, now, since I know that I had been out for awhile. A long while.
When I met up with the man with the creeptastic smile—because he escaped, too—he had told me they had me under for weeks. I lost half a year to those people at Weapon X. But, you see, I don’t want you to meet me at Weapon X. Sure I began this when I got shot in the head, but I want you to see more of me.
More than just a man turned monster.
I was once king of the world.
All my life before this, I had worked for this moment. I had pulled late hours doing extracurricular. I had burned the midnight oil to keep my grades. I have bumped elbows with just the right people who could make everything fall into place.
And they did—I fucking ruled this world.
Graduation from M university with my Electrical engineering degree and enough technical experience to land any job I wanted had been the culmination of years of hard work. My mother cried as she embraced me, her thin arms barely fitting over my broad shoulders and Suma Cum Laude decorated robes. My brother smiled at me from behind her, nodding his head in the only affection Forrester men know how to give.
When I broke from my embrace with my mother, I shook his hand.
“Good job, kid,” he whispered as if it were a secret only I had a right to know. And as much a sucker for a show as my record shoes—especially my middle school record—this was indeed a private victory. Only Peter and I understood how hard this had been. He was the only one who knew how terrifying it was to live in the shade of a man I had only met a handful of times; to struggle to recreate a life someone had already lived well; to match my footsteps to his although my legs were shorter. Peter is the only one who knows how big my ego is now that I’ve bested my dad.
I smile at his praise and let go of his hand.
On the fateful May day, the sky is a shining new blue. The heavens are cloudless save for the smog the city invariably coughs up. The sun casts a golden glow on all the robed graduates and their decorated relatives; their smiles shine brighter as congratulations are exchanged.
The normally raucous wind that plagues the campus during the winter and inconveniences in the other seasons, is hushed. Even with all the chatter, the world seems to be quiet; the grass tickles dress shoes and patent pumps, but not a sound is made. The soil is wet from April showers, but not even that can sully the blossoming of the May flowers.
We set off towards the car. My brother’s arm is around my mother’s shoulders, his shadow splaying across my shoulder and chest. I have my elbow crooked with my mother’s powder blue swathed arm linked through it. She leans on each of us, in turn, and the world just feels so good.
This is the moment I remember the most. It’s one of those that, when I get passed over for the 6-month leave or when a squadron fails to return or when I feel like I’m done with it—all of it–, I let the memory wash over me. I bathe in it. I scrub it into the cracks of my character. I abrade the cells of my messed-up, shitty life, until I get back to me; until I get back to the kid who grew up in Jersey with a dream sewn into the seams of his pocket.
Because it’s after this point that everything falls apart, spectacularly.
The United States had been recovering from the great Recession of 2008. By 2020, the economy had been hauling ass for almost 10 years now. Sure, there had been brief periods of prosperity. There was the golden age of social media. Space went commercial. Syria’s revolt had been resolved with the rebels winning. However, with the specter of the Great Recession always on everyone’s mind and United States tax laws as bungled as ever, the economy could only sprint for so long.
When I sat at home, practically glued to my computer and phone, I knew what had happened. The news had been rattling on for days about lowered consumer confidence. They had diatribes about the cost-cutting techniques of America’s greatest enterprises. They had sensationalized the fall of Windows as it quietly slunk back to its gaming platforms for respite. I saw all that but I never once thought it would coalesce into something like this.
Fresh-faced and ready for the world; I quickly learned the world wasn’t ready for me.
My mother had gotten worried about me. I never kept too many friends, but I never stayed in my room as long as this, either. She had checked on me, sometimes dropping off food and other times offering lackluster excuses for me to leave. There was always a leaking pipe, or a broken latch, or Mr. Curad, next door, needed help moving some lawn equipment. I would always blow her off with the same thing: “they’re going to call, ma. I don’t want to miss my first job.”
She called on my brother eventually. He burst through the door, nearly sending me off my chair as I jumped out of my skin. I whirled around to face him, hand gripping my phone and the other my heart, and, when I recognized the intruder as my brother, I began turning back around. He quickly crossed the small room—nearly banging his head in a model airplane strung from the ceiling—and halted my progress to stare at the empty inbox.
“You got to stop this,” Peter insisted, crouching low and looking me in the face. “Face it. You aren’t getting hired right now.”
I shoved him off and surged to my feet. I heard my phone hit the ground, the battery ricocheting under my bed—the one two feet short of comfortably accommodating my height—and I didn’t give a damn about my phone.
I didn’t give a damn about anything.
I knew this was coming and I refused to see the train. I just stood on the tracks hoping that approaching light was my very own, fucking angel. But it wasn’t. And it’s time I owned up.
“I’m joining the air force like dad.” I announced and pushed past my brother. He was pliable under my hands and stepped out of my rampaging way.
When I walked into the hallway, the fresher air smacked me like a ton of bricks. The family portrait, done before Airman Forrester had passed away, stares me down. I see my face smiling and Peter trying to hold me in place and my mother trying to hold both of us in place. I see dad looking at me, too, with the disappointment in his eyes.
“I’m joining the air force!” I shouted again. My voice carried down the stairs and I could hear a rattle in the kitchen. My mother had exclaimed something, but she was too far away for me to hear.
Peter stepped up behind me, a hand on my shoulder. “You sure?” he asked.
I nodded, steeling my jaw and resolve. Because, fuck no, I was not sure. But what else did I have?
No way in any sort of hell was I going to flip burgers with a freshly minted degree from the M University; I’d rather die first.
And, in a way, that’s what I chose. According to the records, I did after all. I died 2 weeks before I woke up in the lab. I died in the back of a Jeep on an Afghan road. I died and this was the day I had decided to let it happen.
“I’m joining the Air Force.”