Author : Bob Newbell
It was five years ago today that I was awakened by my wife's screaming. I remember leaping out of bed yelling, “What's wrong?! What is it?!” I also remember seeing a woman I didn't recognize staring at me in shock and fear.
“Who are you?! What are you doing in my bed?!” she had exclaimed. “Steve, get in here!”
The voice, I'd thought to myself. That was Amy's voice. And the nightclothes the woman had been wearing were my wife's. I recall looking at the woman's hair, her lips, her eyes. The individual components of the face were Amy's. But somehow they combined to form the face of a stranger. I remember seeing her reaching back toward the drawer in the nightstand. I kept my gun there.
“Amy!” I'd said. “It's Steve! I know it's you but for some reason I don't recognize you either!”
We spent the next few minutes quizzing each other about our past until it became obvious who we were despite appearances. That was when the phone rang.
“Steve, it's Tim. We need you at the station now. It's urgent.”
“Tim, can it wait? Something's happened to me and Amy. I think we need to go to the hospital and get checked out. I know this is gonna sound crazy, but–”
“You don't recognize each other.”
I was stunned. “Yeah, Tim, how did you–”
“Steve, get down here.”
I remember going to the police station and being greeted by apparent strangers. They inspected my badge, my driver's license, and my police photo ID. They asked me a few questions that it would have been all but impossible for anyone but me to answer correctly. Convinced it was really me, they sent me over to my boss.
“Yeah, it's me. We've got pandemonium out there. I need you out on patrol. National guard is being mobilized, too. We've got a lot of scared people. We've had thirty shootings or stabbings of relatives mistaking one another for intruders in the last hour alone. Emergency rooms are being overrun. President's gonna address the nation in 15 minutes. Just audio, though. They're just gonna show the presidential seal on TV while he speaks. White House is afraid that a strange man no one's ever seen before identifying himself as the President would make things worse.”
Things got worse anyway. Much worse. Martial law had to be implemented in most countries. The global economy collapsed. The medical community called it prosopagnosia or “face blindness”. In a single moment, the human race lost the ability to recognize faces. Brain scans showed damage to a structure in the brain called the fusiform gyrus. There are several theories as to how it happened but no one really knows. Some sort of infection couldn't simultaneously strike every man, woman, and child on Earth. An attack by aliens and divine punishment are two of the more popular explanations.
We tried picture ID badges for a while but those are too easy to fake. We ultimately had to chip the entire human race. Having your wrist scanned has become a ritual observed a dozen or more times a day. Funny how quickly we all got used to it.
No one born after The Masking, as it's come to be called, appears to have been affected. Their facial recognition ability is intact. Still, newborns are chipped right after the umbilical cord is cut because we don't know if it will happen again and have no way of reversing it. Anonymous relatives, unfamiliar friends, unidentified celebrities and historical figures. That's the world we now live in.
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