Cassie sat in the plastic chair and looked around at the group in the circle. The man next to her smelled of fish; the woman across from her twitched nervously and ate her fingernails then spit the pieces into the middle of the circle; the woman two seats away on Cassie’s left rocked back and forth rhythmically, driving Cassie nuts.
Cassie knew they were all here for the same end result: to create a new life for themselves, but this was going to be a tough crowd. Cassie had led these groups for three months now, and each new group that came through brought new and frightening stories of the lives they were leaving behind.
She always started the group the same way: “Tell me why you need a new identity.”
Each person would share their horror stories of bridge trolls that had raised the tolls too high for their families to afford, and threatened to eat them; sprites invading their hedges and terrorizing their homes; wood nymphs transforming their children into trees. The stories were endless and no less terrifying each time Cassie heard them.
Baybridge wasn’t the typical island town with typical people and typical problems. Baybridge was a sanctuary for the forgotten mythical creatures of old, but lately, it had turned into a nightmare for the few humans who remained. The humans left in Baybridge, just trying to live their lives, were slowly being pushed out by the creatures that didn’t want them there. This latest batch of humans hoping for new lives were no different. They were being pushed out and had had enough.
Baybridge was founded by sympathetic humans, but the creatures here had forgotten that fact or chose to ignore it. Cassie was betting on the latter.
These group sessions were necessary and for the best, but each time Cassie was approached to lead another, she had to remember that she was giving the humans a better life. Each session sapped her energy and drained her happiness, but she knew Lady Sandra the caladrius – a great white bird with healing powers - would help her recover after.
Cassie was chosen to lead the Human Relocation Program because she was half-mermaid, half-human, with the ability to sort through a person’s mind and take the memories she chose. She had two legs, but flippered feet and could breathe both water and air. She was the ideal person to help these humans transition back into the world of the forgotten.
Humans couldn’t leave Baybridge knowing who and what lived there. The creatures on this island had been exploited to the point of madness over the eons, and these few creatures were all that had survived. They deserved their privacy, their secrecy, and their protection. It drove Cassie crazy that her fellow-creatures were treating the humans on the island in exactly the same way the humans had treated them in the past, but she hadn’t been able to get through to any of them. Instead, she led these groups to help the humans escape the nightmares these creatures were creating for them.
Cassie listened intently as the fingernail-biting woman recounted her story of a brownie infestation and couldn’t take it anymore. The woman feared she would go mad if she didn’t leave now. The brownies had assaulted her constantly, day and night. She hadn’t slept in a week, and couldn’t even drink a cup of coffee without one of them ruining it for her. Salt in the sugar shaker, soap in her toothpaste tube, bleach in her laundry soap, toilet paper that turned to ash as soon as she touched it, the list was endless. Cassie eventually had to ask her to stop or she would be here all night.
She asked the woman to approach her and kneel down in front of her. Cassie put her hands on either side of the woman’s head and closed her eyes, asking the woman to do the same. She sifted through her memories and found everything relating to Baybridge and the creatures that lived there. She left the woman’s memories of her mother and father, their childhood home, anything that was free of the creatures. It didn’t leave her with much, but it would be enough to let her live a happy and fulfilled life far away from here.
Cassie gently took her hands from the woman’s head and tied a blindfold around her eyes. She then placed earbuds in her ears and turned on soothing music loud enough to drown out the unique island sounds. The woman was then escorted out to a waiting van that would take her to the docks. She would board the ferry and never look back, forgetting about this place entirely within the first few seconds of stepping foot on dry land across the bay. The perpetual fog that surrounded this island would work its magic and that would be the end of it.
Cassie repeated this process with each person in the group until she was left with only one man. He hadn’t shared any memories; he hadn’t spoken up during each person’s confession and subsequent departure; he had simply sat there waiting his turn.
“What if I want to stay here?” the man asked when they were finally alone.
“Why are you here if you want to stay?” Cassie asked. “This group is for humans who want to leave.”
“My experiences aren’t as frightening as all those other people,” he gestured around to the now empty chairs. “In fact, everyone’s been quite nice to me.”
“I don’t understand,” Cassie said with a deep frown. “Then why did you come?”
“I’ve heard about you. You can take only the memories you choose to take, and leave the rest intact?”
“Yes,” Cassie said.
“My wife just died,” he said slowly, wringing his hands together in his lap. “Could you take the memories of her sickness, but leave the rest?” He looked up at Cassie with a hopeful expression.
Cassie’s heart broke for this man.
“Tell me more,” she said in earnest.
* * *