By Keith LaFountaine
2022 Science Fiction Short Story Contest- 2nd Place Winner
The Department calls it disremembering, I think, because it’s only a few letters off from dismembering. But if they were being honest, they’d just cut out the bullshit and call it what it is. They’d regard it less as a clinical, surgical procedure, and more as a violent tearing of the psyche.
I sit in the break room, eating mushrooms and beans. It’s all I have these days. Well, some of the younger kids bring in that fake hamburger they run ads for. Some of them, mostly Arthur (stubborn pissant that he is), try to hawk it off as the real stuff. But everyone who’s glanced up at the Memorial Building on 81st Street can see that the price of beef is up to a whopping $327.54 an ounce.
I wish I could remember what a normal burger tastes like.
“Blake, we’ve got a case down the bend.”
Paul is the military type. Close-cropped haircut, clean-shaven face, mouth that looks like two slabs of cement baked just apart from one another. Oh, and I can’t forget the giant stick up his ass. He takes to disremembering like a dung beetle takes to excrement.
I glance up from my computer. On the screen are the test results. I click away from them before Paul pushes his meaty, hairy knuckles down onto the wood. Around us is the sound of a thousand clacking fingers. The monotony of the world. Everything’s got a bureaucracy, and the Department is the exact same way. Can’t let those tax dollars go to waste, I guess.
“Who’s it this time?” I ask.
“Kid. Maybe twelve, thirteen. Caught him by the river. Apparently, he saw a couple o’ guys from Benson chuckin’ chicken parts. Gonna be all over the six o’clock if we don’t nip it in the bud.”
Something is slipping loose in my brain these days. Like my timing belt is clip-clip-clipping. For a moment, I’m not sure I remember what Benson’s is. Or, I do, but it sits behind a murky, muddy wall.
“Fine,” I say. “Usual?”
“Yes,” Paul says. He raps on the desk and rattles the photo beside his meaty hand. I frown at that.
“Sounds like the Christmas bonus’ll be nice this year,” he says.
“Sure,” I say as I gather my coat.
I’ll be lucky if I remember Christmas by the time it rolls around.
Chevy released their environmentally friendly version of the Vibrant earlier in the year, but about a month in some asshole in the Department missed his shift and a guy leaked the truth about the car. Apparently, it pumps out just as much shit into the air, but instead of using an exhaust pipe, it gets filtered out through vents on the side of the car. Looks just like steam. Well, that’s the crap I’m driving. Rain spatters down onto the road, which has got about as many cracks as the tectonic plates holding this world together right now.
Tectonic. Hell, I might as well use that word as much as I can these days. It’ll surely be one of the first to go when my brain turns to soup. Although, I suppose, it already has. That’s what they say – Alzheimer’s gets you young, and by the time you know you’ve got it, that gray matter between the ears is rice pudding.
I pull over to the scene. The kid is sitting by the fence that blocks off the river. The brackish, gray water courses by. Chicken guts. Damn. That’s a stupid reason to get your memories chopped out.
The car keeps chug-a-lugging that stew out into the world, and I stare through the messages on my windshield at the kid. There’s a cop, two cops, standing over him, and he’s sitting on a chunk of cement with his fists plumped into his cheek. Twelve, isn’t that what Paul said? Hell, the kid looks eight. Nine, max. He’s still got the prepubescent chub on his cheeks.
I sigh and press my fingers into the scanner that control’s my weapon’s cage. Cops still pull their guns willy-nilly, but us? Remember that bureaucracy? Well, cages over our weapons was the bright idea of some coiffed-hair-hoity-toity dingus who’s only ever worked some cushy corporate job since his Dad hired him out of college.
If it sounds like I’m mad, it’s because I am.
There’s a slight delay as the scanner talks with the database back home, and then the gate buzzes. I wrench it up and pull free the service revolver. Stored beside it are the disremembering cartridges and some good old-fashioned hollow points. For carjackers, mostly.
As I snap the cylinder open and start to load the cartridges, I glance at the kid again. He sees me now, and he’s got these brown eyes that are piercing and honest. He’s got an uncle’s eyes, I realize. Watchful, for when Mom and Dad are too busy arguing about who’s turn it is to pay the car off, or when a brother or sister thinks it’s a grand idea to go pushing the other into the pool when they don’t have their floaties on. Uncle’s eyes, yeah. That makes sense. At least, to me it does.
I finish loading the cartridges, and then I snap the cylinder closed. It’s a cold sound. Almost as cold as the one that’s to come. They issued these new revolvers because they don’t make as much sound as the real thing. Instead of a ka-BLAM it’s more of a slip-CHUNK. Minor difference if you ask me, but I don’t make the rules. I don’t think I’d want to even if I could.
The cops turn to me, and they give me a brusque sort of nod. Cops always think we’re on their side, but truth is the Department will take out any boy in blue if they see something bad enough.
My door sticks sometimes, and sure enough, as I punch my shoulder into it, the damn thing won’t open. I grunt under my breath and shove my shoulder into it again. It comes popping out, and I step out into the bitter, cold air. Around this time, snow would be falling. Once upon a time, at least.
“Blake,” the cop on the left, the one with the gray mustache, calls. “Good to see you.”
“Gents,” I call back, slamming the car door closed. It automatically locks as I walk away.
“Chicken guts,” the other cop, who’s got a sort of brownish-gray clop of hair on his head, says.
“I heard,” I respond. I glance over Brown-Gray’s shoulder at the kid, who hasn’t moved a muscle. He’s wearing a t-shirt and shorts, both of which have plenty of holes in them. I shiver as a gust of wind rolls by.
“Who’s the one who called it in?” I ask.
“McMurray,” Mustache replies.
I grimace. J.D. McMurray. Owner of Calvin’s Taste-Ems. Chicken snacks that are about one percent chicken and ninety-nine percent the mushrooms and beans I had to eat for lunch today.
“Every week with him,” I mutter.
“No kidding,” Mustache agrees. “Been on three calls for him this week.”
“Can I chat with the kid for a second?” I ask.
The officers split like the Red Sea, and Brown-Gray even extends a hand like he’s about to lead me in a waltz. I brush by them and stuff my weapon into its holster. The kid glances up at me, and he sweeps a strand of his too-long brown hair from his eyes.
“Hey, kid,” I say.
“Here to disremember me?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “Something like that.”
“It wasn’t chicken guts,” the kid says, shrugging his shoulders. He looks down at his torn pants, and he slaps some dirt off them. “He said that, but it wasn’t.”
“What was it then?” I ask.
“What does it matter? You’re gonna shoot me anyway, yeah?”
“So, it doesn’t matter.”
I slip my hands into my pockets. Another bolt of wind sidles by, rolling off the river, and I wrinkle my nose at the sour smell that rips from the current. The kid doesn’t seem phased by the cold. He pulls his legs up to his chest, and he rests his chin on his kneecaps.
“Well,” I say, kneeling so I’m at his eye level, “truth is, I’m not gonna remember much anyway, either. So, you might as well tell me. And then we can both forget it eventually.”
The kid glances at me with one of those squints that cuts deep. The kind of squint only children and older ladies at the bank are capable of. And my mom, God rest her soul.
“Whatever,” the kid says. He rubs at his bare elbows, and he looks out at the river. “My dad was suing him. Probably was gonna win, too. My dad was a good lawyer. Real good. Sent some people in jail who needed to go there. Big people.”
“What kind of big people?”
“George MacKenzie, Sandy Marina, Johnny Devlin. Those kinds of guys.”
I raise an eyebrow. The kid isn’t lying. MacKenzie was a big-time mob guy responsible for either twelve or four hundred deaths (depending on if you believe the prosecution or MacKenzie). Sandy Marina used to run a children’s show called Ol’ Sandy’s Farm, which turned out to be a money laundering scheme. And Johnny Devlin was some hotshot engineer who repossessed medical property for insurance companies. Nasty SOB if the stories are to be believed. Licked his knife after the job was done. Shit like that.
“Well,” I say. “Sounds like your dad was a big deal.”
“Yeah,” the kid agrees. “And McMurray shot them both in the head last night.”
I keep my face neutral. McMurray seems the type, but even still it takes a special kind of evil to have a kid disremembered on some trumped-up charges about chicken guts in order to hide a murder.
“I take it you’re the only witness,” I say.
The kid nods. “I was hiding in the closet. He found me, and I had to jump down the trash chute.”
I glance at his clothes and chew on the inside of my cheek. What were the guys’ names? The ones his dad put away? They’re gone. Fluttering away like black butterflies.
Turning, I look at Mustache and Brown-Gray. They are huddled together, whispering, and staring. I return my gaze to the kid.
What is his name? Did I ask for it?
I sigh and pull my revolver free from its holster.
“You know, these are supposed to go in the head, yeah?” I say, making eye contact with the kid. “Seeps into the brain, wipes things out. But if it goes into a shoulder, a leg…” I shrug my shoulders. “There’s a chance it won’t work. Gotta run through the bloodstream first.”
The kid stares back at me. I think he gets what I mean, but maybe he’ll just have to experience it first. So, I lift the revolver, aim it at his bicep, and pull the trigger.
He yelps, and I wonder if I’ve forgotten to put the right bullets in. But no, I see it now: the pronged cartridge locked in his bicep, delivering that special serum the Department cooks up.
“It’ll come off on its own,” I say. “I recommend you get out of Dodge. Stay off the beaten path.”
I turn back to the cops before they can suspect I’ve done something kind. They smile and nod like the donut-addicts they are.
“Thanks for your help,” Mustache says.
“Chicken guts,” Brown-Gray mumbles.
“Yeah,” I agree. “Those tectonic chicken guts.”
He gives me a confused frown, but that just makes me smile more. As I walk to my car and yank on the door, I spy the kid sprinting away. The cops laugh at him, pointing. They expect him to do that thing most people do once the memories fade: to stop running, to turn around with a sort of wondrous where the hell am I expression, or even to just plain-old drop like a sack of potatoes.
But the kid doesn’t do any of those things. He keeps running.
I get behind the wheel, and I close the door behind me. Inside, it’s warm. I stow my gun away, and I log the spent cartridge. The cops’ll tell HQ that everything went A-okay. But as I watch that kid’s legs spring across the cold pavement, I see the cartridge detach from his arm and go tinkling down onto the ground.
What are the cops’ names? Did I get them?
I throw the car into reverse and back away from the scene. It’s almost dinner time. Almost time for some more beans and mushrooms.
About the author: Keith LaFountaine is a writer from Vermont and a member of the Horror Writers Association. His short fiction has appeared in Dread Stone Press, Literally Stories, and Black Fox Literary Magazine. Other stories can be found on his website, www.keithlafountaine.com, and his Twitter, @KL_writing.
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