Who are you?
Part 8 of my "12 Short Stories" - Challenge
Based on a prompt by Mia from deadlinesforwriters.com
‘I keep telling you, you have got all this totally wrong!’ Paul can hear Helen shouting through the open front door. He rushes in and there she is, paler than usual and face to face with a man Paul has never seen before.
The man wears a suit made from matte midnight blue material. He also wears an earpiece and black sunglasses. He leans forward into Helen’s personal space which does not seem to impress her or make her move away from him.
‘Is there anything wrong?’ Paul asks. It takes both Helen and the visitor a few seconds to look away from each other.
‘This only concerns your wife’, the man says, making air quotes around the last word. ‘I am only here for a couple of questions. Depending on your cooperation we will decide on the next steps.’
Paul feels a cold shiver creeping up his neck. ‘Wait, cooperation with what? What steps? And who is we? Helen, what is going on here? Do you know this person?’
Helen crosses her arms, staring at the man in the suit. ‘No idea. I have never met him in my life, he just turned up here and wants me to agree to this totally ludicrous story he made up about me.’
Paul is impressed by how she manages to look imposing even in her soft greyish tracksuit with her sandy brown hair in a messy bun. Still, the strange man does not seem too intimidated.
‘Mr Taylor, what do you know about your wife’s family? About her childhood?’
‘What does that have to do with anything?’ Paul responds at the same time as Helen’s face loses the last bit of colour. ‘She didn’t have any family left when we met but so what? Who goes around calling on people who have lost their parents? Who are you and on whose authority are you here anyway?’ Paul can hear his voice going up both in volume and in register.
The man pulls an identity card out of his pocket and holds it up for Paul to inspect, but really only long enough for him to catch the name J. Hunter. ‘I have already identified myself to Mrs. Taylor here. She should have known better than to drag this out for so long. You needn’t have witnessed any of this.’
Mr. Hunter takes a small folder from inside his jacket. It opens to reveal photos of a girl with braids the same brown as Helen’s hair and eyes the same bright blue. ‘You remember this, ‘Mrs. Taylor’?’ The man manages to enunciate the quotes now that his hands are busy holding the evidence. ‘We have spent decades to find you, I have to give you that. But then your kind has always been good at vanishing in plain sight, hasn’t it?’
‘Okay, what do you suggest is my kind?’ Helen growls, even though Paul can see she has taken a step further back.
‘Mr. Taylor, the person you think of as Mrs. Helen Taylor is, unfortunately, a completely different person. A different being, to be precise.’
Paul reaches out for Helen and she grabs onto his hand hard. He can feel how cold her own hand is and smaller than he remembers it. They look into each other’s eyes.
‘Whatever you are suggesting, Mr. Hunter, there is nothing wrong with Helen. She does not vanish nor is she a ‘being’. She is my wife and I trust her. She has never done anything wrong for as long as I have known her.’
‘Precisely.’ Mr Hunter stows the folder away again. ‘Let me tell you about Helen Taylor: What you see here is not a human. Not even someone from this planet. This individual was planted here about thirty years ago. Most likely to spy on us, but new intelligence has come up which we are currently working on.’
Paul stares at Helen who seems to have shrunken a couple of inches. He looks at their hands, still clasped together.
‘Have you ever wondered about her parents or when and why they died? Why she does not have any other family?’
‘No, and I don’t care! I see no reason to—’
‘Have you never asked yourself why you two have never had any children?’
‘Bit personal, isn’t it? We agreed that we did not want any, that’s why! We don’t have to justify our private decisions to you! Who do you think you—’
‘Where was your wife born? Have you ever visited any of the places from her childhood?’
‘No, I haven’t! Well, but—’ Paul looks at their hands again. Looks at her ashen face. Helen is the one who lets go first. She crosses her arms and sniffles.
‘Paul, don’t listen to him. I don’t know what these people want. Just because I don’t want to go back to where I came from does not make me an alien. You believe me, don’t you? Paul?’
He takes a deep breath and faces Mr. Hunter again. ‘She is the smartest person with the biggest heart I know. She has always supported me, back when we met as students as much as today, every day. I don’t know where I would be without her. If anyone here in this room is definitely human, then it’s her.’
‘In all those years it never occurred to you that she might be too perfect? That her level of cleverness is unnatural? That she might simply be presenting you with an image she wanted you to see?’
For the first time Paul wavers. He remembers their friends starting families. They never actually talked about any of their own. Neither has he ever asked Helen about her childhood. If she does not want to talk about it should that make him suspicious?
To him, she has indeed always been perfect. But too perfect? No. What makes him love her are all her imperfections. Not how bright she is but how she does not have all the answers all the time and how she does not expect him to either.
‘I am sorry, Mr. Taylor. You are not the first human I have had to have this talk with. I don’t enjoy this, but you have to face the facts. And even if you don’t, we will have to take measures soon. This situation must be dealt with.’
‘I am not a situation!’ Helen shouts at Mr. Hunter who turns away and raises his left hand. Not to protect himself, as Paul at first assumes, but to touch the device in his ear.
“What? The wrong— No, not again! You know, just for once I wish I could send you lot out here by mistake and have you make them forget! We will discuss this!”
He sighs, turns back to Helen and Paul and says: “Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, I am very sorry about the inconvenience.” Then he pulls out a small black sphere and holds it in front of him.
“I am sorry love, of course I do believe you!” Paul starts walking towards Helen to pull her into his arms but before he can reach her, a bright light blinds his vision and he collapses.