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Science Fiction Romance Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

New Year’s Day

 2057

Dallas, Texas

 

Rapid pulses and vibrations soaked the walls and floor as people danced to synthwave country beats. They shouted and sang along with the call-and-response to their favorite songs. Tonight, New Years, and Mars Landing Day were times to celebrate.

For Martin and his friends, the evening started off celebrating New Years and Sammy’s birthday. Eventually they formed a circle away from the dance floor where their conversations turned into lighthearted banter about investment.

Bruce, a wannabe investor, had just told them about investing in space mines. The group pointed out that the investment was likely a scam feeding off the Mars hype.

Martin steered the conversation to his own investing success: gas cars.

“Forget space mines, y’all! Gas cars are a much better investment,” he said.

“How so?” asked Bruce.

Martin continued. “A lot of people are fixing up old gas guzzlers from the ‘20s and ‘30s to sell them. My uncle had five cars that were all 2034s and older, mint condition. He sold them on the African Vehicle Exchange, tripled his money, and made 380K in cash.”

“Jesus!” Sammy said.

Martin noticed Jessica, an old flame and now a dear friend, staring at him from across the room. His nerves tensed. She was staring straight at him and smiling.

“Damn. I didn’t realize the Africans loved gas cars so much,” Sammy continued.

“Well, they have to, at least until they get electric infrastructure,” Martin replied.

“I should try it. I really need to make an extra buck, especially with this damn inflation.”

“Better than bumming off me, like usual,” replied Carter, another friend.

The group laughed.

“Screw you, Carter,” Sammy replied.

Just then Jessica reached them and said, “You’re a bum, Carter? How embarrassing for you.”

They laughed at Carter’s expense; the mental image of a hobo Carter amused them.

She turned to Martin. “Hey, Martin.”

“Hey, Jessica.”

 “I know you’re a photographer, but can you do manual film printing?”

“Yeah.”

“I want to give you this.” Jessica passed him an old film canister.

“What’s this?” Carter asked, attempting to grab it. She slapped his hand away.

“Don’t touch. It’s fragile.”

“Well, you definitely don’t want it exposed to light,” Martin said.

Jessica nodded in agreement.

“This was in my grandfather’s things.”

“Quincy?”

“Yeah.”

“I remember him, good guy.”

“Yeah, after he died, I nearly threw it out. It’s so hard to find people who can develop it. Are you able?”

Martin nodded and placed the canister in his pocket.

“Thank you for trusting me with this,” he said.

Jessica smiled.

“You’re looking good,” she said.

“You, too.”

“Send me your fee, okay?”

“Sure.”

She left the group and returned to her friends.

“You’re going to charge your ex? Smooth, bro, real smooth.”

Martin didn’t care for Carter’s needling.

“And why do you care?” Martin asked.

Carter shrugged. “Just waiting my turn, caballero.”

Martin laughed. “I’m no gentleman, Carter Dominguez. And you and her isn’t happening, caballero.”

“Oh, you’re planning something?”

“I’m sure you’d like to know,” Martin replied sarcastically.

The party lasted all night, but Martin left early.

At 35, he was not that young anymore. He returned home.

Instead of going to bed, he went downstairs to his darkroom. Jessica’s film intrigued him.

Inside the darkroom were all the developing tanks, chemicals, and photo paper that he needed. In addition, there was an enlarger station for making prints.

Martin got to work, checking for stray light, and then feeding the film into a reel. He loaded the reel into a developing tank. After going through the steps to wash and develop the negatives, he went to the enlarger and made prints on photo paper.

Soon a collared light blue shirt and yellow shorts appeared on the photo paper. The shirt was an older style with oversized front pockets Martin remembered seeing styles like it worn by men in classic 80s movies. This was likely a man’s outfit.

As the photo developed, Martin could see the pastel colors of a long summer dress, then hands, arms, and a face. She was young, in her mid to late 20s, white, brunette, and good looking, with light shades of rouge on her cheeks.

Was this Jessica’s grandmother?

He could not tell.

Martin peered closer. She seemed so familiar.

The man and the background appeared more clearly. The couple were sitting in a park, his arm wrapped lovingly around the woman’s shoulders. He was Black, in his early to mid-30s.

 The woman. Her name was Ruth, and he loved her.

Was the man Quincy, Jessica’s grandfather? If it was then who was the woman?

A sudden jolt of emotion gripped Martin as he gazed at the two of them. The shirt and the shorts were purchased at Rudy’s on 3700 McKinney in Dallas.

 The outfit was for their picnic date. It had cost $30.85.

He knew them, really knew them. How?

Martin wanted what he saw in the photo. He thought back to his relationship with Jessica and all the crazy things he did to try and keep her, including taking memory capsules from her grandfather. The photos triggered an awareness in him that he had not anticipated. Maybe the memory capsules were finally working?

He needed sleep.

Martin packed everything up and went to his bedroom.

In his bed, he stared at the ceiling, waiting for the Melatonin Extra to kick in.

Suddenly there was a knock at his door. Martin jumped. Who could that be?

Muffled voices and sounds of city life seeped through the bedroom walls. Martin left his bed and went to the door.

He summoned his courage and opened it.

“Here you are, sir. Is it to your liking?”

An older gentleman in a tan suit with measuring tape wrapped around his shoulders and rulers in his breast pocket stood on Martin’s doorstep. Martin moved towards the man who beckoned him to move closer.

He stood in a menswear store in front of a mirror. The image of young man in a light blue collared shirt and yellow shorts stared back at him.

Martin looked around and saw people milling about, mostly men and some sons with their mothers. At the end of the store counter was a cashier station. The name Rudy’s was emblazoned in a wood veneer sign above.

“How?” he said aloud.

“Mr. Bryant?” the older man again asked.

He stared back into the mirror. That was him, Quincy Bryant, Jessica’s grandfather.

“Yeah, man, this is cool.” He knew exactly what to say.

He paid for the clothes. The name on his credit card was Quincy Bryant.

After he left the store, he immediately knew where to go and how to be.

He was not Martin; he was Quincy Bryant.

Days later, he climbed into his Ford Escort and headed for the park on Maple Avenue.

 At the park, picnic basket in tow, he passed the entrance to the walking trails and went to a grassy area. All around people flew kites, threw Frisbees, and danced to music booming from stereos.

In the middle of the green stood a large oak tree, and there she was, standing at the base: Ruth.

She waved excitedly at him. Quincy doubled his pace.

“Woah, slow down partner,” she teased when he approached.

Quincy wrapped his arms around her. They kissed.

“What’s that about?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Quincy replied. “Just missed you.”

“Okay. Oh, I brought my camera to snap some pictures.”

“Let’s eat first,” Quincy insisted. He set down the picnic basket.

Ruth had already laid out blankets and pillows to sit on.

Quincy sat. Ruth passed out the sandwiches and gave Quincy his beer. She grabbed her own sandwich and sat next to Quincy, resting against his shoulder as she ate.

She forgot to grab a drink.

“Pass me a soda?” she asked.

Quincy reached into the basket and retrieved a soda can.

“New Coke?” Her eyes widened as she read the label.

“Try it sweetheart,” Quincy replied.

“Okay.” she smiled.

Ruth took a sip and immediately spat it out, disgusted. She wiped her lips.

“What the hell is that?”

“Woah, it isn’t that bad,” Quincy chided.

“This is the vilest crap I’ve ever tasted!”

“Come on, it’s just Coke.”

“That is not Coke. Give me some water and get that out of here.”

Quincy shook his head silently. He took the Coke back and went behind the tree to pour it out. When he returned, Ruth was sprawled out on the blankets looking up at the sky.

Quincy lay down beside her.

“All that money, you’d think they could make a decent soda,” she said.

“I drink it all the time. It isn’t so bad,” Quincy replied.

“Well, you like Foster’s beer. You’ll drink anything.”

“Don’t judge me.”

“Oh, I’m judging,” she replied with a mischievous smile.

“What are you looking at?” Quincy asked.

“Just looking. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go out there.”

“To Oklahoma?”

“Don’t be dense. I mean out there! Beyond the sky, beyond everything we know down here. Space, honey. Space.”

“Sounds dangerous.”

“Women like Sally Ride are already going up there. Maybe I’ll be next.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Why go to the heavens when we have heaven down here?”

“So, you think I’m an angel?”

“You’re better than an angel.”

She turned onto her side to face him.

“So, angels aren’t virtuous enough for you, but I am?”

“Forget virtue. Angels fly away.”

“And I won’t?”

“Why would you?”

“I’m stubborn, Quincy Bryant, and quite a handful.”

“You can’t go to space.”

“What makes you think I’m the type of girl who takes orders?”

Quincy leaned over and gently pressed her into the blanketed ground. He kissed her cheek, caressing her face as he moved to her right ear.

“Because I know,” he whispered.

“Know what?” she asked as her breathing became heavy.

“I know what drives you wild. ET ain’t got nothing on me!”

Ruth laughed wildly, shaking, and holding her stomach as if her insides were about to burst.

“You’re so bad!” she said, hitting his shoulder.

She launched to her feet and looked around the park. “Let’s take a picture, you wild man.”

Ruth asked a passerby for her assistance. The woman gladly took the Nikon FA and positioned herself for the shot.

They sat together. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you, too,” she replied.

The passerby snapped a few pictures and handed the camera back to Ruth before moving on.

The couple spent the next thirty minutes talking but soon realized something was missing.

“Did you bring the fruit?” Ruth asked.

“I thought it was in the basket,” Quincy said as he searched. He looked around the picnic area; the fruit was not there.

“Don’t tell me you forgot.”

“I remember. I did get the fruit, but it’s in the car. I’ll get it.”

“No, I’ll go get it. I could use the exercise.”

“We’ll go together!” Quincy suggested.

“No,” she said firmly.

“Why not?” Quincy asked.

“Because I prefer to go alone.”

“You’re such a control freak,” Quincy replied.

“I’m your control freak.” She grinned.

“Damn right,” Quincy quipped, trying to kiss her leg.

“Ah! That’s enough, you!” she laughed as she pulled her leg away. “You’re parked nearby, right?”

“Yeah, in front of the entrance to the trails,” he replied.

“Keys.”

Quincy handed them to her.

“I’ll be back in a few,” she said.

Quincy sat on the grass. He thought about how the rest of the day would play out.

Is today the day to propose? Quincy wondered.

Previously, he never wanted to love a white woman, but times were changing. As Quincy’s father had once said, “Lock down a woman who understands you, no matter their color.” Ruth understood him.

Just then there was a loud screech, and chaotic commotion ensued near the trail entrance area. Several women and men came onto the green yelling for help.

Quincy stood up and walked toward the disturbance.

“A woman has been hurt! Call an ambulance!”

Quincy sped up; anxiety coursed through his body.

“What’s going on?” he demanded when he reached the burgeoning crowd.

“A woman was hit by a driver in the parking lot near the trails. The dude just hit her and peeled out.”

Quincy moved past the crowd and sprinted uphill toward the parking lot. There were a circle of cars and a few people gathered looking at the ground. He hurried ahead to the group of people and then he recognized the pastel colors of Ruth’s dress, now ripped and wrinkled. Her body came into view; she was bloody and not moving.

“No! Ruth!” he yelled as he bounded toward her.

He didn’t reach her. Without warning, everything went dark.

Hours later, Martin woke up in the Dallas County Jail, his head pounding with unbearable pain. Quincy was gone. Ruth was gone.

“What is this? Why am I here!” he demanded.

“Pipe down,” shouted a jail officer.

“Please! My head hurts!” he cried out.

Just then a county deputy entered the holding area with a woman in a blue blazer.

 “Hi, Martin,” the woman said. “I’m Doctor Rivers. Will you take these for me?”

In her right hand was a glass of water and in her left, four green pills.

“What is that?” Martin demanded.

“It’s for the headache, and clarity.”

“Is it Tylenol?”

“This is better than Tylenol. Believe me.”

Martin grabbed the pills and downed them with the water.

The pain stopped immediately, and the haziness in his head began dissipating.

“You’re suffering from memory shock syndrome.”

“Memory sho… What are you talking about? Why am I here?”

“It will all make sense soon. I promise. How about a visitor?”

“Visitor?”

“Yes, a Jessica González. Do you know her?”

Martin breathed a sigh of relief, finally a friend.

“Yeah. Where is she?”

“Come with us.”

The doctor and the deputy led him to a gray room with gray metal chairs and a black table. Martin sat at the table. Doctor Rivers and the deputy sat on the other side of the room.

Five minutes later Jessica entered.

Martin stood up, glad to see her.

“Jessica!”

She approached silently and sat.

“Jessica, I don’t know what’s happening. I was with Ruth, then...”

“Ruth? So, you’re on a first name basis with a woman who died over sixty years ago?”

“What do you mean? I was just with her.”

“Martin. You were never with her! Remember!”

Images swirled in his head like a tornado. There was something stirring in his memory, rising to the surface.

Jessica removed a folder from her bag. She opened it and displayed images of receipts, some of them bearing the thinking man logo of MindTurn Industries, others the logo for Memory Core Labs.

“Look at the first receipt!”

“Jessica, I don’t know…”

“Look at it!” she yelled.

“Why are you angry with me?”

She pointed to the receipt.

“Quincy Bryant, memory extraction, July 2052.”

“Your grandfather,” Martin whispered.

“Yeah. My grandfather. He wanted to leave me a gift. Memories of his youth, memories of his first love. Real memories, real life as he lived it, using memory extraction technology.”

“Jessica, I…”

“This second receipt shows that you went to Memory Core Labs and had them insert my grandfather’s memories—memories you weren’t authorized to have. His memory capsule id number is on the receipt. Your credentials are on the receipt! Did you bribe them to do this? Did you falsify records?”

Martin winced when he saw the second receipt. It was true.

“During our relationship, when we visited his house, is that when you did it? Stole the memory capsule? I thought you loved me.”

“I do, Jessica. I swear I do.” He pleaded with his eyes for her to believe him.

“You violated my trust. Why?”

Martin wanted to forget, but the memories of his actions were swelling and rising.

“I felt you slipping away,” he said. “I thought if I took his memory capsule, I would learn more about you and how to keep you.”

Jessica began to sob uncontrollably.

“It’s ironic. I thought when I gave you the film, maybe we could figure out our problems. Start up again. Instead, everything got worse.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

She stood up and kicked her chair.

“Do you know where they found you? Do you?”

“No.”

“At a house on Melrose, terrorizing a homeowner and screaming Ruth’s name. She lived there once with my grandmother. They were best friends! But I didn’t know that because of you!”

“Jessica, please…”

“You literally thought you were my grandfather! You went around acting like him. Well, you are not Quincy Bryant, you manipulative little ghoul. I never want to see you again!”

“Jessica...”

“No!”

She stormed through the door, slamming it as she left.

Martin crumpled into his chair, weeping.

Dr. Rivers came to him, placing her hand on his shoulder for comfort.

“This too shall pass,” she said.

“I’m a damn fool!” Martin shouted.

“Memory Shock Syndrome is not common, but it affects 1-8% of people who insert capsules from those who aren’t blood relatives. It causes acute and chronic pain, including split personality disorder. That’s why we recommend memory capsules only be shared between close blood relatives. They share similar genetics that help prevent negative reactions to memory capsule insertion.”

“Too late! I’ve lost Ruth and now I’ve lost her. I can’t bear being alone!” Martin cried.

“You’re going to be released soon. Miss Gonzalez decided not to press criminal charges. I can’t say about civil.”

“Why?”

“We can manage memory shock syndrome through medication and therapy, but there is no cure. You are going to experience lingering effects for the rest of your life, including severe depression, suicidality, and ongoing mental and physical pain. She said that was more than fitting as punishment.”

Martin did not hear, the bloodied pastel dress on the table distracted him.

The End



May 14, 2022 03:43

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