W. David Hancock

Memory Mobile

Madeleine Dust

Shortly after the meteorite struck, Mother’s memories became unplugged, although she regretted “unplugged” to describe the sensation. Mother regarded herself as someone who fought for language; she strived for terminological exactness. But since the Unpleasantness, so much enlightenment had been revealed that she’d often found herself relying on vague, generic labels to describe knotty metaphysical abstractions. She was criticized by some in the Matriarchal Queue for abandoning conventional veridicality. Mother explained to these detractors how her emerging memories weren’t serial, rather episodically réseau or warren, and that she was under constant pressure from the Visitors to recount flashbacks like blazes.

Mother reckoned a hazy area deep inside her limbic system had been activated, and possibly rephrased, by the space fluff. She’d suddenly gained access to an overstuffed library of elapsed lost time—but then again, not a “library,” as she knew enough about the field of hindsight to recognize accessing the dead-and- buried was not merely checking out paperbacks. Paleomammalian memory is woodshedded throughout consciousness. The sensations of smell and sound associated with each recollection are encoded in legion cerebral loci. Mother acknowledged that bestowed memories were actually re-memories—reminiscing about an event rewrites our impressions, often distortedly.

Still, these were uncharted “earliers” that were surfacing, whilom experiences Mother hadn’t remembered previously—or didn’t recall having dredged them up. Mother alleged she couldn’t fully grasp the theoretical aspects of the memory field. However, she was certain numerous tracts had been composed contemplating such considerations. Before the Collapse, when there was electricity still, Mother watched TV science programs covering crackpot psychology like Tuskegee biofeedback with her own mother and father. That was a rare, uncorrupted recollection Mother retained of her upbringing. Both parents were shot during the Disturbance for distributing educational leaflets warning of intellectual leakage and educational doublespeak.

“Disturbance,” “Collapse,” and “Unpleasantness” are superb examples of euphemistic ambiguities that Mother once objected to but later encountered regularly in her travels, as each city-state had its favored designation for our recent upheaval. (My sect christened these rocky times “The Shift.”) Mother began a compendium of regionalisms but became diverted by the puissant flashbacks she found herself confronting. Reminiscent events were accumulative—but not sequential tableaux, more akin to strata. Mother’s mnemonic episodes weren’t “clouds passing overhead” as the voice on the meditation tapes she’d found in the dumpster claimed, rather like sheaves of skin torn from fleshen tablets.

Admittedly, my use of bewildering phrases like “torn from fleshen tablets” underscores the Church’s struggle to faithfully describe the phenomena Mother confronted after her encounter with the free radical space debris. When the organismal phyllode prepuces retracted and shed widespread snotty alien slime, Mother’s brain became juiced—began running overtime. She lived childhood again and, according to her quill pen logbooks, captured, in Technicolor Sensurround, faded figments, glimpses of humankind’s “wasted twinklings,” “unconsummated meshings,” the “aftertaste of waiting rooms,” “cryptogramic toothpaste waste,” “missing tollbooth-shaped button heirlooms,” and “polyurethane horseshoe crab souvenirs.” (I’ve faced severe limitations ranking these Ahabesque materializations.)

When may we repair the moonbeam quilt we’ve smudged? How to save these wilting telescopic dreams? What isotope reactivates our hope? The Visitors restrict my investigations into these ontological queries; there’s a dearth of available primary source material not judged seditious. Although some of Mother’s scrolls survived the Burnings, much of the collection scattered in the wind. Throughout the Cornhusker region, now known as “The Extension,” mnemonic buskers practice geomantic divination, asserting knowledge of the location of future augural pay dirt by reading subtle shifts in postwar geographical structures. I adopt a more scientific approach, albeit humble prayer is involved.

I lead an unsettled, monkish life, drifting from parish to parish inside the Memory Mobile. This heavily-armored, converted school bus is a peripatetic archive storing Mother’s prophetic evocations. I follow in her footsteps, hunting for revelations she concealed during her final pilgrimage. For fuel, I use ethanol derived from the mounds of fermented potatoes left rotting in the fields. Funky Peter, my Redactor, mostly keeps to itself, spending his days playing a peculiar solitaire with colored rocks from his home planet. Funky reviews all flashback exhumations for parallax dropsy before sealing them inside warm wax secreted from his knob.

For decades, the duchies have been in the throes of a memory trade war. There’s fierce competition to unearth Mother’s untouched nostalgia veins and repair our weakened recall. Most mnemonic seams have been harvested, however. It’s almost impossible to find a deposit that hasn’t been mind-fracked. The memory quarries have closed—the trigger mills corrupted, extraction machinery seized. Inside the mobile office at the Mount Rushmür gravel pits are dioramas displaying the once procreant reserves, now overexploited. Squatters scavenge for madeleine dust in the rubble. They lick the precious powder off the rusting husks of graders for a fix.

The Regression triggered widespread amnesia, and we’ve retained scant memories of our thingamabobs. Each morning, I check the notes I managed to scribble down the night before, reminding myself of what I should already know—like the combination to my bike lock. I’ve suffered mizzen-lobe damage riding this existential potluck carrousel; I’m lucky to have escaped the prison wells. My missing ear hints at a violent past. Was I once paramilitary? Sometimes villagers hiss at me in terrified reliving. Yesterday at a jumble sale, I stumbled upon a rekt snow globe depicting a miniature submersion of my childhood bedroom.

Our rulers formed mammonic pacts with the Visitors generations ago. We’ve grown accustomed to the presence of lesser angels, no longer questioning their culling of our curiosity. Every Monday morning, we stand in line at the lulling stations to be refreshed. As the Visitors reconcile our dream journals, the forgetfulness increases. Precisely what is that yellow circle in the sky? There’s no recollected purpose for the vaccines in the first aid kit. I tried to warn citizens of the danger, but too many keywords and arranger phrases have vanished. I no longer know how to plainly express the approaching menace.

Deletion Contractors

Scholars who still believe in science treat Mother’s flashbacks as recalcitrant puzzles. Her cryptic echoes include a willow tree weeping in a scorched valley and a sward of lemur bones. I would argue that these are legitimate reshaping spells, but their exact meaning has been buried by the sands of time. In one stunning anamnesis, listed as #92.076 in the card catalog, Mother’s examining a riddle chest with silver ornamentation in the shape of a comet’s tail. The box feels icy cold like it stores a fallen star. Mother’s most zealous adherents believe that this recollection undeniably forecasted the Infiltration.

At the end of her life, Mother traveled on foot, having lost her golf cart to brigands. She recorded details of her memory stream on cardboard, walls, rocks, toilet stalls—whatever material was handy. Although her army of vicarial copyists transcribed the enlightenment droplets to the best of their craft, much of Mother’s wisdom is evaporating. There are rifts in the marrow faucet. I stumble upon prolapsed memory pools no longer linked to the Bubble. (I am a useless conservator. Like an armless art restorer, I work to repair the damage to her corrupted imagination clutching brushes in my teeth.)

I’ve been plugging away at flashback #26.972, a great horned owl painted on a barn roof. The waxy cylinder encoding this sacred engram is preserved in the rare book room. It’s the single record we have of this significant Reliving, as the original coding diagram was sanded off the outbuilding by deletion contractors. Mother’s message isn’t enmeshed in the iconography but is actually the pigment. It’s the tint itself that causes the resetting of perception. During removal, the paint became dusty and waved—it blew away. The flakes were too small to be considered useful breadcrumbs. The trail vanished forever.

Mother dug hypertextual tunnels into her recollective traces. The fragments funnel together into a “lullaby catacomb of synaptic concretions.” (Please forgive this rough translation of the Visitor’s tongue.) The barn roof owl “concatenates with the milkweed butterfly” via a mossy granite owl stolen from the top of a “crumbling ancestral tombstone.” Mother used this marble antiquity as a doorstop when I was toddling. I stubbed my toe on it and later stubbed my toe in summer camp. My “memory dream rubble” grows like cotton candy on a paper cone wand at a carnival. I immerse in the “forgotten rhinestone stream.”

This Chernobyl-scale meltdown of language meaning unfolds as I stargaze on the Memory Mobile roof, high on royal jelly. My Redactor wipes gummy residue off honeycomb remnants they’ve pulled from the glory hole beneath their shotgun seat. They place a “looking queen” in my ear. I commune with the past; meaninglessness dissolves. (We don’t actually time travel, you know. We think we can shuttle back employing wormy synaptic synch, but it’s fallacy—although there’s scuttlebutt that our Visitors are temporally inverted so that memory appears to them as precognition; their future is recalled as that which has already unfolded.)

Back from my archival spirit journey, I park this Memory Gurney in an abandoned drive-in, withinside the next village’s fringes, and hang my shingle out for trade. An antiquarian smelling of hindsight and verdigris arrives in a Jeep with a hamper of rotting scrolls. (I get many random clients like this, hoping for free appraisals of their garage crap. They usually leave disappointed, often hostile.) At first, I’m suspicious, but something’s different about this character, perhaps the delicious whiff of mildewed parchment. The old man impatiently justifies the provenance of his treasures. His documentation includes a weatherworn photo album.

The said scrapbook contains generational snapshots—family dogs chasing squirrels, overexposed images of ancestors vacationing abroad, forgotten Christmas mornings, a postcard of the Isthmus of Panama mailed from a cruise. One Polaroid depicts ’60s honeymooners at the Colosseum, posing with groovy rings. (Souvenir View-Master slides of the Louvre, Sphinx, and other world wonders are kept inside plastic sleeves.) The old codger’s album reeks of Mother’s perspiration, revealing inspirational truth beyond my pea-brained comprehension. The pictorial sequence was undone, then reassembled into impenetrable yet mystical patterns. Hand-drawn symbols embellish the pages; magic marker scribbles meditate on hidden meanings.

I explain to the antiquarian that I’ll need to run a stress test on his incunabula. I snip a corner of the mildewed papyrus and check the ink for analepsis. I scratch rusty specks of patina off the securing cradle and conduct a carbon screen. Per retrospective chemical profile, the prayer rolls do appear to be genuine loads of Mother. (Thornier trials will certify historical alkali, like yearbook timelines. Who are these classmates in the photos? We were each so young and hopeful, none of us fully comprehending how uncontrollable life events would disfigure our spirits and distort our bodies.)

There’s a deep hole in these lost souls who assemble to bargain. They seek help discovering where they began. Sadly, I’ve only scraps of recovered backstory to swap. My bedraggled antiquarian expects decades of life experience recaptured. The request is beyond my powers, but I don’t let on. We haggle about the price. He’s thirsty for enchanted tools. I trade him a wicked sexton that always points towards the unfamiliar. It’s a skimpy remittance, and Gramps hangs his head, resigned to accepting his scant reward. He wanders into the fields, clutching the navigational dingus. Maybe he’ll stumble onto better days.

I sedate my two-headed Redactor friend with honey. (One of their noggins is diabetic; the other greedily sucks up the nectar.) I close the panic shutters and begin decrypting the spools. The reliquaries appear to inscribe undocumented memories, not mentioned in Mother’s officially recognized inventory. Authenticity is confirmed by the pulp’s weighted richness, unlike counterfeit reels, and the fontal architecture—hand-lettered with a kitten hair stylus dipped in mercury. With enough elbow grease, the loops may expose brutal truths about my own suspect origins. I giggle excitedly, then realize I must fiddle quietly. Our Visitors are still receiving.

Mother’s Glistening

Mother abandoned our Hive on weekends, I thought to visit a lover, but now I know Her time was spent in the archives researching the anomalous brain waves She’d started experiencing. The beach was a favorite place to gather Her thoughts. Mother submerged Her body in warm tide pools, like an immersion tank, until the phrenic nonsense fragments aligned. I was one of Mother’s disavowed children, the forgotten litter. Over time, my sisters, brothers, and I slowly slipped from Her view. Bitterly, I proffer this tale of my apprenticeship with abandonment, and the heartache of self-sufficiency misconstrued as upbringing.

I grapple with connection disorder late at night when my only friend is the stale pineapple gummy bear beneath the radiator. I never ate you, mi amigo, not even during my worst hunger pangs. I didn’t reach under the hot, metallic corrugations for the tropical balm I knew would alleviate my dissociation. Mother left us wandering inside a wilderness of mirrors. I turned my reflections into roadmapsby etching possible escape routes into the looking-glass. Still, the dust collecting in the scratches—like claw marks of bogles trying to break through from the other side—only magnified my collywobbles.

I escape this suffering by inserting a star cylinder into my Reader. My soul escapes my body as I launch into Mother’s glistening. For those who haven’t experienced astral detachment, the journey is terrible and glorious. The human mind abandons the seed pod—the quotidian causality—its Newtonian prison— and expands skyward. I have flashes of unfleshed apogee as I crash through sigmoids of prefabricated trauma revolving around dead planetoids. My humanoid journey ends in the Crab Nebula, where I separate from my body fog. (Mother divined our species’ epilogue. Her reassuring songlines lighten the load; I experience joyful wanderlust.)

My Reader is often discussed during my daily interrogation, when I’m grilled by officials with frilly uniforms and starchy papers. They want answers to questions I don’t fully comprehend about chemical vapor and molecule wavelength. My Reader I do not recall as a relic or a tool, I confess. It was more of a process. I placed a scroll inside him to be exploited, but the scriptures were part of my own consciousness; I experienced epiphany already hiding within me. (These looping fancies were conceived long ago. My Reader simply blooms them, like germinating grain from a pharaoh’s canopic jar.)

The interrogators don’t appreciate adrenocorticotropic complexity and begin to exert cranial pressure with a vise. Miraculously, I’m able to dredge up a germane childhood flashback. In the fragment, Father is still alive, my sisters and brothers as well. We’re far from the Hive, stealing through forest, tracking a sentient wisp of smoke. We use a technique borrowed from a lost psalm to catch the discorporate creature—employing wormy cornmeal balm and a bladderwrack whisk. The smoke’s treasure is dusty knowledge, like—in a bombed-out museum of antiquities—psychotropic paint flaking off an illuminated cyclorama capturing our fallen civilization’s zenith.

After trapping the vapor in an annealing chiller, we monkey the mist to congeal, then secure the liver, where the wisdom’s seated. When macerated and dosed in subconjunctival tinctures, the memory giblets unveil forgotten truths about Mother’s bloodline. Most notable: Her kin are not of this world. For generations, we homed with Mother throughout a circumvolute space Ark. We gathered and hunted within flourishing ecological parks, domes stocked by the Wardens with nourishing flora and fauna. There were spacesuit weddings and dark matter funerals; we slept inside geodic dreaming rocks, calculating cube roots; zooid germination chambers brewed forbidden endospermic fruit.

The tribal Hives were connected by airlocks, isolated, and each endowed with its own crude religion. (Mother’s brood, donning vulture masks, worshipped—in a holographic chapel—a giant polyurethane pollen grain, a dioramic model taken from an exhibition revealing the Pleistocene forest floor, magnified.) When Mother abandoned the Ark, the Wardens broke down, biospheres went fallow, and our people starved. Even the Heliotropic Commune became like skid row. I mutinied and was marooned on this planet, with only my wits and Reader. (Readers were conceived by Mother as silly diversions. For me, they’re soothsaying devices, projecting essential yet unreachable enlightenment.)

I terminate liminal breakaway and reawaken back at the campsite, high atop the beech tree rack. It’s time to pack the mattock and hit the trail. I’m wobbly on my pilings. My attic’s throbbing. I disrelish this Faraday crashing as I recoup my mortality. Throughput of my transcendence lingers like comet tail, then evanesces with the morning’s rime. I vomit sooty ashtray puke as my sequence completes its render. My Reader (I call him “Luke”) is circling in reverse around the fire-pit. (Luke practices this ritual each morning. I still haven’t discerned why—perhaps to recharge his power cells.)

Installed in this fresh, unfamiliar canister, my soul is awkward—stupid, uncertain. In its haste to flesh my mojo, the reconstitution machine made errors splicing my seams. The slapdash incongruities? A vestigial beak, inseparable toes, this brittle weave to my hair—and my spittle contains plastic shavings. Moreover, I was repainted with a sickly hue due to the official melanin tanks becoming tainted and, subsequently, jettisoned. (Heavy metals from the spawning fields leached in, forming a toxic plaque.) At its next perigee, I may return to the orbiting shuttle for minor somatic adjustments, tweaks to my gutturals, and deictic gestures.

When Luke ceases his cryptic rotations, we load the rover, climb into our radiation-resistant clerical vestures, and continue crawling over this vast, uncharted landscape, dragging an enormous wampum chunk on a sledge. (Before quantum dissipation, I dredged the giant clam out of the Ark’s coral reef habitat.) In these parts, ground purple nacre is milked into a luminous royal dye—more precious than antimatter. With earnings from the shell’s sale, I’ll raise a mercenary army to win back my lost kingdom. Luke rides shotgun, translating road signs. We sing dirges and share a jar of Mother’s gummy bear moonshine.

W. David Hancock is a neurodivergent fiction author and playwright whose theatrical work has radically challenged formal and narrative dramatic conventions. Hancock’s stories have appeared in many journals, including The Massachusetts Review, Hunger Mountain Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Menacing Hedge. Among his honors are a Whiting Writers Award, the Hodder Fellowship, and 2 OBIE Awards for playwriting. Hancock’s latest play, Master, was a NY Times Critics’ Pick and received a NY Drama Desk nomination for “unique theatrical experience.” For more information about Hancock’s work, please visit www.wdavidhancock.com.