When he saw her car crunching up the gravel drive, David wondered if he was insane.
Perhaps his deterioration wasn't a calculated effect, but a natural and silent assassin, one that had always been lurking in his genes.
But no, David knew the truth. These thoughts he'd been having, the flickers of fantastic memory, they were who he really was, who he had trained to be. That's why he loved them.
They were old friends, returning to him, welcoming him home.
He smiled at Wanda as she got out of her car, a week's worth of clothing thrown over her shoulder. He rolled her name around in his mind: WANDA.
It wasn't one of his activation words, but it almost was.
He wondered how he knew that. He'd started to recognize more about himself recently. Well not recognize, but remember.
David didn't actually know what his activation words would be. Though it was easy to tell what wasn't. That was part of the activation therapy.
It made you forget, fuzzed you out, your training, your mission, and the words that would bring it all back invisibly branded onto your brain.
He'd lived in his cabin, four miles outside of Port Angeles, Washington, for the last forty three years with little variation. He didn't have a TV, and he kept away from radios.
The internet was a thing other people complained about.
Over the last decade he'd come to remember some of his life, his real life, before activation.
It had crept up on him slowly, trickling in through sweaty dreams of soldiers, and dark rooms, and training tantamount to torture.
He'd pieced it together sometime after his wife left him. She'd said to their couple's councilor that he was too calm, too quiet. He never engaged with her.
She would scream, and he would just sit there. He always got quiet when there was screaming. He'd thought it made him a good listener.
Now he spent a lot of his time alone. In the quiet he remembered enough to know that his name wasn't really David, and that he hadn't been born in Washington, and that he wasn't really calm.
He'd also figured out how the activation words worked. When someone spoke them, he'd have to activate, procedures would flood his mind and a kind of artificial instinct would take over.
He'd be filled with terrible certainty.
Then, when it was done, it would all run out of him, like sand through a sieve, back into the dark corners of his mind. So far, he'd only discovered three words, but there must be more.
So at the end of the summer, when his granddaughter Wanda called up to say she was going to visit him for a week before heading back to the University of Washington,
he almost told her not to come. But something, something old and calm and quiet, made him say yes.
"Hey sweetie, how's your summer been?" said David, as he took her bag.
"Oh not bad Grandpa. You know, busy! It will be nice to just chill with nature." Wanda thumped up the freshly pressure washed steps and pushed open the glass door.
David followed her, his shoes squeaked on the bright wood.
Inside he found her breathing in the pine smell of the cabin, examining his wall of paperback books.
"I forgot how many you have. I need to take a shelfie!"
"A what?" Said the man, who knew he was not really named David. He set her bag down on the loveseat.
"Shelfie: shelf selfie." She pulled out her phone and took a picture of herself with her mouth pursed and her eyebrows shooting up.
"I'm going to title it 'Hittin da' Books!' or maybe something less dumb. I don't know." Wanda smiled up at him, and the corners of his mouth pulled up in response.
They quickly settled into an evening routine that lasted for the next six days.
Mornings she stayed in bed, but they were both night owls, so Wanda would stay up with him, reading and looking out past the evergreens toward the Puget Sound, grey and white in the moonlight.
Eventually Wanda started reading to him. She giggled when she found an old phrase or word she thought ridiculously outdated.
"'The nurses converged on my bed. The elder of the two was a HIPPY BROAD with big arms, and dark hair.'" Wanda was lying on the couch with the checkered pattern, her back propped up by a pillow.
She repeated "Hippy Broad!" and snorted.
One of the words echoed in David's skull: CONVERGED. He sat across from her in his orange recliner, slippers propped on the table, enjoying their final evening together.
Then his feet slowly slid down to the floor. He found himself standing. He walked past the ladder like stairs, and into the kitchen, hidden from Wanda's view.
"Be back in a minute, just remembered I need to take a pill. Keep reading." He heard himself saying.
The sink was full of sudsy dishes. Somewhere in the grey swamp was a knife. He reached in and dug around. Plates scraped together in the depths as his fingers quested.
Above the sink was a window out to the deck. It was so bright now, so bright and clean in the porch lights, just like the knife he was looking for.
He'd used the pressure washer to cleanse the deck just this morning. Hadn't wanted Wanda to see how dirty it had been. Besides, there'd been all the blood.
His fingers closed around the handle. He pulled it out as he turned back toward the living room. The wet cuff of his robe fell down concealing it.
He walked forward and leaned on the kitchen door frame, listening to Wanda for a little longer. She came to the end of the novel just as he was ready to kill her.
"All men," she said "Know that death must accompany their biography, to be, if nothing else, that last, most definitive line of their epilogue." She didn't laugh as he stepped up behind her.
She closed the book and tipped her head back, smiling up at him.
The handle was at just the right angle. Slowly, keeping eye contact, he slipped the knife free and slid the metal of the blade along the pillow and into the nest of her dark hair.
She looked up just as the metal CONVERGED with her skull.
She didn't scream. Instead she giggled and flipped over grabbing the knife by the blade.
"Are you trying to sharpen me Grandpa?" She asked. David looked down at the blade to find what he'd grabbed out of the sink wasn't one of his knives, but the honing steel.
It had the same handle, its own place in the wood block, and it was smooth and rounded at the end.
But he wasn't surprised, not really, because in that last line Wanda had read he heard something. A word stood out. It ran through him, and he shivered. EPILOGUE.
"I can try." he said to her. "But I doubt I could make you any sharper." He paused with a distracted smile. EPILOGUE.
"It's cold in here, let's head to bed." Wanda said with a yawn. She placed the honing steel on the coffee table by her empty mug, and slouched off to the guest bedroom.
EPILOGUE. It still vibrated through him as he sat in his orange chair staring out at the sound. Epilogue. He hadn't known... epilogue. Hadn't known he had Deactivation words.
He wondered, as he sat, listening to the sea, how many more he would learn, before his mission was accomplished.