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 Piece
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 fašade and smiled. The tall building represented a new start for him, an end to his
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 premises.
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 hair.’
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.
With the 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 access to.
Once he was comfortable on
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 feet.
it off at first, he told himself it was nothing.
the dream persisted.
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 memories set 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.
His curiosity 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 marshes.
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,
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.
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 tact.
‘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?’
Staggering across 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 up!’
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 morning light.
‘Justin Hickey, you’re under
arrest for murder. Turn around and put your hands on your head.’
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 against you.’
‘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.’
‘And,’ Nolan continued,
‘with the murder victim being your son, there’s a clear link between you and
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
blood, 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
‘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 happening!’
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?’
trying to tell me that your memory donor took this photograph?’
‘Can you prove that?’
‘Well, no, but…Look, who do you think took
‘It was sent in anonymously; we don’t know. We
recognized you, though, due to the fiasco with your missing son a few years ago.’
‘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 confidential and—’
‘Here,’ said Nolan, reaching
into his pocket and handing over the stamped warrant. ‘Will this do?’
After 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.’
When he returned, he was holding Justin’s
file. ‘Is there anything in particular that you’re looking for, Detective?’
‘Well, firstly, what kind of treatment
did he have?’
had a Partial Replacement, meaning only some of his memories were replaced.’
‘Can you show me the exact ones
which were replaced? And what they were replaced with?’
After 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 sigh.
‘Let me ask you something, Doctor.
Is it true that stray, random memories sometimes get transferred by accident?’
‘Unfortunately, yes. It does happen
can you see those memories? Do you have them stored on your system?’
‘I’m 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.’
‘Who was the donor? Who
provided Justin’s new memories?’
The 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.
‘This is covered by the warrant,
Doctor. I’m entitled to any information I deem relevant for the case.’
‘Okay, 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?’
come this way and I’ll show you.’
doctor led him out into some kind of recovery room.
‘Yes. His name is Ryan Torres.’
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.
The 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
replied, his voice a croaky whisper.
‘Hi, I’m George Mills. Your lawyer. Nice to meet you.’
Climbing up to his feet, Justin traipsed over to
the bars and shook the man’s hand, taking in his sharp, pristine
going on, Mr Mills? When—’
‘George. Please call me George,’
he said, with a courteous smile.
‘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—’
‘I’m 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 you—’
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 really not.’
‘You’ve 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.’
Everyone 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.
Ryan 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 weekend break.
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.
But then something odd happened.
A 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
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
the suburbs of South East London.
His work has appeared
in Black Petals Magazine, Yellow Mama Magazine, The Scare Room Podcast, and the
short story anthology Local Haunts.
His three books:
Conservation, The Edge of Insanity and Swarm, are available to purchase on