Books and authors mentioned in this episode:
The Memory Thief
Candles illuminated the inside of the tent, which was much smaller than I thought it would be based on the outside. Cheap incense filled the room with a smell like pine trees coated in sweaty socks, with more than a hint of body odor. Then again, the BO might have been coming from the old man passed out at the table in the middle of the tent. Only the slight snores and the spreading puddle of drool by his mouth assured me he wasn’t dead. He wore a bulky suit that made his slight build look like a turtle that might go back in its shell at any moment. A plaid golf cap sat on
the table next to him.
Sam barged in, the tent flap whipping through the air and interrupting the peace of the tent. He almost ran into me. Sam glanced at the old guy, then tapped me on the shoulder. “You,” he whispered. “Outside. Now.”
“No,” I said back in a normal voice. He slugged me in the shoulder, and a jolt of pain shot down my whole arm. “Ow!” I shouted. How deaf was that old guy? Was it too much to hope he would wake up and save me? For once, I got lucky. The man bolted up.
“Customers!” he shouted. Sam and I took a step back in unison, surprised. The man stared each of us in the eye. “Sam. You were just leaving, weren’t you? And take those hoodlums outside my
door with you. I need to talk to Benjamin.”
I’d never seen this man before in my life, but he knew my name? Sam turned and left, a bewildered look on his face, like he was confused how he got there to begin with. The old man kept staring at me. His eyes seemed too big for his face, and he was even frailer than I’d thought at first, his teeth yellowed and his eyes cloudy. “Welcome to my tent!” he said, then tried to stand. He got about halfway up and couldn’t make it the rest of the way.
“Hey,” I said. “What just . . .” I glanced behind me at the flap.
“How can I help you, Benji?” the man asked.
I frowned. “Do I know you?”
He shook his head. “But I know you. Know you better than you know yourself, I’d wager. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Louis, Memory Artist extraordinaire.” He made a little flourish with his hand. “Please sit,” he said.
“Oh,” I said, taking the chair in front of the table and feeling like I was at the principal’s office. My pulse was slowing down, and I had caught my breath. Outside, an announcement blared over the loudspeaker, letting everyone know the Demolition Derby would begin in thirty minutes. “Thanks.
I’m . . . uh . . . Benji. Benjamin.” But he had known that already. How?
Louis straightened his red tie, clapped his hands together, and smiled. “Well, Benjamin. As I said, I am a Memory Artist. Dealer of Yesteryear. Borrower of the Past.” He hitched his pants up, despite the fact that they were already well on their way to his chest. They had a tendency to droop, even
when he was sitting.
“What does that mean?” I asked. “Do you, like . . . want me to tell you about stuff that’s happened to me?”
Louis shook his head. “Of course not, my boy. I take unwanted memories. Buy them, actually. Lift them right out of your head.” He snapped his fingers. Or tried to. “Just like that.”
I frowned again. “What?”
“You ever had a bad nightmare you wish you could forget? I can make you forget it. Nightmares, lost loves, failed dreams, embarrassing situations. I take ’em all. For cash. Those don’t get you much, of course. I pay more for better things. Memories you might like but aren’t using. Winning
the spelling bee. Your first steps. Things you don’t even know you’ve got stored up there, although maybe you’re still competing in spelling bees, yes?”
I sat back in my chair as far as I could go. Was he crazy?
“I’m not crazy,” he proclaimed, perhaps more loudly than he intended to.
“Can you read minds?” I blurted out.
He shrugged. “In a manner of speaking. I can read memories. I can’t tell what you’re thinking until after you’ve thought it.”
“But . . . how?”
Louis spread his arms. “I told you, my boy. I’m a Memory Artist.”
Whatever that was. “I haven’t seen you at the fair before.”
“I haven’t been here, but if I had, you wouldn’t remember me unless I wanted you to. I’m looking for someone, and I just got here today. Have you seen a woman with tattoos up and down her arms? Or a group of RVs all traveling together?”
I picked at the edge of my chair. It was wood that had seen years of use. “I’ve seen a lot of women, and a lot of tattoos. I haven’t paid any attention to RVs. It’s fair week. They’re all
over the place.” What a strange question.
“She looks young. Well, younger than me, but who isn’t? Twenty years old. Short brown hair. And tattoos that are . . .singular.”
“No,” I said. “I haven’t seen her.”
“If you do, stay away! Come find me. Will you do that?”
He stared at me and then smiled. “I believe you will. You’re a good boy, Benjamin. And I’m sorry about your parents. They’ll get over it, though. It really comes down to money, not love.”
“Okay,” I said, having had enough. “That is too strange. Were you following me?”
Louis considered before continuing. “Maybe this would make more sense if I showed you something. I can give memories, too. The first one’s on me. Free of charge.” He smiled even wider, showing a mouth full of dentures, and held his hand out to me across the table. “Now,” he said. “Give me your hand?”
What did I have to lose? I reached to take his hand. When I was inches away, he drew back, staring at me with his eyes narrowed, as if he was considering something. He made up
his mind about whatever it was and shook my hand. His skin was leathery and rough.
I was in a plane, the roar of the engines drowning out everything else. This wasn’t a passenger plane. Seats lined the edges of the cabin, and a green light cast a shadowy glow on everything. Fifty other people—men—sat with me, dressed in olive-green cargo pants and jackets, round helmets with webbing on them, big brown boots, and parachutes on their backs. On my back, too.
The plane shook with turbulence and the buzz of the engines. This wasn’t like a movie. This was real. As real as the fair had been moments before. I could feel the texture of my uniform. The scratchiness around the collar. Smell the fuel oil, sweat, and exhaust. My body was bigger. Older.
More muscled. And I didn’t have any control over it. I was a spectator—watching and experiencing what it did but unable to influence it. Some of the other guys on the plane were praying, their
lips moving silently. From over the roar of the plane’s engines, I thought I heard the ratatat of machine gun fire. Then a loud explosion.
The plane hit a patch of rough air and dropped a hundred feet. My stomach flew up into my mouth, and I felt sick. An older man strode to a door and flung it open. The cabin filled with the swoosh of air. A red light started flashing, and we all stood and headed for the door, jumping out one by one. I wanted to stop. Head back to my seat. But of course my body didn’t listen. There were still five guys between me and leaping out into nothing. What would it be like? How had I
gotten here? Four guys. Three. It might not have been my body, but it was nervous. My palms were sweaty, and my mouth was dry as cotton. The guy in front of me hurled himself through the door without a pause, and then it was my turn.
I thought I’d stop. Refuse to jump. I was terrified, after all. My feet were inches from nothingness. It was dark out. The wind whipped through my hair, threatening to pull off my helmet, except it was strapped tight over my chin. There was no way anyone ever did something they were
this scared of. But my body didn’t pause. It practically lunged through the door. I wanted to scream. Clench my eyes closed. Throw up. My stomach did its best to run for it. I was falling, falling, falling. And then I was weightless. The falling sensation was the new normal.
I was flying.
And then I was back in the tent, facing a smiling Louis. I blinked and shook my head.
“You don’t need to see the rest.” He let go of my hand. He needed better air-conditioning in there. It reeked of vinyl and incense.
“Why not?” I asked, still gathering my thoughts. It had just been getting to the good part.
“It was a memory,” he said, sounding contemplative. “My memory. Just a bit of it. It’s how I celebrated my nineteenth birthday, though most people called it D-Day.”
“It was real?” I asked.
“Did you like it?”
Like it? It made the most incredible video game pale in
comparison. I stuck my hand out again. “Show me the rest.”
He smiled and shook his head. “It gets worse soon after that. I showed you the best part, believe me. It didn’t frighten you?”
I shrugged. “Jumping out of the plane was a bit scary, I guess.”
His grin widened. “I like you. I think you’d do well.”
I cocked my head. “Huh?”
“Would you like to see something else?”
No need to think about that twice. I thrust my hand out.
Louis laughed. “Yes. Hmm. Well. How to put this?” A pause. “Only one freebie per person, I’m afraid.”
My hand dipped back to my side. “You charge?”
“A man needs to eat.”
I dug in my pocket to see what I had left: three quarters and two dimes. Why had I blown it all on fair food? “What can I get for ninety-five cents?”
He gave me a wry grimace. “That would buy you a vision of what I ate for breakfast. It was a very nice omelet. Ham and cheese?”
Just my luck. My shoulders slumped. “It’s okay.”
He snapped his fingers, and I had the sense he might be playing with me. “We could barter!” he said.
“We could trade,” Louis said. Those pants really needed some suspenders or a better belt. “I give you some memories—or loan them, sometimes—in return for some of your memories. But you’re twelve, and I’ll need parental consent first.”
Why did everything always require your mom or dad saying it was okay? It’s not like they were that much more responsible than I was. “Is there a form I need to have them sign?” Maybe he wouldn’t read it too carefully.
“What? So you can forge the signature? Nope. I need the parent here personally.”
Figured. “So if I bring my parents here, and they say I can, I can sell you some memories, and you’ll give me other ones?”
Louis tapped his temple with a finger. “Of course. I’ve got loads and loads stored up here, some of them dating back to the Middle Ages. You could know what it was like to be a knight of the Round Table. It wasn’t round, you know. More of an oval, but King Arthur and the Knights of the Oval
Table doesn’t sound as good, don’t you think?”
“I . . . guess?”
“I’ve also got some very nice recollections of Babe Ruth in some of his best games. Are you into baseball?”
I shook my head. “My dad might like those.” I thought about that scene from World War II again. It had been so vivid. “Do you have anything from the space race? Maybe someone walking on the moon?”
Louis smiled and nodded. “You have a taste for the good stuff, I see. I do happen to have a few of those, captured from some of the astronauts before they passed on. Not the easiest to come by, though, and buying them outright carries an astronomical price tag. Get it? Astronaut? Astronomical?” When I didn’t laugh, he cleared his throat and smoothed his hair back before setting his hat in place. “I can rent you those for a decent rate, though.”
I imagined what it would be like to walk on the moon. Low gravity. Seeing the earth hanging above you in the sky. “Why don’t you have more people in here?” The tent should have been overflowing. Outside, the muffled throngs headed toward the derby. No one so much as peeked in.
“Video games and movies,” Louis said. “People don’t believe me. They see the sign, they pass me by.”
“So go outside,” I said. “Make people see. Once they know what you can do—”
“Let me worry about that, son,” he said. I got the feeling he wasn’t too concerned with promoting himself. Or maybe he was too weak to really throw himself into the work. Messing around with memories . . . That could be a useful trick to have with some people.
I shifted my feet, trying not to sound too eager or interested. “Could you make someone forget they hate someone else?”
His face grew solemn. More lined. “Your parents aren’t going to be fixed by wiping their memories.” His voice was soft.
My mouth dropped open. It was too easy to forget what he could do.
“Besides,” Louis continued. “You don’t want to muck around in people’s memories. They don’t just disappear, you know. The memories have to go somewhere, unless the person holding them dies. Some memories are better left undisturbed.”
“But my parents—”
“You don’t steal core memories and emotions. Do you want your parents to change? Become different people? Your memories make you, Benji. Change you. You take those things away, and many people find they’re nothing more than a house of cards.”
Silence again. Louis stared at me, his face grave. I scowled back. What was the point in having the ability to take memories if you didn’t use it? But then again, I hadn’t even known this was possible a half hour ago. If Sam hadn’t chased me in here . . . I broke the stare with Louis.
“Okay,” I said. “And you’re here all week?”
“More or less. I might need to wander the grounds a bit now and then, but just wait around if I’m not here. I’ll show up eventually.”
I liked him, pants up to his armpits and all. He reminded me of my grandfather, back when he was alive. I waved goodbye and left the tent.
Copyright © 2016 Adaptive Books
Bryce Moore is the author of The Memory Thief, Vodnik, and Cavern of Babel. When he’s not authoring, he’s a librarian in Western Maine, where he’s also the current President of the Maine Library Association. He’s been happily married since 2001 and is doing his best to raise three new geeks of his very own, while simultaneously convincing his wife that sci-fi/fantasy is awesome. He uses his spare time to fix up his old 1841 farmhouse and shovel snow and pay ridiculous amounts of money feeding his Magic the Gathering addiction.