Professor Dagmar Halvorsen awoke from a seemingly endless dream in which her only awareness had been the dolorous beat of her heart to a 5/4 rhythm. It was already daylight outside.
Peering blearily in the direction of her bedside table, she was puzzled to discover that her digital alarm clock was not there. Reaching out a hand, she scrabbled around on its surface, then on the floor directly underneath; but could not find it.
With a sigh, she rolled out of bed and let out an exclamation of surprise as she realised she was fully clothed. Puzzled, she attempted to smooth her rumpled blouse and skirt, looking around a room stained with the tangerine light streaking through her curtains for her pyjamas … and noticed something even stranger.
All her bedroom furniture had been covered in dusty white sheets.
Outside, cars swished by her house as if it were a day just like any other.
Still more intrigued than alarmed, she opened the door and crept into the bathroom. She breather a sigh of relief. Everything was there, just as she had left it. But no, wait! Where was her six-year-old daughter’s toothbrush? And what was this thick film of dust doing lying on everything?
Thoughts of her daughter made her spin on her heel and dash to the little girl’s bedroom. To her horror, she found it stripped bare of all furniture. Worse; it was unoccupied.
Panic welled up in her guts and into her throat, choking her strangled cry of alarm. Frantic, she ran through every room of her house, upstairs and downstairs, her daughter’s name a shrill bark braying from her lips repeatedly. But she only found more of the same. Dusty, unkempt belongings and several gaping voids where certain familiar items of furniture should have been.
She started to shiver.
It was then that she noticed that her house was a little cold; the heating was clearly switched off. But she dismissed that thought immediately – she had to find her daughter.
Spotting the landline telephone still clinging to the kitchen wall, she picked up the receiver.
The line was dead.
Dagmar was a calm and competent, practical woman, but the disorientation of the morning and the shock of her daughter’s disappearance had robbed her of her characteristic rationality. On the verge of bursting out of her door and into the street with an incoherent scream of profoundest distress on her lips, she was brought back from the brink by the familiar ping of her smartphone from somewhere upstairs, announcing an incoming text message.
Her nascent scream instantly transformed into a prayer as she scrambled back upstairs to look for her phone. It was in her handbag, discarded and ignored by the side of the bare mattress she had slept on.
What the hell was going on?
Praying over and over again to wake up from this nightmare, Dagmar opened her text.
It was from an unknown number, and it showed nothing but a link to her email account. Dagmar dismissed the SMS; she would look at it later.
With trembling fingers, she called her mother, but the number was not recognised.
I’m still dreaming, she told herself. This can’t be real. I’m still dreaming, I’m going to wake up, and Rebecca will still be here and my house won’t look like nobody’s been at home for months.
Her phone informed her that the time was 5.05 a.m. It was starting to get light outside. Strange, she thought. It shouldn’t be getting light so early at this time of year…
Then she noticed the date on the phone: 5th May.
The last Dagmar remembered it had been early November.
Now literally dizzy with disorientation, she sank down onto a sheeted easy chair. A plume of dust enveloped her head like a foggy aura.
Had she really lost track of six months? Fumbling once again for her phone, she called her ex-husband, Rebecca’s father, in Oslo. To her fleeting relief, the call was answered.
There was a long pause on the other end. ‘Dr Harald Alm…?’ the familiar voice said hesitantly, sleepily.
‘Harald,’ she half-sobbed in her native Norwegian. ‘I can’t find her!’
‘Dags?’ Harald barked. ‘Is that you? Where the hell have you been? Are you safe? Are you ok?’
‘I’m safe, I’m safe, I’m at home,’ Dagmar wept. ‘But I can’t find her and it’s six months later and I can’t remember anything!’
Harald paused again. ’You mean Becca. She’s safe here with me, relax. But where the hell have you been? The police have been searching —’
Dagmar couldn’t hear what he said next; she totally broke down in great sobs of overwhelming relief.
‘Dags! Get a hold of yourself, please! Now listen to me. You have been on the missing persons register both here in Norway and in the United Kingdom for five months. You need to get in touch with the authorities and tell them that you are back. Your house has been put up for sale, so you’ll need to sort that out too.
Jesus, Dags, we had just about given you up for dead. You honestly don’t remember anything?’
‘N-no, I just woke up and the house is covered in dusty sheets and it’s May the following year and I don’t remember anything. Anything!’ Dagmar sniffled. ‘Can I speak to Rebecca, please?’
Yet another pause. ‘That will have to wait, Dags. I’ll tell her you’re back but I’ll have to break it to her gently. It’s been hard for her, what’s happened.’
‘Yes … of course,’ Dagmar agreed tearfully. ‘But soon, please. I need to speak to my daughter soon and tell her Mama is back and that she didn’t mean to disappear like that … ‘ she trailed off. ‘God, I need to find out what happened to me.’
‘You know, things like this do happen from time to time,’ Harald mused thoughtfully over the phone. ‘Alien abductions and the like …’
‘Aw, Harald, don’t start with all that again, please. And you’d better not have been filling Rebecca’s head with any of your nonsense!’
‘Tell you what, Dags, when you come up with a good explanation for why you disappeared for six months and then reappeared unharmed in your home with no memory of why you might
have left your six-year-old daughter and no clue as to where you’ve been, maybe I’ll lay off speculating. Until then, though …'
Dagmar sighed and hung up on her ex-husband, not quite sure what to do next. As soon as she put her phone down though, it buzzed back into life. A strange number was calling her, but oddly it was not her usual ring tone for unrecognised callers. Instead, her phone was inexplicably blaring out Lou Bega’s Mambo No 5. Answering it, she was startled to receive an automated message telling her that a ‘gabriel555’ had just sent her an email. She was not, however, able to check it because there was no wi-fi signal in her house. She would have to go somewhere public in order to receive it; and she realised she wanted to get out of the dusty, dark house anyway.
As she prepared to leave, Dagmar realised she did not have her house keys with her. They were not in her handbag or in any of her pockets; they were not in the lock on either side of the door. She searched the entire house from top to bottom, but was not able to find them anywhere.
So how had she managed to get back inside? She had to add it to the growing list of questions she seemed to have no answer for.
Dagmar paused for only a moment before leaving her back door unlocked; there wasn’t much left in her house that anyone could steal.
Her car was not in its usual place on her drive; had someone stolen it? That could wait: her priority was now to get her life back on track. She decided the best thing to do now was to inform the police about her return.
While walking into town, however, she had a change of heart. What would she tell them – the police? She had no memory of what had happened. Would the authorities understand? Would they be sympathetic to a woman who had disappeared, leaving her six-year-old daughter alone? Would they allow Rebecca to come and live with her again? Could she risk doing everything the proper way? If she didn’t have a good reason for disappearing like that for six months, psychiatric tests and evaluations would inevitably ensue. What would become of her then? What would become of her daughter? What would become of her life, her job? No. She had to first find out what had happened to her. She had to somehow access her memories and amass some serious evidence about the involuntary nature of her disappearance.
Her thoughts turned towards the mysterious text message she had received while still at home. It seemed strange that she would receive an anonymous text message providing her with a
link to her own email account, mere moments after she had woken up following a six-month disappearance of which she had no memory. It was the only real avenue she had to go on at the moment, so as she walked into town, she
found herself changing course and heading not for the police station, but for a quiet cafe with internet access.
Dagmar had time to ponder over her anonymity as she walked. There was something oddly appealing about the notion that almost no-one knew she was back. She was officially still a missing
person ... the thought was strangely intoxicating.
When she reached the cafe, she discovered that the whole town centre was still closed because it was only 6.30 a.m. She had been deceived once again by the time of year. Her body and her memories were telling her that it was November, and so the early morning light had communicated to her a much later hour. But it was not November, it was May, and the deceptive daylight had dawned much earlier.
Casting about herself, looking at all the dark and shuttered clothes shops and cafes in the centre of town in frustration, Dagmar paced around for several moments not knowing quite what to do or how to pass the time. She saw that the earliest cafes would not be open for another half an hour, and so she walked around aimlessly to pass the time, spending the last five minutes waiting impatiently outside one of the cafes for it to open. She felt somewhat foolish as the woman who ran the cafe appeared and opened the door, looking at Dagmar quizzically as she stood tapping her feet.
“Give me five minutes, love,” the young woman said to Dagmar in a curious tone as she let herself into the shop. “I need to set up first.”
Dagmar smiled at her, slightly embarrassed, and indicated she was happy to wait outside. “I need the Internet,” she explained semi-apologetically as the young woman shut the door again behind her.
Once inside - the very first customer - Dagmar ordered a large black coffee and went to sit in what she hoped was the remotest corner, where she accessed her email account with her smartphone
and discovered an email which had been sent by this gabriel555, whoever that was. The email had been given the title This Will Help You Fill In Some Of The Gaps. There were no other words in the email, just a PDF attachment which had been labelled JOURNAL. Dagmar opened it, and to her astonishment
found a scan of several dozen pieces of paper with her handwriting on it. Frowning, Dagmar started to read.
It didn’t take her long to start feeling very unsettled by what was written in that scanned document. The writing seemed to tell the tale of where she had been for the last six
months. It told of waking up in a large, mysterious glass abode where 2 men and another woman already lived, and where she had had no memory of her former life in the same sense as she now had no memory of the last 6 months.
As Dagmar read, her head started to shake from side to side in denial. What sort of trick was this? Always a logical and rational woman, she tried to take a step back from her fears and her motions and try to objectively analyze
Either someone was playing a trick on her, someone who knew she was back and that there would be this big 6 month gap in her memory – in which case, why would they be doing this?
For what reason? Who would benefit?
Or, this was a true account of what had happened to her, of where she had been in the intervening time. As uncomfortable as it made her feel, she was inclined – for the time being at least – to lean in the direction of accepting this account as the truth, because on every page of this journal she recognised not only her own writing, but her own personality: her quirks and idiosyncrasies, her feelings, her thought processes, her patterns, her mannerisms; leaping out at her time and again.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it was an entirely convincing document.
She had no choice but to keep moving forward; survive somehow. She wasn’t yet ready to go to the authorities, but she had an important lead; there were names in this journal. Not only the name gabriel555 – who had sent her the attachment – but the names of the three other people who had been in this glass cage with her – whose names were given as Quin, Basil and Marion Tent.
Marion Tent ... where had she heard that name before? It seemed familiar somehow. With a frown, she opened up another page on her browser and searched for the name.
The result, of course, came up immediately.
Marion Tent, aged 22, died of a fatal drug overdose just over a year earlier: a B-list Hollywood actress. Lots of stories about how she’d been behaving strangely in her private
life in the run up to her unfortunate and untimely death by misadventure. Interesting ...
So – here Dagmar had a 60-page scanned document in her own handwriting describing experiences she had no memory of, having been sent to her via email from a mysterious, unknown
account, and one of the names she had mentioned in this account was the name of a semi-famous Hollywood actress who had reportedly perished several months before Dagmar had even gone missing. The other two names – well,
they were fairly generic names, Quin and Basil; no surname had been given for either. The only name with a surname had been Marion Tent. The other 2 names – well, no point in doing a google search on those, was there?
Dagmar stowed her smartphone back in her handbag slowly and finished off her coffee, lost in thought. What to do now? She felt like she had taken a step off a cliff and the familiar
world that she knew was careening away behind her uncontrollably. It was extremely disorientating – surely nothing could ever be the same again for her.
She thought about going to work. Could she do that? Could she go back to the university department that she had worked at before, reporting herself as back and no longer a missing person? Wouldn’t there be consequences to that too? She cursed inwardly, suddenly resentful of the necessity of living in a society at a time where the authorities seemed to need to know one’s every move or be suspicious. Surely, if she were to merely try and pick up her life from where she left it 6 months ago as if nothing had happened, she would no doubt be treated with suspicion – not only by the authorities, but also by most of her colleagues too. What of her bank account, her mortgage, her insurance policies? All of civilized life’s intimate little maintenances seemed intricately and precariously built one on top of the other, like a machine whose component parts, in her case, had since seized up through dormancy and neglect.
Did she even have access to her bank account? Her smartphone was still working, which suggested a still-functioning monthly direct debit. As she got ready to pay for her coffee, Dagmar
had been relieved to discover her wallet with all its credit and debit cards and a modest amount of cash nestled in her handbag. But would the cards work? If she was going to hold off on reporting her return to the authorities
for a while, until she figured out what had happened to her, she was going to need access to functioning credit cards and to her savings.
However, when she found a nearby cash machine and tried to use her cards, the machine pitilessly swallowed them all, one by one, and refused to give them back.
That night, staying at the house of a friend and colleague of hers who, after the initial emotional drama of learning about her return had kindly offered to put her up until she got back on her feet, Dagmar read through her journal once again and, prompted by its contents, searched on YouTube for an old interview with Marion Tent. Several results came up, all from within the brief two or three years of the actress’s spate of moderate fame before her untimely death, but the one that really caught her eye was a short clip entitled Marion Tent’s Last Interview - Another MK Ultra Slave?
Frowning in curiosity, Dagmar clicked the link.
No recognition registered when she saw the young actress’s exquisite doll-like face, although she did start a little when Marion first spoke. It was the characteristically flat pitch of her voice – an oddly emotionless quality – and not her physical appearance that seemed to evoke the remotest hint of familiarity in her, but also an inexplicable sliver of revulsion; as soon as Marion began to speak, Dagmar became mesmerized.
The words were pedestrian – banal, even. Marion prattled on about frivolities like driving down Sunset Boulevard in an open-top convertible and awkward exchanges with more famous
celebrities on some Disney film set.
And then the interviewer asked the girl whether she had met Mickey Mouse on the set, and her whole demeanour changed instantly. Her expression darkened, she crossed her bare legs tightly,
pulled down on her mini-skirt, and shifted on the interview couch so that she no longer faced the interviewer head on.
“I try and avoid him if I can,” she said with a light toss of her head.
“You try and avoid Mickey Mouse?” the interviewer responded in a tone of studied puzzlement. A nervous titter could be heard from the audience.
After an unexpectedly long and awkward silence, the interviewer was forced to speak again. “What’s that all about then? Are you musophobic?”
Marion glanced at him blankly. “Huh?”
“Do you have a mouse phobia? A pathological fear of mice?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” Marion said caustically. “He isn’t actually a mouse, you know.”
The audience erupted into laughter and applause. Marion, however, just coolly stared ahead into empty space, seemingly barely aware of the reaction to her killer response.
“He isn’t?” said the interviewer playfully, clearly trying to buy time for a comeback quip. “Damn, are you trying to tell me there’s a man in there?”
Marion Tent eyed him tartly out of the corner of her eye, her lips pursed. “No,” she replied.
Marion sighed, apparently rapidly tiring of the conversation. “No.”
“What then? C’mon, help me out here!”
There was a long pause. “A monster,” Marion finally answered matter-of-factly.
The clip ended.
A very odd interview, Dagmar acknowledged to herself. There was clearly something decidedly off about this young woman. And something about the actress’s mannerisms definitely spoke to some deeply hidden, inner portion of Dagmar’s being – like coming across an old family photo that still somehow failed to evoke a memory; the recognition was there, but not the recollection.
Dagmar leaned back in her chair, deep in thought. The strange clip had been given the title Marion Tent’s Last Interview - Another MK Ultra Slave?. The last part meant nothing to her. What was an “MK Ultra Slave” supposed to be? A brief skim through online search engine results revealed a plethora of disturbing articles and conspiracy theories relating to mind control experiments conducted by secret services during the cold war, in which small children had been subjected to extreme and horrific trauma in order to induce split personalities, which could then be used to perform certain functions or tasks without the core personality being aware of it.
As a Doctor of Psychology with several years of postgraduate academic research under her belt, Dagmar felt both alarmed and in no small measure outraged that this phenomenon hadn’t
even been on her radar or any of her study curricula. She may have even been inclined to simply dismiss this information out of hand as crazy nonsense if she hadn’t just had the weirdest day of her life today. Not only
that, but in the mysterious journal that had been emailed to her she had apparently used an eerily significant term to describe Marion: a disturbed girl with a split personality.
Goosebumps began to form on Dagmar’s arms and down her back. Scouring online once again for information on Marion’s death that went into further detail than the mere fact
of her drugs overdose, Dagmar encountered an opinion piece written by a Marlon Tent; apparently Marion’s much older brother and a rather unsuccessful film producer. Marlon seemed to be even more of an oddball than his
sister, claiming that her death had been staged to cover for the fact that his sister had, in fact, been abducted by aliens.
She spent the next few days researching MK Ultra mind control experiments online, with increasing horror and dismay and making copious notes, reckoning there must be at least one very
large and very controversial book to be written from what she had found. She was interrupted several times throughout the day by excited and emotional colleagues welcoming her return and desperate for explanations for her
disappearance that she was either unable or reluctant to give, and so she struggled to receive these visits with the good grace they probably deserved.
One such interruption, however, proved to be far less condign.
Less than a week later, a newspaper reporter got wind of her inexplicable disappearance and equally mysterious return and decided to call round uninvited for the scoop. Wary of such individuals, and especially wary of sharing any details regarding her lack of memory or the apparent connection of her disappearance with Marion Tent (whose brother had still not responded to her email), she simply gave him a very concise explanation of having been kidnapped and undergoing treatment to recover certain traumatic memories that had been psychologically repressed, peppering it with heavy academic mumbo-jumbo in the hope of making the man lose interest, and sent him packing.
The following day, a different younger man walked into her office without knocking. This time, when she looked at him, she experienced a shock of what felt a lot like recognition, although she could not recall ever having met the man before. He seemed to be in his early to mid-thirties, tall and lean, expensively dressed and clean-shaven with dark wavy hair and a face that would have been attractive to her if it had seemed a little less stern – even cruel.
Dagmar was most taken aback when the young man sat down in the chair opposite her desk without invitation. When she demanded to know who he was, he introduced himself as “Doctor Halley.”
“What can I do for you, ‘Doctor Halley’?” Dagmar retorted, allowing a faint warning of displeasure to enter her tone.
“Oh, I’m here about that email you sent to Marlon Tent,” Dr Halley replied with a cool, bland smile.
Dagmar raised an eyebrow. “You are an associate of Mr Tent’s?”
“In a manner of speaking. Mr Tent is, shall we say, seldom in a lucid enough frame of mind to handle his correspondances in any meaningful capacity, and so his secretary brought your email to my attention.” Dagmar couldn’t help but notice the slight emphasis Dr Halley put on the word secretary.
“And you represent ... ?”
“Let’s just say I am a senior member of a certain branch of the civil services that prefers to remain anonymous, shall we?”
Dagmar paused, a thrill of excitement or fear causing her spine to tingle. Of course, she thought to herself. If I have been the subject of an alien abduction, I made my suspicions pretty obvious in that email. And now the secret
services have decided to take an interest. Oh, God.
Not waiting for Dagmar to say anything further, Dr Halley continued, “Needless to say, your email and your recent abduction is of interest to us. Hence me being here.”
“I see. So what is it you want?” Dagmar said finally.
“We require a copy of that journal you mentioned in your email to Marlon Tent. The one that was sent to you shortly after your return. And then we require you to delete said journal and any copies you may have made of it. Oh, and sign an NDA – a Non-Disclosure Agreement – promising to never mention the journal, or its contents, or how you came out it, ever again as long as you live.”
Shocked into silence, Dagmar could only stare at Dr Halley, now becoming rather afraid and more than a little frustrated at the nagging sense of familiarity he gave her.
“The journal is mine,” she said finally in a small, quiet voice. “I wrote it, and it was sent to me via a private, encrypted account. It is, therefore, my property.”
“You allegedly wrote it,” Dr Halley corrected, again giving her that cool, bland smile. “And if it is deemed a matter of international security, I’m afraid your allusions of privacy become lamentably irrelevant. You will provide us with the journal, and then you will delete the email account it was sent to. If it ever surfaces again, anywhere in cyberspace, you will be held responsible. And I believe it goes without saying that this is not a scenario that you would enjoy. At all.”
Dagmar’s face paled. “You’re saying I’d get the blame, even if the security leak is on your side?”
“We don’t have security leaks, Professor Halvorsen. And when we do, be assured they are meant to happen. Don’t trouble yourself too much with the idea that this situation puts you entirely at our mercy. It does, of course, but what you didn’t realise before is that you always were at our mercy. As is everyone else. The only real difference now is that you are no longer quite so naive to the situation, and that you have – rather unfortunately for you – put yourselves on our radar.” He reached forward and laid a business card on her desk. “Send the journal to this email address. I trust you are wise enough to take care of the rest without my supervision. You won’t see me again ... if you do as you’re told.”
With that, the mysterious Dr Halley got up and walked out of her office.
HERE ENDS THE FIRST INSTALLMENT OF DAGMAR'S TALE.