Another cold chill traveled through Franklin’s body as he once again pressed the play button on the cassette recorder and heard his own voice playing back to him.
He had no memory of ever making this recording.
In fact, he did not have any memory of ever making a recording on this old cassette machine that he found lying at the bottom of a cardboard box. Nevertheless, here it was, unmistakably his voice, explaining in some great detail an answer to the question he has struggled with for months–why he does not recognize any of the people living in the house with him.
“I was–you were–very frantic when I heard you coming over the radio transceiver ,” the message began set to very low volume, Franklin holding his ear close to the speaker, “but I stayed with you, I was there even though it became clear to me you couldn’t hear me trying to reply. ”
The voice on the recording was in a near whisper, as if the person on recording, the person who sounded just like Franklin, was recording in secret. Franklin turned his head to look toward the door of his office, checking to make sure it was closed, then leaned in again to listen to the recording.
“You said to go out and buy a cassette player, an old one from a pawn shop, to make this recording and then hide it with a note instructing you when to play it. You said you were sure you wouldn’t believe what I was telling you, but…” the voice hesitated for a long interval, and in that moment, Franklin’s heart pounded in his chest as he imagined the person on the other side of this message, someone who might even look like him, making sure he was alone before continuing, “but you convinced me. I believe you now. So now I have to convince you that what you are hearing right now is the truth, that everything you’ve been thinking about your family over all these months is all true. You warned me that the people living in our house is not our real family, and I have to help you get rid of them and get our wife and kids back!”
The sound of the voice coming over the small, tinny-sounding speaker ended abruptly when Franklin pressed the stop/eject button on the old cassette recorder, causing the play button to pop out of its recessed position with a hard click. Franklin was in a cold sweat now, and he glanced around the cluttered “radio room” and back at the closed door again, wondering if anyone was on the other side, their ear pressed against it.
Franklin stood up from his seat in front of the ham radio set that he had spent years building and crept with slow, deliberate steps to the door. He had, in fact, had the feelings the voice was describing, the feeling that his family might not really be his own, that they were imposters. In the weeks leading up to The Big Change, he had felt that somehow, in some way, his wife and two children had been replaced. It was just a persistent, lurking feeling, but he had no tangible evidence of its reality. Ayanna looked and sounded like herself; Lavita seemed fine on the surface (though it can be hard to tell with any fourteen-year-old teenage girl), and Tevari, the youngest at eight, was sweet, but… different somehow.
Then, after The Big Change, when his wife and kids stopped looking like themselves, after his stay at the hospital, Ayanna and his therapist convinced him that he should try going back to a normal routine, that recognition and emotional connection might reestablish themselves through the exercise of familiar daily routines. Franklin was an amateur radio operator, so returning to his regular nightly hour or so at the console was actually a welcome relief from pretending the people in the other room were his family.
Franklin gently pressed his ear to the cold wood of the radio room door. He could hear the muted sound of television cartoons playing in the far distance, the clink-clanking of Lavita or Ayanna putting away dishes in the kitchen, but that was it. He glanced down at the gap between the floor and the door.
Not wanting to take any chances, Franklin lowered himself, as slow as he could manage without bumping into something or causing the floor to creak, until he was in the pushup position, and then lowered himself further to look through the small gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. He winced when the cartilage in both his elbows popped–crack-crack!–as he went down, paranoid any sound (however slight) might give away that he wasn’t “relaxing” at his radio.
Franklin lowered himself the last few inches very slowly, pressing his face against the carpeted floor, and peeked under the door. The gap was very thin, but he could see through to the wall on the other side of the dimly lit hallway, and no feet were blocking his view.
He took care getting up from the floor and going back to his seat at the radio console. He took a long look at the old cassette recorder sitting on the wood table in front of him and wondered again where it had come from. He had no memory of owning one.
Two nights ago, he had been rummaging around in the closet for some coaxial cables he kept stored in a box on the top shelf. But beneath the tangle of thick wiring was this recorder with a yellow sticky note taped to the top. The message on the note was in his handwriting and read, “Do not play until November 24 at 7:56pm.”
Franklin kneeled on the floor, inspecting the note and then the recorder more closely, turning it over in his hands without recognition. He pressed the eject button and the cassette popped out with a rattle and click. He pulled the cassette from its slot in the recorder and inspected it, turning it over in his hand, investigating both sides to find nothing–no writing or a label of any sort–then slid it back into the recorder and pressed the cassette receiver closed.
He took the recorder to the table where his radio equipment was set up and placed it on the table. He saw that the cassette was already wound to the beginning and pressed play. Silence. Just a tiny repetitive squeaking sound came from the long-unused gears and plastic tape guides. He fast-forwarded the tape for a few seconds before pressing play again. Silence. He did this several more times until he ran out of tape, then turned the cassette over and repeated the process again, play, fast-forward, play, fast-forward…
The tape was empty.
That was on November 22, between 7:31 and 7:45pm.
Two nights later, on November 24, at 6:58pm, Franklin was finishing dinner with his wife and children.
Just like in the months prior to tonight, the meal was fairly quiet, Franklin and Ayanna exchanging mundane descriptions of their time at work earlier in the day and him half-heartedly trying to coax Lavita to open up about what she had been up to–or to talk about anything at all, really. Lavita, of course, only brooded, looking askance at Franklin, completely resistant to his interrogations. He wondered if her look was just normal teenage antipathy for anything related to parents or whether there was something else there, a sign of her own discomfort of his alien presence, perhaps a crack in the façade they have been perpetrating on him all these months.
Ayanna, however, was much more invested in getting their daughter to open up and talk, firmly chastising her to participate in the dinner table conversation; but after a short while, Franklin insisted that her silent demeanor was okay, that she had a right not to talk if she didn’t want to.
Tevari, on the other hand, was a little chatterbox, more than happy to relate the minute details of his day’s exploits at school and on the bus ride home. Franklin smiled at the little boy as he animatedly described how Ms. Miller’s wig had slipped sideways while reaching over her head to rummage through a tall shelf, thus proving his theory her pristine locks weren’t real to the other kids. He spoke proudly of the approval he received from his reading teacher, Ms. Anderson, during reading circle time. Franklin was amused by these stories, and he silently wished that the gregarious little boy sitting across the table from him was his real son.
Franklin tried to see the face he remembered as his son’s on this child and couldn’t. What he was able to remember of his son contrasted starkly with the child he saw in front of him. In Franklin’s mind, the two images were as dissimilar as the moon is from the stars.
In the middle of Tevari’s dramatic monologue, Franklin looked down at his watch and saw that it was 7:03pm, and his thoughts shifted to the cassette player sitting on the table in the radio room. It had been on his mind all day.
Franklin looked up to see his wife–or the woman claiming to be her–catching him looking at his watch. He was startled by the eye contact but tried his best not to show it. He gave her a nervous half smile.
“Looks like time got away from us tonight,” Ayanna said, putting a soft hand on Franklin’s shoulder. It was a warm gesture, but Franklin forced another smile while suppressing an overwhelming urge to jerk away from the touch of the woman sitting next to him.
“Ah, yeah,” he said, straining to effect authenticity, “Here, let me help you clean up before I go into the radio room tonight.”
“Oh, no, this is your time, honey,” Ayanna insisted, pulling a plate away from Franklin’s grasp as she stood up, “Tomorrow’s Saturday, so there’s going to be plenty for you to do in the yard then,” she said, bending to kiss her husband on the head before resuming cleanup. Lavita and Tevari joined her in clearing the table as Franklin gave a grateful nod before getting up to make his way to the radio room.
Franklin peeked down the empty hallway through a crack in the door before shutting it. He considered setting the lock and then decided against the idea–doing that was too suspicious. He’d hear someone rattling the doorknob long before the portal opened, for sure, he reasoned.
It was 7:04 as Franklin sat down at the radio console table and switched on his rig. Lights and dials lit up as needle pointers jumped on the channel monitors. Franklin heard muted squelch coming through the headphones hanging over the microphone arm hanging over the console and the mechanically filtered voice of another ham radio operator coming over the air. “Q-20 from Lima-Yankee-Seven-Bravo… Q-20 from Lima-Yankee-Seven-Bravo…”
Franklin reflexively grabbed his headphones and slid them over his ears. He picked up a pen and began writing the frequency and call sign into a record book of DXers, radio hobbyists from around the world who try to make as many distant contacts as they can. He adjusted his microphone as he shot a glance at the clock sitting on the console showing him the time. Then he pressed the send button. “Whiskey Mike-Zero-Alpha-Charley-X-ray,” Franklin replied into the microphone, hearing a small amount of squelch again as he released the send button. The reply came immediately.
“Roger that Dan, the name here is Frank,” Franklin answered, noting Dan’s name next to his call sign in the notebook, “that is Foxtrot-Romeo-Alpha-November-Kilo, and I am in Wisconsin, over.”
“Roger Frank, Aloha from Kauai–thank you for the contact.”
“Aw Geez, Dan,”Frank replied with his best Wisconsin accent and a chuckle, “Bye, bye, Kauai. Seven-Three,” he finished, giving his new contact the “best regards” code before the frequency went silent.
Franklin leaned back in his chair, taking off his headphones and draping them back over the mic arm. He let out a sigh. It felt good to be in this familiar space, to hear the voices coming from far away, confirming the presence of individuals seeking the thrill of contact with the other lone voices out in the ether, searching the world for contact, for confirmation that, indeed, they were being heard.
Franklin glanced over his shoulder at the door. Anyone trying to listen in would recognize that as my regular radio chatter and move on, he thought to himself then reached into the bottom cabinet of his console to take out the cassette recorder, placing it on his desk.
Unplugging his headphones from the radio console, he lined the plug up with the jack on the side of the recorder only to discover the headphone plug was too large for the 1/8-inch jack. He tossed the headphone plug to the side and adjusted the volume knob to about midway and pressed play. Nothing. Just like the first time he tried to play the tape two nights before.
Franklin looked at the clock again and saw that it was 7:06pm. He shook his head, looking at the sticky note instructing him to play the recorder on this day at 7:56pm. Fifty minutes left. What did I expect? he thought to himself before adjusting the volume and monitoring frequency on his radio transceiver, leaving the headphone jack unplugged so the din of overlapping, distant voices could be heard over the external speakers. He didn’t want complete silence coming from his radio room, so he sat listening to traffic, waiting patiently for 7:56pm to arrive.
In that time, he tried to remember the true faces of his wife and children. While his son Tevari–the real Tevari–was still fairly clear in his mind, his wife and daughter were starting to fade. He focused on Ayanna’s face, but the details that used to be there were smoothed over and smudged out, like a bad Photoshop job or cellphone filter. The slow fading of details had been getting more pronounced over the last few weeks, and he struggled to keep Ayanna’s details, not wanting to be left solely with the face of the stranger down the hallway.
Franklin had jumped out of bed in a terrible fright the morning he turned over and saw the stranger in his bed. “Holy shit, who are you!” he shouted as he backed against the wall, pressing a houlder there to stabilize himself.
“What? What’s wrong, Franklin?” the woman in his bed pleaded as she sprung upright in seeming surprise at Franklin’s distress.
“Who are you? Where is Ayanna?” Franklin yelled at the top of his lungs, “Where’s my wife?” His initial shock had morphed into fear for his wife’s well-being.
“Franklin!” the woman in his bed started, her eyes hurt and pleading. She pressed her hand against her chest and tilted her head to the side, “Franklin, it’s okay, it’s me–you’re just coming out of a bad dream.” The woman edged closer to the bed, swinging her bare legs over the edge to stand.
“Don’t come any closer! You stay there!” Franklin insisted, holding his hands out. “I’m not dreaming! who are you?”
“It’s me, Franklin, Ayanna” the woman said with a gentle, pleading voice, trying calm Franklin and remain calm, herself. Franklin noted that the woman had the same smooth, dark brown skin and slim figure as his wife, the same hair and shape to her cheeks, but everything else was wrong–this was not Ayanna.
Right then, a knock at the door drew the woman’s attention. “It’s okay,” she said, turning to face the door, “Dad’s having a bad dream.”
The door swung open, and a young girl, a teenager wearing a thin nightgown stood in the doorway with her hand on the knob. “Are you guys okay?” she said with genuine concern in her voice.
Franklin slid away from her along the wall, eyes wide with terror. “What is this? Who are you?” he yelled at the teenager. “This is my house–you shouldn’t be here!”
The girl looked hurt and confused as she shot a glance back at the woman standing next to the bed and Franklin. “Daddy, what’s wrong?” She took a step toward Franklin.
“You stop right there!” he screamed, jumping backwards from the girl and banging hard against the adjoining wall. “I don’t know if this is a joke, but it isn’t funny.”
“Mom, what is going on?” the teenager pleaded to the woman as tears started to fall across her cheeks.
“It’s okay, your father is waking from some kind of bad dream.”
“I’m not dreaming!” Franklin yelled, looking around the room, “I don’t know who you are, but you can’t be here,” as he snatched a cellphone off the bedside table and started to dial.
“Franklin, what are you doing?” the woman asked, as she took a step closer.
“You stay back,” Franklin ordered as he backed into a corner, holding the phone to his ear. “Yes, I have an emergency,” he said into the phone, “There are people in my house, and I don’t know where my family is–”
“Please don’t do this, Franklin,” the woman pleaded, coming closer and taking his arm. Franklin shoved the woman away from him, causing her to fall back against the side of the bed and onto the floor, the teenager screamed and ran to the woman’s side.
“Please send someone! They won’t tell me where my family is–” Franklin saw movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see a small boy standing in the doorway, weeping.
“What’s wrong, Daddy? Why is everyone yelling?” he cried as he looked from person to person at the chaos happening in the bedroom.
Franklin had no idea who this child was, either.
“Good God!” he said too loudly into the phone, “Please send someone–they’ve taken my family from me! I don’t know what to do…”
When the police arrived, they pointed their guns at Franklin as soon as he opened the front door.
The woman came out of nowhere to throw herself between him and the police, pleading with them in tears not to shoot. The children screamed at the police not to hurt their father as the officers burst into the house in a violent charge of multiple overlapping, contradictory orders. There was a lot more yelling and confusion as Franklin laid face down on the floor, a knee across his back, so they could arrest him. First came the precinct and then the mental health facility where physicians tried to convince him that he was sick and that the people in his house were his real family.
At 7:54pm, Franklin rewound the tape and pressed play again. Nothing. Blank. He let the tape run on for another minute, as it continued to produce the quiet hiss of white noise.
He leaned back and watched the tape reels silently spin.
It took three weeks for the doctors to figure out that there was nothing physically wrong with Franklin. Other than not recognizing the people living in his house, he did not have or display any of the symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or dementia. At age thirty-eight, he was too young to have Alzheimer’s disease, but he checked out clear of that too when they investigated the possibility.
They told his wife–the woman he believed was posing as Ayanna–that they believed he had a rare condition called Capgras delusion, a syndrome in which sufferers believe that their loved ones have been replaced with doubles. They put Franklin on antipsychotic medicine and recommended continuing the psychotherapy he received at the facility in an effort to alleviate his symptoms, and while he definitely began to lose his fear of the people in his house, he never came to recognize them physically as his wife and children. However, the doctors eventually determined it was safe for him to return home with the goal of slowly regaining the lost memory of his family though a combination of drug therapies, psychoanalysis, a return to regular life routines and a lot of patience on the part of his loved ones.
“–were very frantic when you came over the shortwave receiver…” The words blared, garbled and tinny, turned far too loud over the small speaker of the cassette recorder, making Franklin jump up from his seat, “but I stayed with you, I was there even though it became clear to me you couldn’t hear me trying to reply–” Franklin lunged at the recorder and pressed the stop button with a hard click. He stared in wonder at the recorder, then looked back at the closed door.
A glance back at the clock on the console confirmed that it was now 7:56pm.
With nervous hands, Franklin fumbled with the volume knob, turning it all the way forward to lower the sound. He rewound the tape to the beginning then lowered his head, placing his ear close to the speaker. He pressed play then slowly increased the volume until he heard the voice again. His heart skipped when he heard his own voice coming through the speaker.
“This is Whiskey-Mike-Zero-Alpha-Charley-X-ray, do you hear me? I say again, this is Whiskey-Mike-Zero-Alpha-Charley-X-ray, do you hear me?”
“I hear you!” Franklin whispered to himself, both excited and frightened by the sudden fact of this recording spontaneously appearing on the magnetic tape of the old cassette recorder, just like the sticky note suggested would happen.
“I’m going to start talking now. I don’t know if you hear me, but this is Franklin James and I’m trying to reach… Franklin James. The date is… November 24, 2023 at 7:56pm…”
Exactly one year in the past! Franklin thought to himself.
“I received a… communication from you two days ago while operating the ham radio. You were… you were very insistent. It was on an odd frequency, on 14002 Kilohertz. You told me that a lot of strange things were going to begin happening to me, that I would begin having an odd sense of estrangement from my family. I thought you were some crackpot, but there was something in your voice. I was–you were–very frantic when I heard you coming over the radio transceiver, but I stayed with you, I was there even though it became clear to me you couldn’t hear me trying to reply.
“You said to go out and buy a cassette player, an old one from a pawn shop, to make this recording and then hide it in the closet with a note instructing you when to play it. You said that you were sure you wouldn’t believe what I was telling you, but… but you convinced me. I believe you now. So now I have to convince you that what you are hearing right now is the truth, that everything you’ve been thinking about your family over all these months is all true. You warned me that the people living in our house is not our real family, and I have to help you get rid of them and get our wife and kids back!
“You told me you would not believe what you were hearing. That the doctors were making you believe that everything you were feeling was a delusion. Okay. On Sunday afternoon–you told me this–on Sunday afternoon the Chicago Bears are going to pull off a surprise upset over Tampa Bay. The score will be 28 to 27, and the winning score will be made with a field goal kick after the Bears intercept a poorly thrown pass to run it to the 32-yard line. Watch the game, and then you’ll know I’m telling you the truth, that I am you from the past, trying to help us get our family back.
“Once the game is over, come back and rewind this tape to the start. I’ll tell you what to do after that.” There was a rumble and a click, and the tape went silent. With jittery hands, Franklin fast forwarded the tape a few seconds then pressed play: silence.
Franklin pressed the stop button and sat back in his chair. A wave of nausea began to overtake him as he considered the words of his own voice telling him that he wasn’t delusional, that those people in the next room were, in fact, imposters, and maybe–just maybe–he had found a way to help himself get his wife and children back. If it was all true.
Franklin rewound the tape, pressed his ear against the speaker again, and pressed play.
On Sunday, November 24th, 2024, at 4:57pm, the Chicago Bears football team upset the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 28 to 27, with a successful last-second field goal attempt after intercepting the ball on an errant throw.
Dinner had been more quiet and awkward than at almost any time since he had returned from the mental health facility. Franklin worried that Ayanna was suspicious of his silence during dinner. He tried to force engagement with her and the kids, but the effort fell flat, ending with too many awkward silences and side glances.
After the end of the football game, Franklin immediately snuck into the radio room and rewound the cassette tape and pressed play. He rewound and played several times in a mania, hoping to hear his own prophetic voice from the past telling him wat he needed to do next, but there was nothing there but silence, just as before he received the first recording on the 24th. “C’mon, c’mon…” he muttered as he punched the plastic buttons over and again on the machine until he heard Ayanna calling for him from the other room.
“Franklin, could you please give me a hand here in the kitchen?”
Franklin froze in place. “I’ll be right there! Give me a minute.” He hid the recorder in the radio console table and saw to what the woman who called herself Ayanna wanted.
Near the end of dinner, after the general awkwardness, Ayanna leaned over and whispered to Franklin. “You seem especially tense tonight, honey. Are you feeling okay?” She placed a gentle hand on his forearm.
Franklin tensed at the touch of her hand and closed his eyes, suppressing a strong desire to leap from the table and run. Ayanna felt his unease and took her hand away.
“I’m okay, dear. Just thinking a lot about what I have to do at work this next week. Always seems I have to play catch up, now days.”
His wife forced an uneasy smile. The doctors had told her and the kids that patience was going to be essential to Franklin’s recovery, so she took his words in stride and tried not to put any undue stress or worry on him.
“Okay, then. Maybe try to forget all that when you go to the radio tonight. That always seems to help you.”
A chill ran through Franklin. He wondered if Ayanna knew something, mentioning the radio room, and all. He looked up and saw that his daughter was staring at him with uncharacteristic intensity, not speaking, but just staring. Even Tevari had been quiet tonight. Just be calm. They can’t know anything. You’ve been careful. Just remain cautious, he thought as he gave sterile smile to everyone around the table.
“This is Whiskey-Mike-Zero-Alpha-Charley-X-ray on 14002 Kilohertz. Franklin, come in.” He hesitates for a moment, thinking. “Franklin, this is me. I can’t tell if you are hearing this, but I did it, I saw the game tonight, and you were right, the Bears beat the Buccaneers 28 to 27. I did what you told me and watched the game. It was an upset. Look, I did what you said and tried to play the tape again after the game, but it was blank, there was nothing there. You have to help me…”
Franklin was sweating now and shaking. He listened closely through his headphones for any sign of a reply, but nothing came, just the bleak silence of the ether sounding back at him.
“Please come in Franklin. I think… I’m sure these people living in my house, they aren’t my family. I don’t know what happened to my wife and children, but these people are imposters. I’m calling on frequency 14002 Kilohertz, just like you said, so I hope you are hearing me. Please respond if you hear me…”
Franklin continued transmitting for several minutes, repeating his message until a cold, looming feeling overcame him, as if the room had suddenly become smaller, then the feeling someone was in the room with him. He swiveled in his chair and an electric bolt of shock went through his body when he saw Ayanna standing in the open doorway.
Franklin froze in place.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Ayanna said in a quiet tone as she wiped tears from her eyes.
“What are you doing in here?” Franklin hissed as he whipped the headphones off of his head.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
Franklin shot an angry stare at Ayanna–or the woman presuming to be her–then back at his console, then back at her again. “How much of that did you hear?”
Ayanna started to speak, but all that came out at first was a despondent intake of breath, and then, “I can’t do this anymore, Franklin. You’re sick. And the things you’re saying over the radio tonight are frightening me.”
“How much did you hear!” Franklin demanded from his seat, gripping the headphones so tight with both hands that they shook with a rattle. The burning anger from the first night this false Ayanna appeared began to resurface after months of suppression with psychotherapy and the drugs that he had stopped taking three weeks ago. “Tell me how much!”
Ayanna gripped the edge of the open door to steady herself as she stared at her angry husband, coiled in his chair. “I heard enough. I sent Lavita and Tevari over to Howard’s house and told them to wait there. I let him know that you weren’t being yourself again–”
“You sent them to Howard’s?” Franklin repeated in a shout that made Ayanna jump. Howard was one of their neighbors, a good friend of the family. He and his wife Nancy were the only neighbors who were friendly to them when they moved into the neighborhood seven years ago and continued to be the only people they socialized with outside of work acquaintances. Franklin had noticed in recent weeks that Ayanna was spending more time talking with Howard, over in his front yard, whispering and looking back over their shoulders at the house as if they knew he was watching them through the windows. “Is he a part of this?” Franklin bayed at the woman standing across the room, “Is he somehow a part of this façade, too?” Howard stood up and took a step toward the woman in the doorway.
“Don’t come any closer,” Ayanna pleaded, “Please, just let me help you, Franklin, you’re so sick–I know you don’t know it, but you are so sick! I want to help you–”
“You’ll help me by telling me where my real family is now!” he yelled, taking another step toward the woman in the doorway. Ayanna jumped again with a yelp and backed into the hallway, pressing her back against the opposite wall, watching her husband, eyes filled with violent anger, take another step towards her with the headphones gripped in one hand. The cord pulled taught, snapping the headphone jack free from the receiver. The cord dragged slack against the ground as Franklin advanced.
Ayanna screamed as Franklin advanced towards her, gripping the headphones like a club in his right hand as he began wrapping the slack cord around the palm of his left. Ayanna’s eyes grew wide as she gaped at the thick cord Franklin pulled taut before him in a furious grip, his own blazing eyes transfixed on her.
“Please, Franklin…” She pleaded, shaking her head, as he took another step, completely focused on her, stalking.
“Tell me!” he demanded through clenched teeth.
At that moment, a loud screeching sound from outside the house caught Franklin’s attention. He spun and flew to the window, throwing open a curtain, to see a large white van, still rocking from a sudden stop, parked askance outside in the street. Two large men in what looked vaguely like EMT uniforms but weren’t exited the van, running toward the front door. Franklin spun around to the woman in the hallway, a look of despair on his face.
“I’m so sorry, Franklin! I had to call them–you need more help than I can give you right now…”
“I haven’t got much time,” Franklin muttered vaguely as he threw himself back into his chair and reconnected his headphones to the receiver. He pressed the send button and spoke with desperation into the speaker. “This is Whiskey-Mike-Zero-Alpha-Charley-X-ray on 14002 Kilohertz, Franklin! Franklin! There isn’t much time left–you have to listen. Make the recording–you have to make the recording and let your future-self–let me–know what is coming using this frequency band–14002 kilohertz! Can you hear me, Franklin–”
Franklin felt the firm hands of one of the men take him by the shoulders and turn him. “I’m sorry Mr. James, we’re just here to help you–” Franklin fought against the two men, but they expertly wrestled him to the floor, wrenching the headphones from his head. Franklin made a desperate attempt to reach the fallen headset, but one of the men grabbed the phones and threw them across the room and out of reach, the force of the throw popping the headphone plug free of the transceiver causing the loud hiss of the void to fill the room from the external speakers. Franklin pushed and struggled with everything he had, but these guys were strong.
As Franklin kicked and pressed against his assailants, he heard a voice come over the radio speakers. “This is Whiskey-Mike-Zero-Alpha-Charley-X-ray on 14002 Kilohertz, I hear you loud and clear…”
“Do you hear that?” he yelled, pointing toward the transceiver, “Do you hear that? That’s me on the radio! I’m not crazy! That’s me!”
As he lay pressed to the ground by the big men, Franklin shot a look at the woman pretending to be Ayanna. With a hand over her mouth and tears streaming down her face, she gave him a look of desolation that caused him to pause.
She shook her head and said in a sad whisper, “There’s nothing on the radio, Franklin. There’s nobody there.”
Stunned, Franklin just lied there as one of the men produced a syringe and emptied its contents into his right thigh.
“You hear it right? You hear the transmission?” He said to one of the men who was holding him down.
The big man grunted as he continued pressing against Franklin’s shoulders, “Please just try to relax.”
Franklin’s vision began to blur, and he felt suddenly very drowsy.
“It’s me… you must hear it… It’s me…”
Franklin closed his eyes as a shroud of darkness descended over his vision.
Darkness was all Franklin could see, but he could feel the firm downward pressure of hands holding him down. He tried to fight the pressure, push himself upright, but the force against him was too strong. He tried to cry out for help, but as hard as he tried, there was no sound either. He yelled louder, taking deep breaths and screaming, pushing against the pressure across his chest and shoulders until he felt himself rising, drifting upward as if suddenly weightless, higher and higher as a gentle, diffused light began to enter the edges of his visions and he found himself sitting up in bed, breathing hard.
“Oh, my god, Franklin–you were screaming in your sleep.” It was a familiar voice, and Franklin turned to see Ayanna–the real Ayanna–next to him, her hand on his sweat-soaked shoulder. He grabbed his wife and pulled her to him, hugging her as tight to himself as he could.
“Oh, Jesus, Ayanna–I missed you! Oh, god, I was so afraid I had lost you for good!” He pulled away and looked at her in the dim light of the side-table lamp. He put his hand on her face–yes! This was her. The smooth, brown skin; the wide-set eyes; full, healthy lips. It was the face that Franklin thought he was going to forget altogether if he remained trapped with those other people.
“What are you talking about? I’m right here. I’ve always been here, honey.”
Franklin hugged his wife tight, kissing her again and again, then he relaxed for a moment, head in his hand. He had a screaming headache.
“You were yelling in your sleep, screaming and thrashing around like you were in a fight.”
Even as she spoke, the memory of the last few months was beginning to fade.
“I was gone for a long time… months, I think. Are the kids okay?”
“The kids are fine,” Ayanna smiled at her husband. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” she asked, noticing his discomfort as he rubbed his aching head.
“I’m fine… now,” he said, as he leaned in and kissed his wife. “I’ve got a headache. It’s just… Just that I feel like I’ve been gone for a long time. This dream…” He stopped and rubbed his head.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ayanna said, as she looked at the clock radio. “It’s only 1:35. You should go get yourself a couple of Tylenols. They’re in the guest bedroom medicine cabinet. I left them there when my sister was visiting.”
Franklin nodded. He put his hand on Ayanna’s cheek and looked at her for a long moment then kissed her again. “I missed you so much.”
“Don’t be silly–I’ve been here all along, sweetie,” she said giving Franklin a loving pat on the leg.
Franklin got out of bed and left the room holding the back of his head with one hand. He couldn’t be quite sure where the pain was coming from, as it seemed to be wandering from one place to the next.
As he closed the door behind him, the smile on Ayanna’s face disappeared. Her shoulders relaxed and her whole demeanor transformed while she waited, counting the seconds, as she watched the bedroom door shut.
After a moment, she reached over and picked up her cellphone from the bedside table and dialed a number–far too many numbers–then pressed the phone to her ear.
“Hello, Howard… Yes, the booster for the genetic memory treatment worked. He sees me as his wife again.”
There’s a pause as Ayanna listen to someone speaking on the other end of the line.
“Yes, I thought we were in trouble for a while there, too. Just make sure management knows these boosters will likely be needed for the other subjects, as well. We can’t have another long delay like this one while Central Control figures out what to do.”
“You, too, dear. Goodnight.”
After hanging up, Ayanna laid down and closed her eyes, evening out her breathing so she would seem to be asleep. A moment later Franklin entered the room and crawled into bed, careful not to rustle and wake up the woman lying next to him. He kissed her with gentle lips on the forehead, grateful that the fading memories in his head had all just been a nightmare and that everything was okay and back to normal.
Cedrick May is a writer, filmmaker, and professor of African-American literature in Texas.