The Memory Thief
Published February 8th 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…
The earth beneath my feet started to shudder. Faint at first, the convulsions intensified until the mere act of standing became a chore. Just when I thought all hope was lost, the tremors ceased, and the calm of night returned.
It didn’t last long.
The shaking resumed, now more potent than before. It intensified until, finally…
Option 1: …a strange vehicle slowly rose from the depths of the mud.
Option 2: …the earth opened and swallowed me whole.
Option 3: …a metallic arm emerged from the muck and grabbed my foot.
NOTE: Click Here to read the full chapter.
Option 1: 5 votes (45.45%)
Option 2: 1 votes (9.10%)
Option 3: 5 votes (45.45%)
This chapter is dedicated to Paula. Thanks for voting.
Author’s Note: As you can tell, there wasn’t a clear winner this week. To avoid letting anyone down, I’ll do my best to incorporate BOTH winning options into this chapter.
The shaking resumed, now more potent than before. It intensified until, finally… a metallic arm emerged from the muck and grabbed my foot.
I stared at the mud-caked fingers, unsure how to react. The earth had stopped shaking, the sudden stillness somehow more terrifying than the low rumble of trembling soil. My breathing was shallow, and my heart raced within my chest, fuelling my body with the adrenaline it would require for the forthcoming burst of movement.
It took a while, but my initial shock eventually faded. Determined to free myself from my robotic assailant, I propelled myself sideways with every ounce of strength at my disposal. While effective, the maneuver failed to produce the intended result.
Rather than freeing myself from my attacker’s strong grip, I ended up freeing the robot’s forearm from its body. It was such an easy maneuver my momentum carried me a full body’s length through the air before gravity slammed me into the mud.
Stunned by both the jarring impact and the ease with which I’d freed myself, I stared at the robotic forearm for a moment before yanking it from my leg. Roughly the size of my own, the severed appendage flew through the air and splashed down a short distance away. Most of it remained caked with mud, yet the glistening nature of the exposed metal told me its creator was a skilled labourer. The wound—if you can call it that—was a mess of twisted metal, exposed wires, and impurities gathered from the limb’s journey through the mud. The hand itself—a beautiful amalgamation of nuts, bolts, screw, and countless other parts I had no name for—was bare but for the triangle that adorned it. Glowing softly, the symbol was a perfect match to the mark that marred my left arm.
I had no way of knowing why a severed arm—I had come to the conclusion the appendage had been severed prior to the attack—would seek me out, but the fear that once filled me was now gone. Only curiosity remained. And it only grew when the hand began scurrying around like a lost puppy looking for its owner.
Using its fingers as improvised legs, the appendage darted forward, leaping and bounding its way toward me. Though freaky, I couldn’t help being amazed by the speed with which it moved. But I forgot all about that when I noticed something peculiar.
The hand’s pinky remained static, curled into a tiny metallic ball. While strange, the crumpled piece of paper protruding from the balled digit was far more perplexing.
“It c-can’t be,” I muttered.
But it could, and it was.
The hand had not come to assault me; it was merely attempting to deliver my next clue. Heart racing, I dropped to my knees just as the forearm skidded to a halt before me. Reaching out, I gingerly grabbed the severed limb and flipped it. It remained motionless for a moment before its pinky slowly creaked open, releasing the mud-stained note.
I retrieved the wad of wet paper, and after returning the hand to the mud, went about carefully flattening the note. It was a slow process, but the payoff was worth it. Undamaged by the mud and the water, my former self’s words provided me with the very instructions I so desperately craved.
Follow the hand.
That was all it said. It was enough.
I slipped the note in my pocket—you never know when such a thing could come in handy—and focused on the hand. It remained stationary for a moment, then scurried off. I rushed in pursuit.
The severed appendage was quick. It skittered along, skillfully navigating the landscape and dodging every obstacle that appeared before it. Pausing whenever I lagged, the hand led me to a part of the city I had never seen. Heaps of rubble and stacks of refuse stood before me, proof that humans always find a way to pollute, no matter how desperate or miserable they are. Pausing just long enough for me to take in the desolate landscape, the hand led me through the junkyard. More than once, it vanished from sight, but it scurried back into view whenever I failed to follow.
It took a while, but we finally reached our destination. The shallow crater was unmarred by time, and the surrounding rubble only had a thin layer of dust, indicating it hadn’t been long since whoever—or whatever—had moved the ancient bricks.
I studied the superficial pit for a moment longer before focusing on the hand once more. It scurried about frantically, obviously trying to tell me something. I frowned, confused by the appendage’s odd behaviour until it skidded to a sudden halt and, propping itself up with its fingers, pointed at a stack of bricks with its index.
The pile was small but orderly, indicating whoever had stacked the bricks meant for it to draw my attention. Approaching it, I peered into what I now realized was a makeshift receptacle and found a single brick staring up at me. Though peculiar, the worn piece’s presence was soon explained.
A note stood beneath the brick, its rumpled corner sticking out from under it. Lips curled, I crouched and retrieved the sheet of paper.
Press the button on the back of the hand.
What button? I wondered, but I knew better than to question my former self’s instructions. He wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of leaving a note unless there was a button for me to press. Sure enough, the glowing triangle I noticed earlier turned out to be a button.
I pressed it.
At first, nothing happened, but then the earth started shaking. Overwhelmed with a sudden sense of foreboding, I staggered back, retreating to the safety of the rubble. The tremors gradually intensified until, finally, a strange vehicle slowly rose from the depths of the mud.
Coming to a sudden standstill, the gear-like mechanism that stood at the vehicle’s front froze, mid-rotation, and an eerie silence settled upon us. Heart hammering against my ribcage, I took this moment of reprieve to study the vehicle.
Shaped like a teardrop, the vehicle’s head was shaped like a blunt stone, worn by years of friction. Scratched and dented, the carcass narrowed to a point at the rear, allowing for increased momentum and diminishing the amount of friction. A massive set of mandible-like gears stood at the vehicle’s front. Though they were now still, I had no trouble deciphering their intended purpose. Vicious-looking, the hundreds of blunt teeth that made up the imposing mechanism were designed for chewing through the earth, rendering it soft and allowing the vehicle to move with ease.
The final detail I noticed was the door. It stood equidistant from the head and the tail, and the large dent that stood at its base indicated it had sustained a massive blow. Further scrutiny revealed the damage was, in fact, the result of an obstruction. From the looks of it, a hard object had been placed between the door and the frame, and the resulting friction had caused the metal to bend, leaving a small but gaping hole.
“That’s strange,” I muttered, but I was distracted by the presence of the glowing triangle that stood by the door’s right. Identical to the one that adorned the severed hand, it’s purpose was obvious.
I grabbed the hand—it had taken advantage of my study of the underground vessel to creep up on me—and pressed it to the triangle. At first, nothing happened, but then a hissing sound filled the air. Moments later, the door swung upward, revealing the inside of the vehicle.
The first thing I noticed was the highly advanced nature of the design. The second was the robot sprawled across the floor. Still as a statue, the metallic being lay facedown, its single hand clenched into a fist. Its imposing exoskeleton was designed to impress, a fact that was made obvious by the sleek design of its jagged muscles and imposing size. A dark triangle adorned its featureless face, a perfect match to the one that appeared on both the vehicle and the hand that led me to it. Speaking of which, I only now noticed the robot’s missing limb. Severed below the elbow, the dormant being’s entire forearm was missing.
Well, I thought, an amused smile curling my lips. At least, now I know what happened to the hand’s body.
I didn’t know why the severed limb had survived and the robot hadn’t, but I was glad for it. Without its help, I never would have found that vehicle. Speaking of which, I now understood why both the vessel and the robot were damaged: the robot must have caught its arm in the door, which explained why both were injured.
I stared at the robot for a moment longer before noticing the hand scurrying about by my feet. Incapable of scaling the side of the vehicle, the severed limb kept bumping up against it, desperately trying to reunite with its former body.
Should I help? I wondered.
Part of me was worried reuniting them would cause the robot to come back to life, but my former self would have told me if such a thing were a possibility. Sure enough, nothing happened when I retrieved the hand and placed it within the vessel. It scurried about for a moment then, failing to reattach itself to its other half, curled up next to the robot’s corpse and grew still.
I stared at it for a while before moving on to the slick design of the vehicle’s interior. Simple but elegant, the layout left little space for maneuverability. To the right of the door stood a storage compartment. To the left stood two chairs and an intricate control panel. Though impressive, it was the folded note that had been tucked between two of the buttons that drew my attention. Leaving the desolate landscape behind, I climbed into the vehicle, carefully stepped over the robot’s body, and took a seat.
Hand trembling, I reached for the note and slowly unfolded it.
Press the big red button.
I inspected the paper to make sure I didn’t miss anything, then slipped it into my pocket and studied the dashboard. There were dozens of buttons of all shapes and sizes. Some glowed. Others didn’t. All were foreign to me.
The button I had to press stood at the very centre of the console. It glowed red, and the word “Home” had been carved into it. I stared at it for a while before pressing it.
A soft hiss filled the air as the door slid shut. Moments later, a loud whirring reached my ears. Though I couldn’t see it, I knew it was the sound of the gears activating. It intensified until it was all I could hear. Powerful shudders shook the cabin, making it difficult for me to remain calm. And things only got worse when the vehicle began to tilt. Leaning forward, it started moving, sinking deeper and deeper into the earth.
I couldn’t see the world beyond, but a screen flickered to life soon after the vehicle started moving. The image displayed upon it was crude but effective. A straight line cut across the screen. Two large dots stood at its extremities. The leftmost one had the words “Your Location” next to it. The other was titled “Home.” A tear-shaped symbol inched along the line, representing the vehicle’s progress.
I stared at the screen for a while before concluding the trip would last approximately thirty minutes. The first half passed surprisingly quickly as I spent most of it studying the dashboard and the contents of the storage unit, but the second half seemed to last forever. Finally, just when I couldn’t stand it anymore, the teardrop symbol reached the rightmost dot, and the vehicle slowed to a complete stop. The whirring receded, and the shudders ceased.
I sat in silence for a while before my curiosity convinced me to take action. Approaching the door, I used the robot’s severed hand—it hadn’t moved since curling up next to its body—to open it and waited for the unknown landscape that awaited me to be exposed. The door slowly retreated, revealing…
Option 1: …a vast hangar filled with row upon row of vehicles.
Option 2: …a robot.
Option 3: …a filthy teenager.
NEXT CHAPTER: Click Here to read Chapter 7.
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