The Memory Thief
Published January 11th 2020
What is The Memory Thief?
The Memory Thief is a collaborative book. Each week, I write one new chapter and provide three possible options for what could happen next. Readers vote for their favourite and watch as the story comes to life. Click Here to learn more.
Last week on The Memory Thief…
I re-read the note twice more before returning it to my pocket. Though far from helpful, the enigmatic message filled me with hope. Whoever wrote it knew what happened to me. Finding them would mean unravelling the mystery that was my life. Unfortunately, I had no clue where to begin. Fortunately, the burden of choice was taken from me when a dark shape emerged from my right.
I turned to find…
Option 1: …a massive, snarling beast.
Option 2: …an odd-looking robot.
Option 3: …a little girl with tear-stained cheeks and a headless doll clutched in her hands.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 3 votes (8.82%)
Option 2: 13 votes (38.24%)
Option 3: 18 votes (52.94%)
Author’s Note: I’ll be honest. That third option was a throwaway. I wasn’t expecting anyone to vote for the little girl. It just goes to show you can never predict what will happen. Hopefully, I can find a logical reason for the little girl to be there, lol.
I turned to find… a little girl with tear-stained cheeks and a headless doll clutched in her hands. Her hair was shoulder-length and tangled beyond repair. Her clothes were in tatters, and her feet were bare. A finger was missing from her left hand, and a hideous scar marred most of her arm. Her eyes were dark and devoid of emotion.
I stared at the little girl, waiting for her to speak, but she just stood there, silent and still.
“What do you want?” I eventually asked. The question came out threatening, but the little girl didn’t seem intimidated. Doll still clutched in her small hands, she hobbled toward me, her left leg struggling to support her weight. Coming to a stop before me, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. Hand trembling from the effort, she handed it to me.
I stared at the note for a while before taking it. It was nearly identical to the one I found in my own pocket; immaculate and ill-fitting for such an austere décor, but rather than being crumpled, this piece of paper had been neatly folded.
“Where did you get this?” I asked, but the little girl didn’t respond. She stood still, staring at the note. Annoyed, I unfolded the sheet and read the words scribbled upon it.
Your first clue awaits. Follow the child; she will guide you to your destination.
I read the note a few more times before looking up from it. The handwriting matched that of the first note, indicating they had both originated from the same place. But that didn’t explain who had written them, or why they were playing games with me.
“Who gave you this?” I asked, brandishing the note.
The little girl didn’t answer. Acting per the letter’s instructions, she turned her back to me and hobbled off, gesturing for me to follow. I hesitated for a moment before hurrying in pursuit. Stuffing the new note into my pocket, I took up position to my guide’s left.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked.
“Where are we?”
“What’s your name?”
I considered giving up, but it wasn’t a viable option, so I redoubled in my efforts.
“Why won’t you answer my questions?” I asked. “Did you lose your tongue or something?”
The girl skidded to a stop and glared at me.
“What?” I asked.
She didn’t answer—at least, not with words.
Tilting her head back, she opened her mouth, revealing two rows of rotting teeth. Beyond them lay…
Nothing. The girl didn’t have a tongue.
“Oh…” I muttered, suddenly as mute at the child standing before me. “I’m… I’m sorry,” I eventually muttered. “I didn’t mean… I-I didn’t know.”
Amused by my befuddlement, the child flashed me a smile, then started walking once more. I followed in silence, my own tongue tucked away at the very back of my mouth. I couldn’t help wondering how she’d lost the tongue—was it a birth defect or a result of the hard life she’d led?—but it didn’t really matter.
The remainder of the journey was spent in silence. I took advantage of this to familiarise myself with the city. Though I still had no idea what it was called, the town was even more pitiful than I’d initially assumed. You couldn’t go more than a few blocks without coming across the ruins of a building. Those lucky enough to still be standing had been repaired so many times they were but sad images of the dwellings they had once been. The streets were slick with mud and it wasn’t uncommon for stones and other debris to be hidden beneath its glistening surface. Much like my guide and me, the people who wandered the streets were barefoot and bore grim expressions. Children wandered about, unsupervised. Elderly folk sat amid the crowd, too exhausted to keep moving. Adults of all ages and sizes hurried about, moving to and fro without care for anyone but themselves. Occasionally, two particularly grumpy people would get into a shouting match, but the altercation rarely came to blows. Swearing for all to hear, the distraught citizens went about their way, pushing all who got in their way.
Why is everyone so angry? I wondered, but I knew better than to ask, so I remained silent and followed my guide through the crowd. Her diminutive size and uneven gait made her a target for anyone of superior size and strength, but she pushed through the mass of bodies, whacking away with her headless doll whenever someone refused to let her pass. She may have been small, she didn’t let anyone push her around.
We kept going for a while before the crowd began to thin. The streets grew narrower, and the streetlamps few and far between. The appearance of the pedestrians also changed. They went from angry and inconsiderate to silent and shifty. More than once, I caught glimpses of a concealed weapon. I even caught sight of a geezer being stabbed by a man half his age.
My guide had slowed her pace and now moved in bursts of a dozen or so steps, keeping to the shadows and doing her best to keep from attracting attention. She easily blended in with the filthy décor, but my larger frame and wandering gaze meant I stuck out like a sore thumb. Every so often, I felt gazes lingering on me, but I kept my gaze low and my shoulders slumped.
We progressed through the slums for a while before a group of drunken men approached us. They barely noticed me, so busy were they leering at my guide. They didn’t seem to care that she was underage, or that time and abuse had ravaged her beyond repair. They catcalled her and showered her with ill-constructed compliments. Doing her best to ignore them, she marched on, but the men refused to let her escape.
“Where ya goin’, sweetheart?” slurred the largest of the group. His gut was massive and bounced up and down as he wobbled alongside my nameless guide. His beard was knotted, and his hair matted. A foul stench rose from his filthy frame.
The girl ignored him and marched on, but the man wouldn’t be denied.
“Hey,” he barked, grabbing her arm and whipping her around. “I’m talkin’ to ya. Are ya deaf or some’ing?”
Snarling, she lashed out at him with her doll, but the bully yanked it from her grasp and chucked it aside. Picking her up, he tried planting a kiss upon her lips, but she headbutted him. Roaring in pain and anger, he dropped his “prize” and staggered back. Blood streamed from his nose and tears filled his eyes, but he was too drunk to care.
“You little snot!” he growled, lunging at the child. His open palm made contact with the side of her face and sent her crumbling to the ground. The sickening sound her hip made when it hit the earth was enough to snap me out of my cowardly trance.
“Hey!” I yelled, stepping forward. “Leave her alone.”
The drunkard looked me up and down.
“Get lost,” he grunted. “This ain’t nonya business.”
“She’s my friend,” I said, taking another step forward.
The man gave me a quizzical look.
“She’s a scavenger,” he said. “She ain’t got no friends.”
I cross my arms. “Well, she has one now.”
The man faltered for a moment before remembering he had friends. Glancing at them, he motioned for them to join him, but the drunken men hesitated. Perhaps they were intimidated by my athletic physique. Maybe they were too drunk to fight. In the end, it mattered little; there was but one way I would defeat them.
I had to take out their leader.
“This is your last chance,” I warned. “Leave now or suffer the consequences.”
The bully looked me up and down and scoffed, unimpressed. “Whatcha gonna do?” he asked. “Talk me to—”
He didn’t get a chance to finish; I knocked him out before he even realized what I’d done. The sound of snapping bones filled the air as my right foot cracked him on the side of his face. I honestly don’t know where that came from, but the man crumbled into a heap, unconscious. Taking advantage of the situation, I turned to his friends and glared.
“Leave,” I growled. “Now!”
I watched them scurry away with a satisfied smile. My heart was racing, but I felt incredibly powerful. I still had no clue who I was, but apparently, I was one hell of a fighter—either that or I’d gotten lucky.
“Are you all right?” I asked as soon as the fleeing men were out of sight. I offered my guide a hand and a smile.
She took both. Though she couldn’t speak, she thanked me in the only way she knew how: with a hug. It was short and awkward, but I welcomed it with open arms. Once the tender moment was over, we resumed our progress. The word must have gotten around because the drifters that lived in this part of town kept a wide berth. We progressed in silence for a while before my guide came to a standstill at the mouth of a dark alley. She had reclaimed her lost doll and now clutched it to her chest.
“Is that where we’re supposed to go?” I asked, eyeing the dark alley wearily.
The little girl nodded.
“Lead the way.”
She shook her head. I frowned.
“You want me to lead?”
Another headshake, followed by another frown.
“I don’t understand. What—”
My new friend interrupted me with a raised palm. Pointing at me, she nodded toward the alley. Pointing at herself, she gestured toward the road that led us here.
“Oh,” I say, finally understanding. “This is where we part ways.”
We stood in silence for a moment, neither of us wanting to say goodbye, but I could tell asking her to accompany me further would be a mistake. She had played her role, and now it was time for us to part ways. Still, I couldn’t help asking one final question.
“What’s your name?”
She pointed at her doll.
“Your name is Doll?”
She shook her head. Holding the toy up with one hand, she used the other to point at one of its tiny plastic hands.
“Hand?” I asked.
Another failure. It wasn’t until she revealed her own hand that I understood what she was trying to say.
“Your name is Finger, isn’t it?” I asked, staring at the spot where her pinky finger should have been.
Smiling, Finger nodded. I returned the grin, glad to have made a new friend.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Finger,” I said, offering a hand for her to shake. “My name is… well, I don’t actually know what my name is, but I’m very happy to have made your acquaintance.”
She stared at my hand for a moment before brushing it aside and wrapping her arms around my waist. I reached down and lovingly patted her on the head.
“Thanks for helping me,” I said once the hug ended. “I hope our paths will cross again in the future.”
Finger smiled, then hurried off, headless doll clutched tight to her chest. I watched until she vanished behind a crumbling house, then turned to face the alley. It was devoid of streetlamps and oozed danger, but I didn’t have a choice, so I marched straight into its gaping maw.
It took a few minutes, but my eyes eventually adjusted to the darkness. Though the world beyond the city was ruled by darkness, enough light shone from the surrounding buildings to illuminate the path ahead. Narrower than any of the previous streets I navigated, the alley was slick with mud and puddles of cold water. I sloshed through the sludge, squinting through the darkness for a while before a fork appeared before me.
The path to my left was so narrow it could barely be categorized as such. The other branch was wider and appeared to be a continuation of the alley I’d been navigating for the past few minutes, so I opted to keep going rather than veer off course. It didn’t take long before I reached the end of the road.
A cliff stood before me, bare but for the gaping hole that stood at its very centre. Heart racing, I approached the dark orifice and peered inside. Even darker than the outside, the world within the cave was bathed in shadows. I could make out the subtle sound of breathing, but I couldn’t identify its exact source.
“Is anybody there?” I asked, my voice weak and uncertain. The question echoed throughout the chamber for a moment before it was drowned out by the sudden snarl of an angry beast. No, not one. Many.
I staggered back, scanning the darkness for signs of danger. At first, all I could see was endless darkness, but then two red dots blinked into existence. Four more followed soon after.
The eyes glowed with fierce intensity. Bounding up and down, they began to grow. I didn’t understand what was happening until it was almost too late. I dove out of the way just as the three snarling beasts emerged from the darkness.
Shuffling backward through the mud, I studied the angry creatures. Roughly the size of a grown man, the dog-like beasts stalked forward on all fours. Slender yet powerful, they bore a glistening coat of crimson scales. A slender tail undulated behind them, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. Their pointy ears were flat, and their hackles were raised, proof that they weren’t in a friendly mood. The sight of their exposed fangs confirmed it.
“Crap,” I muttered. To flee, I would have to stand, but I feared that would only anger the predators further, so I remained crouched.
“Good doggies,” I whispered, hoping to sooth them, but the scaled canines marched on, growling.
“I-I didn’t mean to wake you,” I said. “I took a wrong turn and…”
The nearest animal lunged at me. I rolled to the side, only barely avoiding the snapping jaws. Scrambling to my feet, I turned my back to my attackers and sprinted away. I’d already travelled this section of road, so I knew what to expect. Unfortunately, my pursuers were much faster than me and caught up to me with surprising ease.
Pain lit up my left calf as one of the scaled dogs lashed out at me with its razor-sharp claws. The damage was minimal, so I ignored it and raced on. I kept going for a few more strides before something slammed into me from behind.
I collapsed, falling face-first into the mud. Skidding a short distance, I came to a standstill at the centre of a large puddle. Though filthy, the water helped wash the mud from my face. My vision was still blurred, but I could now see well enough to realize the mutt who’d attacked me had made it past me, cutting off my escape. His compatriots stalked forth from the opposite direction, ensnaring me into a deadly trap.
Now seated, I looked around, desperate for a way out. It didn’t immediately present itself, but my vision eventually cleared enough for me to spot the narrow alley that branched out from the main path.
My heart leapt at the sight of it. It was narrow enough that my pursuers would be forced to progress in single file. This, combined with the fact that old crates and abandoned furniture littered the path, meant I still had a shot at survival.
I took a moment to study the mutts’ behaviour, then made my move. Propelling myself forward with as much force as I could, I dove toward the narrow pathway, only barely avoiding the sharp claws and snapping jaws that came flying my way. The impact was jarring, but I ignored the pain and scrambled to my feet. Jumping over a rotting crate, I began the second leg of my escape.
The obstacles that lay in my path slowed my progress, but they also curbed my pursuers’ advance. Though more agile, their broad shoulders slowed their momentum to a crawl. I began to pull ahead, but I refused to get complacent. I kept my eyes open for an opportunity, a way to block the path for my pursuers. It took a while, but I finally came across a stack of old desks. Piled six high, they were massive enough that moving them would be impossible once they were in place. But getting them to collapse and block the path wouldn’t be easy.
Glancing over my shoulder to make sure I had enough time, I skidded to a stop and began yanking on the bottom desk. Though rotten, its legs were buried deep in the mud and moving it was impossible. I laboured for a while before giving up and moving to the next. This one was easier to move, but the stack of desks only dropped a few feet before one of them hit a protrusion and jammed.
“Dammit!” I swore. Jumping, I tried to grab hold of the problem desk, but it stood just out of reach. Glancing at my pursuers, I decided I had enough time to try one final time. Placing one foot on the bottom desk and the other against the wall that stood across from it, I lifted myself into the air. The problematic desk was now within reach, but it was jammed tight. Even with all my weighting hanging from it, it wouldn’t budge. It wasn’t until the first snarling dog reached me and slammed into it that it finally gave way. Falling backward, I fell free of the collapse just as the stack of furniture came tumbling down.
I’m not sure what happened to the mutts, but the whimpering that rose from the pile of shattered desks told me at least one of them was trapped. The other two were either dead or had retreated when they realized I was now out of reach.
Sighing, I stood up and turned away from the improvised dam. Feet sore from all that running, I continued along the narrow passageway until I reached a dead end. Unlike the last, the wall that stood before me was manmade and came equipped with a door. Carved into it was a triangle.
This must be the place, I thought, glancing at my left arm. The lighting was poor, but I could still make out the triangle of scar tissue that adorned it.
Glancing over my shoulder to make sure my pursuers hadn’t somehow found a way past the roadblock, I turned my full attention to the door. Hand trembling, I reached for the handle. Twisting it, I pulled open the door, revealing…
Option 1: …an old, rundown apartment that stunk of mould and mildew.
Option 2: …a lavish, well-lit dwelling with polished floors and fancy artworks.
Option 3: …nothing. A brick wall was all that stood behind the door.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 3.
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