Hello, cloud. Hello, other former Chrysalis peoples. Hello, everyone!
When she opened the front door, the cold air was so staggering it turned all the cabin to winter for a moment, and the blow of it made her paint brushes shudder in their jars. Silhouetted against the night there was a man; there were no clouds and his edges were made clear by starlight. He was dressed warmly. But he was not from anywhere near her small mountain cabin where the wind and the mice sneaked under the door seal, that much was quite clear.
“Yes?” she asked. “Please, come in out of that cold.”
Without a word, the man obliged. “Uhm,” she began, “why don’t I make us some tea.” And she turned to the stove and sink area, glad to be busy.
“I hate polite people. Listen, we’ve got to go.”
“Tea,” she replied obstinately. “It’ll be just a few minutes.” Her hands shook as she turned the kettle on its burner.
He only sighed. Shook the cold out of his scarf, removed his coat. It struck her that he knew his way around very well; placed his coat on the chair before the fire just as she herself would. Not that there was a coat rack he could use or anything else; it was only her small cabin, after all. By the time he’d taken off his gloves, quite determined to watch the fire and not her, she knew he could feel her staring.
“Probably wondering who I am, and what I’m doing here and all that,” he said, clomping over to the kitchen table. She couldn’t place his accent. Couldn’t place him at all in fact, though he did have some air of familiarity. Turning from the stove, she looked him for the first time full in the face. Dirt dragged under the soles of his shoes, she could hear it scratching along the floor. The chair scratched too, as he pulled it out from the table.
He said nothing.
“You want cream and sugar with your tea? How about I just set some out.” Somehow she knew he wouldn’t respond. Anyway it bought her another couple minutes or so to figure out what was going on. This wasn’t exactly a happening spot, her cabin.
“How about you stop trying to be…courteous.”
The word held a lot of venom in it.
“Alright.” She sat at the table.
“Nice painting you have there,” he said finally, jerking his head towards the river study, hanging on the wall beside the stove.
“Thanks. I did a lot of the river that spring, but that’s the only one that came out decent. Would you like to see others?”
“How are the dreams?”
This came after a glaring span of time. The kettle started screaming, but she did not move for it.
“Dreams? How’d you…what are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about. Have they gotten worse yet?”
The kettle continued.
She threw herself from her chair and moved the kettle off its burner.
He merely stared at her for a moment, then leaned back in his chair in the way that makes them break, and said:
“That’s more like it. Seems like I hit home with that one.” He let his chair drift down to the floor again. “Listen…I can tell you won’t want to hear it, but I can explain all about those, all about why you’re here.”
“You…what? Why I’m here? I know why I’m here, thank you very much. I’m here on a grant to work on my paintings in peace and quiet. Until you showed up.”
“Oh really?— ”
“I see.” And the chair tipped again.
“And where were you before here?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I mean what I said…lady. Where were you before here?”
Maybe it was the sarcastic way he said “lady” that threw her, but one way or another she couldn’t seem to bring herself to reply.
“Right. Well, we don’t have much time—”
“Oh please, people never say that in real life.”
“Nevertheless, we don’t. And what makes you think this is real life?” He peered at her intently. “As I was saying, we’re in a hurry. We’ve got to get you out of here before the PM shows up for his annual hunting trip. Which,” he paused to push up his right sleeve,” will be in fourteen minutes and change. Get up.”
“You’re a lefty.” It was all she could think to say. But he was already standing, moving back to his coat. “What do you mean, the PM?” She capitalized it the way he had.
“PM—tell me you at least try to keep up on current events out here. Probably not,” he added with a glance around the cabin. It was filled with canvases, brushes, old curled Post-Its with memos to herself about her work. Paints. That sort of thing. Not much else. “No wonder they’re pulling you from the job. Even if the Prime Minister hadn’t turned for us, they’d still have to pull you to get someone capable in here to do the job. Why aren’t you moving yet? Get up!”
The last was bellowed, and he aimed a kick at her own chair. She jumped to her feet.
“No, no time for it. Get your coat. We’ve got to get out of here, now.”
Soon, she was out the door.
The long gravel drive to the cabin, at its peak, reached almost 10,000 feet. It was a good of place as any, the man said, and together they sat on a boulder just past the edge of the road, hidden in sage.
“Why can’t I—”
And she did shush, just in time. A large vehicle, judging by the glow of the headlights, was just about to round the top of the mountain drive. Without knowing why, she stood. It was all so very…familiar.
“Get down,” he hissed. “Get down!”
But she did not. Why, it was all very, very familiar. She’d seen this whole thing before, the whole thing. Every. Last. Bit. But he’d said she’d been pulled. Well, so what.
The SUV crested the darkness, and she strode towards it, reaching to the hidden pocket inside her thick winter coat, the one crusted with ochre and thick with the scent of turpentine, and from it drew—
A shot filled the starlit darkness. Five more followed.
The knowledge floated through her head. Which hurt. Slowly, she sat up, and looked about the cell.
“Why couldn’t you have done what I said when I said we had to go? Why’d you have to make tea, kill time with politeness?”
The words came from across the room. She looked at him, stretched on the concrete slab that was a bed. But at least her memory was back. What had she been doing all that time, cooped up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere? Oh yes. Painting. Of all things. And the mission…had been pulled? But she assassinated the PM anyway? What a mess this would be.
“I hate polite people,” he added. “Especially when they’re murderers. Get ready. You’re in for a long interrogation. We both are.”