The noise in the café was almost too much for Michael to bear.
To everyone else, the place was peaceful and quiet; a soft conversation between friends, the patter of rain against a window, the rich scent of freshly made coffee. But as he sat in a small, cozy spot in the corner, he couldn’t manage to block out the cacophony that roared in his brain.
The memories of those around him passed through his mind in a mad rush; a whirlwind of thoughts, images, and emotions. All things they had experienced were laid bare in his thoughts. He tried to push them away. He tried to ignore them. But, just like every day of his life, the memories were painfully distracting. He should have been used to it by now - his mind had been involuntarily picking up other’s memories for years – but they were always hard to ignore.
A welcome diversion came when Peter arrived, greeted Michael with a cheerful “Long time no see!”, and took a seat across from him. Michael shook his head to clear his mind, then gave his old friend a small, but genuine, smile.
“It’s been a while,” Michael said, taking a sip from his coffee.
“No kidding.” Peter glanced down at Michael’s drink. “Started without me, huh?”
“You took too long,” he said with a grin.
Peter called over the waitress, who was a middle-aged woman with a tired look in her eye. The instant she came into view, one of her memories filled Michael’s mind.
The view of a driveway. A man getting into a car and slamming the door shut. The car speeding away, then disappearing down the street. Knowing that the man won’t come back this time. It was a type of memory he’d seen before - many of them were similar, bombarding him from all angles whenever a person entered his vision.
Peter ordered. As the waitress left, her memory began to fade. It silenced completely once she was out of Michael’s range of sight.
“So,” Peter said, leaning back in his chair. “How’s college life been treating you? Do you have your own place yet?”
Michael nodded. “I bought a small home in the countryside. It’s nice. Peaceful.”
Michael laughed softly. “Yeah. There aren’t many neighbours to worry about.” For him, solitude was a wonderful thing. When there were no people around him, the memories stopped. His small, quiet home was the single place where he felt normal – something he hadn’t felt since he’d first discovered his ability as a child.
The waitress returned with Peter’s order, and her memory came with her. As usual, it was the same one as before; by this point he knew that he could only receive one memory from each person per meeting.
Peter began telling him all about his own home, while Michael simply sat and listened, sipping from his mug. Despite Michael’s best efforts to pay attention, Peter’s voice was soon drowned out by the flickering memories of those in the café. There were too many to count, too many emotions to keep track of. Some flew through his mind in brief glimpses, while others played out in full detail. He tried to block them out, to shake them away, but they clung to him like bark on a tree.
Tired and smiling, holding up a soccer trophy for a camera.
Holding back tears while sitting by a hospital bed.
The view of a campfire, people huddled around it, the sound of laughter and conversation.
Peter was still talking. Michael laughed at the right times, put in his word of advice, made a comment every now and then. But his mind was in other places; many other places.
Then a single memory took full hold of his thoughts.
An empty street. Hiding in the shadows. A knife hidden in the folds of a jacket. A young woman walking down the sidewalk, passing under a streetlight.
Peter was still talking. But the memory was stronger than the others, refusing to be ignored.
Stepping closer. Pulling the knife out and gripping it tightly.
Attacking. Her startled scream. Blood.
“Michael?” Peter’s voice broke through the haze of the memory just as it ended. Michael’s hands gripped the edge of the table with pale knuckles.
The memory repeated. Over and over again.
His breaths came in short, shallow gasps. He frantically looked at each of the people in the café. That was one of their memories. Something they had done.
One of these people is a murderer.
“Michael?” Peter said again. “Hey, you okay?”
His eyes snapped back to his friend, who was staring at him, brow knit in worry.
“Y-yeah.” His voice trembled. “I just…zoned out for a minute. Sorry.” He slowly released the table and let his hands fall into his lap.
Peter looked unconvinced, but he shrugged after a moment and resumed the conversation.
But Michael wasn’t listening. His hands clasped together, so tightly that they began to numb.
There were still other memories in his mind, but the previous one was stronger. That meant it was someone close by. The killer was near him.
The memory played again.
An empty street.
He glanced over his shoulder. His gaze hopped from person to person, desperately trying to find a face that matched the scene playing in his mind. But it was useless. The memory, as always, was from their point of view. There was no way to tell who it was.
“You look pale,” Peter commented. “Is something wrong?”
For a moment, he was tempted to tell Peter everything. He deserved to know that they were in danger, that there was a murderer somewhere with them. But how would he tell him? How could he explain any of this? Peter would think he was insane.
All he could do was keep Peter and himself safe. They needed to get out of that café right away.
He finally came up with the right words to say. “I…I think I’m coming down with something,” he lied. “It might be best if I went home. Sorry.”
Peter sighed, but nodded. “That’s fine. I don’t want you getting sick.” He called over the waitress and began to pay for their drinks. Her memory came once again, but it was barely a whisper against the scream of the murderer’s.
“Do you have a ride?” Peter asked as the waitress left.
“I took the bus.”
“I can drive you home.”
Michael followed Peter out of the building. Another person – a broad-shouldered man – left at the same time, trailing behind them.
The memory was still strong. Michael glanced over his shoulder at the man. His stomach twisted. Was it him?
His heart hammered against his ribs, even as they walked through the parking lot to Peter’s car. A new group of people walked into his line of sight, and a fresh wave of memories came. But the murder memory remained – as did the man from the café, who was now crossing the street.
Michael was quiet as they got in the car. He didn’t speak as they drove through the town and onto the quiet country roads that led to his house.
“We’ll have to meet again soon,” Peter said.
Michael nodded absently. “Sorry this didn’t work out as planned.”
Peter shrugged. “It’s fine. We can meet another time.”
“Maybe,” was all he said.
Finally, they drove onto the quiet road that led to his house. The streets were empty – not a person in sight. He began to relax a bit. It was over. The only memories he had to worry about were Peter’s.
Peter. He frowned as realization dawned. Had he received a memory from him that day? He focussed his mind, intending on searching for Peter’s memory; it would still be there, as long as Peter was.
But there was nothing. His mind was empty.
Except for that one, single memory.
An empty street.
This isn’t…this isn’t possible. It should have been gone by now. There was no one else on the road, and the man from the café was gone. Michael was alone.
Alone. Except for Peter.
His breath stopped short. He glanced at his friend, who sat at the wheel, his posture relaxed, his eyes bright.
The memory. It was his.