What was going on? Who left me these books? Was I dreaming this?
I took the books, tossed them in the back of my car, then walked around the library. Didn't have a plan in the least, but I thought that walking would help. Maybe my head would clear. Maybe I'd stumble onto an answer. Or fucking anything.
The forest was a young one, lots of thin trees, the carpet of needles just too light. It was a recent library, who knows, maybe this was a recent forest as well.
I walked around and thought about our impermanence. Then it started to rain, so I got back in the car and made my way home slowly, on backroads, preferring new turns to familiar streets, with GPS silently and dilligently routing and rerouting me, while I paid it no attention and relied on circumstance.
The road forked and split, joined and merged, twisted side to side and up and down beneath the wheels. My bout of agoraphobia took with it many pleasures, showering and laundry at the top of the list, but I also missed the drive. It was pleasant to make those choices, take the acceleration and enjoy the gees that squeezed me this way and that.
I avoided thinking about this damn business with the cards and the brand-new reading list I apparently signed up for.
Watched the paint on the road, the odd headlight, the trees on the sides.
Wasn't driving a Tesla around, nor any other smart car, but it didn't escape my notice that for most of the drive, the car wasn't being operated by me. It was on autopilot, because I was on autopilot as I put the pedal down and turned the wheel.
I tuned out. More during the familiar segments, slightly less during the exploration of the unexplored. But I was still not there, not entirely, for a large portion of the drive. Because I remembered it.
But I couldn't recall those eight damned words.
What did those books have to say?
I parked the car, turned it off, and walked out.
I was in the office parking lot. The autopilot drove me all the way to work. Fucker!
Jim was standing outside, a dozen yards away or so, vaping a cloud that for a moment hid his upper body.
"Parents doing OK?" Jim yelled. He was nearly deaf. A hundred too many heavy metal concerts.
"Yeah, but gotta go back there, they just called." I looked down and realized that my phone was silent, and off. "I needed some fresh air, working on like two hours of sleep a night."
Jim nodded at that, knowingly. He didn't have to change anyone's diapers, but his wife was a nurse, so he knew the routine.
I got back in the car and drove home.
Shit. I would have to go in. Jim would mention it. Already did, by the time I got home, he had it in the Slack channel and everyone heard about The Parking Lot Incident.
I'm not exagerrating that much.
I had to return to the real world, and soon. It was Friday morning, so if I squirmed my way out of today, claimed more familial hardships, I had two days and a half days to work with. To get myself back into shape, start investigating these cards, this stack of eclectic books, figure out why I'm doing things, but can't remember them. Figure out why I can't remember (at this point I get the card and read it for the millionth time) "Do you have anything yet on the bolide". Why is this phrase magical?
So I send an email to Jim. The subject, "Riddle". The message, the eight words that have been plaguing me for more than a week.
I don't know if I'm spreading the mind virus that destroys mankind, but I kinda doubt it. It hadn't killed me yet. Mad isn't dead, right?
During my seclusion, the period between the first and the second cards, I had decided that staying awake for as long as possible was the only cure to my condition. The theory goes, I hear, that my dreams were invading my reality, so I needed to separate myself from the dreams for as long as possible. My "crash" - yeah, they used air-quotes - would be powerful enough to shatter my dreams.
So days 3 through 7 were spent awake, and raving mad. I crashed. Did I call the crisis hotline? I may have talked with someone, but how? Phone? Internet? Telepathy?
The home-security system hadn't made a noise, it was armed and would alert me loudly had anyone entered...
I went to my office and pulled up the security footage for last night.
On the screen I saw myself, and a woman I'd never seen before.