Read the first chapter of The Memory Jumper by Amanda Michelle Brown

Chapter 1

It takes me a minute to remind myself that the red paint dripping from the table isn’t my own blood. It glows unnaturally in the light of my single white LED lantern. 

In moments like this, the best thing to do is just remain silent. If you don’t move, they can’t see you. I think I read that about a dinosaur.

“What did I tell you about painting in your room?” The woman in front of me speaks words of rabid fangs, the light from my lantern spilling across her face and making it just as harsh as the murderous look in her eyes.

Disappear. Disappear. But I’m still here.

“I’m sorry, Fawn. I’ll take my stuff out to the kitchen next time.” My voice gets lost in my terror, and only squeaks come out. This irritates her more. She towers over me, both in actual height and presence. She’s a rhinoceros; a tiger; an elephant; a…cow? Why did I think of that? The thought makes me want to laugh, which makes me want to smile, which makes me actually smile for just a second. 

Too late. She’s seen. “You think this is funny? Destroying the furniture I bought for you?”

I close my eyes. Furniture I technically paid for. I breathe in and out. I start another list of animals Fawn is like. A weasel; a bear; a…it’s pointless. No animal compares to her.

I almost wish she’d hit me, just to get it over with. But Fawn’s game is primarily in the mind. It’s a poisonous, invisible game that makes me sometimes wonder if I’m a tinge insane. It’s a symptom-less sickness.

Instead, she tosses the rest of the paint tubes, palettes, and paintbrushes off my desk.

I retreat inside my mind. I wonder if normal humans can do this. Just because I’m a Memory Jumper doesn’t mean other people don’t lock themselves inside their minds during stuff like this. 

I wonder what’s going through Fawn’s mind.

She leaves me to clean up the mess. The red paint mixes with blue, green, and a little ochre. 

Good. No blood.

I’m curled up in a corner of my room, the farthest corner. The farthest corner in the farthest room in the house. I pretend it’s my safe corner, but that’s a lie: Fawn’s bedroom is right next door. There is no safe place here.

My room is smaller than Fawn’s, but I don’t need lots of space anyway. Everything is beige: the walls, the floor, the bookshelves, the bed. To make it less…well, beige, I’ve taped pictures of places I want to travel to one day over my walls. I also personalized the bed frame with my own acrylic paint doodles to liven the place up; Fawn was not happy. 

The floors are cold, hard concrete, just like the walls, so I always wear socks. I have a stash under my bed, which Fawn declares makes me the definition of messy, but I like them under there because they’re easily grabbable. 

And I love my shelves: they hang from the ceiling, bursting with books. Right now, a few books are missing: I currently flip through a novel about the Titanic, my electric lantern lighting each page. I touch every face in every picture. These are my friends. 

I switch to browsing a field guide about sparrows. These are my friends too.

You know what all these pictures show? What they speak of? Mothers. And something called maternity. Lots of the books I’ve read talk about mothers. Well, Fawn is the closest thing I have to that. She’s only a couple of years older than me, but I’ve always known her as my mother. She’s provided for me and guided me; she’s installed herself as the mother figure of my life.

Not that I call her Mom.

A knocking sounds from above me. It’s the hollow thunk of someone pounding on metal. I wait for the familiar rhythm: thunk, tap-tap, thunk, tap, thunk, stomp. My heart rate rises, but I think I’m okay. Fawn should be calm by now after some time away from me.

All my life, I’ve lived underground in this box we call home. The only way out is a teleporter, which I make my way to right now so I can let Fawn back in. 

Since our home was previously a safe house, the teleporter has an added safety mechanism: it stays hovering a floor above us until the user gives an audible signal (a password, really). That way, if someone were to ever discover us, they couldn’t actually get into the house.

I walk into the entryway, which is anything but welcoming. A single glowing light bulb casts its harsh white light across a lone table, on which sits an obviously fake orchid. The only saving grace of this display is the fact that I made the vase in which the flower sits.  

I take great pride in my pottery, a hobby that Fawn’s been kind enough to allow me to do. I have all my supplies in what was supposed to be a closet. A couple of times a week, I go in there and make plates, bowls, vases, and jewelry holders. She sells them in the city, and we get a little extra money through that. I love it because it makes me feel in control for once. 

But I wish I could be the one selling my items. I want to run a booth, to help people pick out the perfect gift for their loved ones or wrap it in colorful tissue paper.

I press a button on the wall and wait like a loyal pet. I always have to wait and say hi or else Fawn will throw a fit. 

How many times have I pressed this button and wished that I was the one inside the teleporter instead of being stuck in here? I’m not allowed outside because of my value. If everyone knew about my powers, they’d be flying at me fast as mosquitoes on standing water. People would try to kidnap me, misuse me.

I don’t want that. And neither does Fawn.

The teleporter opens with a cheerful ding. Fawn’s eyes meet mine, calculating, measuring, evaluating—always stripping the subject of all its coverings, revealing motive and areas of lacking.

I’ve never met someone with eyes that are so exactly described as circles; it’s like those old-timey cartoon characters. I think Fawn was their inspiration, except her eyes don’t make her look goofy. Fawn has only three modes, two of them more common and nastier: a cold, aloof innocence and a shrinking, empty anger. Every now and then, there’s a flicker of a woman who actually cares for me as a daughter. And those are the moments I live for. She is an expert actress when anyone besides me sets foot in the house: you’d think she’s the kindest, most thoughtful woman in the world.

Just another one of her games.

But when I Memory Jumped into Fawn’s mind when I was five, she couldn’t let a good opportunity pass her by. I don’t remember what I saw, and I have never Memory Jumped into her mind again. She doesn’t let me. 

At first, Fawn thought I was some kind of witch…but she was a single woman with hardly any source of income. So she began selling my service.

I can’t blame her, and I don’t. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself for years.

If you tell yourself a lie enough times, it’ll eventually be nothing but the truth.

Fawn nods at me as she steps out of the teleporter with an elderly woman. Her brunette hair is perfectly parted down the middle, so dark it’s almost black. Her skin is a light type of sunkissed brown that I can never attain because I’m kept away from the light; I can’t ever remember being outside in my eighteen years of life.

I’m glad she has a client; she can’t be mad at me in front of a client. 

The woman sways a bit, her face shrunken in wrinkles, her eyes clouded over with time. She doesn’t say a word as Fawn grabs one of her arms and helps remove her from the teleporter. I grab the woman’s other arm.

We cross the entryway and enter the main room, a modest area with much-loved cream sofas. Light spills in from above; there’s a skylight cleverly concealed by a pond on top of it. I remember when I was younger and Fawn would press the emergency button, which covered the skylight and sent us into darkness. She’d tell me to be deadly silent; that someone was hunting us. I breathe a little more heavily thinking about it.

One wall is made entirely out of one big screen. I often change it to picture lofty mountains, sparkling oceans, or dense jungles. The pictures move, and sometimes I am lucky enough to find a scene that actually shows people milling around a busy street, or animals walking around nature. But our blind customer does not need to be impressed by any visual stimuli, so I leave it at its current view: the Rocky Mountains mid-winter, carpeted in icy white that looks so plush and delicious I want to both roll in it and eat it at the same time.

I wonder what a mountain would feel like.

“Ms. Dahlia, this is my—my daughter, Adelaide.” She says daughter like it’s a bad word. She doesn’t bother going over our origin story again: how, fifteen years ago, she was babysitting me when riots broke out across our country, Frelsi. Anti-Memory-Jumping groups executed coordinated attacks on known Memory Jumpers, killing thousands in what became known as The Memory Wipe. 

She took me to a Memory Jumper safe house and stayed with me, waiting for my parents to come for me.

But they never did.

And we’re still hidden away in that same safe house to this day.

I smile politely at the woman. “Nice to meet you.”

The old woman turns her head toward me. I wonder if she’d mind knowing she’s being recorded. Fawn has cameras here in the living room, in my bedroom, and in my pottery room. I try to forget about that. “Nice to meet you, doll.”

“Ms. Dahlia has Alzheimer’s and will eventually lose her memory. She has already lost her husband. She would like you to erase all her memories: except one.”

I’ve had clients like this before. Clients who have diseases that will terminate their memory or their lives. Clients who simply want to live in a beautiful memory. I don’t quite understand it myself; how could one memory be wonderful enough for it to be replayed over and over again?

I always feel a bit guilty about these tasks. It’s hard to destroy something to feel right. But it’s what Ms. Dahlia wants.

And Fawn has made me do far worse things.

“Which memory would you like to keep?” I ask. Ms. Dahlia reaches into her clutch, an antique thing made of granny-approved patchwork stars and stripes. A memento of our old government. She retrieves a piece of paper, crumpled a bit from its journey but still legible.

“I had my nurse write this down as I dictated.”

I take the paper and read it. My heart warms at the words; I curl the paper in my hand, tilting my head.

“This is a good choice,” I say. Ms. Dahlia smiles as if my approval has cemented her decision.

“Thank you, Miss Adelaide.”

I stick the note in my pocket and wipe my hands on my jeans. I always get sweaty palms before Memory Jumping. In fact, I get sweaty palms before anything involving my always-bound-up nerves. I’m always aware of what will happen if I fail.

“Are you ready, ma’am?” Fawn asks. Her voice sounds patient, but she’s as tense as a coiled-up slinky. Fawn likes to get them in, get them out, quick. 

“Yes. Yes.” The old woman runs her pointy, crinkly finger along the stitches of a proud star on her purse. “And all the details are planned out?” 

“Absolutely.” Fawn can’t just bring Ms. Dahlia back to the nursing home in a stupor. If the old woman were to wake up and only remember one thing, questions would be asked. That’s why Fawn has special contacts, Buddy and Perkins, that can deliver people when their conditions have been…altered. 

Their kind, the Visionaries, have been persecuted by the government just like Memory Jumpers. The twins get mad when people dismiss their gift as fortune-telling. They are specialists in realities. They can show you the reality that you are currently on the path to, as well as alternative realities. But it’s ultimately up to you to decide which one will actually happen. 

Fawn connected with them in the black market years and years ago, adopting them as brothers almost. Of course, she lunged on their gifts just like she had with mine. 

But they don’t ever see the real side of her. As far as they know, we are a mother and daughter Memory Jumping for income. After my Jump, we must wipe our clients’ memories for safety purposes; there’s nothing sinister about that.

As far as they know, they’re just bringing the clients back to their previous location for a clean transition back into normal life. Buddy and Perkins also help us with groceries on occasion, reveling in taking care of us and feeling needed.

I love Buddy and Perkins. They’re brothers so similar you’d think they’re twins. Both are slightly overweight, with a marvelous sense of humor and a bit of stubble on their copious chins.

I guess they’re a type of henchmen, but the best and kindest kind there is. 

“All right, Ms. Dahlia.” Fawn looks at me. She can see the nervousness in my eyes, I know it. I give her a thumbs up so she won’t snap at me later about chickening out. “Thank you so much for allowing us to help you.”

I place one hand on Ms. Dahlia’s temple. My hands are always cold, so the old woman gasps a little as they meet her warm forehead. But she doesn’t beg me to stop; at least she doesn’t chicken out.

I close my eyes and focus, really hard. I dig into the core of my brain, the epicenter, imagining a pinpoint. The world fuzzes out, becoming blurry. I can’t feel my hands or legs anymore. In fact, I can’t feel anything except a sizzling in my soul. 

Then comes the actual Memory Jumping. I target the center of Ms. Dahlia’s brain and then focus my energy on catapulting myself there. The feeling is sharp but not unpleasant. I travel through her brain in a blur of black and white and occasional colors and feelings. I finally land in one of her memory locations.

I have read all about memory in my science books. Most is theory; people hardly know how it’s stored, where it’s stored, or why certain memories fade away. And there is certainly nothing about Memory Jumping.

I never think of myself as peculiar until I see the look in my Jumpees’ eyes. The funny thing about people is we all think we’re normal until we meet other people. Then we realize that this quirk about us is abnormal, and that not everyone thinks the way we do. 

And that not everyone can Memory Jump as easily as they can whistle.

Sometimes, people think we’re using black magic. One guy ran out when I placed my hand on his forehead, screaming like the devil himself was on his tail. I saw myself a little differently in the mirror after that.

I jolt back to the task in front of me. I need to search for the memory. I decide to try the bottom part of Ms. Dahlia’s memory first, the long-term. A golden door appears, shining and certain. Then it shoots out, far away from me, and other doors visualize along a long corridor. My feet reappear, then my legs. Soon I can see and feel my body again.

I’m in Ms. Dahlia’s mind.

Almost every door is different in some way. They are all labeled, neat and tidy. Not everyone’s brains are like that. I have been in some brains that were the most disheveled, disorderly things. It’s a good thing I can search for memories when I need to, or I would’ve been in there for the rest of my life.

Ms. Dahlia’s memories, at least here, are ordered alphabetically by the people involved. There are simply names, no explanations as to whom the people were. I stick my fingers into my back pocket and retrieve the piece of paper.

I would like to forever remember the moment I knew David Watersby loved me. We had been just friends up to the time, but one night we went to the movies. We were supposed to go with a group, but they all canceled last minute, so it was just me and David. I was watching the movie when I felt something, and I looked over…he was just staring at me. And I don’t mean in a strange way, or even an unmeaningful way.

I swear, when a man looks at you that way, you know he loves you. There’s not a doubt about it. It’s written all over his face.

You’ll know you’re at the right memory because you’ll see him driving a white, sleek Stinger. I was wearing a blue headscarf and a white linen dress.

I pass a couple of B names and continue down the hallway, searching for the Ds. There are a whole lotta C names, that’s for certain.

I finally locate the Ds, and Daniel is one of the first. I open the door and see opaque images floating everywhere. They’re all from Dahlia’s point of view, tinged with her emotions. 

In one, she hugs a younger man tightly, her eyes scrunched as little droplets of water fall down her cheeks. Tears drip down my own cheeks as I melt into the memory. In another image, Dahlia sits on a couch, having a serious conversation with the man. A thread of dark purple worry snakes through the memory, which makes me curious. I put my own feelings away and get back to my job. I find a memory in which Dahlia wears a white dress. She looks out the window at a white Stinger vehicle, a rugged and popular jeep-like car.

It’s time to do my job.

I close the door. This is the one I need to save. I could destroy all the doors at the same time, but it always takes a bit of time for me to get up the courage. I’ll just start out with one; maybe do another one; maybe three.

I don’t know why this is so hard for me. Memory Jumping is what I do. It’s what I was made for.

But something about destroying someone’s memories, even if it is their choice…it doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s because deep down inside, I know that memories, even painful ones, were made to be kept. They’re what shape people into who they are.

Before I wimp out, I turn to the door next to this door and rip off the doorknob. It does not come off easily, but it releases with less effort than an actual doorknob. Golden flickers and flashes swallow the door, turning it into shining sparkles.

From amidst the burning destruction, I look at the nameplate again.

And realize I have made a terrible error.

Amanda Michelle Brown

Amanda Michelle Brown is a blogger, author, podcaster, and graphic designer who loves nothing more than a BBC drama and an oat milk latte. Amanda wrote her first novel in middle school with a green pen (complete with illustrations). You can often find her planning her next crazy project, haunting libraries and thrift stores, or telling stories about her day that may be a little exaggerated.