Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
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A Lifetime of Memories

by Lester Curtis

Journal, Sept. 3

I'm scared.

I'm sitting here, staring at that damned red bicycle with the red-on-white FOR SALE sign on it, and I'm thinking, Don't go out there. Don't do it.

And it scares me, because, now that I know how, I want to go out there and do it, the way he did it to me.

Now that I know how...

It's strange; I think, now, that I know how vampires must feel. But I had to do it, to survive. It was him or me.

And Mary, too. If it hadn't been for her, I wouldn't be here, I'd be --

I'd be like he is, now.

Paul Beaman, who took me in with this damned bicycle. Paul Beaman, who almost destroyed me. They've still got him over at the state psychiatric hospital. Can't figure him out. They change his diapers and feed him and wipe up his drool. Somebody said he's been trying to put his foot in his mouth.

I did that to him. And it scares me, a lot, because it felt so good. It doesn't even matter to me anymore that he deserved it. It just barely means anything to me that it was self-preservation. All that matters now, all I can think of, is going out and doing it again.

All that matters. Is this true? No, of course not; I've got my job, and my apartment, and my cat, Molly, all thanks to Mary, and I suppose, to be fair, that should matter more than almost anything. But I can sure understand those people with their needles and crack pipes.

No. What matters, what really matters, is that I don't go out and do this, as much as I want to, I can't allow myself to, I have to fight it. That's not who I am.

I just read that last line, and I laughed so hard I almost peed myself. Who I am. I am Lisa Willet, I am 5'3" and 104 pounds, with dull brown hair and plain brown eyes, and I look like a perfect victim, a -- a prey animal. And I was everybody's victim.

Not anymore. I look in the mirror, and I look the same, but now, I'm different. I'm not Lisa Willet the prey animal anymore. I've moved up the food chain.

I still can't really quite believe it, but it's true, and I remember it all. I remember.

It all started with that bicycle, the second week in June, at the annual community flea market. I never buy much, but I always go, just to see what kinds of things people have had squirreled away.

I had been looking at someone's too-cutesy collection of salt-and-pepper shakers and was about to cross the street. I looked up to check traffic, and that's when I first saw him, slowly cruising along the curb on that bicycle, checking the wares on the other side of the street. I noticed the FOR SALE sign on the bike, but I didn't see his face, and he went around the corner. I crossed the street and spent a few minutes looking through some boxes of books, and he must have done a U-turn or circled the block, because when I turned around again, he was there, at the curb. He wasn't looking at me, at first, but I looked at him and wondered for a second how he'd gotten there, and then he looked at me.

I've read stories where this sort of thing happens, but I never thought it was quite real, it always seemed such an exaggeration. But our eyes met, and I couldn't look away, and he looked -- he looked inside of me. And I couldn't move, and I realized I couldn't move, but I didn't care, and I realized I could hear and feel and smell and taste everything: the air and sunlight in my hair and clothes, the old books in the boxes, the bagel I had for breakfast, distant motor oil and rubber and exhaust, voices, cigarette smoke, perfume and sweat, birds and squirrels and trees and grass and dandelions. I could actually hear the sky. But all I could see was his face, and then he smiled, and it all -- quit. Like turning off the lights in a room, even though we still had eye contact. And the minute it quit, I wanted more.

I'd been thinking of getting a bicycle anyway, not too seriously, and certainly not seriously enough to pay what they want for a new one. I'd seen a few for sale that day, but they were all junk, rusty chains, rotted tires, broken spokes. His was for sale, and it worked.

Like that mattered! I just had to laugh again; he could have been riding a mule, and I would have asked how much he wanted for it. God, I was helpless. But like Mary says, no one ever died of embarrassment.

Well, I had to say something, and for a moment I couldn't, but then I pointed at the sign on the bike and said, "What's for sale, the bike or the rider?" I remember smiling about that, I thought I was being so clever. And he said the bike was for sale but the rider could be rented, and I thought I'd be clever some more and I said, "Oh. Well, what's the rental fee?"

And there came that damned line. He smiled at me and said, "Would a lifetime of memories be too much to ask?"

Damn it all! That's still the best line I've ever heard, and of course, it worked. I could feel myself blushing, and I think my mouth hung open, and I couldn't think of anything else clever to say.

He was smooth. He saved me from embarrassment by saying, "Well, I'm asking seventy for the bicycle. Are you still interested?" I just looked at his face and smiled and said yes, and he got off of it and showed me how it all worked. And I bought it, of course.

And that was how it started, and we wound up going on bike rides together, and picnics, and then poetry readings at coffee shops, and a visit to the local observatory. And every time, he would do a little more of that thing with his eyes. I couldn't wait to see him again, and I couldn't believe that something so good could be happening to me. When I told this to Mary, she said that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I didn't start forgetting things until after we began having sex, and I didn't even notice it for a while. It was so subtle at first, just little things, like forgetting to put light bulbs on the grocery list. But being with him was so good I didn't care, and before long, I not only forgot the light bulbs, I even forgot the groceries. I was forgetting to feed poor Molly for days at a time, and she would yowl at me and I wouldn't know why.

When it was finally altogether out of control, I wasn't even quite aware of it. I'd gone to the grocery store, and the cashier was asking for payment before I'd realized I hadn't thought to bring my purse. I apologized, and was going to leave, but then I couldn't remember where my car was, or even what it looked like.

Someone took me to the hospital, and they examined me and put me in a big machine for a while, and they asked me a lot of questions, but I couldn't remember the answers. They asked me if there was someone who could take me home, and I said, "Paul," but I couldn't remember his last name or phone number or address. I missed him, and I think I cried. The doctors never did figure out what was wrong with me.

That's when Mary found me, and I don't even know how she found me, but she'd come looking for me that day when she called and found my phone disconnected. (I'd forgotten to pay the bill.) I think, for a while, there, she hardly had any life of her own. She all but moved in with me, paid the bills and handled the medical claims, made sure that Molly and I were fed, and made excuses to my boss. I don't know what she told her boss. She kept me to a strict schedule, and quizzed and drilled me every day, and retaught me essentials like my name and phone number. She spent a lot of time on the phone with doctors, and she brought her laptop over and spent a lot of time on the net. She made me read a lot, and played my favorite tapes on the stereo.

Paul never called again, and I missed him fiercely, but I hadn't heard the last of him. My credit card statement arrived, overcharged, and my bank account was drained. Mary got on her computer, and after a while, brought up records of electronic transfers, and telephone orders shipped to his address. Nothing with his signature, no face-to-face transactions. No witnesses to identify him.

I was shocked, first, and then I was hurt. Mary spent a long time on the phone with the bank and the credit card company, while I got more and more angry. By the time she was done on the phone, I was ready for revenge.

We talked for the rest of the evening. First, she wanted to know how he could have gotten into my accounts, and I didn't know myself. You need secret passcodes for those, and I never wrote them down anywhere, I just memorized them, and never told anyone. I didn't know while Mary was asking me, but I know now, that I never told Paul either. She asked if I remembered them, and at the time, I didn't. I couldn't even get to my own accounts.

We already knew Paul's motive, and Mary was determined to figure out his method. She was very logical, and made notes with a legal pad and a yellow pencil. Somehow he had gotten into my mind and taken information. During that time, I had begun suffering progressive amnesia. Doctors couldn't find an explanation. Hypnosis? It seemed logical, but I'd been hypnotized before, and knew it wouldn't do this sort of thing to me.

She asked me again about the thing he did to me with his eyes, and it stung to remember it, knowing what he'd been doing, but I described it in detail for her, how it felt and everything. And she looked at me for a moment and said, "I don't know how, but that man has been stealing your memories."

I told her how absurd that seemed, and she even agreed, but insisted that it was the only explanation left, and she went over her notes, point by point. The pattern was consistent: the more I saw of him, the more of my memories I lost.

It wasn't that I couldn't memorize things; I could. The mechanism, the working and function of my memory, was okay, Mary proved that to me easily enough. It was just that -- things were missing. If you think of your memory as a library, then Paul had been stealing volumes from mine. Not just bank account numbers, either, but all sorts of personal things as well. I couldn't remember the house I grew up in, or my first date, or a lot of birthdays and holidays. I could remember my last gym class in high school, but not my senior prom.

I wanted to rip his face off in little bits, I wanted to sliver his lips and his nose and his eyelids with a cuticle scissors, and I said so, to Mary, and she really surprised me with her answer. She said, "What if you could get your memories back, instead?" It stopped me for a minute, I hadn't even thought of that, but she said, "Well? He stole them, maybe he can give them back. It's worth a try, isn't it?" I asked how, and she got this kind of cold smile on her face and said, "You'd be surprised what people will do with the right motivation. Do you want to try it?" I said yes.

She said she'd need a few days to make preparations, and in the meantime I went back to work. On my third day back, she called at work and told me everything was ready.

Mary scared me a little. She came over as soon as I got home, and she got real serious about asking if I was really sure I wanted to do this. I asked why and she said that what we were about to do might get ugly, and some of it was illegal. I decided I didn't care. What else was I going to do, call the police and tell them my memories had been stolen?

We ate dinner, and then she took me to Paul's house, in a rented car. She parked about half a block away and we walked up to his front door, and she let us in with a new key. I asked how she'd gotten that, and she told me it was something she learned in a former job. The house was empty, and she locked the door behind us and took me to the living room, brought out cotton gloves for us to put on, and told me to stay there and not touch anything while she checked the rest of the house.

When she came back, she had a gun in her hand. I was surprised when she told me it was his; I still can't think of him as someone who'd own a gun. We sat on the couch and she took it apart, took the bullets out and looked it over and put it back together. She seemed to know what she was doing, and I asked if that was something else she knew from her former job, and she nodded. I asked what kind of people she used to work for, and she just said, "The kind who expect results."

Mary said she expected Paul to be back soon, and she watched out the window each time a car went by. She told me that this wasn't his house, that it belonged to another woman who was reported missing early last year. I looked around at the furniture, the carpet, the drapes. He hadn't just been stealing memories, he'd been stealing whole lives. I asked Mary where the other woman might be, and she said probably in a homeless shelter. I was headed there myself, and hell, he could have driven her to the shelter in her own car and left her there with little chance anyone would ask questions.

Mary glanced out as a car slowed on the street, and she picked up the gun and we went to stand out of sight around the corner. Paul came in and closed the door, and we stepped out behind him and Mary said, "Freeze, you bastard."

Paul sort of stumbled, and he turned around with a jerk. He looked at me, and at Mary holding his gun, and he stammered my name and asked what we were doing here. Mary said, "She's here to reclaim some stolen property, and I'm here to see that she gets it."

Paul started saying not to get hasty, and that he could pay me back, but I cut him off. I told him, "I'm not here for the money, I'm here to get my memories back."

His face got this kind of sick, twisted smile on it, like he knew he shouldn't be smiling but couldn't help it. Mary made him hold his arms out to the sides and walk backwards into the living room until he fell into an armchair. Then she moved to the side and sat on the floor with the gun pointed at his head, and told me to do what I needed to do.

At first, I couldn't figure out what to do. I hadn't thought about that; this was something he'd done to me, I'd never even thought about doing it to someone else. I knew this would be my only chance, though.

I knew I didn't need to be too close, so I stood just out of his reach and looked into his eyes. He squirmed and tried to look away, but Mary cocked the gun and told him to cooperate, and I got eye contact again, and somehow I -- locked in, connected, I guess, and then he couldn't move, and I felt that somehow, and knew this is what he'd done to me, that day with the bicycle, and every time since. And I had let him, and that started to really piss me off.

I didn't know what to do next, though; I tried to look or feel inside his head, but something was stopping me, I couldn't find anything, like he had some kind of barrier there, and the more I searched, the angrier I got. I pushed at the barrier, and searched it everywhere for some kind of opening, but there was none, and I yelled at him to let me in, and when I did that, I felt -- something change about the barrier; it moved or softened or something.

I pressed harder, and he cringed and tried to close his eyes. Mary reached out and pinched his hand, and he gasped, and his eyes went wide, and I leaned forward and turned all of my anger loose at him, all of my rage over what he'd done to me. He made a little whimpering noise, and then that barrier, whatever it was, fell in, and I fell in with it.

The first thing I saw shook me so much I almost lost contact; it was me, leaning forward with this horrible, furious glare. I hadn't expected that, to see myself through his eyes. But somehow I saw the power in myself, too, and I pushed the image away and went looking.

At first it was like being lost in someone else's life -- no -- a whole lot of people's lives, I don't know how many. There were voices and sounds, images, smells and sensations everywhere. I was confused for a moment, but then I remembered that I was there for my own, and I started sorting through all these impressions, trying to feel which ones were his or someone else's, and which were mine. I can't think of how to explain this, but -- I guess mine just fit, and the others didn't.

Each time I found one, I had to get it loose and take it back into my own mind, and I can't explain this, either, but it was a little tricky at first, and I think I almost lost the first few I tried. It got easier, though, and by the time I'd gotten all of my own memories back, it was all but automatic. And the more I did it, the more powerful I felt, like nothing I'd ever felt before; with almost no effort at all, I could move anywhere, find anything, use it, rearrange it. I could destroy it, too. It was so easy.

I finished getting what he'd taken from me, and was about to back out, but I looked at everything that he'd taken from other people, and I got angry again at the thought of him keeping all that; he had no right to it. I tore out everything that wasn't his, item by item at first, and then by bunches, until it was all gone, and then I found the source of that barrier that I'd met, and I smashed it on my way out.

And there I was again, in the room with Mary, looking at Paul in the chair, but he wasn't looking back, he wasn't looking at anything; his eyes were glassy and he just slumped there. Mary was looking at me with her mouth open a little bit, but then she asked me if I was all right and I said I was. She asked if it worked, and I said it had, that I'd gotten all my memories back. She asked if I knew I'd been growling, and I said ‘no.' She stared at me a second longer and then just shook her head and turned her attention to Paul. He was still breathing, but she couldn't get him to respond to anything, not even when she reached out a finger and touched his eyeball.

Mary sat there thinking for a few seconds, and then she got up and took Paul's hand and fitted his fingers around his gun, and then just let it fall to the floor, and we left him like that, and she drove me home. The police found Paul a few days later on an anonymous tip.

So, here I am, and there's that damned red bicycle, and I hate the thing and I want to get rid of it. I'd love to just throw it away somewhere, but I have to sell it; I need the money because I owe Mary so much for helping with my bills.

And I'm scared.

I need to sell the thing, but that means going out there, and I don't know if I can go out there, I don't know if I can trust myself.

I think I'll call Mary.


© 2010 Lester Curtis

Bio: Lester Curtis is an unemployed geezer and lifetime science-fiction fan living in NE Ohio. He likes to write poetry, science-fiction, and music, and sometimes he actually finishes some of it. He also does artwork of various sorts once in a while, including sculpture. When he is not being otherwise lazy, and when the weather allows, he shoots or paddles his canoe. He is an atheist, but wasn't always; at one point he even made up his own deity, but subsequently fired her for non-performance. (Mr. Curtis occupies some of his time participating in the Aphelion Forum. Anyone who feels that Mr. Curtis's comments on their work were less than kind -- here's your chance for revenge! (Keep in mind, however, that "he shoots"...)

E-mail: Lester Curtis

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