Prompt 45-Forget It

Write about something you frequently forget.

(CW: PTSD triggers)

Memories. They define you, shape you, rule you, haunt you. For some, visions of past horrors flood the senses at inopportune moments. It is most common with soldiers returning from war, but it can also happen to those who have had any sort of traumatic experience.

As technology expanded and medicine learned more about the brain, doctors began to ask the question “what if we could erase those memories entirely?” The Memory Modifier was born.

In the early days, it was far from perfect. The mind is resilient, it doesn’t take kindly to tinkering. Memories could not be permanently erased, only suppressed. The problem with burying memories is that sometimes they aren’t buried deep enough, or something shakes the foundation so hard it sheds light back on it.

James Ryan Drake was a frequent customer at his local Memory Clinic. Most patients eventually moved on and effectively forgot the memories they had paid to have erased, but Drake was unable to let go.

In this new town, he went by his middle name. He couldn’t remember why he didn’t go by Jim anymore. He was sure he had grown up being called Jim or Jimmy by friends and family. Before moving across the country though, he had changed his name to Ryan.

Ellen.

That was something else he was supposed to forget. Or was he supposed to remember her? He’d been to a Memory Clinic in Houston before his transfer to Boston. He was a civil engineer, not a soldier, so what did he have to forget?

The gaps in his memory spanned years. He had worked a lot. He was a hard worker, he knew that, but was he really that much of a workaholic? Had he no life outside of work before moving to the barren winter wastes of New England? Maybe it was true. And maybe it was also true he had buried something. There had been a reason he visited the MC before his move.

After the first few weeks of confusion, he settled into his new routine and forgot all about his worries. His new job kept him busy and he was content with being busy. He made new friends and joined a gym and got a dog. Everything was going well.

Six months into his new life, one of the senior engineers in the office announced his retirement. At the same time, management announced an expansion to accommodate new growth. Soon the office was flooded with new faces.

A young woman, about ten years his junior, went around the office getting acquainted with everyone. She was the new head of HR for his department and wanted to put a face to every name in her purview. “Trisha Hearst,” she said as she shook his hand. “I look forward to working with you, Mr. Drake.”

“Ryan, please,” he answered her. Being called Mr. Drake put his back up. “Don’t hesitate to ask me for help.”

Confusion flashed through her almond eyes and she glanced down at her printout of the office desk assignments. “You’re not James?”

James.

No one ever called him James. No one but Ellen. Her voice rang in his ears as she screamed it. It was not the way she had screamed when they had conceived their children. There was no pleasure in the voice echoing in his head. It was full of rage. Manic rage.

A vision of honey-colored curls flying towards him, a monstrous grimace contorting his wife’s once-beautiful face, the monster’s claws swiping out at him. The knife in her hands was already bloodied. He wasn’t bleeding yet.

Behind Ellen, he could see Lydia laying on the living room floor, a crimson flower on her tiny chest. How could she sleep through her mother’s insanity? Why wasn’t the baby crying? Ellen continued her advance, slashing wildly with the kitchen knife, trying to catch him.

“Ellen, what the hell has gotten into you?” he shouted.

“BASTARD!” she screamed, her eyes wide and wild. “IMPOSTER! GIVE ME BACK MY FAMILY!”

“We’re your family,” he cried, finally grabbing her wrist and knocking her to the ground. “Me, Lydia, JJ!” She shook her head violently, refused to release the knife. The bloodied knife. The red bloom on their daughter’s chest. His eyes welled up with tears. “Where’s JJ? Dammit Ellen, what did you do to the baby?”

Fear and grief overtook him and his grip on her wrist slackened. She took advantage of his distraction and plunged the knife into his chest, just below the shoulder. He couldn’t remember anything after that.

He woke up in the hospital. A detective told him his wife had taken her own life after calling 911. She had said the whole family was dead, but when the paramedics arrived James was still alive. The detective had questions for him, but he couldn’t answer them. He didn’t understand. He was living in a nightmare.

Later, it would be discovered her memory had been modified while he was away at a conference for work. Who did it or why, they couldn’t know. He didn’t have any enemies that he knew.

It was the first known case of memory modification used maliciously. He didn’t care. He just wanted to stop seeing his wife and children covered in blood every time he closed his eyes. He should have hated the process for what it had done to him, but he needed it to forget.

“Ryan? Come back to us son.” Drake opened his eyes and blinked at the bright fluorescent bulb in the drop ceiling. His boss was standing over him. The HR woman was off to the side, tears in her eyes as she shook. He was on the floor of his cubicle, drenched in sweat. “There’s a good lad,” Mr. Donoghue said. “Evans, take Miss Hearst to the café and get her something to calm her nerves. Here, Ryan.”

Ryan took the plastic cup of ice water and chugged it. Trisha muttered apologies as Frank escorted her away. The small group of onlookers began to disperse as well, now that he was awake again. “I’m sorry,” he sighed, still shaking.

“Can you stand?” He took several deep breaths to calm himself and found that he was able to stand. “Good, I’ll take you down to the nurses station. They called an ambulance when you collapsed, so they’ll probably be here soon. It’ll be easier for them to meet you there.”

Ryan didn’t argue. His embarrassment was overshadowed by the throbbing in his shoulder and the ache in his heart. There had been a very good reason he wanted those memories banished after all. If the EMTs didn’t have a MemMod, he would go to the MC first thing in the morning.

Notes: So ironically I forgot to write this up last night. I had a weird Friday that felt more like a Saturday. A half day followed by errands and a date night threw me off. I realized it as I was going to bed. Anyway, this was a fun little idea I got. I wondered if you could willfully forget something, and the Memory Modifier came to me. It’s not a unique concept, I’m sure, but this was my take on it. It’s supposed to help people with PTSD but as it turns out, it can have nefarious uses as well.

Memory is weird and overwhelmingly unreliable. Are there things you forget often? Is it a matter of something you don’t encounter often so when it comes up you think “oh right, how did this go again?” or do you just have a really bad memory? Maybe you’re not good with names. I always forget people’s names if I have a brief interaction with them and then don’t see them again for a really long time.

Monday’s prompt: Describe one odd item that you have in your purse or wallet right now.

My purse is full of junk. Maybe there’s something in there that will spark a story for this prompt though. Have a great weekend! See you Monday!

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