TOPICAL DIS/ORDER, FICTION
A M N E S I A
by MERCY FERRARS
Water simmers in a small kitchenette. I watch Onyx as he takes two cups from a small cupboard and puts tea leaves into a filter. My hands tremble slightly. I try to suppress the tremor. Remembering what?
I once again find myself standing in the middle of my burning, disintegrating world, in front of my sculpture. All is carved in stone save for her hands; all fixed, unchanging. But her fingers, her fingertips, they curve so delicately that you could easily miss it; as if she were longing to touch someone or to cry out for someone to be with her. Her eyes stare motionlessly into the distance. “Skye.” I spin and spin. The world begins to spiral. I look down at myself, at my arms, no birthmarks, no scars. I turn my left wrist and look at my bracelet. Raven. The truth rings loud and clear through the digits.
Onyx puts the two cups down in front of us on a small mahogany table. Amidst the projection of a summer’s day, he confides in me about how he remembers his life before Amnesia when he is being tattooed.
“It’s just little fragments; names, voices, short images, scenes, scents, touches.” He looks at me thoughtfully. “And over and over, a face. And excruciating pain. Just fragments, but enough to make you shiver. To make you need more.”
“Do you think the pain triggers the memories?”
“Yes, but it’s never long or intense enough to really get a grip. Always just a moment out of reach.”
“Have you told anyone about this?”
His nostrils flare briefly. “Anterograde is a dangerous place, Raven. We may have checked ourselves in here, but Father’s methods are cruel.”
“I know,” I say quietly. “Before I woke up in the white room, I was in some kind of apocalypse where everything was consumed by flames, collapsing in on itself. I was covered in blood and in pain, but I wasn’t part of that world. I was somehow outside of it, I saw it being annihilated without being able to intervene. As if someone wanted to destroy everything that surrounded me without destroying me with it.”
Onyx stares at me. “You remember the extraction process?” He leans forward. “Raven. Nobody remembers the procedure.”
“Well … I do.” I take a sip of jasmine tea. I can feel his gaze linger on me.
“So … if it is that dangerous to talk about it, why are you telling me?” I ask. “I’m only a stranger walking in here because of mere curiosity, a naked, ghostly stranger. I am not even a person.”
“I saw you. I saw you walking in through the glass pane, just a shadow, and then when I went to look, I found you standing there looking at yourself with a sense of exploration, and doubt. And I think that resonated with my fragmented memories, and the way they make me feel: Like I am stuck in between two places, not allowed into one and not fully present in the other. Instead of becoming whole at last, I am now atomised all across Anterograde and time.”
“I feel the same way,” I say. Seconds pass, music flows, and shadows caress my face in turn with light beams. My right thumb gently brushes over my wristband. “A memory for a memory?” I smile. “Well—the only one I have to give.”
Onyx nods. “Yes, okay.”
“What was the memory that came with your first tattoo?”
He leans back, a lock falls into his face. He’s beautiful, I think. As much as I can understand beauty anyway. He closes his eyes. “My first tattoo made me remember a holiday,” he says. “Somewhere by the beach. But it was winter, and the sea was rough. Nobody was around at first. I saw flashes of a face, my face, but much younger, rounder, untainted. I remember someone calling out my name, except I could not really grasp it. Like dream logic, I knew I was being called, but couldn’t actually hear my name. I was called after because I had walked towards the ocean, curious about its rough waves and its depth. Someone, I think it was my mother, followed me and yanked around my hand. She yelled at me, her face silhouetted against the sky. A man ran up behind her and softly picked me up while pushing her away. I remember being hurried away on the man’s arm, while my mother, in tears, fell further and further behind us. And then, there was one last outcry before the vision went dark.”
“What was the tattoo?” I ask.
He looks at me for a moment, then he nods compliantly. “Is it okay if I—?” He gestures for his jumper to come off. I nod. Onyx turns his bare back to me and I let out a soft cry. He turns to me quickly, my hand cupped in front of my mouth, and is alarmed. “Raven?”
“Wait, show me again,” I say, trying to thwart a vague lump of emotion which sucks the breath out of me. A huge tree stretches across his back. Peonies sprout from it, covering his shoulders. Goosebumps run over his skin, and with trembling fingers I trace the lines of the tattoo. He shudders slightly under my touch.
“I think I was dreaming about you,” I say faintly.
He turns his head to one side as if he hadn’t heard properly. “What do you mean by dreamed? No one dreams in stage one of Amnesia.”
“I don’t,” I add. “But I’ve definitely dreamt of you. During what you call extraction.” My heart pounds up my throat. “It was like you said, I could not see a face, it was all blurred out, but there was someone with your exact tattoo trying to talk to me. Except … I wasn’t me.”
“What did my dream self say?”
“You called me a name.”
“ What name?”
I hesitate. I’ve never spoken my secret out loud.
“Skye. You’ve been calling out the name Skye.”
“I don’t remember anyone called Skye,” he answers. Disappointed, my heart drops into the shadows. “You must have,” I urge.
“Raven.” His eyes pierce through me, suffused with pity and confusion. “This was your subconscious trying to communicate with you. Of course it would try to cling to the memories that are supposed to be extracted and annulled. That is why Amnesia is the most formidable drug on the market. If that name was a memory of yours, your brain found shapes and faces that would appeal to your attention, that would try to make you stay in a place designed to be escaped.”
Into the mahogany silence, I ask a question that had burnt my tongue since the day I awoke. “Is it possible that I was Skye?” My fingers tremble, I feel cold all of a sudden. He leaps to his feet and starts pacing back and forth in the store. I watch him with the unease of vulnerability in a world which has not yet taught me trust. He tends to the peonies, which look almost synthetic in the white sterile light gleaming in from the sector. Not as though they were made of plastic, but as though they could glitch at any moment, vanish, leaving behind merely ones and zeros. As he waters them, he assures, “Nothing is out of the realm of possibility, Raven. But you have to be careful who you tell about these things. Something as delicate as a name can have serious consequences in a place like Anterograde. Father hears everything and sees everything.”
“That’s why we shared a secret for a secret,” I whisper. “You hold my safety and I hold yours.”
He chuckles as he trims away dead leaves. “That’s more than I’ve probably ever trusted anyone here.”
“Besides,” I say. “Even if we did remember. Even if all our memories were to come
back to us all at once. Weren’t we the ones who signed us into Amnesia? And if so, wouldn’t the worst case be simply that it didn’t work? That we must resume our lives with the full weight of our past? Why does it sound like we are prisoners here? Why should I be silenced? Why do four letters drive me to the brink of madness?”
“Those are a lot of questions for someone who was technically just born, like, yesterday.”
I stand up, angry now. “But why shouldn’t I get my answers? I am doing this for her, I am trying to keep to the rules because she thought it would save us. Because she thought we were beyond saving if we remembered who we once were. But I am not a prisoner. If I so choose, I could walk out of here at any given moment. Tell me it isn’t so.”
Onyx puts down the scissors and turns to me. “Raven, Amnesia is an experimental project, unprecedented, the first of its kind. And we are its guinea pigs. Not the first generation, but hardly the tenth. Amnesia is still in the process of becoming, adapting, and stabilising. Technically, they are still beta-testing. People don’t admit it, but they do remember sometimes. When they, Father and the others, realise that the procedure has had no effect on you, they will try again and again, with ever more ruthless methods, until all that remains of you is a languishing husk. Until your lamps are alight, but you have retreated so far into yourself that you can no longer find your way back. Amnesia is like a lobotomy; except it’s not performed with a pick. They won’t allow failure. We are prisoners and this is life or death. The only way to get out is to go through the treatment, be stamped officially sane, walk free and mended through the same glass doors you once entered. That’s the only way.” He shakes his head in distress and adds: “One day, we will walk away from this place, you and I. One day we will turn our backs to it, and we will forget. And we will just live.”
“But I don’t understand,” I say. “Why did she think Amnesia would save us? Why did she surrender us to a prison?”
“She couldn’t have known, Raven. If you were offered a beta of a new drug, at no cost, with the promise of releasing your trauma, wouldn’t you try it? She was assured she would be safe and taken care of, a new chance at living to become you. And so did he, whoever he was. Considering how much they both must have fought to survive, I think moral judgments are out of place here.”
From the outside, an alarm horn abruptly blares through the sector and it ruptures the stillness inside. Second by second the chatter of countless excited people approaches Earth & Rumble. I look through the lowered blinds and see my group returning, Jamie bringing up the rear. Jamie. I had completely forgotten about Jamie. Hastily I turn to Onyx. “I think that’s my cue to leave.” Onyx smiles and somewhere inside me a single butterfly flutters. “It’s been my pleasure.”—“Take good care of my secret,” I say. There is a strange familiarity between us that doesn’t feel like today is only the first day of my life. He steps towards me and takes me in his arms. I let my face sink into his jacket and breathe in deeply. “I will keep Skye safe,” he murmurs, inaudibly almost, into the embrace.
The moment lasts for a heartbeat until Jamie knocks on the front door.
Eight—“A Fire in the Ruins”
“Are you excited?” asks Aubrey, my neighbour, as she works her way through my thick hair and rebraids it in fiery red. She is suffused with a jittery glow, as if she is nervous enough for two. I hesitate with my answer, but in the air that follows Aubrey’s words is the pressure to say yes. In some ways, Anterograde is a giant panopticon. Everyone is watching everyone else. All the more risky and, to say the least, reckless it had been to trust a stranger so much. In Onyx’ presence, I had felt a peculiar familiarity that made my words spill forth before I could stifle them. As if my soul had reared up and reached out to him. It felt like I had known him all my life. I hadn’t made up the stranger in my peculiar dream. I could hardly imagine my brain fantasising such a detail as his tattoo, without clue, without reason. But it simply couldn’t be. Why would Amnesia fail me, of all people?
Aubrey’s touch feels gentle in my hair, but beneath her gentleness is curiosity and growing scepticism. A week ago I had been transferred to the periphery, to a flat of my own. With the flat came full authority over how I spent my days—within Anterograde’s borders, of course. Aubrey had lived in my sector for two years. For me, only two months had passed. During all that time, no one had ever told me how long it would take for Amnesia’s subjects to transform into functioning members of society. Two years is a frighteningly long time, and it almost seems to me that Aubrey is merging more with her life here by the second. Perhaps she is scared of what might come after.
All this time, without seeing the sun even once.
Today is the Ceremonical.
The Ceremonical is Amnesia’s rite of passage from sterile hospital rooms to untidy flats, from shaved heads to box braids, from shells to a first inkling of people, from phase one to phase two. Among Amnesia’s loyal residents, to its blissful, memoryless subjects like Aubrey, it signifies a day full of prideful ceremonies. I wonder why hardly anyone finds it odd that we need a day to celebrate becoming people again. Maybe, just perhaps, we should have never been less. If you take away the status of personhood just to re-ascribe it later, it is not a privilege deserving of celebration, it is the return of what had always been ours even when it was taken. But most of Amnesia’s residents do not think that far. They have accepted their fate, but it is more than just acceptance: They fully trust their former selves’ decisions.
Sometimes I am struck by the desire to find out why the situation is so different for me. I find it hard to reconcile that it was really her own decision to sign us up for Amnesia. Especially knowing that the programme is still in a testing phase and carries unknown—or perhaps uncommunicated—risks, it is of utmost significance that her motivations must have been so much greater than Amnesia’s vulnerability to errors and accidents. I don’t want to doubt her. I reckon she doubted herself the most. But the feeling of being a prisoner in this place never leaves my bones. The periphery hardly changes anything. I have passed all the tests they have run on us by neurologists and psychiatrists, but my passing was certainly not because Amnesia had affected me like it was supposed to. My memories may have been suppressed, silenced like muted waves, but just like the waves keep flooding the lands regardless, my memories still persist beneath it all. Now that I have gained partial freedom, I plan on learning how to access them, to find back to who I was and join forces with her to escape this prison.
She is everything, even after she split us in two. A shuttered house, laying still in dusty darkness. But through the fine cracks in the panels of wood nailed to the windows gently shines the spring light. The incandescence of the sun reflects upon her dark skin, iridescent with devotion and solicitude. Even if she can’t believe it, she has always been worthy of the light. And the light would never be daunted by her night terrors. If anything, it would always try to immerse her in gold. It would wash over her scars and turn the pain within them into a distant hum. She is worth fighting for and I will do everything I can to find her again. Skye.
After a wearisome speech by Father, we wait in a line of twos to be taken through the ceremony by our chaperones. We wear white suits that nearly make us blend in with the white of the walls. Next to me stands Aubrey, clutching her arm in mine, with an excited twinkle in her eyes, her gaze fixed forward. Behind us stands Jamie with his neighbour Phineas, who is not as excited as Aubrey. His gaze is steady and distant. I turn and try to catch Jamie’s attention. The Ceremonical is not a day for personality. Our faces are neutral, our hands steady, and our clothes devoid of colour. It is nothing more than a public spectacle, a break in the monotony, a demonstration of power under the guise of betterment. Today is not a day for one’s own opinions, sarcastic humour, or deep feelings. I imagine we are actors merely playing out a scene. Hardly anything other than the rest of the strange movie that has been playing out around me for months. Jamie’s face betrays no emotion as his eyes find mine and I recognize in them the same frustration, yet the same grotesque amusement that I also feel. Jamie may not remember anything that happened before Amnesia, and spends much of his days in Sector 8, but he is still delighted by the seriousness that everyone is putting on today. He puckers up a corner of his mouth to grin, and we nod sagely at each other.
The crowd moves forward. Hundreds of my sisters and brothers dressed in white on the left, with their chaperones dressed in dark green by their right sides, slowly marching towards the surgeries on the left wing of the clinic. There, we wait in silence and watch the people entering and exiting the booths. I try to ascertain if they look any different from before, turned from a crinkled paper wristband to a fleshed out person. From atomization to substance, carrying a promising glow of completeness. But this isn’t graduation and we are far from completion. My thoughts melt away from the scene, little by little overcome with the reverberation of Onyx’ words, who told me he felt more diffused the longer he resided in Anterograde. Perhaps we’re a Benjamin Button case, originally complete, just to deteriorate into the resolution of our particles. Truth seems to lie just a needle prick away, yearning to be found and understood, and every day that we settle into Amnesia and play our part, it fades more and more into the darkness. I won’t speak my doubts aloud, but perhaps ruins are just ruins in the eyes of the wrong people. Maybe from another angle, they could be castles. Maybe from yet another angle, there’s no need for them to be anything other than ruins. Aren’t ruins a treasure of history and beauty? Through the ages they filled to the brim with depth and plays of light and shadows and traces of faces and feelings and memories. Ruins can still be a home, because it is not their fault they had been forged out of afire walls. It is not their responsibility to defend against the weights of the world—it is the world’s responsibility to become something that needs no defence against. It’s easier to burden the ruins with rebuilding, to have the gutted home believe it needs Amnesia’s full demolition and reconstruction to be of capacity again. Nobody inquires within the ruins what caused the fire, because it is not considered of importance. All which matters is that the ruins serve society again.
Finally, it’s Aubrey’s and my turn to enter the tattoo booth. The blinding white light burns into my pupils and reminds me of the unforgiving sterility in the clinic rooms. A nurse in a white coat welcomes us festively. Aubrey is notably fidgety and emits an excited squeak. She grabs my arm, her face lit up. “Raven, I am so honoured to be your chaperone and walk with you on this important day. God, it’s so exhilarating, I still fondly reminisce about how tall and grounded I felt when I got my tattoo. Like I was armed against anything that could happen to me.” I nod and contort my lips into an emotionless line of a smile. The nurse smiles gently at Aubrey. “One of the most beautiful days in Anterograde, isn’t it?” She scans my bracelet and types on her computer. Then she turns and rolls toward me, seated in her rotating chair. “Raven, I’m now going to listen to your heart and lungs.” I nod and let the exam wash over me. The nurse listens for a moment and smiles. “That sounds fantastic. How do you feel?” I watch her hands as she assembles a complex looking device. Aubrey nudges me insistently. I plaster on my broken smile anew and nod quickly. “Yeah, um, I couldn’t be better. The peripherals are terrific and Aubrey is such an accommodating neighbour. I’m very glad she was assigned to me.”—“Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself while I prepare the machine,” the nurse replies. In another world, she could have been my sister. She is also dark-skinned, her hair short like mine after the erasure process, but dyed platinum blonde. She wears a surgical face mask, but I can make out the outlines of several piercings and, very obviously, a diamond-shaped dermal anchor on her forehead. Her offer feels like a trial. As if the premise of the tattoo was that she could be sure I had cultivated a personality. But I know the game. I have the words prepared and know how to satisfy her request to perfection. She explains the procedure to me, and the device stamps my ID tattoo onto my skin in seconds that hardly outlast the exhale sprouting from my mouth. A sharp sensation runs through me like a lightning stroke, my skin blazes like burnt timber. Within seconds, it returns to its original state. The redness of the tattoo first turns to black and then disappears altogether. I look up to the nurse. “Did something go wrong?” She shakes her head confidently. “Don’t worry, everything is exactly as it should be. The ink is clear and can only be captured by our scanners. We don’t want to brand you like cattle, now, do we.” I cannot help but think that that is what we are in this place. As we walk out of the booth, I catch a glimpse of Jamie’s face, giving away nothing as he is walking in.
The festivities are in full swing as we return to the main hall. I keep an eye out for Jamie, but can’t find him. My face aches with polite smiles, and my heart with pretence. I long for my home in the periphery. Even if I don’t plan on decorating it and making it into a real home, it’s the safest place in Anterograde to drop my act and just be me. From large windows it offers a view of the streets in the northern periphery, exposing illuminated apartments full of people in search of themselves.
The Ceremonical party reminds me of the roaring twenties I read about in history books. I sit at a distance, legs crossed, listening to the blasting music, and I feel like crying. I look down at my hand holding a glass of champagne. It’s almost as if nothing has happened. But as undetectable as the burn on my skin may be, nobody fathoms what’s going on with me either. Not even Jamie knows about the secrets I keep. Countless nights in Sector 8 may have made us realise that we are both misfits in Anterograde, but I can neither trust Jamie with my life nor put him in danger of risking his own.
The abrupt clink of a glass being set down on the table in front of me snaps me out of my self-pity. I look up and Onyx is sitting next to me, legs crossed, one hand on a glass of whiskey.
“Madness, such self-deception.”
He turns his gaze to me, points to my wrist, and says, “So how was the first time?”
“You can hardly call it a first time. Or do you burn your friends with invisible ink?”
“Didn’t think so. Disgust sticks to my skin since I’ve left that fucking booth. Just a number in the system. It was kind of obvious from the start. But to celebrate this absurd perversity as if it were a triumph.” I shrug my shoulders. “You honestly want to run away.” I stare at my wrist, then turn my gaze thoughtfully toward the ceiling. “Months without sun and grass make me doubt my body even remembers how to run any longer. Or the scent of spring air. Or the luminescence of cities at night.”
“The periphery actually does a good job of mimicking the latter.”
“Yeah, well, an imitation is not the original.” I shake my head. “The knockoff can be an exact copy and yet it feels like nothing.”
“Is that how you feel about us?”
I look at Onyx. There’s that word. Us. I’ve got the faintest feeling he does not mean the hundreds of people down here. He means us—him and I. There’s that feeling again. The curvature of his neck. The strength of his hands, and a homesick memory of the fine art and tenderness that springs from them.
And a mystical vision of being one.
As if my skin was burning where once fingerprints left a trace, even if Amnesia had etched any history out of me. There is the feeling in my stomach, and the urge of my heart to lean toward him.
“We are not copies,” I declare into the swarm of our jolly brothers and sisters dancing in blissful forgetfulness. I am enclosed in the moment, becoming it. “We are not copies,” I repeat, further solidifying the pronouncement of an epiphany. “We have never been. I think that is the original sin.”
“To some, it’s sin, to some beauty.”
“Books tell me that’s how the world works. The flower’s colour is bound to the perspective from which you behold it. To some, it’s the shade of blushed cheeks, to others a razing fire. And they will respond to it correspondingly.”
A moment passes, filled with the sempiternity of a threefold rising and sinking sun.
“Raven, there is something you need to know.” Onyx’ confession nearly disappears in the thunderous room brimming over with life. In his eyes reason enough to drown, I look at him ready to be submerged.
Nine—“Meant to Feel Your Heartbeat Skip”
There is an uneasy silence in the pod racing toward sector 22. Onyx and I sit silently next to each other while the southern and eastern peripheries rush past us. Every now and then I notice his eyes on me. Suddenly, I am a glass house and he can see right through me, into the hollows and the attic of my presence, reaching beyond my map of myself. Or perhaps I just want him to.
It is a strange feeling to be this palpable, like a promise that I’d finally prompt a reflection in the puddle waiting at the end of the world. It’s the antithesis to what I felt in the clinic when the nurse branded my ID onto my arm. It is such a new sensation. Suddenly I am God—I am the blueprint and every sample, a spiritual force in which beginnings and endings flow into one, the merger of worlds prior and subsequent.
“Why can’t you tell me about what you saw?” I ask quietly into the darkness as the clinic falls further and further behind us.
“Because it’s better if I show you,” Onyx replies. “For you to see it firsthand. I guess I just don’t have the words.”
The pod comes to a stop before Earth & Rumble. The shop is dark, as is the sector. Just a dim light, the brilliance of a distant moon, every few yards shining a foggy glimmer on nothing. As we walk through the front door of the shop, we are eclipsed in darkness. The dim light offers but a trace of Onyx’ face, like a fever dream I catch a glimpse of his lips or his hands in the seconds between his movements. A fragmented stroboscope figure, until he switches on a soft light in the backroom and ushers me in.
He paces back and forth through the room.
“Onyx.” I sit down on the chair. “Whatever it is, you know you can trust me with it.”
A few seconds pass, then he turns around. “Do you trust me, Raven?”
“Do you trust me enough to tattoo on you?”
“I mean, yes, but… why?”
“It’s the only way I can show you.”
“Did you have a vision?”
My stomach turns. “Okay.”
Absorbed in thought, Onyx begins to assemble his tattoo machine. He’s avoiding my gaze. Meanwhile, I skim through his flash, with trembling fingers and a fluttering heart. Without looking up, he goes, “the king’s card.”
“The king’s card. It needs to be that one. There’s a memory attached and I am sure you have it too. You were there, after all.”
It’s just an ordinary king’s card. But I reckon most life-changing experiences were once ordinary before they became significant.
Onyx disinfects the soft skin on my left lower arm, and places the stencil. He waits for my confirmation, still averting his gaze. His fingers tremble slightly touching my skin, even through latex gloves. I just nod and he registers the movement in the corner of his eye.
“Are you ready?”
“Onyx, look at me.” Fear ridden, he lifts his gaze and his eyes meet mine. “I’m ready,” I say.
The first stab of the needle comes sharply and abruptly. I refuse to let it show on my face. Instead, I pay attention to his hands, which now run smoothly over my skin. He is confident in his job. It’s his safe space, the only thing that makes sense to him in Anterograde. Four lines later, he looks at me again, his eyes full of anticipation. “Anything?” he asks. I shake my head.
“Oh, okay.” Disappointed, he continues.
It happens as he completes the king’s face. I am overcome by a sudden deafening sensation of thunder and chaos and war, as if someone has fired a cannon that’s come crashing down on me. At first, it’s just violent scraps of images frayed at their seams. A psychotic slide show that makes me nauseous, laced with darkness and blurriness. The world vertically resolves into air like pixels and digits. The ground beneath my feet seems to come alive with a tremble. I gasp. From what seems a lifetime away, I hear his voice.
“You have to take control of it,” he urges. “Don’t let the world disintegrate or you won’t be able to access the memory. Once you’ve got it, let go, fall into it.”
Are you kidding me? Seizing control just to let go? I close my eyes, and I try to focus on a shard of glass firing at me with prismatic beams. I try to look into its core, to take hold of its axiomatic force. A glimmering image emerges, the worn king card of a skat deck, on the back of which someone has written with a black marker. Before I can reach for it, I am violently snatched from the present and hurled into the memory with a jolt. Two people, two hands, exploring each other’s faces, affectionately caressing each other’s skin, in the comfort of a home. She sits on his lap with her legs outstretched, and he holds her head in his hands and leans his forehead against hers. The memory is sepia-toned with a tinge of colour, and I can walk around in it, look at it from all vantage points, but I cannot see it from their perspectives. The two linger for a moment. She wears her hair in all its naturalness, framing her soft face and green eyes like a picture frame made of black Canadian maple, the most expensive of its kind. His skin lacks art.
She reaches for her favourite book and pulls out a playing card. On its back, words in black marker. She hands him the card. I read over his shoulder. “In every dimension, in every lifeline. Remember me.” A tingling sensation creeps over my skin. His eyes fill with weeping tears. Ashamed, he looks to the ground, much like Onyx did ever since we left the Ceremonical ball. She takes his hand with concern. “Hey. What’s wrong?”
My world shatters.
“I’m just a ruin, a shell of what I could have been, a broken home. I worry I’ll wreck you too.”
Stardust from an imploded world streams down on us.
“Rhys.” She searches his gaze. “Then we’ll live together in the ruins. I’m a fucking fortress, walls so high I can’t see the sky sometimes. I find the ruins all the more alluring with their candour, how they lie fallow under a huge vault and the stars and the sun. I want nothing more than to sit with you in the ruins.”
Desperately I try to become part of the moment, part of her. I falter and scream. The scene suddenly disappears into the vast blackness, devoid of air, which eclipses the horizon. Around me in the darkness of undefined space sparkle the shards of countless other memories, the only witnesses to my scream into sweeping seclusion.
“Raven.” Onyx’ voice is muffled as if he was calling from underwater. “Raven.” His cries grow louder. A blow to my core pulls me back to the present. “Raven.” Slowly his face comes back into focus, anxiously looking at me as he holds my hand. My heart races, with love, with confusion, with trust.
“I’m here,” I say, still gasping from the abrupt drag. “I’m here.”
He holds my hand for a second, then releases it, only to clasp my face. I wonder if there is another me in this room at this moment, one that is trying to become one with me, to feel what I feel. Suddenly we’re Skye and Rhys, and we’re locked in the moment, forehead to forehead, just like them.
“Did you see it?” he asks quietly.
I nod, raising my arm to look at the finished tattoo of the king.
We sit in the studio all night, until Anterograde’s artificial sun rises in the morning hours and we hear soft voices from the outside as the sector fills with people. Inside Earth & Rumble, time is upset. Our skin is now coated in recovered memories. Together we travelled to Skye and Rhy’s first encounter in a psychiatric clinic, where their borderline and severe depression led them to the same stupid art therapy class. We saw them become attached to one another, each other’s safehouse in a war of their mind. We visited their wedding by the beach, accompanied by the tranquillity of the summer sea and the song of birds, and their honeymoon by the same sea in the winter. We saw them seeking refuge in the dockside pub, warming up next to the crackling fire, near their feet a three-legged dog, each a glass of sea buckthorn liquor in front of them on the table. We saw the tears at night, the unprompted darkness that tried to choke Rhys to death, and the pain which cut right through Skye’s heart of glass whenever people abandoned her. But she knew he’d be there, and he knew she’d keep him a finger’s breadth apart from death always. And as little as that seemed, it was the most they had ever had. Until one day, without warning, Rhys attempted to take his own life, and he almost succeeded. That day, Skye’s foundation broke to pieces, as she understood that he intended to leave her after all. Now she could never be sure of his presence any longer, and it weighed down on her so heavily that she pushed him away. And she felt selfish, as she so often does with her condition. Attending to her own needs makes her feel guilty, because she thinks she doesn’t deserve it, so she visits him every day in the hospital despite breaking up the marriage. Self doubt creeps into her thoughts at night. She can never get things right. So every night from then on, she tries to smother her pain in drugs, which make her feel euphoric and easy for a while. Until they stop working, and in despair she takes them all at once. She ends up in the same clinic as him, three floors apart. After being in hospital care and speech therapy for a few weeks, a strange woman visits both Skye and Rhys on the same day, only hours apart. She offers them to partake in a trial of a new drug. She says there had already been ten rounds of tests, and in each one, they had a 100% success rate. She says it will cost them nothing, but they’d have an entire life to gain. On the same day, just hours apart, Rhys and Skye both signed a contract with Amnesia. While Rhys had been released into the care of the Amnesia program, Skye battled with a sudden collapse. Her body went into shutdown. For three months, she lost her speech. Her muscles felt afire for months. Nobody knew what was wrong with her, until Amnesia’s scientists contacted the hospital once more, promising them that their drug could cure the psychosomatic illness from which she suffered. They said, “it’s not unusual in borderliners. They’re so intense that their bodies carry much more stress.” They used that word. Borderliners. They did not say people suffering from borderline personality disorder. To them, the borderliners, the depressed, the bipolar, they were just attributes to categorise people by, but they hardly understood the pain or knew how to see them as people. But the accumulation of just that pain made them the perfect subjects for Amnesia. A year after Rhys, Skye found herself recording a video message for her future self, suddenly suffused with a new found mania.
Having relived our lives in just one night, there is no way for us to wait until Amnesia has forged us into whatever they need us to be for their drug to be greenlit in the market. We understand, now, that it was never about us. Maybe it was, for a while. Maybe in the beginning, when Father sat down in his lab with a vision for a better future, a genuine desire to help people who are weighed down by life. But a slaughterhouse is not a home, and a smiling pig on a can filled with its torn flesh cannot trick you into thinking otherwise.
Epilogue—“Obsidian or Moonstone”
There was a choice to be made. We didn’t know what the choice really asked of us. In the beginning, there was a paragraph read to us before signing the contract. The paragraph stated that the memory erasure would include the ties and connections we had cultivated over time. A logical consequence, but not disclosing the detail had previously led to legal action. Even if we didn’t talk in weeks before signing up for Amnesia, Rhys and I knew that they would delete us from each other’s map. There was no doubt that we would gravitate back towards each other in Anterograde and find each other again. I just had to remember his face and the softness of his fingers on my trembling skin. As deadlocked as our love was, we had pledged our loyalty to it. We risked our lives on the premise of privilege, assuming we were somehow different enough that our bond would outlast Amnesia’s powerful science. A confidence likely born from lived proximity to death. Hubris and its flirtation with the fall.
And we did find each other. But not for the reasons we anticipated. We found each other because Amnesia failed us. We had never reached the desired state of innocence to begin with. My memory erasure wasn’t complete. There had always been a picture of him, and a name from my past. What had drawn me to his art, and made me feel safe in his presence was the same inexplicable feeling of familiarity I had felt when I met Rhys for the first time. But what made me stay was to find my dream pictured on his skin, and the strange and beautiful way in which his art bestowed him with visions. Finding back to each other meant finding back to ourselves. The two had always been mutually constitutive. The real choice was adamant. Had the drug worked on us and we would not have felt the pain of knowing what we lost, we could have found someone refined and lighthearted. But there are some depths which cannot be replaced. We don’t get to rid ourselves of our lives but choose to keep the people in it. Or the magic or the beauty or the richness of our souls. A choice between abundant obsidian history or rectification in a moonstone coloured cage was waiting to be made. Instead, we fashioned our own truth from melancholy: that Amnesia would cure the grief running through us like water. That love would feel the same, outliving our extinction, even if its coordinates had vanished from the sky.
Three years ago, we disappeared from Anterograde. Perhaps through a crack in the walls. Perhaps by becoming someone else. Unpersonhood taught us to craft replicas that were true to detail. Just as we were once copies, we now obliterated those who had branded us like cattle. Not by choice, but as an end to an end. Our escape was not a bloodshed. We fought our way to the glass doors, led by the principle of our redemption. The burns on our wrists where the laser seared our ID tag started to fade into the cold wind of what must have been a December morning. The sun broke its fingers on our skin. And our eyes scorched upon her touch.
EDITED BY LARA HELENA.
A M N E S I A is a three-part short story and will be released as a paperbook and e‑book in late 2022 / early 2023. More information on www.mercyferrars.de and on Instagram (@snkllrpublications).
Mercy Ferrars is a MA graduate in philosophy and writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction essays. She is madly in love with Scotland, dogs and Bojack Horseman.