“Next,” the woman behind the counter uttered unenthusiastically.
I stood up, number in hand, and made my way to the metal desk at the front of the room.
“Number, please,” the woman demanded, as I approached.
I handed her the ticket with the number 668 printed on the front, and waited as she gave me the next set of instructions.
She told me to look forward and smile in front of the white linen backdrop to the right of her desk. I rearranged my position and stared forward.
Even though the sides of my mouth curled upward, my eyes were cold and unexpressive. It was obvious my smile was forced, but I’m not sure that mattered much.
With a few shutters of the camera, my new identity was inching closer to being fully realized.
“Your ID card is being processed, please scan your identification chip under the red sensor to the left, so I can link your account,” she directed.
I held my arm out, with a sense of heaviness, as I was stripped of the last thing that connected me to the life I was leaving behind. It had only been 48 hours since I was slated with the realization I would be abandoning everything I had known for the last 29 years.
It was starting to drive me mad that I couldn’t seem to remember the reason I was leaving in the first place. That night was foggy in my memory, but I could feel a sense of dread when I tried to muster any recollection of the events that occurred. And I questioned whether anyone would care I wasn’t around, beyond just the acknowledgement that I was no longer a part of their life.
“Ma’am, MA’AM!,” the woman at the desk yelled.
My head whipped up with the sudden awareness that she was beckoning my attention.
“Yes sorry, what’s next?” I replied back with subtle confusion, as I had been jolted out of my absentminded daze.
She motioned towards a hallway on the left side of the room.
“Head down this hall and enter the first room on your right to collect your new belongings and meet your Guide,” she said in a brisk tone, obviously annoyed by my lack of alertness.
I muttered my gratitude and made my way toward my imminent future.
I entered the room to the right and was quickly approached by a woman wearing a gray tracksuit.
“Hi, I’m Allison, are you number 668?” she said in a voice far too peppy for my mood.
I nodded my head, reluctant to give her too much of my waning energy. My eyes were so heavy and my body was sore.
She linked arms with me and guided me over to a locker with a backpack that contained essentials for my new identity. Mostly boring things such as paperwork. “I just need to scan that pesky ID chip and then we can get this show on the road,” she quipped.
I held my arm out and let her wave the device over the chip in a swift motion.
“Perfect!” she giggled. “That wasn’t too bad was it?”
I kind of rolled my eyes, because the notion that leaving my life behind, to start all over again, was “not that bad” was far too laughable to not be met with some contempt.
In a bid to win me over, she asked if I had considered what name I would be using moving forward.
It was a nice gesture that we were given the opportunity to control some aspects of our new identity. Morsels of autonomy in a situation that was otherwise out of our control.
Truth was though, I hadn’t given it much thought. I had barely had time to process what was happening. The last 48 hours were a total blur of every emotion. I was drained. And even though I was grateful for some jurisdiction over my circumstance, it made my head spin trying to come up with an answer.
So I just shook my head and grabbed my new backpack.
She was reluctant, I could tell. And I suppose I couldn’t blame her. Everyone that walked through those doors was scared to let go of their past. I sympathized with that.
But within 24 hours her entire memory would be wiped and the pain of remembering would be replaced with the excitement for the future. Her second chance would be in full swing.
And sometimes, on the hard days, I envied that chance.
Most hadn’t come to terms with why they were being forced to leave it all behind. They repressed the memories that got them here in the first place.
The ones that remembered couldn’t be transitioned like this. The process was much less pleasant for them.
I was grateful for the power of the human mind. It allowed me to work as a Guide. To help them on their journey to a new destination. And it gave me an overwhelming sense of compassion and understanding for the shortfalls of humankind.
I was happy to make this adjustment a little easier for them. I always believed everyone should be given graciousness, despite their mistakes.
I led number 668 past the sea of lockers and Guides, out to the back of the building. In what looked like a large fenced in parking lot, the Receiving Zone waited for our arrival. I checked us in and we took our seats as we waited for the next step of our assignment.
“Anyone you’re looking forward to never seeing again?,” I laughed, trying to get her to loosen up.
I had heard responses to this question that varied far and wide. Some people mentioned frenemies, bosses, or debt collectors. Others mentioned girlfriends, mothers, or siblings.
Her circumstance was different though, but she didn’t remember that.
She just looked over at me and flatly replied, “Not really.”
“Y’know, it’s not all bad,” I declared, “I think you’ll be surprised how beautiful it is in the Spring Zone.”
She didn’t reply to my remark. And at this point it was probably hard for her to believe. They don’t find out their memories will be wiped until right before they enter their new zoning assignment.
But it gives me comfort knowing she won’t be burdened by this pain for much longer.
As we sat, I could only think of how desperately I wished I could have 24 more hours at home.
If you had told me a week ago, I’d get the chance to start all over again, I probably would’ve jumped for joy. But the reality of starting over is a lot more bleak than the daydream of it.
I knew Allison was just trying to be as comforting as possible, but her relentless will to have a conversation with me was driving me batty. Sure, she was nice enough I suppose, but I wasn’t sure how talking to a relative stranger was supposed to remedy my feelings.
A woman called my number over a loud-speaker and Allison grabbed my arm to let me know it was time to move to the next step.
“Come on! This is the fun part,” she asserted energetically.
We made our way into another building at the other side of the large lot and headed inside. There were hundreds of rows of clothing items. Every color. Every texture. Beautiful prints and patterns. I was mesmerized.
And for a second, I had hope for a new beginning.
I think Allison realized my awe, because she stopped and beamed at me before saying, “Isn’t it amazing.. You can pick whatever you like.”
I paused for a moment and considered a snarky remark, but even my cynicism was overwhelmed by my excitement.
She guided me through the building, as we picked up what seemed like dozens of items.
Finally, the sea of clothing and accessories parted and it was clear we had made our way to the end. She gathered all of my new belongings and packed them into a suitcase that she rolled behind her.
Finally. She had started to break out of her gloom.
We made our way to the end of the building, and rounded the corner to the Finishing Station. This is where she picked out her new look. Hairstyle, hair color, eye color, etc. She made her selections quickly and stepped into the station to make her final visual transformation.
She emerged with a pink, shaved mohawk. Presumably, her own little form of rebellion.
“You look awesome,” I marveled. And she really did.
There was just one more step to be completed.
The memory wipe.
It was my job to disclose this step of the process. The revelation was usually met with resistance, but ultimately it always ended the same.
We sat down at a table, and I explained that it would soon be her turn to have her memory erased and have new ones take their place.
She gave me a puzzled look.
“But..,” she started, “I, I don’t want to forget my past.”
“My memories are the only place I can still visit my loved ones,” she continued.
“I know,” I stated empathetically, “But, if it makes you feel better, you’ll be relinquished from the pain of missing them. You’ll be free.”
She looked up at me with a dejected look and I tried my best to comfort her with a soft smile and squeeze of the hand, but she pulled away from me and stood up, beginning to raise her voice.
“No! I don’t want this!” she screamed. “You can’t make me…,” she trailed off.
I tried to assure her that if she calmed down it would be easy and she could enter the Spring Zone peacefully. But she was unwilling to comply.
The guards headed towards us and we both knew she didn’t have a lot of time before she’d be forced to accept her fate.
She reached for me as they led her away.
And that’s the last time I would see her as 668. It was such a shame, she had just started to warm up to me. But I would check in on her once she reached her final destination.
I screamed. They led me away and I fought with every ounce of energy I had, but they were stronger and there wasn’t a chance I was getting out of it.
We reached a white room with a comfy looking white recliner that sat under what looked like a children’s mobile. Except where tiny, cute animals were supposed to hang, there were lasers beaming off in every direction.
I was forced to sit down, as I tried my hardest to remember every good thing I wanted to hold onto. My mother’s face. My husband’s smile. The soft fur under my dog’s chin. I tried so hard to bury these images into my subconscious and prayed I’d be able to access them some day.
As I tried to remember the good things, the bad things crept in unannounced and unwelcomed. The screaming. The lights. I tried my hardest to block out the images, but the harder I fought, the more intensely they flashed.
The past two days had been such a whirlwind. I had effectively buried those memories. But now it was like I was suddenly back in the same room from 48 hours prior. The exact time and place that was the reason I was being forced to switch zones.
Now I remembered. Then, everything stopped.
As an outsider looking in, it gave me comfort seeing her so well-adjusted. New home, new job, new relationship. A second chance. The reason the Spring Zone was created in the first place.
I loved being able to bridge the gap for them. I knew it was the only thing I ever wanted to do since my mother had been sent to the Spring Zone when I was a child.
A second chance for the sinful.
I never judged them, only tried to see the humanity in the monstrosity.
668 didn’t realize it at the time, but she was so much happier now. She was thriving in the Spring Zone. Her new identity seemed to suit her well. Her wiring had been rerouted during the memory wipe. She no longer had the capability or knowledge of the pain and hurt she had caused.
No knowledge of the night she murdered her family.