Altered memories

I was reading a blog post someone I once knew wrote about places we’d been, conjuring nice memories that I immediately started picturing, a different slide in our camera roll at every sentence.

But the mental pictures quickly blurred as the narrative kept building. Elements fading and disappearing with every word, until my mental representation was meaningless and foreign.

Those were altered memories or weren’t ours after all.

Short story

[This post originally appeared in Dullicious, where I blogged as Barbie-dull for several years.]

When I was in Edinburgh in 1996, I remember writing a short story to enter a competition organised by the book club I was a member of. I don’t know if I sent it or not eventually, but I don’t recall winning the competition 🙂 I found the pages last week-end. Here is the short story (I was wicked tempted to make edits as I typed it this evening!):

‘Daddy?… Mummy?… Daddy, Mummy…’ Todd was singing. He was sitting on the floor, leaning against the padded wall, his head rocking gently back and forth. His voice was bouncing on the walls, echoing on the mirror, every sound falling around him like a summer rain.

Doctor Ann Riley entered the observation room. Through the mirror, the nine-year-old Todd could be seen moving slowly. She entered the room smoothly, a thick file in one hand, a cup a coffee in the other. Professor Adams was at the desk, staring through the window at the child and making occasional notes on a pad. She sat on a chair next to the prominent professor, head of the mental disease facility.

‘Are you familiar with his file?’, he asked, screwing his pen and resting against the chair. She was not.
‘Todd Anderson, nine years old, was admitted at eleven thirty-seven last night. He was found under a table, singing and rocking, and his parents were lying on the floor, a few feet away, both deader than hell’, he explained in a neutral tone, almost indifferent.
‘Who did it?’
‘The police believe David Anderson killed his wife, but his death remains a complete mystery. Seems like he’s been strangled as there were bruises on his neck, but there’s no sign of any break-in.’
‘The kid could have done it?’
‘Choking Anderson required at least three times the strength of Todd, and twice his height’, he answered matter-of-factly.

She remained silent, pondering his words, absorbing the story, and watching intently the boy. He was still squatting near the bed, his arms folded around his knees. His lips were moving but his song was barely audible.

Professor Adams resumed his story-telling, explaining that Todd had not moved an inch since his arrival, and that he would not talk but sing or moan.
‘I’d like you to spend some time with him, Ann.’ he demanded.

She gathered her things, gave a last look through the mirror and left the observation room. She picked a pad and a pencil from a shelf in her office, and headed for the cell number 7.

‘Good morning, Todd. I am Doctor Riley. How do you feel?’ Her voice was comforting and Todd stopped his moaning but said nothing.
‘Do you know why you are here, Todd?’
‘My Mummy and Daddy have gone.’ he said in a very low voice, his head bent and his eyes sad.

Ann was searching for non hurting words to ask him about the tragedy, when Todd spoke.
‘Yesterday was Halloween, you know,’ he said, looking at her. ‘But I had no fancy dress because I had bad marks at school. I was not allowed to go to the party and my Mummy sent me to bed early.’
‘Which party, Todd?’
‘The Halloween party of our neighbours. I could hear them laughing and I could hear the music through the walls. When Daddy returned home, I could hear the party was not over, and Mummy was still at the neighbours’. Daddy was singing, his words blurting and he had his voice of whenever he drinks too much. I wanted to ask him to play with me because I was not tired. Suddenly he squeaked and bumped into an armchair. Then he spoke with the witch.’ Todd was staring at an invisible spot on the mirror.
‘Daddy begged a witch to leave, and not to approach him any further. The witch laughed. Daddy grabbed one of the pokers. I know because of the sound it made when it rattled against the others on the rack. Then, they fought. I buried myself in my pillow and sang loudly. It helps, when I am afraid sometimes. I also prayed for my Daddy, and for the witch to leave. I had to sing louder because of the voice. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to obey it.’
‘Which voice, Todd?’ she asked soothingly.
‘Just the voice.’ he replied in earnest.
‘Who was talking to you, Todd?’
‘No one, just a voice in my head and around me.’

That’s it, she thought, Mr Boogeyman came out of the closet and chattered with little Todd. She decided to speak in a comforting tone.
‘And what was it demanding?’
‘The voice was not speaking our language, but I knew it wanted me to get up and go downstairs. The louder I sang, the angrier it became. Then, something filled me, the voice was invading me, entering through my eyes and ears. I covered my mouth but the stream went in somehow. It was inside me.’
‘What was inside you, Todd?’ Her tone was skeptical and rather brutal. But Todd did not notice.
‘The voice was in me and made me move. It made me get up and go downstairs, just as it wanted before.’
‘You were curious, so you went downstairs towards the living room?’
‘No! It made me go there.’ Outraged the moment before, he just fell against the wall and remained silent, rocking faster, still staring.

‘What did you see, then?’ she asked carefully. No answer. He was absorbed, deep in thoughts.
‘Todd? It’s all right, you can talk to me.’
‘I saw my Daddy. He was holding the poker high in the air. And he yelled ‘Die witch!’ and yanked it down on her head. She fell. She was my Mummy.’

Amazement assailled her and settled on her nerves like a strike of frozen lightning. His voice. Todd’s voice. For the instant it took to report the yelling of the father, Todd spoke with the voice of a man. The voice of an adult.

‘Todd, what exactly did your father say to the witch?’ Her voice was still filled with the remains of the incredible sounds the boy had just uttered.
‘Not a witch,’ the childish and feeble voice said, ‘it was my mother. But before hitting her, he screamed ‘Die witch!’‘ It was the grown-up voice again.
‘And what happened next?’ Ann was ready to hear anything from now on.
‘Daddy dropped the poker. The force inside me made me stand before him. He gazed blankly at my sight. He almost fell when a voice emanated from me ‘You killed me David. Now, it’s your turn to die’‘.
Ann was definitely not ready to hear a woman’s voice. But still Todd resumed and he sounded like a woman again.
‘You killed me again, David, but you can’t escape from me. I came back last time because Todd was too young. Now he has the age and the legacy. I am indestructible. I am in him now.’

The woman’s voice became a loud and unnerving laughter, incessant and frightening. Ann checked the tranquiliser and felt reassured. It was there, in her pocket, in case Todd became violent.

‘Your stupidity led you to your last moment, David. I am centuries old. Inhabiting all these women’s bodies, giving birth, and bouncing from a body to another made my power increase. All I need is to be carried to another woman. Get ready to die, David.’

The frightening quotation was over. Todd regained his voice.
‘I saw Daddy raising his hands slowly, looking at them in turn. He had a strange dazed look on his face. He put his hands around his neck and grasped strongly. My Daddy fell soundlessly on the floor. I ran under the table and started to sing, my eyes closed, because I was alone and my Mummy and Daddy had left without me.’

Todd was just the vulnerable child again, so little and frail, so sad and feeble. Ann could not utter a single word. After a while, Todd slowly raised a grinning face towards her. ‘You are a few months pregnant, Ann, aren’t you?’

The last thing she recalled as Doctor Ann Riley was the pleasant sensation of being invaded by a stream of invisible smoke, filled with a new strength. She was someone else when she left cell number 7, leaving behing the inert and livid body of young Todd Anderson, silent and empty from now on and forever. She had a mission to fullfil.