Mindbender

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Mac and Me

It was all over, and there was one last thing to do. I took Mac to a diner, bought him breakfast, and little by little, I removed all of the scripting to his brain. Once I was done, and had blown my nose, I settled down to eat, watching him start to come back to life, and back to himself.

“What…” he looked at me. “Richard?” he said. “Your name is Richard.”

“Sort of,” I said, stuffing eggs into my mouth, but I kept my eyes and my brains on him, because he was a free agent now.

“What…” he blinked at the table in front of him, and none of the memories of what had happened were gone, so he struggled to understand why he had participated. Spent a good amount of time trying to convince himself it was a dream.

“No,” I said. “It wasn’t a dream.”

“It wasn’t?” he was terrified.

“Don’t worry, you’re in the clear. I’m in the clear. Everyone that matters is in the clear. You did a good thing, Mac. A really good thing, probably the best thing I’ve ever done, and you helped. So…thank you.”

“Um,” he said, and looked down at his plate, and then back up to me. “You’re welcome. I feel like…well, like…I don’t know why I did it.”

“You did it,” I said, “Because I controlled your mind, buddy.”

“Bullshit,” he said.

I just stared at him.

“I am a fairy princess,” he said, eyes rolling wildly as the words came out of his mouth unbidden, “But I keep my wand and fairy wings in the closet. Also—” he attempted, but clamped both hands over his mouth.

His eyes were bigger than his plate. Like I’ve said before, once people realize who I am, what I can do, and what I have done to them…well, I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t like it, either.

“So like I said,” I continued, carving off a piece of country-fried steak and tucking it into the left side of my mouth. “I controlled your mind. But, in my defense, you were about to kill yourself when I found you.”

He did not argue with me, because he was already dredging up the memory, realizing that the gun was no longer in his pocket, and the question was in his mind, but I answered it for him.

“I’ve got the gun. You can have it back, if you want, but there was something I wanted you to answer for yourself before I did.”

“What’s that?” he said, and looked down at his plate again.

“For fuck’s sake,” I said. “You ordered the breakfast, if you remember. That was all you. It’s all stuff you like. You’re hungry. Eat it, it’s not poisoned or anything. Whatever fucked up plans you fear that I have for you, you’ll face them better on a full stomach, right?”

Somewhat scared, like he was sitting across from a man with a gun who might shoot him if he didn’t comply, he began to eat. After a few moments, he was immersed in it, enjoying the simplicity of eating rather than figuring out what the crazy guy across from him really wanted, or thinking about all of the strange stuff that had happened.

I gave him a few minutes, working on my own food before it could get cold. Once I’d polished off the steak and eggs and had only the hashbrowns remaining, I chased it with a drink of lukewarm coffee, and asked him the question. I already knew the answer, but I wanted him to think about it.

“Do you still want to kill yourself?” I asked.

He stopped cold, and dropped his fork to his plate, and his chest rose and fell, because he was back to that day, that sweaty, hot, alcohol-fueled evening when he’d gang-raped a freshman along with his fraternity brothers.

“That’s what I thought,” I said. “But that’s why I wanted to know, because…I could make it go away.”

He blinked. “What? The desire to kill myself?”

“No,” I said. “Well yes, but I didn’t mean that. The memory of what you did. I could make it go away, if you want, so you never have to think about it again. You never told anyone, right?”

He nodded, slowly, struggling with the idea.

“That makes it easier,” I said, “When there isn’t someone else to remind you of it. Of course, if you had told someone, you’d have dealt with this a hell of a lot better than you have the last eleven years.”

He shook his head, “I never wanted my wife to know.”

I lit up two cigarettes at once, handed him one.

“Can we smoke in here?” he asked, looking around nervously at the mostly-empty diner.

“Yeah,” I said. Every place was smoke-friendly when you could just tell anyone who tried to stop you to go make chicken noises in the corner.

We smoked together for awhile, like men, right down to the filter. Then, sensing his own unsated need, I lit up two more.

“So,” I said. “You don’t want your wife to know. You still hate yourself for what you did, but I don’t have your answer. If you could forget all about it, would you like me to do that?”

“But you can’t…” he said, cigarette burning between his fingers, but I followed the now-familiar habit and answered for him.

“Yes, I can. If no one remembers it, then it never really happened.”

“That’s like if a tree falls in the woods…”

“It may make a sound,” I snapped, because I’ve always been irritable answering that stupid pseudo-conundrum, “But it’s kind of irrelevant that it did if there’s no one around to hear it. Yes, in actuality the event happened. Yes, some people will remember it, but if you don’t remember it and if she doesn’t remember it…”

“Wait, what?” he asked. “What about her?”

“Well, I was in your head,” I said. “I know who she is, I know her name. I know that you’ve tracked her down on Facebook, and you at least know the city where she lives. You’ve got at least three drafts in your email that you’ve never sent to her, even though you’ve figured out her email address, too. Whether or not you want to forget, I’d already planned to pay her a visit and make her forget, too.”

“But why?” he asked.

I shrugged. “For services rendered. Because you’re the only one I tampered with that I have any guilt about, and I want to make it up to you. You’re not a bad guy, Mac. You just made a bad decision once. I think you’ve paid for it enough, and she probably has, too. I figured it might make you feel better to know that she could have a normal life, as if that had never happened.”

He started to cry, and I let him.

“Yes,” he said. “I wish you would do that for her, please.”

I nodded. “And what about you? Would you forget, if you could?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“And why not? Of what possible use is all that pain to you? Other than driving you to kill yourself, that is.”

“I don’t know, it’s just…it seems wrong. I’ve lived with it so long…”

“Overrated,” I said. “Seriously overrated. The scars will remain, the lessons learned, those things are ingrained. But the memory itself is a source of endless nightmares for you, and it’s ruined your life. You really should just take me up on it. You’d be easier to work with.”

“What?” he asked.

“Right, well,” I said, and cleared my throat, which turned into a cough. Damned cigarettes. “You realize that your wife and child think you went off somewhere to kill yourself. I think it’s a safe assumption they think you’re dead.”

He groaned and put his head in his hands and was overcome with guilt once more.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sorry…I did use you. But you were going to kill yourself anyway, and once I knew that…well, you made me responsible for you.”

He looked up at me from his hands, frowned. “Why?”

“You didn’t say it out loud, but…if you knew someone was about to kill themselves, and you let them go anyway, what would that make you?”

He didn’t have to say “accessory”, it was in his head. He just nodded. “I get it.”

“Glad to see you’re not angry at me for hijacking you like that. Some people would be.”

“I should be.”

“But you aren’t. And you’re a little relieved, because now at least one other person knows about your greatest secret. He’s sitting across from you and let me tell you man, I don’t just know you did it…I know it as vividly as you do. I saw the memory, experienced it, the same as you remember it.”

He just froze, staring forward, his brain on a broken loop. Someone knows. Oh holy shit, he’s seen that.

“You had no right…” he whispered.

“You were a fucking dead man,” I interrupted him, jabbing my fork with hashbrowns on it at him. “Dead men have no rights. You were ready to throw your life away. When people throw shit in the trash, they can’t get angry when someone comes along and picks it up. And regardless, you’re missing the point. I was there. I saw what happened, I know how they pressured you to do it. No excuse, right? But you were also drunk almost to the point of alcohol poisoning. By the morning, among that killer hangover, you’d already convinced yourself you’d imagined it, until your buddies mentioned it the next day.”

“Yeah…”

“So let it go. That’s my proposal. Your wife and kids think you’re dead. You could go back to them, and I’m sure they would love to see you, but it would also be hard for awhile. But you could go back without the memory that drove you so far from them in the first place, and your life might actually be awesome without that thing…that constant thing you did ruining it for you. I mean, your wife and daughter deserve a good life too, right? This event is better off being forgotten, but if you insist on remembering it, I can still do the next best thing.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I can take the pain away. I can give you understanding you lack. I can force it right into you, so that when you think of it, it doesn’t fill you with crippling remorse. I can get you to forgive yourself.”

“You said something before about me being easier to work with.”

I nodded, and with the hashbrowns finished I slid the plate out of the way, refilled my coffee and his from the carafe nearby. “Going back to your wife and kids is option one. Here’s option two: A whole new life. A clean slate. I could use a right-hand. Someone to help me out. Someone in the know about all of this. Or just, I dunno…” And then it was my turn to become embarrassed. “…l-l-l-like a f-friend.”

I needn’t have bothered. I knew what his answer would be all along.

“You’re right,” he said. “I’m not mad. But…yeah, if you could do that thing. Make me feel better about it, that would be good. But I don’t want to forget. I guess I just feel like I wouldn’t be me without it, you know?”

I nodded. “I understand. You realize, though, that if that’s your choice, you won’t remember anything about any of this. You’ll walk away from this table thinking you sat here alone the entire time, and everyone else in here will, too. You won’t remember anything that’s happened the last few weeks. It will be a big gap of missing time in your thoughts. But what you will have is peace of mind, and a chance at a new future.”

“You’re going to make me forget?”

“Damn right I will. I can’t babysit you forever, and if you’re not working for me and I let you go, one day you’ll tell someone. And it’s kind of important to me that no one knows what I look like, what I can do. Because they’d turn me into a lab rat.”

He didn’t argue that point. “I guess that makes sense, but like…I won’t ever be able to thank you for it. I…I won’t even know you helped me.”

“Nope.”

“I…” he was wrestling with it now.

“Shit or get off the pot, Macauley James.”

“If I did work with you, would I still be me?”

“Yes.”

“Can you do the thing you were talking about? Make it hurt less? I just want to know what it feels like.”

I concentrated, finding that sore tender spot of his psyche, and I started to untangle his complicated knot of feelings about the subject. I diminished his level of guilt over his actions significantly, but didn’t take it away entirely. The guilt was a part of him, and he expected it to be there. But I adjusted it such that it was the guilt of an older man for his much younger, stupider self. The guilt of a man who has moved on, and can’t change his past, but still regrets his actions. Then I added something important: the knowledge that she was no longer haunted by it, and that she had moved on. It was a lie at that point, but it wouldn’t be in the end, since I had every intention of visiting his rape victim and doing right by her, too.

Then I brought a handkerchief to my nose to sop up the blood, and downed another miracle pill by way of coffee, and waited.

He was grinning from ear to ear. “That,” he said, “Is fucking amazing. And you can just do that?”

I grinned back in spite of myself, because it was rare I ever got praise for my work. “Well, yeah. It takes effort, and often nosebleeds, but yes. I can just do that. Whenever I want.”

He looked around the room. “Wow…you must have a lot of temptation.”

“You have no idea.”

“I really do feel…so much different about it. Like I know I should feel bad, really horrible. Rationally, I know that. I still remember everything, but it feels different, you know?”

“Oh, believe me,” I said, still grinning. “I know.”

“Goddamn,” he said, shaking his head from side to side. “Years of therapy couldn’t even do that.”

“Yeah,” I said, shrugging. “Fuck those people. So now that you see how cool it is, want to be my, like, um…I don’t know, like a sidekick? We can live as we please, and that’s something that almost no one can really say nowadays. You’d never have to sleep alone, for starters.”

“Oh,” he said, and cleared his throat. “I’m not gay.”

I had to laugh. “Wow, phrased that wrong, didn’t I? I’m not gay, either. I meant that I tend to, um, share company with women. Getting you some company wouldn’t be that hard. There are perks of the job, that’s what I’m saying.”

Well, come on, he was only human, and male at that. He thought about it. Downright greedily he thought about it.

“It’s like,” he pondered. “I really could be a whole new person. You could do that for me, if I wanted. If I left my wife and my child, I’d feel horrible about it. Not walking away to kill myself, but just like…walking away? I’d feel terrible. I’d be a real piece of shit.”

I nodded. “Same thing my father did. I hate his fucking guts, although it’s not just for that reason.”

“But like you said, they already think I’m dead. I’d hate myself walking away, but…you could make me forget. Forget my wife and kids.”

“I did it once already,” I said.

“And it would be like a clean slate…I could do so many things I always wanted to do…”

Ahh, the temptation. I knew it well. The power inherent in being able to cleanse memories.

Then he shook his head, stopped. “Me, choosing to do this right now…if, I mean, if I chose to do this right now…that would make me a very shitty person.”

“Unredeemable, really,” I said. “But I think you’re getting it now.”

“Right, I mean, I’d never forgive that guy…” he continued, and he leaned forward with a wry smile on his face. “But if I didn’t remember, if they were truly gone from my memory, I’d be kind of a different person then, right?. You might hold it against the old me…but you couldn’t hold it against the new me who had no memory of them at all.”

“Right. Forget morality,” I said. “I was never asking you what the right thing is to do. This isn’t a test, and I’m in no position to judge anyone except the truly scummiest of fucks. I’m asking you what you really, truly want, man. I can give you anything. Hell, if you want, I can make you religious about getting up every morning and working out, so you can have that muscled bod you’ve always wanted. You can stop wondering what it’s like to fuck a young, thin woman, rather than your plump wife.”

He blushed.

I shrugged. “I see all. I don’t judge. Don’t be embarrassed. Whatever you want, whatever you choose, I won’t hold it against you.”

“You’ve got to promise me one thing,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“That you’ll do for Renee and Dixie what you did for me…you know, make them feel better about me being gone.”

I had a lot of work to do, it sounded like. I extended my hand to him. “No problem.”

He took my hand, and we smiled at each other, and that was that. By the time we left the restaurant, he’d have laughed if you told him that he had ever been married. I felt like his family was better off, anyway. But I did what I said I’d do, and visited the woman he raped and then Mac’s wife and daughter, and made them feel a whole lot better about things. For his wife and daughter, Mac had already set up one hell of a life insurance policy on himself, one that was unfortunately void in the case of suicide.

But I got the insurance company to change their minds. I’m persuasive like that.

And that was how I got a second-in-command, and a friend, with a mind of his own.

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