By Charmaine Morrison-Mills
It was an ordinary Sunday evening. I lay curled up on my leather lounge, my skin sticking uncomfortably to its rough texture. My mind was completely focused between the union of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy and the steamy curry I had balanced precariously on my lap. Through the exotic aroma of the meal perched on my knee, a strange tang suddenly filled my nostrils. My eyes paused on the page open before me as I let the smell provoke a memory.
The familiar stench of rotten eggs…my childhood was reappearing before my eyes. I was eight; my feet brushed and dug into the dampened sand as the tide went out, when the very same smell came to my senses. A man stood before me and though his rough image should have frightened me, there was a mysterious familiarity to him, which made me feel compelled to approach him. He smiled at me and feeling warmed by that gesture, I slipped my small hand into his callused hold.
This experience is the earliest memory I have. Doctors were never able to work out why it was that a perfectly healthy eight year old child had completely erased her own life from her mind. My mother tried for years to bring back any traces and after not one trace got through, she convinced herself I had experienced some sort of trauma with that man and through that, I erased the loving and safe life she had spent years building for me. I then spent six years going between different counsellors. My mother even tried a psychic at one time. But since that night, my mother has always felt a kind of indifference towards me, occasionally probing deep into my mind to regain her rightful place in my childhood memories, never with any success.
I shuddered as the blurred image of my mother, her perfect hair bouncing off her pristine Suede jacket and the crease in her forehead, faded away until I was left with the present before me. I stood up and at once I watched as my curry fell and spilled all over my floor, filling in its uneven cracks and rushing away from me in a hurry. I stumbled towards the kitchen, my sudden memory still fresh in my mind. Immediately upon reaching the sink I was hit once again with the overbearing odour.
The sound of my doorbell reached my ears but it was a few seconds before my mind processed this intruding sound. I ignored the cooling curry settling in my floorboards as I walked towards my door to end the rhythmic ringing.
There he stood before me, the same man I had seen nearly fourteen years ago. He had changed in appearance, however not through age. He had a youthful face and a different spark in his eyes.
I had envisioned this moment for years now, always with the same desire to demand answers from him, to force him to explain why he was my earliest memory. Over and over, I would shake him and command he tell me who he was. But I just stood there and succumbed to his strange pull on me. I opened my mouth to say something, but he just looked at me and I knew I was meant to remain quiet. And so I watched as he slowly lifted his wretched arm towards me and grasped my hand, firmly yet gently. He looked deep into my eyes. We both smiled.
I awoke with my head pounding. I figured I must have had a late night last night and kicked myself for it. I slid off my bed and reached for a bottle of water only to find my fingers jab a large hard surface. I opened my eyes cautiously to find in front of me not a bottle, but a large mirror. Shocked, I stood up and found my whole room had transformed. ‘Mum? What’s going on?’ I was answered by a sharp silence. The foreign house opened up in front of my eyes; I had no idea where I was. I looked into the mirror to find my body had completely transformed. Crow’s feet now indented my young face, subtle crease lines had made themselves deeper. Had I aged overnight?
My body started convulsing beyond my control; I asked over and over ‘What’s happening? What’s happening to me?’ My vision became tunnelled as my eyes phased in and out of focus. Then there was nothing.
I awoke to find myself boxed in by transparent curtains. To my left here was a person moaning in pain. To my right the sheath was violently ripped open and before me stood an older version of my mother, her face stricken with grief and worry.
‘Mum, what happened to my face? Where was I this morning?’She stared at me, an empty expression on her face. I began to grow frustrated. ‘Mum, just tell me what’s going on, please.’ I looked into her face again. This time her face displayed her desperate loss. She sighed and sat beside me. I reached out to hold her hand only for her to flinch and recoil from my attempt at comfort. I went to say something but with an apologetic face she then asked, ‘Nora, baby, where do you live?’ Puzzled, I replied, ‘what do you mean mum? I live with you. I always have.’ Her eyes began to fill with tears as a tall man in a white sterile coat walked in. Without even looking at me he began to question me, always throwing sideway glances at my mum, dishing out hollow words of comfort to ease her pain.
I couldn’t handle it any longer. ‘Mum, I don’t understand. I am fourteen, I live with you and I just want to go home. There’s nothing wrong with me, please just take me home.’ I began to feel a desperate plea brewing up inside of me as my mum just sat there sobbing into her hands.
Minutes passed. The doctor comforted my mum as I sat there anxiously trying to figure out what had happened to me last night. Eventually she spoke in resignation, ‘Baby, I just can’t do this again. I just can’t, please tell me you’re lying,’ she paused and looked into my confused face. More tears rolled down her face as she continued, this time with anger and frustration. ‘Nora. You are not a fourteen year old girl, damnit. You are a twenty-two year old woman living on your own. How could you not know this? What is wrong with you?’ She turned to the doctor and said, almost in a whisper, ‘I can’t do this anymore Raymond. I’ll do it, take her where you have to.’
I looked questioningly from her face to his. ‘Mumma, what are you talking about? Where are you taking me?’ She just kept shaking her head, her face looking away from mine. ‘Nora, you’re sick. You need help.’ And with those final words she pulled herself up and pushed past the doctor without even looking at me. I felt my eyes begin to sting but before I had a chance to even think about what kind of help I needed, the doctor was talking to me. I gazed vacantly at his sharp face, clinging onto the few words I heard like ‘St. Rudy’s Mental Asylum’ and over and over again that ‘it’s for the best’.
Four months went by. My mother came to visit once but found herself so overcome with emotion she could barely stay longer than seven minutes. Once a week I saw a counsellor and once a week I recounted the only life I knew: I was a fourteen year old girl and something happened to me when I was eight, erasing my memory. Of course, no-one believed me. Even my explained experience at eight was reviewed with scepticism and it had medical evidence to back me up. I was diagnosed with Compulsive Lying Syndrome.
Seven months went by and I knew I was stuck here. My mother never returned. However, on one particular routine filled day, a new arrival came to share my room. Her first memory was at the age of eight too. She was classified with False Memory Syndrome.
Eight months passed, and I met four more women with the exact same lives as myself. Each had had their memories erased in exactly the same manner as me. But the most mysterious element to this discovery was that each girl remembered the odd familiarity of this man and his backwards change in appearance. The more we tried to prove an investigation towards this man was necessary, the more insane they thought we were. We were separated for ‘Collaborative Lying’; I began to give up hope of ever getting out; of ever regaining my already torn life.
Two years in my white prison and finally I had gathered skerricks of information about the source of our demise. A Christmas present from my mother that had been carelessly cast aside, happened to contain a book about legendary evils. I found it on one particular monotonous afternoon and flicked through it, skimming over all the mythical images on each page until I saw something I recognised. There he was, the mysterious man staring smugly out at me from the ruffled page.
‘Memory Feeder’, the caption below him read. ‘To enable themselves to live a long and youthful life, the Memory Feeder must feed on a woman in three stages of her life: childhood, young adult, old age. They prefer for their victims to live a comfortable lifestyle, therefore nourishing the Memory Feeder to complete satisfaction. The Memory Feeder’s presence is almost always noticed by the strong smell of sulphur created by their travel by teleportation. To trap their victims they put out an aroma of warmth and comfort associated with the victim, thus leading them straight into a trap. The memory is released through the touching of skin, preferably the hand. They are an incredibly cunning creature; the only way they can be destroyed is if all victims end their own life. Therefore, the Memory Feeder makes sure they have at least 300 feed victims to ensure they can never be erased- like all their victims’ memories.’
I read the description over and over again, continuously glancing at his deceptive smile. My mind filled with possibilities; should I kill myself? Or wait until he comes for his final feed then stab him? Is my life really worth keeping anyway? With these thoughts I glanced around the room looking for any kind of sharp object, only to find there was nothing. Bitterly disappointed I lay on my back, allowing the cool tiled floor to press against my skin. All I could do was wait, and so I did.
‘The record of Nora Faraway.
Checked in 31 years previously.
Diagnosis; Compulsive Liar and Schizophrenic (more recent findings)
Treatment; Clozapine (Two per day)
Possible release date; N/A.’
I walked over towards her room, leaving traces of sulphur behind me. No-one noticed as I glided through each checkpoint. I reached her door and it clicked open for me. The woman inside was thin, draping over herself and rocking. She murmured to herself. ‘He won’t get me again, oh no he won’t. I won’t let him. I’ll kill myself first. I will.’ She repeated these words as my presence went unnoticed.
‘Hello Nora,’ I looked around her dank abode. She looked up at me, frozen. ‘Well, haven’t you made quite a life for yourself? Stupid girl, you should have just shut your mouth years ago and maybe you’d have more life and memories for me to feed on. Ahh well, I never leave a job half done; this will be my last taste of you. Farewell Nora Faraway.’ She was beside me in an instance, I knew my aroma would be too strong for her to resist. I held her pathetic, bony hand and fed on her, my mind focused on youth and beauty. Her memories were slowly filling up my greedy body when I felt a sharp object penetrate my back. I released from her in shock and watched as she pulled out the stained glass then motion to stab again, her face filled with a sort of madness. Again the sharp pain and this time I took her hand more forcefully and finished my feeding, taking as much of her as I could. She managed to strike me four or five times before I left her limp and begging for life. ‘You seem to have forgotten Nora,’ I murmured to her patiently while facing my exit, ‘the only way you can kill me…is by killing yourself.’
I turned to face her before I left, her body lay useless, and her eyes darted around in search for me. ‘Goodbye Nora,’ I said and I walked away as the sound of panic began to rush around around me. Feeling strong and powerful I went looking for my next feed.
*This was a story I wrote in 2010 for the HSC.
© Charmaine Morrison-Mills