The memory killer ran his practice in a sensible, compact office tucked away at the end of a narrow alley. Up an arched stairway you had to go before heading down a corridor that could just barely fit two people. It was impossible to spot it unless you knew where to look and what you were looking for.
Jilted lovers, ruined journalists, and everyday criminals – those who sought out the memory killer often did not stop searching until they found him. Desperate and half-mad with their unshakeable longing and chewed up memories, they made their way through the labyrinth of red-bricked alleys, guided only by sparse streetlamps and the name card that mysteriously appeared in the mailbox one day when the pain became too much to bear.
The ivory-coloured card bore only the necessary information in a clean black script:
D.E. Lete, Memory Killer
90 Tavern Lane
Wipe out your selected memories in minutes
And somehow, they always managed to find the place. Later, they would say that the place found them instead.
Everything about the office was practical and tidy, leaving no room for extraneous or sentimental things like memories. Even his technique was a science, albeit unorthodox:
You sat in a black high-backed chair before him, separated by a desk that you were not to rest your elbows on. Above you, a blue lamp, the only source of light in the room, swung from the ceiling. The idea was to isolate you with your thoughts, leave you an island detached from everything that tied you to the world.
On my first visit, there was a boy who was about to leave before I entered. It had been a while since I spoke with someone; human contact felt like an iron glove in the days after the accident.
So when he nodded at me and asked, “First time?” I only blinked at him, so he answered his own question. “Most probably. You look suitably sceptical.”
I found my voice, feeble from disuse. “Does it really work?”
He nodded. “To some extent.”
“What do you mean?”
His gaze drifted off. “The memories come back. They always come back. And each time it hurts even more, so you have to keep going back to him. It’s how he keeps himself in business.”
But the memory killer seemed to have no need to retain his old customers, for there were always new ones streaming in. They came cradling their hearts, hoping to cut out the diseased bits and move on with their new, misshapen hearts and reformed minds.
“How long do they stay away, the memories?”
“It depends on how much you want to forget. How hard you keep away from the things that remind you of what you want to forget. What you fill your mind with.”
The light in the room flickered, which the boy took to be his cue to enter. “Good luck. I hope you’ll be free of your memories soon.”
It sounded like an odd thing to say, but the entire setup couldn’t be any stranger than it already was.
When the light flickered again, I pushed the door open to a sparse room fuzzy around the edges, as though I were looking at a faded photograph. The memory killer sat behind a wide mahogany table in a dark grey suit. His bifocals reflected the ghostly blue light of the lamp above the high-back chair. On the table, a pendulum stood snapping from end to end, breaking the tight silence in the room.
“Have a seat, please.” His voice was a light in the darkness. I settled into the chair. “Tell me what ails you,” he said.
The words came more easily than I had planned, emerging in starts and stops before pouring out undeterred.
He didn’t interrupt, only asking what I wanted erased when I was done talking.
“I’ll need you to be more specific than that, please. Time frame?” His pen was poised over his notepad.
A flash of red – Emmy’s jacket. Her laughter. Her wide, curious eyes. I flinched. The memory killer adjusted his bifocals, waiting.
One year on and the memories still managed to assault me when I least expected it.
I told the memory killer in as much detail as possible. If I wanted complete erasure, I had to cover all bases, leave nothing to chance, create an airtight void so that the memories couldn’t come seeping back in.
He scribbled down the dates and told me to close my eyes. I did as I was told.
For a moment, the room was filled only with the rhythmic tap of the pendulum, in tandem with my heartbeat. Then a fuzzy blue light pressed against the skin of my eyes, building up to a brilliant flash before everything sank back into an endless black.
The tapping stopped, and it was over. We sat face-to-face in a darkened room, the memory killer and me, a willing victim to his craft. A giant hole now sat inside me, and I couldn’t pinpoint the reason for it. There was only a milky calm that kept me afloat and coated my heart against the sting of the past.
“Th – thank you.” He nodded once. I stumbled my way towards the back door. I emerged into the blinding orange glow of a porch lamp. A figure pushed off from the wall and came towards me.
“How did it go?” I recognised his voice before my eyes adjusted to the light and settled on him.
“You’re still here?”
“It can get a little disorientating after your first session. Just thought I’d make sure you don’t get lost.”
We fell into step, silent. But there wasn’t the heavy reserve that sat between us earlier anymore. The night stretched ahead of us, and I felt like I could coast through it and reach the other side to morning.
But the boy from the alley was right. The memories came back eventually, sooner than I feared.
They began as a stirring in my chest, an image here, a voice there. And soon, everything reminded me of Emmy. Her voice rang loud in in the newly hollow space, as though my best friend had simply taken a short trip and had found her way back into my head.
The memories appeared out of the corner of my eye like spectres when I least expected it, begging for release from the purgatory I had kept them in, forcing me to race back into that narrow, winding alley and up that long, lonely stairway.
A tap of the pendulum, a flash of blue light, and all was right with the world again – at least, until the memories returned.
On my fourth visit, I found a sign pinned to the window. In his classic plain lettering, it read:
Termination of Services
D.E. Lete Practices will cease operations as of 10 June. Memories kept in temporary storage will be destroyed in one month should the owners fail to claim them. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
Inconvenience was a gross understatement.
The group gathered outside was distraught, turning to each other with questions none of them had answers for.
“What do you mean disappeared?”
“He can’t just leave us behind like that!”
“Who wrote this note?”
“When’s he coming back?”
Lucas, the boy from the alley, joined me where I stood staring at the sign. He had accompanied me after my last couple of appointments with the memory killer, and each time he asked if I was happier for having my memories deleted. For some reason, I could never find it in me to say yes.
“He could have gotten tired of all this,” Lucas said now, surveying the sign. “Must be tiring reading everyone’s memories for a living.”
It was hard enough bearing just my own memories. What must it be like to be battered by other people’s memories every day?
Night after night, I found myself back in that alley, along with the other desolate, desperate people, hoping against all hope that they will find a cure again. But there was no sign of help, and we grew starved and frantic to forget.
“He’s not coming back,” Lucas said on the sixth night, after yet another futile wait in the dank alley. Already, the number of people hanging around was dwindling, having left in search of alternatives. All that was left were the two of us, and a couple more stragglers who were caught between giving up and holding on.
“What does this mean?” I asked, dreading his answer.
“It means we can’t hide from the things we’re afraid of anymore,” Lucas said softly. “And maybe – just maybe – that’s a good thing.”
Memories, according to the memory killer, were only as powerful as you allowed them to be. They could be distorted, erased, lost, and recovered. Our memories could kill us if we didn’t kill them first.
But I thought of the gaping hole that memory erasure, albeit temporary, left behind. The numbness from having your memories hollowed out. The constant ache for something lost.
Maybe killing our memories was just as good as killing a part of ourselves.
Lucas took my hands. “We tried, Isabel. But forgetting doesn’t change a single thing. All we’re doing is hiding, and I’m tired of running from my memories, tired of being afraid of them.”
He seemed different from the boy I had met four months ago. Back then, he had been so sure memory deletion was the right way, and he had had me convinced too. We had leapt down the rabbit hole together, eager for the bliss of oblivion. But there was none of that conviction left in his eyes. All I saw was the same shadow of grief I felt in me.
The alley was quiet that night, bereft. Our footsteps rang in the stairway, blending in with the sounds of the streets as we found our way back to the world, where our wounds lay raw and open, but where our bleeding hearts had room to heal.
Maybe – just maybe – this was a good thing.