Someone Else’s Memories

He felt every muscle in his body. Every strand, every fiber. Whatever cocktail they pumped in him was doing something that surprised even them. At least from what he could tell from their movements. His eyes were covered and he was strapped to a table. Gagged so only grunts and primal sounds could escape his lips. He only made these sounds when the pain became too much. He felt another wave coming on.

He heard the lab technicians scuttling through the room. Everyone was in a hurry. A needle was jabbed into his arm and he expected another injection, but they could be taking blood. It didn’t matter. The wave came crashing down and his body jerked involuntarily on the table straining every strap that held him there. He heard himself yelling in anger but also a plea to make it stop. He just wanted everything to stop. No one said a word to him, but he could hear muttering across the room. He couldn’t make out any words, but they were hurried and caused the room to grow louder with activity.

The wave passed and his body relaxed. The overexerted muscles now felt like strands of a spider’s web. He could still feel every single one, but for now he couldn’t move them despite how hard he tried. He laid there. Unable to see. Only the sounds of his tormentors moving around the room. Eventually even they became quiet.

There was no way of knowing how long he had been there or how long it had been since they last injected him. He assumed he was being fed intravenously. There were always two sets of needles in him at any given time. His body was not his for he could not use it. It was a test subject and he was trapped inside it.

Some time had passed since the room had fallen still. Minutes? Hours? Days? He couldn’t tell. He could no longer tell if he was even human anymore. He heard a door open. Footsteps approached. A single person had entered the room.

“How are we, Ethan?”

Was he Ethan? He couldn’t remember. It had been so long since anyone spoke to him that he couldn’t be sure if Ethan was perhaps someone else in the room.

“Ah, forgive me,” the voice said. Hands slowly removed the gag from his mouth. His jaw was unfamiliar with the ability to relax so remained open for some time, but the voice continued.

“Ethan. How do you feel?”

His lips finally met and he realized he could move them freely.

“I…” he started. His voice seemed frightened of itself. It felt strange to speak. “I feel weak,” he finished.

“You may feel weak now, but you are stronger than ever. Stronger than any man in fact. I’m going to remove your mask. You may want to close your eyes.”

He attempted to close them but was unsure if they were already. The weight lifted from his face and he felt the air kiss his skin. His eyelids slowly raised and the dark room hurt his eyes.

“It’s okay. You can keep them closed. It will take some time to adjust even in a darkened room.”

“Where am I?” he asked.

“Hmm. Tell me, Ethan, what do you last remember?”

He tried to recall a memory before the darkness. “I don’t remember anything from before this.”

“Interesting. Do you remember why you are here?”

He tried to remember but couldn’t so he remained silent.

“Do you remember why you volunteered for this program?” His visitor continued.

“I remember nothing.”

“What if I told you that you volunteered for this because you felt responsible for the deaths of four people? People who were close to you.”

“Who?”

“Derek, Molly, Carter, and Greg.”

Faces flashed before his eyes as the names were said. He tried to shake his head, but the strap across his neck and forehead prevented it. He opened his eyes a small amount to let them adjust to the soft light.

“What happened to them?”

“They were killed. In an accident.”

A truck. Fire and screams.

“A crash.”

“A bomb, actually.”

Gunshots. Clouds of smoke. Bodies. He opened his eyes a little further. The light was less painful and he could see a grey ceiling half in focus.

“What is this?”

“What do you mean?”

“These images.”

“What do you see?”

“A truck. It’s on fire. Dust is everywhere. Bodies lay scattered on dirt roads. There were gunshots…”

“Good. Good. You are remembering why you are here.”

He opened his eyes fully and looked around. It was a medical facility. He could see the face hovering over him. A face that was familiar. His body reacted instantly. The strap holding his right arm snapped and latched out at the man’s throat. His left side broke free and released the straps on his head. He sat up, lifting the man off the ground.

“I remember you.”

“Im…pos…sible,” the man choked.

“You thought you could give me false memories, Doctor?”

“I-”

The sound of the doctor’s spine shattering cut off any more words.

Ethan stood alone in the room. He wasn’t sure if his name was actually Ethan or if it was given to him by an enemy. He couldn’t sort the truth from what little memories he could pull from the depths of his mind. It didn’t matter. He would forge his own path. The next step was through the door in front of him.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Many of you may have read this book already. It’s fairly popular even outside the science fiction genre (if books can even be contained in such a fashion). This book was published in 1985 and was based on/is an extension of a short story of the same name originally published in Analog (a science fiction journal) in August of 1977. Since then, Orson Scott Card has written 15 other books that follow the same timeline with the most recent being published in 2016. (Please don’t freak out at the length of the series because I’ll be honest I’ve only read Ender’s Game which is the only book in this recommendation so hold onto your butts. I just wanted to provide the information.) I’m unsure if Mr. Card is still writing more books for this series, but either way, if you like this book and want more then there are plenty for you to read. Go nuts.

If you’ve never heard of this book, here is a brief summary by me that will at least provide the essentials.

Earth is attacked by aliens (oh no), but the human race is able to fend them off (yay). Fast-forward several decades and Ender is born. He is selected to be part of a military program where he is launched into orbit to attend a highly prestigious academy that tests all of its students in a zero gravity battle arena. They are in teams and compete to be the best. This is all in place as preparation for another alien attack. At least, that’s what we are told…

Did that get you interested? Cheap trick, I know, but it’s a book recommendation. I want you to read it because I think it is good. If you have totally different reading tastes than me, then take it with a grain of salt. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because of its dual story-line (I can’t say too much or it would be a spoiler) and its battle scenarios being created as puzzles for Ender to solve. Each “test” is a fun read.

A movie of this book was made in 2013, which I thought was a good adaptation of the book. It was entertaining and the visuals were impressive. Harrison Ford is in it. He doesn’t really make bad movies (at least from what I have seen save for Blade Runner but that is another discussion altogether). If you like the book, check out the movie, but read the book first. Books are almost always better (98% of the time I’d say).

Well, there you have it. Ender’s Game. A science fiction book great for young adults and million-year-old time travelers and everyone who falls in between those age ranges (if you’re over a million years old, I’m sorry, you can still read it but you may need some context).

Happy reading.

The Eyes of a Child

Bottles littered the room like headstones. They crowded the coffee table, the counter, the bedside tables, and any other surfaces flat enough for them to stand on. Each of them bone-dry empty. Mike didn’t think about it at first, while Amanda avoided them as if they would infect her with the same uncontrollable thirst that drowned their father.

They started in the bedroom and packed all of his clothes in boxes marked for donation. Mike doubted anyone would want them, but Amanda insisted that someone could use them after they were thoroughly cleaned. He didn’t argue. He just packed. With the landlord’s charitable mercy, they had three days to get everything out. The clothes didn’t take long despite half of them covering the floor. They threw them in boxes without caring to fold or sort them. Hangers and all. Any undergarments were simply trashed. Next, they moved onto bedding. Stripping everything bare while avoiding any stray bottles.

Amanda moved to the kitchen while Mike started on the storage area. He found boxes of Christmas decorations and various broken objects that should have been thrown away a long time ago. Everything had a sheet of dust on it as if it could protect them from the passing of time despite having already been forgotten. By the end of the first day, they had taken a dozen boxes to the donation center and filled another dozen bags that now filled the dumpster meant for the entire apartment complex.

The next day was Saturday. Amanda had to take Danny, her four-year-old son and Mike’s only nephew, to a soccer game in the morning leaving Mike to tend to the cleaning. He finished the storage area and started on the guest bedroom that doubled as a workroom. A few half-finished projects sat on the table. Mike began filling a trash bag and cleared everything except the bottles. When he was done, he took the bags out to the dumpster and piled the bags above the rim. A smaller dumpster labeled for recycling was hidden behind some trashed piled next to the dumpster. He was looking it over when his phone buzzed.

“Yeah,” he answered.

“How’s everything going?” It was Amanda. He could hear kids screaming in the background.

“As good as it can go I guess.”

“Okay, well, I’ll be over in about an hour. Danny’s game is almost over and we are going to get lunch afterwards. Want us to bring you anything?”

“Sure.”

“Could…” He heard her almost take the thought back. “Could you make sure it’s not…you know…. I don’t want Danny seeing the place like it was yesterday.”

He knew exactly what she was asking. It had to be done sooner or later, and he wanted to be done as quickly as possible. At least that’s how he convinced himself.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’ll get it cleaned up.”

“Thank you. See you soon.”

He hung up, sighed, then went back up to the apartment. He opened all the windows hoping it would help with the musty smell and grabbed yet another trash bag. He started collecting all of the bottles in the kitchen. He emptied the fridge of the few unopened bottles. Then he went to the living room and grabbed them off the coffee table, the TV stand, the side table, and window sills. He scoured each room and collected all that he could find. The bag started to strain a bit from the weight but it was able to hold them all. He took them out and tossed them into the bin just as Amanda pulled up with a sack of cheeseburgers and a few sodas.

They sat on the curb and ate lunch. The movers showed up and Mike showed them where to go. When the movers were done and the furniture was gone, they would only have to clean the carpets and wipe everything down. Mike knew there was no chance of getting the deposit back. He didn’t even want it. Danny ran in to use the restroom after the movers took the bed. Amanda came up with him. The movers came back and grabbed the small couch. Mike and Amanda were tallying what was left to do when Danny saw it.

“What’s that?” he asked. All innocence.

Where the couch had been were two bottles Mike had missed. Amanda glared at him but before either of them moved Danny went over and picked up a small book that was lying between the bottles.

“What did you find honey?” Amanda asked.

“It’s pictures.”

“Let mommy see.”

Danny reluctantly handed the book over. Mike looked over her shoulder as she opened it.

“Let me see,” Danny complained.

They sat on the floor so Danny could see while they looked through the photo album. It was their childhood. The old house. Pictures of their mom and dad and themselves as children. Every picture a glimpse of thirty years ago.

“It was there all along, wasn’t it?” Amanda asked.

Mike looked at each picture, finally noticing that every one showed their father holding a drink in some fashion.

“I guess it was,” he said, “But how were we to know?”

“We’ve known for years. It got worse after mom passed.”

Mike was saved when Danny pointed at one of the pictures.

“Who are those people mom?” he asked.

She went into mom mode and answered instructively. “That’s your Grandpa, and that’s your Uncle Mike, and that’s me.”

Danny looked at them and the photograph and the skepticism slowly carved itself onto his face.

“No it’s not,” he said.

“It is so. This was us when we were a little older than you are now.”

Danny looked up at Mike to see if he would confirm she was lying.

“It’s true little buddy. We were kids like you a long time ago.”

The skepticism grew to awe and the questions poured forth.

Amanda and Mike answered each in turn about each photograph. Sometimes telling stories about what was happening in each. Danny was fascinated by every detail. He still wasn’t entirely convinced the kids in the pictures were the grownups in the room.

With each new picture they flipped to, and each story they told, the bottles in each one slowly faded from their sight. Mike and Amanda once again saw their parents as they had a long time ago. As Danny was looking at them now. They sat on the floor in the empty apartment looking over each photo and answering all of Danny’s questions carefully. They found themselves laughing and remembering fond stories. They continued through the album as the sun disappeared. They only stopped when it became too dark to see.

Food For Thought

“That is the worst saying of all time.”

“No it’s not. You just don’t understand it.”

“I understand it just fine. It’s just dumb. Why even have cake if you can’t eat it?”

“See, you don’t understand it.”

“It means you can’t have everything you want.”

“Partly. It means you can’t have the cake if you eat it. Once you eat it, it is gone. It no longer exists.”

“Except inside you.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s no longer cake. It’s already broken down and making you fat, or launching your blood sugar into space.”

“It does make sense when you explain it like that, but wouldn’t it be easier to understand if it went ‘You can’t eat your cake and have it too’?”

“You know what? I think you’ve finally learned something. It does make more sense that way.”

“Language is weird.”

“Without it, what would we be?”

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Though this book takes on that penultimate question of humanity, it does so in a way that is derived from experience (an experience that pushes the limits of the human mind and body) and a careful examination of that experience. Vicktor E. Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist. This book details his experience and observations during his time in concentration camps. A majority of these reflections take place in Auschwitz.

Please try to prevent yourself from letting that information bias your opinion of this book. In fact, I suggest you try to temporarily forget what you know of World War II as you read it to better grasp what this book is attempting to discover. This book is a record of events and psychological analysis of the human mind. The themes found here are dark at times and unveil some of humanity’s worst traits, but there is a triumph. Human history is plagued with injustices. This book doesn’t try to make sense of those injustices, it tries to make sense of the human mind and the differences between individuals. It attempts to discover what humanity really is.

This book was published in 1946. The first half is Viktor’s experiences in the concentration camps. He spends time analyzing the camp guards, but he spends even more time analyzing his fellow prisoners. The second half delves into Logotherapy, which is Viktor’s theory that human nature is motivated by a search for a purpose for one’s life. This search is individual and suggests that each person discovers their own answer to what their meaning is.

Most copies of this book are printed as a small paperback. Small enough to fit in a pocket and is only roughly 150 pages. Despite its brevity, this book has the potential to cause introspection for the reader that in turn causes analysis of others. At the base of it all is a hope for humanity.

I often recommend books that have positively impacted me and that I greatly enjoy. Some of my past recommendations were purely entertainment picks. Many were books that opened my mind by making me questions certain things in this world. This book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is something a little more. Maybe because it is steeped in history or straightforwardly examines the very definition of humanity. Something about it resonated with me, and I believe I will return to it several times throughout my life.