Justin put on his
coat and shoes and stared at his reflection in the hallway mirror for a moment.
A distraught, tired man looked back out at him from the reflective pane of glass, eyes full
of pain and torment. He was ready now, though; ready to start a new
chapter in his life. The day had come, this was it. Taking a deep breath, he
walked out the front door and started walking.
He was on his way to
of Mind, a controversial new
company that’d opened up across
town a few months ago. Piece of Mind offered a unique service for its customers: for
a certain price,
people could replace their memories with a new set of memories. And there were two options available
for people: a Partial
Replacement, and a Complete Replacement. The former involved only replacing a
set of selected memories, whereas the latter involved completely replacing a
person’s entire memories.
There were various reasons why customers went to Piece of Mind. For
some, it allowed them
to move on in
life after a traumatic event. For others, it was a way to live happily without regrets or a mediocre past nagging away at them. In both cases, however, the treatment
was a revolutionary way to start a new
life by replacing an old one, getting rid of unwanted mental baggage.
And Justin had plenty
of regrets and mental baggage he wanted to get rid of. His young son had disappeared a few years ago,
vanished without a trace, and shortly afterwards his wife had left him. Nobody
knows what happened to his boy, he was out riding his bicycle one day and
simply never returned. Abduction was the natural conclusion to take, but neither he nor
the police knew for sure. The ordeal had weakened and crumbled the relationship between him and his wife shortly afterwards, and eventually she disappeared too, leaving him all alone in his anguish. But there was a limit to how much a person could take. He’d had
enough heartache and
he was ready to
do something about it.
* * *
The Piece of Mind facility looked
pleasant enough from the outside. As Justin approached it from the other side
of the road, he gazed up at its white façade and smiled. The tall building
represented a new start for him, an end to his torment.
The doctor was
expecting him, so he didn’t have to wait very long in the reception area. And
that was good because the waiting area seemed to be full of other people just
like himself: depressed, desperate, lonely souls who’s only positive quality
was a disposable income large enough to pay for some kind of treatment. After a
few minutes twiddling his thumbs, he was ushered through to a rear section of
The doctor was a
well-spoken, amiable man
who put Justin at ease straight away. ‘You won’t feel a thing,’ he said. ‘We’ll put you to sleep,
attach some special electrodes to your head, and then run our software program.’
‘The only bad part is
that we’ll have to shave off some of that nice
They both laughed as
Justin ran a hand through his dark, parted hair.
It was an unfortunate inconvenience, but not enough to put him off the
treatment. Nowhere near, in fact.
pleasantries and the explanation out of the way, it was time for the operation
to commence. He’d already decided that he was going to have a Partial
Replacement, and he’d also already chosen his new memory implants from a digital catalogue that was emailed to him
shortly after registering.
Each set of memories came
from another human being, another person who sold them to the
company. Usually the seller would be someone on their deathbed, someone in
their final days wanting to earn a bit of money to pass on to their bereaved families to cover
funeral costs and what have you, but not always. Sometimes the seller would be
healthy and well, but struggling with financial difficulties. In both cases the
donor’s family, or the donor himself, would be advised to move to another city
or district to avoid any awkward, unforeseen situations arising, such as
accidentally bumping into the recipient on the street. The repercussions of
such a thing happening were unknown, but it was agreed by all that it was
probably worth avoiding.
Justin’s new memories came
from a relatively young, healthy man who was now living in a different part of the city, but this was restricted
information that he didn’t have
Once he was
the bed in the surgical theatre, the doctor injected him with drugs and
rendered him unconscious. As he was slipping away, his vision blurry and hazy,
he knew that the next time he opened his eyes he would be a new man.
* * *
It was a bright, pleasant morning and Justin was pottering away in the kitchen, preparing his breakfast. It’d been several months since his operation and his life had certainly changed,
although not as much as he’d hoped. The backdrop to his life had definitely altered in
a radical way, with most of his past memories much easier to live with,
but something still wasn’t quite right.
Since the operation he’d started to experience bad dreams. These dreams ripped him from his
sleep quite frequently, leaving him in a state of panic, despair, and terror. They contained
many things, but in each one there was a rural
theme. He always saw fields, trees, and dirt—always lots of dirt. He would march across boggy fields
in these sleepy visions, cold wind slapping
his face, and the last thing he
would see before waking would always be an ominous-looking mound of dirt by his
it off at first, he told himself it was
After a while he
began to take notes in a small pad by his bed, and before long he had lots of
details written down. Some nights he’d see a well-trodden path, other nights an
empty field, but there’d always be that large mound of dirt at the end.
Sat at the breakfast table with
a plate of
toast and a cup of tea in front of him, Justin thought about this dream once
more. Could it be a real memory from my donor? he thought. Could it
have been transferred to me by accident?
The doctor had told him that this occasionally happened, but it was very rare.
But, rare or not, he was becoming increasingly convinced that the dream visions constituted real
in a real place. And, on top of this, he was even beginning
to suspect that he knew where the place was. All of his notes, everything that he’d accumulated so
far, told him that the dream took place over on the
marshes to the north of the city. Even though the
memory was not his he could still recognize the area, and it very much
resembled the marshes.
He was considering
going back to Piece of Mind to complain and get
rid of his new memories. Most of them were pleasant enough, but this
re-occurring dream—or nightmare—was ruining them.
wouldn’t let him do that, however; not yet, anyway. He was determined to find
out the meaning of the dream, hell-bent to work out what it stood for, and while he was sipping his tea at
the table he decided then and there that he was going to pay a visit to the
he looked around, maybe he’d find something.
Ryan paced up and down his plain, unfurnished living room like a trapped zoo animal, running things
over in his head for the millionth time. Was he overreacting? It
happened years ago, after all. But if I remember,
they might remember.
This was ridiculous.
He should’ve been enjoying himself, not pulling his hair out like this. Twenty thousand big ones were
sitting in his bank account, and he’d just moved into a new luxury pad. Piece of Mind had paid him
generously, but he just couldn’t relax and enjoy his money. This is what happens when you read the small print
afterwards, you fool.
had been in such a rush to sell his memories and earn some cash, he
hadn’t looked into the details thoroughly enough beforehand. In one of the
booklets he’d just finished reading, it was written that on rare occasions a
loose, stray memory was sometimes transferred to the recipient, an accidental
addition to the specified set. This was a big problem for him because of that
horrendous, fateful night all those years ago—the worst night of his life.
He’d been driving home
one night after visiting a friend, cruising along the winding road that runs
adjacent to the marshes. Two cans of beer were in his system, that was all.
Okay, so he might have technically been over the limit, but not by much. It was
week beer, as well, for crying out loud! And it wasn’t even his fault. That kid on the bike had come
screaming round the corner like a rocket, swerving this way and that way.
He could still see the boy’s face slapping
against the windscreen, still hear the crunch of the bike’s frame folding
under his tyres.
Panic was too mild a
word to describe what he’d felt that night. He’d been shaking like a
leaf, gagging and blubbering behind the
wheel after skidding to a stop. It wasn’t his fault, he knew it wasn’t, but he
also knew that the police would smell the cheap lager on his breath as soon as
they turned up, and then things would have gotten really bad.
Desperate times call
for desperate measures, that’d been his mantra that night, anyway. The mantra that he’d mumbled to himself
whilst pulling the shovel out of the boot of the car and... No. He
couldn’t have done that, he just couldn’t have. Could he? Could Ryan Torres, model citizen,
have dragged a boy’s body into the forest by the marshes and buried
so out of
character that he’d convinced himself it’d never happened. After a few weeks,
when the police failed to turn up at his door, he
simply put the whole thing behind him and resumed his former lifestyle. He went to work, paid his bills,
watched TV, and pushed the
entire experience away to some dusty corner of his mind.
been so deeply
buried (pun not intended) that he managed to pass Piece of Mind’s tests.
They didn’t buy
just anyone’s memories, you see, they only wanted suitable donors who could offer their customers
nice, pleasant thoughts. Personality tests were conducted, psychological
examinations, criminal background checks, etc, but Ryan had passed them all
with flying colors. It was as if some inbuilt defense mechanism in his mind had concealed
the memory for his sake, to preserve his
mental health, to allow him to move on.
But now it was back.
The whole event was
crystal clear in his mind once again, dislodged after reading the booklet, and he knew that
somewhere out there, somewhere in the big city, there was another human being who could now be carrying the same incriminating
memory in his or her head.
There was no way
around it—he had to go back to
the scene of the crime and remove the body in case the other person worked out where it was.
* * *
It was a windy day,
and the trees lining the edge of the field swayed like tall, waving hands. Ryan retraced
his steps from that
fateful night all those years ago, trudging across the mud with a bag slung
over his shoulder. He knew where he had to go, he could picture the
exact area where the boy’s body lay below the ground. What he wasn’t entirely sure of,
however, was what he was going to do
once he got there. There was a shovel in his bag, and he planned on digging the
corpse back up again, but
after that he didn’t really know.
After around twenty minutes or so he was close. Thin trees surrounded him
and wet, mushy leaves squelched underfoot. The
burial site was just a little bit farther down, at the foot of the short slope in front of him, and
he began to edge towards it.
One step, two
Someone was down
there, a figure hunched over, digging away at the ground. Ryan was about to run,
but the figure turned to face him. Two wide, maniacal eyes peered up at him through the tangle of
trees and bushes, the frightened stare
of someone caught in the middle of some despicable act. For a moment neither of
them could do anything, they were both frozen still from shock, but the stand-off
was broken when Ryan noticed the odd, uneven patches in the man’s hair.
dark hair in a
rough center parting, but certain sections of it were shorter than others, like someone
had attacked him with a set of hair clippers. That someone, Ryan guessed, must’ve been a doctor
at Piece of Mind. And with this realisation, he knew that he’d inadvertently bumped
into the recipient of his
was not good.
And it got worse.
Looking down towards the mound of dirt by the man’s feet, Ryan could see small
fragments of old bone jutting out here and there, thin white shards that’d been churned up by
the edge of a pointy shovel. The man seemed to recognize who Ryan was, as well, putting two and two together.
‘You!’ he said, with a
snarl. ‘It’s you!’
Caught up in a
whirlwind of panic, the only thing Ryan could think of saying was: ‘I don’t know what
you’re talking about.’
‘Bullshit! It’s you!
You’re the one who buried this body!’
‘Hey! I’m just taking
a walk. I have no idea what you’re saying.’
After a brief, tense
pause, the man said: ‘Deny it if you like.
It doesn’t matter. Piece of Mind have got your details on file, and I’ll be reporting you as soon
as I get out of here.’
Shit! Shit, shit,
shit! thought Ryan. This is exactly what I didn’t want.
He swiftly changed
‘Well, what are you
doing out here, anyway? You don’t look so innocent yourself.’
‘What am I doing
here?’ said the man. ‘I’m here to find out
what this grave contains. I’m here to learn the truth about this dark memory
you’ve given me. Or the dark memory I paid for,’ he added, shaking his head.
Ryan was stumped. He really
couldn’t think of any words to talk his way out of
this precarious situation. Instead he turned and started to backtrack across
the muddy path, his heart racing in his chest like a thumping fist.
‘You’re not going to
get away with this!’ shouted the man,
still standing by the open grave. ‘Do you hear me?’
the dirty terrain, Ryan thought hard about
what he was going to do. The police would be knocking his door down within the
next few days unless he could think of something, and he couldn’t go to prison,
he just couldn’t.
Coming to a shaky
halt, leaning against a pine tree for balance, he
dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He had an idea.
* * *
Angry, thundering knocks echoed through the house, shaking the
walls and doors. It’d been going on for a few minutes now, and the noise was growing
louder and more ferocious with each second that passed. The letter box eventually opened on the front door, and a stern face peered in through the gap.
‘Police! Police! Open
There was movement
upstairs, a gentle rustling as the owner panicked and stalled, trying to decide
what to do.
‘Open the door!’
‘Okay! Okay! I’m
coming,’ he replied.
Putting a shaky hand
on the latch, he pulled the door open and squinted at the officers through the bright
‘Justin Hickey, you’re under
arrest for murder. Turn around and put your hands on your head.’
‘What!?’ screamed Justin. ‘You’ve got the wrong
man! It wasn’t me, it was—’
‘Just do it! Now!’
As Justin’s hands
were being cuffed, he closed his
eyes and silently wept. His new life was turning out to be a disaster, and now this. He
didn’t bother protesting, didn’t bother asking why they were arresting him
instead of the real killer, he simply didn’t have the energy. Sleep had evaded him for
weeks, the macabre nightmare
invading his senses every single night. Marched out the front
of his house and pushed into the back of a waiting patrol car, his head hung
low like a condemned man.
* * *
Detective Nolan stared at Justin
incredulously from across the desk in the interview room. After a tense moment,
he slid a photograph over to him.
‘Care to explain
this?’ he said.
Justin looked down
at the photo, and his jaw hung
slack with disbelief. He saw himself standing in the woods, a pile of rotten
bones by his feet. ‘Look, I know who took this,’ he said, running a hand through his patchy
hair. ‘He’s trying to set me
up. I can explain everything.’
‘I’m all ears,’ said the detective.
Justin told him everything, from Piece of Mind, to his dreams, to
meeting the killer in the woods.
‘Piece of Mind, eh? I’ve heard of
that place. Swapping memories? Whatever next?’
‘It’s true,’ stammered Justin. I—’
‘I know it’s a real place. I’ve
heard of it. The thing is, Justin, there are just too many things working
‘What? What do you
‘Well, firstly, I
just don’t believe anyone would be stupid enough to sell their memories to Piece of Mind if they’d previously committed murder.
That would just be plain stupid. Only a complete idiot would do such a thing.’
Nolan continued, ‘with the murder victim being your son, there’s
a clear link between you and the body.’
As the words came out of the detective’s mouth, strange things happened
to Justin. First his eyes grew wide,
wider than they’d ever been before, then an icy feeling took over his
followed by the room spinning like he was sitting on some fairground ride.
‘What…What did you say?’
‘There’s a link between you and the body, and you were caught red-handed at the scene. This
is not looking good for you right now.’
‘That... That was my
son out there?’
Don’t try and play
smart with me. I’ve been doing this job for too many years now. I—’
‘Oh god! Oh god, no! This can’t be
Nolan continued, taking no
notice of what he perceived to be an emotional act. ‘People go to this Piece of Mind place to feel
better, right? To rid themselves of bad memories.’
Justin groaned in
response, his face down on the desk.
‘It doesn’t take
Einstein to work out what happened here, Justin. You were the one who killed
your son all those years ago, then you found it hard to live with the guilt. You went to Piece of Mind to get a new set of
memories, to start again and forget, but you just couldn’t escape your past.
For some reason you returned to the burial site, and you were unlucky enough to
get caught there.’
‘No! No! That’s just
‘I think it is,
Justin,’ said the detective,
gazing down at the photograph with a knowing look on his face.
‘I inherited the memory from Piece of Mind!’
‘Can you prove it?’
go and speak to them! They’ll explain everything to you!’
‘I’ll be paying them a visit, sure,’ the detective said, albeit rather sceptically.
‘And anyway, the
photograph proves what I’m saying!’ screamed Justin. ‘How would this other guy know where the grave was unless he’d been there before?’
‘You’re still trying to tell me that your memory donor took this photograph?’
you prove that?’
‘Well, no, but…Look, who do you think took it?’
‘It was sent in
anonymously; we don’t know. We
recognized you, though, due to the fiasco with your missing son a few years
‘This is rubbish! The
killer took it! The ass-hole who killed my son! And let me tell you, if I’d known at the
time who he was…’
The detective was
watching Justin with a pitying look, the kind of look you’d give a child who
was lying very unconvincingly.
‘G...Get in contact
with Piece of Mind!’ he cried, trying to control his breathing.
‘They must have this guy’s
information on file.’
‘Yeah, okay, we’ll do that,’ replied Nolan, writing down a few
details on a piece of paper. ‘And in the meantime, you can get some rest down in the cells.’
‘You’re locking me
up? This is an injustice! You can’t—’
‘You’re a murder
suspect, Justin. Unless some other kind of evidence springs up from somewhere,
I’m afraid you’re not going anywhere.’
And with that, the
detective nodded to a guard standing outside the room, and Justin was escorted
to a holding cell down in the basement section of the police station.
* * *
Detective Nolan parked outside the Piece of Mind building and walked
into the reception area. Looking around, he noticed five or six people sat in
the room, all looking glum and desperate in their own way.
Carrying the relevant warrant required to enter the premises and obtain
the restricted information needed for the case, he approached the receptionist with an air of confidence
and asked to speak to the manager.
A few moments later, a doctor in a
long white coat took him into a back office.
‘What can I do for
need to ask you a few questions about a customer of yours.’
I’d be happy to oblige, Detective, but customer information is
said Nolan, reaching into his pocket and handing over the
stamped warrant. ‘Will this do?’
a quick scan of the document, the doctor nodded humbly and passed
it back. ‘Okay, what do you need to know?’
‘I need to know about a customer called Justin Hickey.’
The doctor repeated the name and scribbled it down. ‘I’ll search the database and see if it’s on there. Just give me a moment.’
he returned, he was holding Justin’s file. ‘Is there anything in
particular that you’re looking for, Detective?’
firstly, what kind of treatment did he have?’
had a Partial Replacement, meaning only some of his memories were
you show me the exact ones which were replaced? And what they were
finding the relevant section of the file, the doctor handed it
over to Nolan so that he could read through it himself. The room was silent for
a few minutes as he read through the pages, scanning through the descriptions
of deleted memories and replacement memories. Finding nothing particularly
suspicious, the detective closed the entire folder and let out a thoughtful
me ask you something, Doctor. Is it true that stray, random
memories sometimes get transferred by accident?’
yes. It does happen sometimes.’
can you see those memories? Do you have them stored on your
afraid not. Stray memories bypass our system, and slip straight
into the recipient’s head unnoticed. The only person who sees them is the
recipient himself. And, of course, the donor.’
was the donor? Who provided Justin’s new memories?’
doctor went to say something, but then hesitated. Detective Nolan,
having seen this gesture many times before whilst asking people for
information, knew exactly what it meant.
is covered by the warrant, Doctor. I’m entitled to any information
I deem relevant for the case.’
well, I could find out the donor’s name if you’ll excuse me again
for a moment. That information will be on a separate file.’
no problem. Take your time.’
When the doctor returned a second time, there was a very
strange, apprehensive look on his face. ‘I’m not quite sure what’s going on
here, Detective, but the man you’re looking for is actually here in the
building right now.’
Nolan stiffened in his seat. ‘What?’
‘Erm, come this way
and I’ll show you.’
The doctor led him
out into some kind of recovery room.
‘Yes. His name is
The two of them were
staring down at an unconscious man spread out on a bed. A pale green gown
covered his body, of the type you usually see in hospitals, and parts of his
hair had been shaven off.
‘He came in this
morning,’ said the doctor. ‘We noticed that he had previously sold his memories
to us, but that was no reason to refuse him treatment.’
his chin in contemplation, looking at the comatose patient
lying before him, Nolan considered his options. ‘So,’ he said, after a while,
‘what kind of treatment has Ryan Torres just had?’
sat in the corner of the cell, wallowing in the semi-darkness. Sleep was still
a luxury he didn’t enjoy,
and his face was tired, weary, and covered with several days’ worth of stubble.
various noises and bustle of the police station echoed down from above,
providing a faint backdrop of muffled voices, jangling keys, and footsteps.
Three times a day a set of these footsteps would grow louder as an officer
brought him down a tray of food, pushing it through the bars opposite his bed,
and judging by the noise that’s
what seemed to be happening right now. Something was wrong, though. It was
mid-afternoon, and he’d
eaten lunch about an hour ago. Nobody came down to the cell at this time, so
who could it be?
over towards the steel bars, his bloodshot eyes straining to focus through the
gloom, Justin was suddenly greeted by the sight of an immaculately-dressed man
in a suit. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he placed a leather briefcase
down on the ground and peered into the cell.
replied, his voice a croaky whisper.
George Mills. Your lawyer. Nice to meet you.’
up to his feet, Justin traipsed over to the bars and shook the man’s hand, taking in his sharp,
pristine appearance. ‘What’s
going on, Mr Mills? When—’
Please call me George,’ he said, with a
‘When am I getting out of this place, George?’
lawyer looked away from Justin then, avoiding eye contact. ‘That, I don’t know.’
‘What? What do you mean?’
‘The detective in charge of your case went over to Piece of Mind recently, Justin. And…’
‘And it was established that any stray, accidental
memory you might’ve acquired
can’t be traced or proven.’
groaned and slumped, hanging on to the bars for balance. ‘And what about—’
‘Your donor? He’s been identified as a Mr Ryan Torres. Police have searched his house, his car, his
computer, and his phone, and they’ve found
no incriminating evidence.’
deleted the photo from his phone, the bastard!’ screamed Justin, now pacing
up and down the cell
in a state. ‘Let’s
get Piece of Mind to scan his brain! He’s holding an incriminating
memory in his head! The
doctors over there can do that! They could find it—’
afraid that won’t be possible, Justin.’
‘Not possible! Not fucking possible! Why not?’
The lawyer took a very deep breath, then delivered the
news as delicately as possible. ‘Because Mr Torres has had Complete Replacement
surgery. All of his original memories are gone.’
‘No! Nooo! This can’t be happening!’
‘Try to stay calm, Justin. I highly recommend that
snapped. He’d reached a limit of tolerance and self composure.
He threw his hands through the steel bars and grabbed the silky collar of the
lawyer’s suit, pulling him and yelling in his face. After
a few seconds of this crazed attack, with the two of them scuffling and
wrestling through the divider like wild chimpanzees, a handful of officers came
hurling down the stairs with handcuffs and mace. A huge cloud of mace hit
Justin square in the face, setting his skin and eyes on fire, and he released
his grip on the lawyer’s
shirt and tumbled down to the floor. Once the lawyer was taken away to safety, Detective Nolan appeared among the group of officers and peered
down at Justin as he rolled and thrashed around on the ground.
really not doing yourself any favors, Mr Hickey. You’re
got the wrong man! You’ve
made a mistake!’
‘Huh. If I had a pound for every time I heard that,’ he mused. ‘Okay,
boys, let’s leave him to it. Just bring him down his dinner
at six o’ clock.’
turned and left, walking up the concrete staircase to the offices above. A few
minutes later Justin was all alone once again, the gory details of his son’s death replaying over and
over in his head, the images and visions becoming more lucid and
clear each time around.
With the mace eating away at his eyes he didn’t even have the comfort
of distracting himself by
looking around the room, all he could do was curl up in a ball and endure the
never ending torment of his mind.
Torres leaned back in his seat as he drove along the winding lanes. The surgery
had rendered him confused and disoriented for quite some time, but he was now
adjusting to his new life. He still had plenty of money in the bank—even though he didn’t really remember why—and so he was on his way
to the coast to enjoy a
assortment of implanted memories swam around his brain as he navigated the car
around the curved roads, all sweet and rosy, and things seemed very good indeed.
then something odd happened.
wide expanse of open land appeared over on the left-hand side of the road, a
wet field with a thicket of trees further back, and for a split second it
looked faintly familiar. Something about the layout of the place triggered his
mind, some strange sense of deja vu, and he gazed over at the scene in mild bewilderment.
he been here before?
he drove on the moment passed, however, and he shook his head and
focused back on the road. The doctor had told him that his
recovery would take time, and that there’d be moments of confusion
the volume on the radio, he put his foot down and sped off into the distance,
ready for the exciting times ahead of
James Flynn grew up in
Sidcup, Kent, England.
A lot of his time is
spent scribbling on bits of paper to create stories, and when he's not doing
that, he likes to scribble on bits of paper to create drawings.
All of his accumulated
books and drawings can be found at: www.jamesflynn.org
Keith C. Walker was born in Leeds in 1939. He studied Ceramics at Leeds College of Art and the
Royal College of Art. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, he was Personal Assistant to Eduardo
Paolozzi. Keith taught at Hull College of Art and Leicester Polytechnic, which
is now De Montfort University. In 994 he retired from Academia.
says, “Digital technology has made and continues to make big changes to all of
our lives: the way we communicate, the way we are monitored, the way we
entertain ourselves, and much, much more.
now leave a digital footprint wherever we go, and with whatever we do.
we already have one foot in an Orwellian world?
collages are an investigation, with a small “I,” on the impact of digital
technology and its possibilities.”