The trilling of a bell woke me from images of tentacled creatures swimming through space, contracting and expanding their legs with imperceptible speed into closed and open patterns which propelled them through the vacuum. With each opening, there was a glint of a raw, fleshy orifice, and a flash of incisor. Creatures who could make a human being disappear in one gulp.
Was that what I had been – still was?
The light from the window was brighter than when I was last conscious, and the clouds raced in faster from the sea. Presently two men appeared, dressed in a dull green uniform. Chan stood behind and between them, her arms crossed. I turned my chair round towards the men, who had started talking to me in a familiar tone. Initially I assumed that I must have met them before. But there was also a perfunctoriness about the questions that put me on my guard. They were acting as they would with anyone they might then decide to take away.
‘Sir, did you drink anything before going out on the waves?’
‘I don’t drink alcohol.’
‘Can you tell me your name?’
‘Yes. William Daniels. Everyone calls me Bill.’ At this, Chan made a startled sort of a noise, and uncrossed her arms. The paramedics looked round at her inquiringly. She pursed her lips and refolded her arms.
‘Where are you from, Bill?’
‘Australia. Brisbane. Where are you from?’
‘Are you on holiday, or living over here?
‘Both, I suppose. I’m living in London; down here for a couple of weeks surfing. Probably not any more of that though after this morning.’
‘And where are you staying?’
‘In a B&B in Newquay. The Stanton Guest House.’
‘Anyone with you there that Chan could ring, get them to come and pick you up?’
‘No. I came down on my own. My friends are all up in London.’
‘Can you tell me who the British Prime Minister is?’
‘Can you tell me who the Australian one is?’ I told them the name of both of the then current incumbents. The facts came to mind as far as I could work out naturally, without neurons scrambling to connect with each other in a desperate search. Why was I able to tell them these things when what I had told Chan was the truth – that I could remember nothing about myself? It seemed my life depended on telling the ambulance men lies.
I let them examine my head for signs of damage, but they found no more than Chan. Then they set me some cognitive tests. I deliberately avoided any attempt to reflect while answering, letting whatever instincts – long possessed or recently planted – guide me through without apparent fault. To the paramedics, I was no mystery, just another antipodean surfer who’d maybe been a little careless but lived to tell the tale without injury or scar.
Chan talked to them before they left. They weren’t whispering, so I heard most of what they said.
‘… seems to be alright. He’s not concussed. If he doesn’t want to come with us, we can’t force him. You okay with keeping an eye on him?’
Even now, remembering the moment when I stated my name for the first time, I am not sure whether I plucked it from a fold in the matter of my brain under which it lay hidden, giving off a luminosity which made me grab for it in that previously dark and empty void of computation, or if I invented it out of thin air, through information that had been gathered during the short walk from the beach to the house, or pieced together from what I had seen in Chan’s house. What I knew with frightening certainty was that the paramedics had the power to place me in the hands of the authorities, even being ignorant of what I was, and I would do – had done – everything necessary to avoid that fate.
As the heavy-sounding engine of a vehicle started up outside the house, I cast aside any doubt. I was sure that I had dug the name from underneath the fallow earth in my brain because it was a seed sown there by the species which had set me down on this planet. They had placed me among these people either in the spirit of research, or with a mission that would come to me once my body recovered from the shock of its displacement; a mission that would be revealed when I was ready to effect it.