The Memory Thief
Published January 25th 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 stared at the new symbol for a while before muscle memory intervened and forced me to click the mouse’s left button. Immediately, the logo disappeared, and a figure appeared. It was…
Option 1: …a beautiful young woman with long, dark hair and piercing eyes.
Option 2: …the stern-looking man from the old statue I’d seen when I first awoke.
Option 3: …me.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 4 votes (17.39%)
Option 2: 7 votes (30.44%)
Option 3: 12 votes (52.17%)
This chapter is dedicated to Jackie. Thanks for voting.
The logo disappeared, and a figure appeared. It was… me.
I remained frozen for a moment, unsure how to react. Though we shared the same square jaw and piercing gaze, there was something different about my digital replica. He stood tall, his feet shoulder-width apart and his shoulders back. He spoke in a self-assured voice, his words powerful yet somehow soothing. The clothes he wore were identical to the ones I awoke in but for one major difference: they were undamaged and unsoiled. Aside from that, the young man on the screen and I were identical in every way.
“If you’re watching this, it means I failed,” said the man in the recording. “I don’t know how much you know about the strange world you awoke in, but you’re not the only one whose memories have been stolen.” He sighed. “Countless have fallen victim to the mysterious memory thief.”
He paused, allowing the revelation to sink in.
“I grew up in a world you may not understand. The city in which you find yourself is known simply as The Slums. It’s a filthy, depressing place where the strong prey on the weak and only the most ingenious—or cruel—survive. Rape and murder are commonplace, and family is a word used by few and despised by all.” His shoulders sagged. “I once overheard an old, blind woman claim to remember life before the Incident. She spoke of the sun and the moon, giant celestial bodies that were rumoured to have existed before the Great Darkness erased the world.” He smiled fondly. “I liked that old woman, but I never believed her. Until now.”
He remained lost in thought for a while before remembering he had an audience.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “I know this must be confusing. I’ll do my best to explain.” He cleared his throat. “The world used to be vast beyond measure. The sky was filled with clouds and stars. Plants grew by the millions. Animals roamed the Earth. It was paradise. But then the Great Darkness came and wiped it all away. Where once there was open space now stood stone walls. A blanket of darkness covered the sky, blotting out the sun. The plants shrivelled up and died, and all but the most vicious of beasts perished. Only the humans survived, though they were forced to live in squalor. They built makeshift dwellings and rationed their supplies, but time eventually eroded their optimism. Crime ran rampant, and countless people perished. Just when it seemed like all hope was lost, supplies rained down from the sky.”
“No one knew where the wooden crates came from, but rumours began to spread, stories of survivors who had escaped the Great Darkness. Little was known of them, but they seemed intent on keeping us fed and supplied, so we chose not to question our good fortune. We began calling them Others, and many started worshiping them as gods. I’m not sure what I believe, but I’m happy they’re there; without them, we would have died long ago.”
He grew silent, giving me a moment to process what I’d just learned. Though most of the terms he used to describe the old world were foreign to me, I still understood the basics of what happened.
“For a while, everything was great. The people were fed, and their basic needs met, but the freedom that came with their new lives eventually spelled their doom. Bored and antsy, they turned to sex for entertainment. While enjoyable, their new pastime resulted in a drastic rise in population, which, in turn, led to an ever-growing epidemic of starvation. A tidal wave of violence crashed upon the city as parents performed ignoble acts to feed their famished children. Driven mad by hunger and despair, some even went as far as murdering their entire family to spare them the slow torture of famine. And things only got worse with time. Just when it seemed like all hope was lost, it finally happened.”
He paused for dramatic effect.
“The Incident. No one knows how it happened, but everyone’s memories were erased, stolen by some unknown thief. All was forgotten—the famine, the violence, the murders—until the day a detailed history of our past was found. All were mortified, and quite a few refused to believe the claims laid out in what is now known as The Book of Darkness, but it mattered little. The Incident had reset history, disbanding families and dethroning those with prestige. Everyone was now equal.”
“It didn’t last long. Those with strength and skills rose to power, and those too weak to fend for themselves died. History repeated itself, and violence once again rose to dominance. And things only got worse when, a few months after the Incident, people’s memories started vanishing. Rumours of a memory thief started circulating, and all but the bravest of souls refused to leave their houses after nightfall.” He hesitated for a moment before deciding to elaborate. “The perpetual darkness makes knowing the exact time of day impossible, but the period where the beasts that lurk in the shadows come out to hunt has grown to be known as nighttime. As such, a strict curfew has been instigated, protecting all but those unlucky enough to have been targeted by the memory thief.”
He grew silent, letting me digest the latest information.
“You’re probably wondering who this mysterious memory thief is.” He smiled. “You’re not alone. No one has ever seen him. At least, no one remembers seeing him. He only comes out at night, and usually targets those foolish enough to wander the streets after nightfall. Sometimes, he targets entire households, breaking in and stealing everyone’s memories. Other times, he pursues a single individual, hunting him day after day until he finally corners him. I suspect that’s what happened to you. I got too close, and he stole my memories to keep me from uncovering the truth.” He smiled. “What he didn’t know was that I was prepared for that eventuality. It’s why I’m recording this video, why I carry a note in my pocket everywhere I go, and why I hired dozens of street urchins to deliver a message to me—you—in the eventuality they see me, and I fail to flash them the agreed-upon signal. If you’re watching this, it means my plan worked.”
“I’m getting ahead of myself. I never finished telling you about my childhood.” He gave me an apologetic smile. “I never cared about the memory thief. Some were obsessed with him, determined to uncover his identity and bring him to justice, but I saw the opportunity to start anew as a blessing. It wasn’t until I found something to care about that I finally started fearing the memory thief.” He smiled fondly, momentarily lost in thought. “Her name was Lily, and she was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen. She wasn’t like the other girls my age. She was mysterious, elusive. The first time I saw her, I thought I’d imagined her, but I saw her again the following day. And the day after that. It took nearly a week, but I managed to corner her.
“She was playful, full of life and energy. She smiled more than anyone I’d ever seen, and I fell in love as soon as I heard her speak. She had a soft, fluty voice that made my spine tingle whenever I heard it. I felt an instant and profound connection to her, as though we’d known each other in a past life. But I knew she hadn’t grown up in The Slums. Her clothes were too clean, her hair too perfect. Her skin was unblemished, and her spirit untainted by years of abuse.”
Another fond smile curled his lips.
“She was very mysterious, secretive. We spent weeks getting to know each other, yet she never told me where she was from, or how she ended up here. She would vanish for days at a time, sometimes not returning for an entire week. I often considered following her, but I didn’t want to risk upsetting her. She had shown me her secret hideout—the house in which you now stand—and I didn’t want to betray her trust. So, I let her dictate the rules of our relationship, hoping she would one day open up.” He sighed. “She never did. Once, after she’d been missing for a full week, I tried to find her, but the door to her hideout was locked. I left, and the next time I came, it was unlocked, and Lily was there, waiting for me with one of her enchanting smiles. I was so relieved to see her I tried kissing her, but she dodged my lips, insisting we wait for the ‘right moment.’”
“That moment never came. About a month after I first met her, she became obsessed with the memory thief and insisted we talk of nothing else. She maintained living in constant threat of having your entire personality erased was an abomination and claimed it was our duty to put an end to the memory thief. I had little interest in bringing the burglar to justice; I cared only about one thing, and that was Lily. But then she went missing, and I realized I should have heeded her warning. I kept hoping she would return, but she never did. Determined to find her, and terrified at the thought of forgetting about the only good thing in my life, I locked myself in her hideout. I waited for her return, but she never came back.
“I spent nearly a month waiting for her. Having searched the entire house and found no clues as to her whereabouts, I occupied myself in the only way I knew how: I read. Lily’s hideout had an entire room dedicated to books, so I started educating myself on various subjects. I don’t recall learning to read, but I seemed to have a knack for it, so I threw myself into my new hobby with reckless abandon. I eventually discovered I had a fascination with robotics. I read every book on the subject, though my favourite still remains The Ultimate Guide to Building Sentient Robots.”
He paused long enough for me to smile, amused by the fact that both my past and my present self had chosen to read the same book.
“I spent the next few weeks tinkering,” continued my digital self. “I created robots of all shapes and sizes. Most broke down after a single use, but a few survived long enough for me to study them. I learned from my mistakes and eventually managed to create a sentient robot. Unfortunately, it ran away before I got a chance to train it. I felt bad for whoever encounters it—it’s quite massive and surprisingly clumsy—but I couldn’t risk going outside by fear of having my memory wiped.
“I stayed hidden for nearly two months before finally accepting the fact that Lily wouldn’t return. Desperate to find her, I decided to investigate the memory thief. I didn’t know whether he had anything to do with her disappearance, but she went missing shortly after revealing a desire to see him taken down. It seemed like the most logical place to start.”
He sighed yet again.
“Investigating the memory thief meant jeopardizing my memories, and I didn’t want to risk forgetting about Lily, so I planned accordingly. If you’re watching this, it means I failed. It also means you must pick up where I left off. I’m about to begin my investigation, and I will leave clues whenever I can. You must follow them and complete my mission. You must uncover the truth and find Lily. Her fate, and that of the entire city, rests in your hands.”
A heavy silence followed my digital self’s words. He gave me a weary smile as he reached for something out of frame, but he stopped himself before interrupting the recording.
“Oh!” he said, his eyes lighting up. “I almost forgot. I will begin my investigation by exploring the city after nightfall. I suggest you do the same.” He smiled. “Also, I left a surprise for you under the keyboard.”
He winked, and the image flickered and died. I stared at the wall of dark monitors for a while before lifting they keyboard. Underneath was a folded piece of paper. Hands trembling, I took it and carefully unfolded it.
A name was written upon it.
I stared at the word for a while before the reason for its presence dawned on me. It was no ordinary name. Nor was it random. It was my name.
Heart racing, I read it once more, this time aloud.
“My name is…
Option 1: …Alex.”
Option 2: …Maximus.”
Option 3: …Spyder.”
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 5.
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