Hippocampus (‘Numbers’ short story collection)

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A cloud of smog hangs over the city. A large mound of waste can be seen in the distance, its size is so vast that the top of the pile isn’t even visible. Noise pollution echoes throughout the streets. The early risers are out and about, shop workers are turning the ‘we are closed’ signs around to reveal that they are open, and children are making their way to school. 23-year-old Zach is lying sleeping on the pavement of a backstreet. He is dressed in scruffy clothes, covered in his own vomit and using a bottle of alcohol as a pillow. Drool is visible on his stubbly chin, and he is clutching a touch pad device loosely with his grubby hands. His dark greasy hair is skewwhiff, dirt is living underneath his long fingernails, and his toes are poking through the holes of his worn out shoes.

Zach awakens with a groan as the sunlight floods into his eyes causing him to squint. Holding his head as the unpleasant effects of the night before begin to set in, he gets to his feet slowly and begins to drag himself down the street swinging the almost empty bottle of alcohol with each stride along with the touch pad device. Coming into the City, screens of all sizes are plastered across the walls. They transmit adverts, political statements and all sorts of different things. One advert shows a shining silver cylinder tube with the slogan ‘the speediest, sleekest and sexiest car yet. The Spylinder 2450 is a must buy’. Another advert shows a touch pad device that can fold down from a4 to the size of a key, a deep male voice speaks over the visuals saying, “14.6 M Pac is the most portable memory pad to date. Only 50 Level 10 Memories at your local Memory Pad Store. 20% off for a limited time. Upgrade today!” Congested roads are filled with Spyllinder’s that transport people from a to b. These cars run on tracks that cover the entire city. Tall buildings of remarkable shapes seem to be mostly made of glass. In spite of the pollution, the City is still a shining, sparkling, futuristic vision.

Zach enters a shop and browses the sweets aisle looking at the prices. He selects a small chocolate bar and walks towards the memory machines. He queues for a few minutes before a machine is available. Pulling out a wire he attaches his touch pad device to the memory machine. “Please scan your items and place them in the bagging area.” Zach follows the instructions of the recorded voice. “Level 0.4 memories. Selecting memory. Memory ‘winning a bid on ebay’ selected. Payment complete.” Zach removes the lead and leaves the shop opening the chocolate bar and immediately scoffing it down hungrily.

Slumping over a metal bridge Zach walks towards an old homeless man who is grasping a damaged touch pad device that looks quite similar to Zach’s, but somewhat more bulky and older looking. On the device the man has written squiggly words that read ‘Any Happy Memories?’ The man seeing Zach walking towards him looks up and says, “Best way to cheer yourself up, is to cheer someone else up. Any chance of a happy memory son?” Zach responds gloomily “Haven’t got any mate” and continues to slump along. The homeless man watches with a sad expression as yet another person passes by with no compassion or care, but Zach isn’t just another person to him, which saddens him even more.

Sitting on a metal bench in a park with yellowed grass, Zach sets the bottle down with a clunk and takes out the lead from his pocket again. Attaching the lead to the touch pad device, he then pulls his long sideburn out of the way to uncover a hole beside his ear. He inserts the other end of the lead into this opening, his eyes roll back showing only the whites of his eyeballs, and the screen of the touch pad device lights up and reads, ‘Input detected. Downloading Memories’. His eyes return to normal and on the screen he presses to view his memory history, which reveals a list of memories with titles like ‘10th birthday’, ‘Christmas’, and ‘First Kiss’. He selects ‘10th Birthday’, and he watches the clip back.

Zach watches the touch pad device as it shows like a film from his perspective. He can see that he is in a garden with short green grass and a flowerbed is located at the back containing orchids, sunflowers, pansies and hyacinths. The sky is blue with a few white fluffy clouds. Turning around he can see a yellow and red bouncy castle with happy children jumping around laughing. A table is laid out with dishes of cocktail sausages, sausage rolls, cheese sandwiches, nuts, crisps, buns, cake and soft drinks. A woman of about 30 comes in to view with a box wrapped in shiny blue wrapping paper tied with a red bow. Handing it over she wishes Zach a happy birthday. Reaching towards it Zach takes it in his hands and rips away the paper instantly. Inside the box is a shining silver bell. Zach takes it out and holds it before looking back up to the woman and asking ‘what is it Mummy?’ Gesturing to Zach to follow her she brings him around the side of the orange brick house, and standing against the wall is a brilliant sparkling green bike. Zach runs towards it touching the seat, the wheels, and the handle bars, before turning back to his Mum and joyfully saying ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is the best birthday ever!” His Mum beams at Zach and then the memory fades to black.

Coming back to reality Zach’s eyes return to normal and he skims through the memories on the device again, before selecting ‘Recent Memories’ which brings up a selection of different files. Zach presses on a memory, which brings him back to the grotty flat of the night before.

Sitting in a dark grotty flat Zach skims his surroundings, showing pills, syringes and beer cans scattered about the floor. The furniture is old and tatty and nothing matches, the grubby curtains are drawn, and a few LCD screens hang on the walls like posters, transmitting derogatory images of women or fast racing Sypylinder’s. Zach is holding a drink in one hand. He looks down to his other hand unclenching it to expose a bright colour-changing pill. Focussing on the pill it looks like the galaxies and stars and planets of the universe. He lifts it towards his mouth and swallows it. A distorted voice echoes ominously ‘This new drug will overflow you with happy memories.’ The loud bass music and picture becomes fragmented before the memory pad states that it is a ‘Defective Memory’.

Back to reality Zach sets the memory pad beside him crossly. He appears thoughtful for a moment and places his hands in his pockets, only to find that something is already there. Confused he pulls out a number of photographs depicting a forest. He doesn’t know where the photographs came from or what they mean but he feels perplexed and curious, there is something familiar about them.

Elsewhere a young well-dressed woman Victoria is standing in the grotty flat that Zach had been in the night before. She observes her surroundings with disgust and appears very out of place with her high heels, long painted nails and expensive looking jewellery. Her phone rings and she answers with a forceful voice, “This place is actually disgusting. Zach’s memory debt has increased significantly after last night, and don’t you worry I’ll ensure he has absolutely no recollection of his existence.” Victoria hangs up the phone and sighs in annoyance before she hears a knock on the door. She makes her way through the messy flat, turning up her nose while kicking the bottles out of the way and she opens the door. Looking the caller up and down she seems almost offended by their appearance.

The caller has a hood up and looks at the ground hiding his face. Victoria can’t identify the man but informs him that Zach isn’t at home. She tries to shut the door but the caller stops her. In a muffled voice the man asks, “Where is he? Please Miss I need to find him. Maybe I could… I could trade a memory with you?” Victoria smirks mockingly at the man before he tries to explain what he needs. The caller continues, “I know we didn’t have many happy memories left but… sometimes in desperation to get what we want, we choose to forget what’s important.” The unimpressed woman looks at him insultingly, “Am I supposed to know what you’re rambling on about?” The caller passes his old, bulky memory pad to the unimpressed Victoria. She taps on a memory he points at titled ‘The Last Time’ and she views it.

The memory brings Victoria to a forest from the caller’s perspective, looking down at Zach who’s slouched against a tree. A blanket, a camera and a couple of logs are laid out on the forest floor. The callers voice is heard, “People forget so easily about the things we say and do. The words float away into nothingness, the significant places disappear from our minds, the stories lose meaning and our history fades into thin air. Can you promise me one thing Zach?” Zach’s eyes look through the screen, “What Dad?” He responds, “Remember that the best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer someone else up. Happy memories are the only way to survive in this world and you haven’t got many left son.” Zach looks at his Dad shocked that he knows about his lack of happy memories. His Dad continues, “I know about the drugs. Just promise me you won’t sell this moment in time. Remember this place; don’t forget the bark on the trees, or the stars in the sky, or the things we’ve spoken about tonight. Promise me son?”

The memory fades and back in reality Victoria sarcastically responds to what she’s seen, “Such a beautiful and sentimental memory.” She scoffs while handing back the memory pad gruffly. Unfazed the man speaks softly, “My son sold this memory for drugs, and I want to buy it back.” Victoria grabs the caller by the throat, his hood falls down revealing the homeless man from the street that Zach had walked past and ignored previously. She looks threateningly while he struggles to breathe. Angrily through gritted teeth she whispers, “This son of yours has sold every memory of you that he has ever had. As far as he’s concerned you’re just a smelly tramp from the street- a blank space in his mind. I’m gonna wipe away all of his memories and he’ll be like a helpless infant unable to function, lying on the streets just like his pathetic father!” The woman stops choking the homeless man and slams the door in his face. He’s left there shocked, devastated and spluttering as he tries to get his breath back.

Elsewhere, Zach walks down the street before he stops at a forest and observes it as if it feels familiar. Pulling out the photographs from his pocket again, he can recognise similarities. He begins to explore, looking at the surroundings curiously. Suddenly split seconds of a memory pierce through his head. Images of him with his Dad in the forest begin to come through giving him a severe headache. His eyes roll around in their sockets while the pulsating images continue, and he screams as the disjointed memories flash rapidly in his mind. Eventually he passes out and the blurred images continue to flutter through his brain in his unconscious state.

Zach soon wakes up to a hazy world before he notices the homeless man from the bridge coming into his sight. The man looks frightened. Zach looks at him, “Dad?” Smiling for a moment he responds, “You remember.” Before he turns serious and scared, “She’s gonna take your whole life away, you need to follow me.”

Zach see’s Victoria appear behind his Dad. She holds her hands up smiling, “I’m not here to cause trouble.” Both Zach and his Dad begin to trust her letting her approach further since she is unarmed and alone. She looks at Zach and strokes his cheek, “Such a pretty boy, it’s a shame you don’t have many happy memories. It’s an expensive world we live in.” Two brawny men emerge from behind a tree taking Zach’s Dad’s arms and holding him while he battles against them. Victoria laughs a little, pulls out a small, glossy memory pad and fights to plug it into Zach’s socket beside his ear. Her eyes roll back when she manages to plug the lead in finally, but the process is interrupted when Zach’s Dad gets loose and runs towards his son.

Zach’s Dad tries to grab his son and save him, but Zach is terrified and shouts, “Go away! Who are you old man?! Where am I?! Who am..Who am I?”

Zach lingers frightened and confused while his father is deeply saddened and confounded. Victoria tries to stop Zach’s Dad but he slaps her across the face splitting her lip. Irritated she wipes away the blood and tries to hold Zach down while sticking her heel into his Dad’s chest. The two men get hold of Zach’s Dad again and begin to violently beat him with their fists and a thick tree branch. Zach screams hysterically as he watches on at the beefy men battering the man. Lifting the bloody branch the men had been using, Victoria swings it hitting Zach across the head. He falls to the ground with a thud.

Victoria attaches the lead from Zach’s socket to her memory pad and begins downloading his remaining memories. Images and sounds echo through his mind as they leave him forever. Happy memories of his 10th birthday, getting good grades at school, playing football with friends, his previous girlfriend…followed by the memories of less worth that show his Mum shouting at him “You don’t even know who your Dad is anymore! It’s your own fault for selling your memories; he was a lowlife idiot anyway who got sucked into drugs just like you! Get out!” This along with further memories of arguments, heartbreaks and bad decisions. The images and sounds resound through his mind, before everything becomes blank.

Sweat sits on Victoria’s forehead; her hair is no longer in perfect shape- leaves and twigs are tangled up in it. Her tights are ripped and patches of mud are stuck to her skirt. Her heels are scuffed and she is out of breath. She sits on the forest floor breathing heavily before her memory pad beeps and the whites of her eyes return to normal. Victoria smiles, she has succeeded. Her victim is merely the empty remains of a person lying on the forest floor.

6 Months Later

Zach is lying on the same bridge that his Dad was when he first walked past him. He lies there helplessly looking empty and unable to do anything. His clothes are grubby and his facial hair is long and untidy. His mind is a blank space. His history has been wiped away. No place exists that has any meaning for him. The currency of his world has destroyed him. Without happy memories, he is nothing and the passers-by have no sympathy whatsoever.

Elsewhere Zach’s Dad is sat in the grotty flat; he appears inebriated on drugs. The woman is on the phone whilst pacing the room, “This new business idea is going to make us rich. We’ve carried out a test and it’s worked. We had a few hiccups but as long as all the information remains confidential and underground, we shall succeed. The miserable bastards will do anything for happy memories! They’re gullible enough to think a colour-changing pill will make them millionaires; they take it without even questioning it. The pill does nothing but distort their memories and make them addicted to it. This new science means they remember the pill and where to get it, but not much else. Their addiction only leads to them spending more of their memories; no matter how important those memories may be to them. Subject 1 sold memories of his beloved father, making us loaded. Subject 2 is about to sell all of his memories of his son too. The best way to be cheered up is to be cheered up by someone else, and I’m certainly feeling cheered up by all the happy memories I’m earning. Currency kills. It’s an expensive world we live in, and to survive it and get ahead we have to make ruthless decisions and this business plan is one of them. Project Hippocampus is officially up and running.”

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One thought on “Hippocampus (‘Numbers’ short story collection)

  1. […] Hippocampus: Set in a world in which money doesn’t exist, trading memories is the only way to survive. This is the new currency. This world is destructive for Zach, who has a drug addiction and very few happy memories left to trade. […]

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