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29 January 2015 @ 02:09 pm
Lj Idol Season Nine: "Lethe"  
idol season nine | week 35 | 935 words
Men and melons are hard to know


I remember yesterdays and yesterdays, but I don't remember years. It's strange being convinced that there are such long spans of time, when I can't even place myself in them. Still, I know it's true.

I speak un peu de français, but I don't know my name apart from what the doctors tell me. I don't even know my favorite color, although I seem to like red—but was that the same color I liked before? Am I reading books I never liked before, and eating foods I used to hate? Every day I wake up in the same gray room with the metal-framed bed, the room with no pictures or other personal decorations. I know I was there yesterday, and that I've been there for quite some time.

But all the days run together after a while.

Breakfast is usually delivered to my room, and then I'm escorted to a library. I'm usually alone except for the guards, and I spend my mornings reading, listening to music, and watching movies. Mornings are great. Then I have lunch, and go outside to exercise. I'm good at shooting baskets, but I don't remember anything about basketball itself. I'm left-handed (and I don't think amnesia would change that), but not good at drawing. I write numbers pretty well, though.

Sometimes the doctors ask me questions, like "What year is it?" or "Do you know who the President is?" or "What's the earliest thing you can remember?"

Every new question is a test I'm bound to fail, but I know the answers to the ones they've asked before. I wonder if they think my memory might be getting worse? Are they checking to see if I'll forget recent information as much as I've forgotten the past?

"Why am I here?" I sometimes ask.

"It's too dangerous for you in the outside world, at least until you recover your memory."

I don't think I'm the only patient here, although I've never talked to any others. How can they afford the staff and facilities to take care of us on a long-term basis?

I haven't had any visitors that I can remember. Does anyone know I'm here? Do I have a wife? Kids? I'd like to think there's someone waiting for me, but I'd hate to have her worrying about money and trying to take care of everything by herself, and if there were kids, this would sure be hard on them. How can I not remember basic things like family? Maybe it's proof that I don't have one.

One of the guards (I'm told they're orderlies, but they seem more like guards) was pretty nice. Bruce and I used to chat once in a while, mostly about the weather or things I'd read or watched, or sometimes I just asked him about his life outside the job. He got reassigned a few days ago, though. Darryl is here instead now, and he doesn't talk much. I've tried, but he just ignores me.

I felt better about the monotony and losing my identity when Bruce was still around.

One morning (the note on my breakfast tray says it's a Tuesday), I'm watching "The Apartment" when something in my head kind of "clicks". I can't wait to tell the doctor about it!

I get through lunch and throw a football with Daryl for bit, and then it's finally time for my afternoon session with Doctor Trammel.

"Sit down, please, and let's begin. Good, just like that. So, do you know what year it is?" Doctor Trammel asks.

"Forget the year. I know who I am now! I'm an accountant," I say. "I remembered it this morning."

"What makes you say that, Alex?"

"I just know. And that's another thing—my name isn't Alex March, it's Will Ashburn. Why have you been calling me the wrong name all this time?"

"Guard," the doctor mutters quietly, and Darryl steps forward and clamps his hand over my arm. Dr. Trammel picks up the phone and makes a call. "We have a rebound on Floor 2, East Wing. Initiating reprocessing…"

"Wait a minute." I try to pull away, but Darryl's hand is like a vise. "What's going on? I know who I am now, you can let me go home!"

"That's not how it works," the doctor says. "We research techniques for suppressing memories, not recovering them. Once you remember, we send you back for reprogramming. This was your best trial yet, though—you stayed wiped for six whole months this time."

Darryl grips my arms with both hands and pulls me out of my seat, then marches me out the door and down the hall. At the end is another door, marked "Procedure Room," and we go through it. I see a chair with monitors and restraints waiting there, and all kinds of equipment nearby. Darryl straps me down to the chair, and waits.

"But wait," I say, struggling to get free. "You keep me stuck here while I have amnesia, and as soon as I remember anything, you erase it all again! When do I finally get to leave?"

The doctor fastens a helmet onto my head, and pushes a button on the console. "You don't," he says. My skin starts to feel hot.

"No!—" I shout, but then my tongue stops moving. It's thick and frozen. A prickly wave sweeps across my head and makes the room go black.

I choke and gasp and try to pull out of the straps. Don't do this! I can't—

My thoughts skip and scatter like a riot of panic until everything turns to static.


If you liked this story, you can vote for it along with other fine entries here.

Donnellejexia on January 29th, 2015 10:16 pm (UTC)
Fascinating. I wonder how he ended up there?
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 29th, 2015 10:43 pm (UTC)
In the back of my mind, I think of him as someone who came in for some other reason and was appropriated. Someone "not easily missed."

I feel back for anyone that description could apply to, really!
(no subject) - jexia on January 29th, 2015 10:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on January 29th, 2015 10:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Direst Ryl: Happy Timeryl on January 30th, 2015 01:01 am (UTC)
I am officially creeped out.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 30th, 2015 08:33 am (UTC)
Yay! That's the kind of reaction I like to hear for a story like this. :)
bleodsweanbleodswean on January 30th, 2015 01:57 am (UTC)
I really liked how much he is aware that he's suffering from amnesia. I thought that was clever. And how he remembers what he's told...but still can't remember what he isn't told.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 30th, 2015 08:35 am (UTC)
I think that would be one of the most frustrating things.You can remember how to dress yourself, probably how to drive, how to do read and do math-- all of these learned things-- and still not recall the most basic facts about yourself and your history? That seems very unfair, somehow, and a little odd.
fodschwazzle on January 30th, 2015 03:42 am (UTC)
Maybe he volunteered for it as a member of a long term clinical trial. Maybe he does have family, and they're marked as beneficiaries of his long term "participation."

As we increase our level of understanding about the human brain, we will need to increase our levels of questioning. All of this is to say that A.) I found this intriguing, and B.) I can totally see this happening for real. Thanks for making me think!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 30th, 2015 08:37 am (UTC)
Maybe he volunteered for it as a member of a long term clinical trial.
He might have, and now in further incarnations of himself he is no longer in a position to offer or withdraw consent! Which is really creepy, when I think about it.

The things amnesiacs DO remember-- not all of them muscle-memory or other physical skills-- is fascinating to me. They retain a lot of knowledge, but the personal context is gone. That is just puzzling, and for them, also aggravating. :O
crisp_sobrietycrisp_sobriety on January 30th, 2015 02:57 pm (UTC)
What really gets me isn't just that they're doing some weird immoral experiment on him (which, don't get me wrong, is awful all on its own), but that they're so HOSTILE about it. They didn't have to tell him anything, they could have just led him quietly into the room on the trust of further treatment, but instead they sick guards on him and tell him the (very very alarming) truth. He won't remember it later, but these few minutes are frightening and miserable for him.

To me that's what shows how truly despicable they are. That they have so little regard for his comfort. Whatever system it is upholding this, it's a very broken one.

That you say he may have been someone 'not easily missed'...and knowing how real people who fall through the cracks are treated...*shudders*
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 30th, 2015 10:01 pm (UTC)
I did intend for the doctors/scientists here to be kind of sinister. In just thinking of people as their personal guinea pigs, and not caring about whether what they're doing is right, they have little inclination to even think of how the trials of the experiment or that 'punishment' for awareness would feel.

He won't remember it later, but these few minutes are frightening and miserable for him.
There can be a tendency for people to overlook the short-term like that, even though that part really matters to the affected person.

There are vets whose whole business model is euthanizing pets at home, partly because more and more owners realize that the end is bad enough, but does it also need to happen at the place the pet is most terrified of? I wish those businesses were cheaper and better publicized. I think more and more people would take advantage of them.

Thanks for reading, and sorry for the long detour!
rayasorayaso on January 31st, 2015 05:04 pm (UTC)
This is very sinister and creepy, with so much conveyed in so few words. I like that this story raises so many unanswered and unanswerable questions including how (and why) such experiments are allowed. My first thought was that the "patient" was a criminal, and this was some form of "rehabilitation." Wonderfully written. Now if only I could remember my favorite color. Some days, I would settle for remembering where I left my cell phone.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 1st, 2015 08:19 am (UTC)
Ooh, I like the idea of a criminal being rehabilitated! But this was something without any altruistic motives (probably rather scary ones, in fact).

Your cell phone is on the top of your head! Wait, that would be the reading glasses...
suesniffsgluesuesniffsglue on January 31st, 2015 05:51 pm (UTC)
Great ending! This is really sinister. Great characterization of a character who doesn't have much to tell us--that's not easy to do!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 1st, 2015 08:20 am (UTC)
I hadn't thought about it that way, but you're right-- he doesn't know much about himself, but he can convey that confusion and a little of that longing/discomfort that may never become fixed.
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": I Remember What Interests Meroina_arwen on February 1st, 2015 03:25 am (UTC)
This was wonderfully creepy and creative!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 1st, 2015 08:21 am (UTC)
Thank you! I had to really smile at this icon, which really fits the story and which I don't think I've ever seen before!
(no subject) - roina_arwen on February 1st, 2015 02:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
cindy: misc fictsuki_no_bara on February 1st, 2015 05:46 am (UTC)
well this was disturbing! at first i thought he might be suffering from some kind of dementia, but i don't know if you're aware you have it, when you do. and i too am curious how he ended up there - it doesn't seem like the kind of place you check yourself into voluntarily.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 1st, 2015 08:31 am (UTC)
Frequently, people with dementia don't know it's happening. Amnesiacs do, once they're told, but I think they have that unsettling feeling anyway of having forgotten their own identity. They know something's missing, even if they don't immediately know what.

This place seemed to me the run of classic mad scientists (or maybe government-run experimentation. People wouldn't knowingly sign themselves up for it, that's for sure. :O
Elizabethwatching_ships on February 1st, 2015 03:43 pm (UTC)
Goodness, what a terrifying situation. You build tension very well here and I wasn't at all expecting the revelation from the doctor. How awful.

After thinking about it for a little while, I realized it reminded me of something that you should definitely check out if this is the sort of thing you enjoy -- Black Mirror. I think it's still on Netflix, but I'm not sure. There's an episode in the second series that shares some elements with this, but instead of only being an experiment, it's a sort of punishment for criminals.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 2nd, 2015 07:23 am (UTC)
I wanted that twist to be a surprise to the character as well as the reader. You would so typically assume that a place guiding you through your amnesia intended to help you, and this is exactly the opposite. :O

That sounds like an interesting show! I hope it's on streaming. :D
i_17bingoi_17bingo on February 2nd, 2015 06:00 am (UTC)
Well this is horrifying. I just can't stop thinking about how much torture it would be to remember your life, have it taken away so violently, and not even know from tlday to day that this is what is happening.

So, even though the memory comes back, should this count as murder? I think it does...
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 2nd, 2015 07:24 am (UTC)
That's an interesting question! Though you're still alive and physically healthy, the mental part that is "you" is constantly suppressed, and smacked back underground if it ever rears its head. So, you're not consciously living your own life. Hmmmm...
alycewilsonalycewilson on February 2nd, 2015 05:00 pm (UTC)
Definitely creepy and well told.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 2nd, 2015 09:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you! You know, back before Idol, I never thought "creepy" was something I'd be so happy to hear. :D
swirlsofblueswirlsofblue on February 2nd, 2015 07:25 pm (UTC)
Awesome piece, love the concept and brilliant portrayal of an amnesiac, a brilliant, truly horrifying twist.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 2nd, 2015 09:32 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked it! It's funny, though I considered other approaches to the prompt, the idea of the main character not really knowing _himself_ was the one that intrigued me most.
ArmagedDanhosticle_fifer on February 3rd, 2015 12:10 am (UTC)
Neat twist, which really came with that gut-sickly dystopia factor (or at least a dystopia for the human guinea pigs). For some reason this flavor of callous treatment of human subjects made me think of the movie Brazil.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on February 3rd, 2015 12:21 am (UTC)
Brazil! Oh, how I love Brazil. I have it on top of the TV, because I think my son would like it. Probably more than my husband does. ;)

Dystopia can be so many things, and you're right-- a wrongness toward humanity is exactly that. We usually think in large-scale, but then again... the ideas that kick it off usually start very small and sometimes look harmless at first. :O