Free Fiction Friday: The Book Of False Memories

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Good morning once again from the ol’ Coastal Plain. Trying something a little different today: freebies! I don’t know if I’m going to do this every week, but you got to try if you’re gonna buy, right?

Right.

***

The artwork above is by the extremely talented Dmitri Arbacauskas, proprietor of Tormented Artifacts. If you need leather goods, props, posters for your next Stars Come Right Cotillion, you go see him–his work is breathtaking. The piece up there was commissioned for the story, which appeared in Weaponizer Monthly.

***

This piece came from an extremely dark place. The act of writing it was like pinning it down, naming it, and through the work I exorcised it. It was incredible. Words have power. Never doubt it.

***

The Book Of False Memories

by Christopher Hickey (© 2013)

Craig stopped at the bar on his way back to the University of Southern Maine campus. His office hours weren’t for a while yet. One of his Intro to Lit students recognized him and gave him a “Hey, Professor Spiegel!” Craig raised his pint with a wan smile.

He didn’t make a habit of getting drunk, but he found that a beer after an appointment with his therapist braced him for the rest of the day. “We don’t like the term ‘crazy’, Craig,” she’d said. “What you’re feeling is, for you, perfectly normal,” she’d said. He closed his eyes, letting the yeasty smell of the pub drift into his pores.

“Yes, is this Mister Spiegel? Mister Spiegel, hi, this is Trooper MacDonald of the Maine State Police. Is your wife named Mary, sir? There’s been an accident.”

He closed his eyes, hoping to bulwark himself against the memories, but they always broke through. Every day for the past six months, they broke through.

“She’s lucky to be alive. Another four inches to the left, and she woulda been a goner.”

Oh, they all loved to say that. As if all the cops and doctors themselves bent physics to ensure her survival, oh, and by the way, you’re welcome.

The next memory in the chain was Mary, looking like a little spider at the center of a web of wires and tubing. Her left eye was blackened like a boxer’s, and her leg was in traction. He sat down hard in the monstrous recliner that looked like it was upholstered in dragonskin. The tears were coming, hard, when Mary’s right eye opened, as blue and as radiant as it was on the day they’d met.

“Don’t you dare, Craig. I need you, so you pull it together.” And then she slipped back under the tide of opiates and went back to sleep, and Craig never wept about the accident.

Mary was lucid enough to send him home at eleven-thirty the next night.

He wandered around their house like a ghost. He fed their dog, a goofy hound named Paco. He washed the dishes, unattended for the past forty-eight hours. He drank a beer in one go, his throat clutching and releasing like birth pangs.

The thought blasted into his skull like a bullet: This is exactly what it would be like if she’d died.

He’d be feeding Paco if she’d died. He’d have dishes to do if she’d died. He’d be drinking a beer had she died.

He laid down on their unmade bed, smelling her scent on the pillow next to him, which he’d be doing if she’d died.

But she’s alive. I just saw her. She kicked me out for hovering.

And his logical mind knew this. He clung to the thought like it were his last hope.

It sustained him when, two days later, his first day back at class, he thought Right now they’d be lowering her into the ground. I’d throw some earth on her casket, and that’s that. A day after that: Today’s the day the University would be calling, asking if there was anything they could do, but meaning when are you coming back to work, Intro to Lit doesn’t teach itself, you know. And the day after that: I think today is the first time I try to drink myself to death. How much booze would that even take? A bottle? Two? Or would I take chance out of the equation and get a pistol? Put it in my mouth and just explode out of this life.

***

A week later, a whole week of the double track of equally valid memories, Mary was released from Maine Medical Center. Aside from the busted leg, she was in good health and good spirits.

The shame Craig felt at his depression was a groaning mass on top of him.

The months passed, and Mary grew stronger. She kicked the painkillers she’d been given for ibuprofen. Once she got out of the little wheelchair, she started going for short jaunts around the block on her crutches, and then longer trips around Portland.

It was around this time she’d noticed Craig’s fey moods.

She’d surprised him one day, wearing nothing but his oldest tweed blazer–”English Professor Drag” she’d called it. She leaned on the cane with both hands, scowling at him as hard as she could.

“Hey, idiot. I’m Doctor House.”

He went to her, smiling, unbuttoning the blazer. “Oh, look at you. Spend all that time around doctors and you think you are one.”

“Mm-hmm.” It had been a very long time for them both. He kissed down her stomach as his hands went up her ribcage.

He clamped his eyes shut as his thumb speedbumped over the livid purple scar on her flank.

He willed himself not to wither. They needed this, God damn it. He pulled her to him, gently guiding her to the cushions, careful to angle his hips in such a way that he didn’t put pressure on her bad left leg.

It was quick, and very sweet.

They’d stayed tangled up in each other for a little while when she spoke. “I noticed you almost stopped when you touched the scar.”

“Shit. I was hoping you didn’t notice that.”

Mary propped herself up. “I want you to understand, honey. I’m okay. I’m here, right here with you. Why can’t you be here with me?”

He wanted to answer, but he couldn’t.

“Okay. We’ll talk later.” Mary rose slowly, leaning on her cane. “By the way–a FedEx came for you today.”

He pulled his jeans up. A large Tyvek envelope lay on the kitchen table. The waybill was marked with his name and address, and the usual FedEx indicia and bar codes, but in the place of the return address was a series of Xes.

“Ooh. Mysterious.” He sliced the pouch open with a kitchen knife.

It was a paperback, fairly thick, and the only markings were the imprint of the publish-on-demand outfit that printed the book on the back, and the title, “The Book Of False Memories”, on the front. He riffled the pages, and it looked like it was made up of ten different typefaces, and paragraphs and margins were of little consequence.

Receiving books like this wasn’t out of the ordinary; about once a semester, one of his students, apparently thinking that being a professor of English at a mid-sized university brought perks like having an in with the publishing industry, would send him a novel. Usually they were “Twilight”-themed crap or experimental bullshit, and this looked like it fell into the former camp.

Ah, to be twenty with a new copy of “Deathbird Stories”.

This one listed no author, however, which was odd. He set it back on the table and went to find his shirt.

***

It was another week before Craig thought of the book again. Mary was going into town for physical therapy, and he and Paco had the house to themselves. “Just us guys,” he said to the dog as he scratched behind his ears. He looked up and saw the book lying where he’d left it.

Why not. At least I’ll have a laugh.

He turned to page one, which was the first page of the book. No title page, copyright, not even a dedication.

My name is Craig Spiegel. I am thirty-eight years old. I live in Portland, Maine. My wife, Mary, is dead. When this work is complete, I will end my life by firing a bullet up into my brain.

He read that paragraph once, then twice. It seemed like a practical joke, one of his students or a colleague at the university. He was actually laughing before his brain picked up the one key line.

My wife, Mary, is dead.

“Oh, fuck this. Fuck you.”

A joke’s a joke, but this was obscene. Who would go to all the time and expense to POD a book just to say “Your wife is dead”? His hands were shaking.

The worst part of it was the feeling of resonance.

It sat on the coffee table like a predator; he struck first and picked it up.

Part One, of three, entitled “Coming To Be: That Which Is True”, was his own history as if written by a madman. The facts were all there–childhood, schooling, even his old girlfriends–but it was all out of order. There was no narrative flow; it seemed as if the joker who wrote it was adding things as he thought of them.

Part Two, entitled “Dissolution: That Which Is False”, dealt with the accident. It began:

They kept telling me that, had the other car hit four inches to the right, she would have gotten off with a broken leg, maybe some internal injuries they’d have to keep her for a week to keep an eye on. The other car, however, was not apprised of this, and hit her four inches to the left instead. She lingered and she died. Her last words to me were “Don’t you dare, Craig. I need you, so you pull it together.” And then she slipped back under the tide of opiates and went back to sleep, and I never wept again, because she never woke up.

Craig blinked hot tears off the ends of his eyelashes. He realized, in an abstract sense, that he should have been asking himself who did this, how they knew all this.

All he could think as he read was “Poor Craig 2.”

Today was the funeral. People kept coming up to me, touching my hand, squeezing my shoulder, and I wanted to machine gun them. Fucking destroy them like I was destroyed. I’d been thinking that somewhere out there, there’s a world where she’s still alive. I would murder them all happily if it meant getting it all back.

Part 3, “Rebirth: That Which Shall Be” was where it started to get weird.

I talked to Aleksander. He said I smelled bad, that I should get cleaned up and come back to the university.

I told him to suck my cock, and I asked him about my parallel world theory. If people could travel back and forth between them. He said it was impossible. “Ah, I am sorry my friend. The expenditure of energy–even if we had the technology to run it through–would be unprecedented with the expertise we have today.”

He also called me crazy when I swept this shit onto the floor. He called security. So much for my professorship at USM.

Fuck it. Not important.

Am I crazy? Is Aleks right?

At least now he had a lead.

The key slid into the front door, making him jump. He hid the book under the cushion, like a young kid with a titty mag. He didn’t want Mary seeing this. She’d come so far.

***

Three hours later he was at Yamaoka, a nice sushi joint downtown. He was into his third Kirin when Aleksander walked in, spotting Craig with a hearty wave.

“Doctor Maciejewsky! How’s the Physics teaching racket? Any trouble finding the place?”

“No, no! None whatsoever.” He flagged down a waitress and asked if they had Pilsner Urquell; he looked crestfallen at the denial. “It’s terrible. You can’t get a decent lager here.”

“But let’s be honest, Aleks–can you get Bud in Krakow?”

The thin blond man beamed. “Yes! Proper Budweiser, not the swill they sell at your football matches! But I take it you did not ask me here to talk beer. How is Mary?”

Poker face. “Good. Real good! She’s on a cane now. Stronger every day.”

“Wonderful! Send her my love.”

“I will. What I wanted to ask about–would I be wasting your time, science-wise, if I asked your opinion on parallel universes?”

“No, Craig, not at all! It’s very valid, and the science is pointing towards them being fact. Why do you ask? It’s a very specific line of inquiry.”

“I’m, er…researching a book.” Not a lie.

“Excellent! Ah, I always knew you had the look of the novelist! So, this is science fiction?”

“You could say that.” Craig snatched a hunk of nigiri, like a heron snagging a fish. “The question I had was, can people travel to one? Like, with today’s technology?”

“Ah, I am sorry my friend. The expenditure of energy–even if we had the technology to run it through–would be unprecedented with the expertise we have today. Information, maybe, given the proper resonance, since we’re talking sci-fi, but people? Things? No.” He looked at Craig like he was about to yack up a half pound of raw fish. “Craig? Are you all right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Fine. Just a little deja vu.”

***

After Mary had gone to bed, he went back to his research, growing more scared by the minute.

I’ve come to believe, despite that polack’s lack of faith, that there are indeed other worlds than this one. Maybe there’s one where my beautiful Mary (I had a flash today of her just wearing one of my blazers, acting like Dr. House, and I punched the wall until I thought I’d pass out from the pain.) is still alive.

I’ve made that world my focus. There’s nothing left for me here.

So that other Craig (I have the feeling he calls me Craig 2, good, let’s go with that) is enjoying the life I lost. I’ll make him my vector. I’ll spend every day–a minute here, working upwards–telling him to write it. Write it. Write it, Craig. Write it. Write me. The acid is helping, I think.

Maybe I’m just crazy. I lost my wife and I’ve gone crazy. Still, what could it hurt?

“Oh, is that your book?”

There she was, looking down at him from the staircase.

“What?” On guilty reflex he slammed the book shut.

“The book! The book you were writing and wouldn’t let me see!” She was making her way down the stairs. “Is that the FedEx that came for you?”

“Uh, yeah. It finally got here.”

“Well? Let me read it!”

“Ah…not just yet, okay? It’s still very raw, need to go through with some edits. You know how us…writers are.”

She made a disappointed moue. “Okay, Stephen King. But make sure I’m the first to read it once you’re through.”

He had managed to make it to the kitchen sink, spraying hot bile onto the aluminum.

Craig dragged out the cleanup process as much as he could. He’d be compelled to pick up the book–his book–again if he sat back down.

Which he did. There was a further drunken spiral, more hallucinogens, which Craig 1 could only assume was heightening the bond they shared, and further alienation. Timmy, his brother–their brother–had written him off, saying there’d be no more help from the family unless he got cleaned up. That sounded unlike Tim to Craig 1, who had always been the Good Time Charlie between the two of them.

Strangest yet was this passage, towards the end, referencing a Wikipedia article:

Tulpa, the Buddhists call it. A being made out of thought. A person, conjured. I almost thought I made one the other night while I was tripping on mescaline.

Possible. Possible. The seed, then the vase.

Then the fruit.

Craig didn’t know what to make of it. The book had been full of incoherent rambling and pseudophilosophy; he didn’t know why this stuck in his mind.

Then, the last page:

In about five minutes, I am going to insert the barrel of this handgun–a Glock G22–into my mouth, and I’m going to pull the trigger. THIS IS NOT A SUICIDE. This is simply a situation where I am exploding into a better life.

Timmy, sorry about the mess. I know it’s going to be hard for you and Ma, but try to understand.

Aleks: I’m sorry about all the things I said about you. I was frustrated.

And Craig 1. I am so sorry about all this.

And that was that, the end of The Book of False Memories.

By the time he got up to bed, collapsing in behind Mary in his clothes, sucking in the scent of her hair, he’d almost convinced himself that it was all some stress-related fugue, and the catharsis of being confronted with his shadow-self was a step along the road to healing.

Two nights later, there was a knock on the door. It’s a good thing Craig answered.

“Hello, Craig 1. Thank you for reading so thoroughly. You brought me over almost as real as you are.”

It was like looking into a funhouse mirror. The copy had red-rimmed eyes and a crust of beard on its chin, and it was wearing a filthy tank top.

Just as Craig had imagined him from the seeds planted in the book. “N-no.”

Craig 2.1, the tulpa-Craig, raised a very real pistol. It almost looked like there were toothmarks along the barrel.

“I’m ready to take my life back now.” He tightened his finger on the trigger. He began to sob, jubilant tears making tracks in the grime on his face. “I’m ready to see my Mary.”

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