The Unwinding

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Mind the GAAPs

Kiri awoke with a stinking headache. The world coalesced in front of her, intruding on her brain like a siren breaking the peace of the forest. Slowly she raised her head taking in the chaos around her.

‘Where am I?’ she gasped, struggling to make sense of the room, trying to remember where the hell she was.

From the kitchen the sound of clanking utensils and food sizzling indicated that there she was not alone.

‘You’re at mine,’ Mark’s voice boomed back. ‘I thought you might need some breakfast.’

Kiri’s head filled with an uncomfortable string of memories. Raising herself up in the bed she surveyed the scrumpled bed sheets, they were thick cotton and felt soft and soothing against her skin.

As her brain caught up with her surroundings she checked underneath the covers, confirming what she already knew, she was wearing nothing. It really had happened.

Images of the two of the two of them together came back to her. It had been great but somehow she felt a crippling embarrassment.

‘What happened…last night?’ she shouted back, trying to sound nonchalant as her voice came out like a croak.

Mark appeared at the bedroom door, wearing only a ridiculous kitchen apron with a picture of a salmon to protect his nakedness. He leant against the doorframe holding a spatula at a suggestive angle.

‘You don’t remember?’ he smiled. ‘You burst in here saying how you couldn’t resist the Markster’s sexy charms anymore.’

‘I did not,’ Kiri was annoyed by his smugness but she couldn’t help smiling at his ridiculous pose.

‘Oh yeah you did.’ Mark was on a roll. ‘You were all over me. I’m telling you. You wanted a piece last night.’

‘Did I?’ Kiri harrumphed and pulled the covers around her to form a sort of robe. ‘Well I must have been drunk.’

Mark let out a loud laugh.

‘Hell yeah you were that. How is the head today?’

Kiri winced. ‘Sore’

’I’m sure it is. I’m making a bit of a fry-up,’ Mark said, ‘want breakfast in bed?’

‘No, I’ll get up,’ Kiri gave a decisive nod and bounced in the bed, making Mark laugh.

‘Ok then,’ he shouted as he turned back to the kitchen. ‘It’ll be ready in three minutes.’

The eggs helped chase the hangover away and Kiri slowly felt herself returning to her old self.

‘I don’t know what came over me last night,’ Kiri said after they had both finished eating and sat sharing a pot of coffee. ‘I don’t normally, I mean I’ve never actually…’

Mark reached and touched her forearm as if to stop her speaking.

‘We don’t have to explain anything to each other. It was fantastic.’

‘But I didn’t … I mean I don’t know if you wanted to.’

‘Of course I wanted, who wouldn’t. I just never thought you would turn up at my door in the middle of the night and jump my bones.’

‘So you want to see me again?’

‘We’re neighbours,’ Mark smiled, ‘I’m pretty sure we’ll see each other again.’

‘You know what I mean,’ Kiri mock-scolded.

‘Yes, yes of course I do but what do you want? Yesterday you were telling me you didn’t see the point of relationships and today you’re sitting here eating breakfast wearing my old sweatshirt… which stinks by the way.’

Kiri laughed.

‘Jeez I don’t know, life’s confusing.’

‘Speaking of which Jed has arranged us access to the archives so we can go back and try to solve another little mystery,’ Mark said.

With everything that had happened in the last 24 hours Kiri had indeed forgotten about their investigation but suddenly the importance of their research came back to her with a thump.

‘Well,’ she replied. ‘Why do you think I had to come round here in the middle of the night to make sure you got up on time this morning.’

Mark laughed again and carried the empty coffee pot to the kitchen sink.

They arrived at the Civic building at one thirty as a lot of workers were leaving for lunch. Dressed as they were in jeans and t-shirt they got funny looks from the staff who were mainly dressed in sharp suits.

‘Is Jed meeting us?’ Kiri asked as they waited in the lobby of the Civic building, avoiding death stares from the receptionist.

‘Yeah he should be on his way down.’ Mark grunted.

‘Did you tell him anything about what we think about the records?’

‘No,’ Mark turned Kiri a serious look on his face. ‘I wouldn’t say anything either. I don’t know if anyone else knows we’re here but some people might not want us to be snooping about like we are if they did.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I don’t know its just a feeling. If there is something that’s not right with the GAAPs then chances are someone, somewhere knows why and that someone might have a reason for not telling.’

At that moment Jed appeared and ushered them to the lift and up to the main archive. He seemed subdued compared with the previous visit and barely made any comments.

The room he led them to was enormous, filing cabinets stretched away in every direction. Kiri had not been prepared for the sheer size of the place and suddenly felt daunted by the task ahead of them.

’Wow this insane these must go back hundreds of years,’ she whispered.

For a split second she remembered the feeling of standing, tiny and ant-like in the giant structure of the stadium the evening before and for the first time since she woke up she wondered what had happened to Ben.

She remembered going with him to one bar and then other but after that the sequence of events became muddy in her mind. They had made some new friends at one point and she remembered dancing but could not recall Ben leaving. What time had he gone? Or had she left him?

Automatically she checked her phone for any message from Ben but there was none. Lucian had left a few eager messages. Rachel asked if she was ok. She ignored them. What sort of friend was she?

She should tell Ben the good news about her and Mark. But what was the good news? She looked across at Mark, a look of concentration in his eye. Half of her wanted to say they were “together” but even imagining telling Ben, her closest friend, suddenly seemed absurd.

She had always thought people that got hung up on someone else were idiots. Life was too short to wait around on someone else’s dreams. She didn’t have long enough to do everything she wanted as it was.

After an hour or so in front of the files she had reached a batch that all came from a specific facility in the city of Cyness. She had never heard of the place but from the descriptions in the nurses’ reports she could tell it must be far in the north as they frequently mentioned the bitter cold both outside and inside the facility, even when she could tell from the date of the reports that they were filed during summer months.

From the very first file that Kiri opened from the Cyness hospice she had a prickly feeling on the back of her neck. On the face of it the reports were laid out in the same manner as those from all the other facilities but something about that batch made her hair stand on end.

It seemed the facility was very remote from any other civilization and would frequently suffer from power cuts or failures in the heating systems that the staff and residents had to put up with for long stretches at a time.

The first reports that Kiri read were over seventy years old and reading them made her head spin. The people described in the pages in front of her felt so real, accompanied with photos and grainy pictures of the facility and yet they all existed so long before she had even been born. She had always been told that GAAPs were abominations of nature, the most terrifying end anybody could face but what if the rest of the world were the abomination? What if everything she had been told was normal was some kind of cosmic joke?

As a major, she was already old, she couldn’t expect to live much more than two short years, and yet these people, the GAAPs would have been born nearly a one hundred years ago. She had never really considered that life could be any different. Clothing, fashions, fads might change but other than that life was meant to continue exactly the same with each generation. Reading the files for the first time however she had a sense that the past could be something mysterious and alive, full of stories, full of secrets.

‘Find anything?’ Mark shouted across, sometime later, chewing the end of his pen with a bored look.

‘Give me a minute,’ Kiri replied with out taking her eyes of the file she was studying. ‘there might be something…’

She had moved on to more recent files by this point. Only a mere twenty years old. The same format prevailed and she had become adept at reading between the lines. She was able to tell when a member of staff had died from their disappearance from daily ward reports. She knew which GAAPs were troublemakers, which were truly vegetative, which were favoured by the staff.

Through the files she picked up a sense of the rhythm of life in that faraway facility in the freezing north, a slow pace of life but spiced up now and again with a new arrival or some unexpected incident.

In general these incidents involved a disturbance when one of the GAAPs had a bad turn and refused to accept the rules or worse tried to escape. The GAAPs were strictly confined within the facility and from what Kiri could gather there was, in any case, little of chance of survival in the cold outside.

Despite this there seemed to be regular cases of disobedience and breakout attempts from the residents. Although none were successful the management obviously required that each incident be carefully documented, as there were reams of pages with statements and witness testimonies.

Within these one name – T. Bramen - kept on recurring but Kiri was struggling to identify who this person was. It appeared to be one of the GAAPs, a ringleader almost, but when Kiri looked for the file for T. Bramen at the Cyness hospice she drew a blank.

It seemed clear that somebody under that name had been at the facility but all the mentions were somehow elliptical or vague. It was clear everyone knew who this T. Bramen was but from the fleeting descriptions Kiri could still not establish if Bramen was a GAAP or member of staff.

What puzzled her more was trying to work out how long this person had been at the facility. Despite the numerous mentions it proved difficult to match any of the dates to a specific year. It seemed this person had been in the facility at least one year before but may have been there much longer.

‘Come and have a look,’ Kiri motioned to Mark.

Mark shuffled over and peered over Kiri’s shoulder at the file.

‘Here, this looks as if its from fifteen years ago but this seems to be from last year. Its not possible someone could survive that long is it?’

The words sounded strange as soon as she spoke them. When it was said out loud it sounded crazy. Nobody could live that long.

‘Not unless they were a child when they arrived?’

‘No why would anyone take a child into a GAAP facility? They must be a GAAP, only majors are allowed into those facilities.’

Mark’s curiosity was obviously pricked as he pulled a chair to slide closer to Kiri and the file.

‘Maybe there is more than one? Or maybe its not a person at all but a shorthand to refer to any inmates that cause trouble’

‘I thought that, but it seems strange doesn’t it?’

Kiri flicked through the files she had reviewed, highlighting some of the mentions that had stood out to her.

‘You’re right it doesn’t make any sense,’ Mark hunched over the files a look of concentration on his face. ‘These descriptions certainly sound like one person but they’re so spread out. It would be strange to use a name like that to refer to lots of different inmates. You’re sure there’s no file attached anywhere for T. Bramen.’

‘No, I’m pretty sure’

Methodically the two of them split all the files from Cyness and started looking for either the admittance file or death certificate for the mysterious T. Bramen but nothing turned up.

Having exhausted the files in the batch that Kiri had studied they went back to the cabinets and checked in neighbouring batches, even going as far as to pull out the drawers and check down the back of the units in case the file had fallen out, but there was no sign.

‘It can’t be an accident can it?’ Kiri could sense Mark’s excitement matched her own. ‘If this is a real person then their file has been removed from the others for some reason.’

Although she had been coming round to the idea that GAAPs might not be such an abomination as she had previously thought there was nevertheless something dark and frightening about anybody surviving to such an old age.

Imagine the secrets they would know, they would come from an entirely different world. Was it really possible that someone could live longer than two whole lifetimes?

Thinking about this T. Bramen, Kiri felt simultaneously excited - that there might really be a cure for unwinding – and at the same time a deep sadness for this poor person. What sort of life could it be to live in this frozen facility to watch everyone you knew die, to become a decrepit shadow of the person you remembered yourself to be.

‘Are you ok?’ Mark had his hand on her shoulder a look of concern in his eye.

Kiri suddenly realised she was on the verge of tears though quite why she wasn’t sure. Something about this file touched an emotional chord in her.

‘I’m fine, I just need a break I think,’ Kiri sighed. ‘I know I shouldn’t feel sad for them but somehow…’

Mark hugged her and smiled.

‘Come on, let’s nip out for breath of fresh air.’

He tidied up the pages from the Cyness files, pausing only to take a couple of photos with his phone.

‘The rest of the files must be somewhere, we can search online when we’re back home.’ he said.

They took the lift down to the ground floor and were crossing the foyer when they bumped into Jed, again looking somewhat dejected.

‘You guys are still here?’ he asked, surprised to see them.

‘Yes lots to get through,’ Mark said.

‘You’ve not found anything I suppose?’ Jed said, staring at his feet.

‘Well nothing concrete, but maybe you can help?’ Kiri butted in. ‘We are looking for some missing files from the Cyness facility. Would you be able to find where they have gone?’

‘All the files should be there,’ Jed muttered. ‘I can have a search and see if there have been any requisition orders on any of them. I really doubt it though nobody is ever interested in those old files.’

Kiri wrote down T. Bramen and the name of the facility then Jed shuffled off into the bowels of the building and the two of them stepped outside.

In the warm air outside, Kiri instantly felt better. It was as if a giant weight had been lifted from her shoulders and she felt young and happy. Happy to simply walk down the street beside Mark, to feel his hand around hers.

They turned left out of the Civic building, towards the Labdoorton neighbourhood where there were a few nice cafes.

‘There might be some bands playing out in the street since the weather’s nice,’ Mark grinned a restless energy in his face.

Kiri followed him, a warm feeling filling up the empty ache that had threatened to swallow her only minutes before. The more distance they put between themselves and the Civic building the less urgency there seemed to solve any of the problems that had seemed insurmountable. Within three blocks she had forgotten why she felt like crying in the first place.

It was unusually warm for that time of year and as Mark had predicted they soon heard music wafting across the evening air. The Labdoorton area was a trendy area for those into music and nightlife.

Unlike the downtown area where Kiri had been with Ben after the game, the Labdoorton part of town was far more chilled out. It was a bit of a hipster zone, in some cafes majors would work as ‘waiters’ and bring your food to your table instead of bots. A few even had ‘hand-made’ food but it normally tasted disgusting.

The streets in this part of the city were narrower than the wide grid- pattern roads that made up most of the rest of Hampton. Cobbled alleyways and connecting streets snaked this way and that, giving the district the feeling of a maze.

The buildings too were different from the rest of the city where glass and concrete dominated the skyline. Here most of the buildings were older, stone, hand-built, intimate mounds that formed a higgledy-piggeldy jumble of styles and apertures where tables and chairs were arranged for customers to enjoy a tea or take a smoke.

‘Let’s have a coffee here?’ Mark suggested indicating a cute looking café with small wooden tables arranged on the cobbled street outside. Each table was painted green and covered in a quilted tablecloth embroidered with hearts.

They sat down and Kiri looked at the menu. Everything looked delicious. After a few moments a waitress appeared.

‘Hiya,’ she yawned. ‘What can I get you?’

‘Two coffees,’ Mark drawled back, ‘and…’ his finger hovered over the cake menu, ‘…is there anything you can recommend.’

‘Do I look like I’m here to tell you what to eat?’ The waitress had evidently got up on the wrong side of the bed. It was a wonder she bothered. There was no need for staff in any cafes since the systems could easily provide food.

‘Uhh ok a carrot cake and…’ his eyes darted across to Kiri as he tried to hide a smirk. ‘… a walnut cake?’

‘Yes,’ Kiri smiled.

The waitress disappeared as abruptly as she had arrived and the two of them burst into peals of laughter.

‘Oh my god, what crawled up her ass?’ Mark snorted. ‘She must have seen one too many Adil vids about waiting tables.’

Kiri laughed too and for the first time since her birthday she had a clear feeling of what it meant to be a major. It was being free, it was being in control. No-one could tell her what to do any more. After years of being fed through early school and then middle-ager school she had got used to always having something she should be doing, youngster’s she had to look after, exams she had to study for, always something to keep her occupied.

Now for the first time she was free to choose what to do with her days. Who to spend her days with. Her eyes rested on Mark’s handsome face, the fading afternoon light seemed to exaggerate every feature, made him look perfect, like a statue etched of chrome.

There she was in the middle of the day with her lover, she turned the word over in her mind, her lover. She could spend every day that way, effortless, weightless. It felt like a soft wave of pleasure was lapping at her mind.

Mark talked on and she answered but she felt almost as if she was somewhere else. Half of her brain was in the moment, enjoying being there, enjoying talking to Mark while the other half of her brain was on an abstract plain watching the whole scene, experiencing a certain timeless quality. She wondered if she wasn’t falling in love with Mark.

The sun had already set by the time they finished and although they must have been talking for hours by that point Kiri couldn’t remember a single thing they had talked about. They had talked about everything and nothing at the same time.

Mark went inside to sort out the bill as it was customary, in the few cafes with real waiters, to provide a tip in person. For the first time since the previous night Kiri found herself on her own. Her hangover had been completely cured by the coffee and now she longed to return to Mark’s bed to relive the action of the previous night and morning.

Several minutes passed and Kiri’s desire started to turn to impatience as she tried to imagine what was taking Mark so long. Perhaps there was a problem processing his payment? He had gone to the toilet? Maybe there was a queue?

Without Mark there in front of her the curious feeling she had experienced since arriving, the warm soft wave of affection, disappeared. Surely he would be back soon? Where before she had felt uplifted, almost sedated, now she had doubts.

A panic filled her chest. What if something had happened to him inside? Perhaps the unwinding had hit him early and he had had a stroke in the restaurant, only a few metres away and she had not been there to help him.

In alarm she ran inside, prepared to witness a gruesome scene, but all was quiet. The bored waitress stood next to the serving point chewing on gum and staring at a giant screen showing a sports game.

At the sound of Kiri’s flustered entrance the waitress turned around.

‘All right, he’s already paid, darling,’ the waitress gave Kiri a lopsided grin.

‘He’s paid?’ Kiri felt relieved and confused in equal measure.

‘Yeah he paid and split. Gave me a nice tip too,’ the waitress weighed up Kiri’s reaction for a second before her face fell into a sympathetic smile. ‘Oh honey, First date?’

Kiri tried to maintain her dazed smile and shrug of the news.

‘Oh yeah, no, yeah he told me he had to go,’

The waitress gave her a sceptical nod and reached out to touch her on the shoulder.

‘I wouldn’t worry hon, he just got a phone call,’ the waitress leaned in close to Kiri as if they were best friends sharing gossip. ‘Seemed important and he just ran off. Maybe he’ll call you later?’

The waitress pointed behind her, indicating another door to the café through which Mark had presumably left. Now that Kiri had acclimatised to the place she realised they must have approached the café from the side entrance and the other door was in fact the main entrance.

‘Did he say where he was going?’

The waitress gave another concerned smile as if unsure whether to try an protect

‘No deary he just left.’

Kiri walked out onto the street feeling almost light headed. Why had Mark left in such a hurry? They had been having such a great afternoon; presumably the phone call must have been about something serious. But what? What phone call was so important that Mark had to leave without even saying goodbye?

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