His Memories Bleed Through

NOTE: This story was originally published in Mobius Blvd Magazine, Issue 7, 2024.

Mira looked at the shrunken husk that had once been her father. He lay in a hospital bed under layers of heavy blankets, slowly forgetting how to breathe. He let out a gasp. His frail ribcage heaved with rapid, shallow breaths. Then, for a long moment, there were no breaths at all, until another rattling gasp and heave escaped his chest. The chill autumn wind seemed to breathe with him through the cracks in the windowsill.

Next to the bed, Mira fidgeted on the hard wooden stool. The small bedroom was hot and stuffy; her pink sweater and gray slacks were damp with sweat. Her stomach churned at the thought that the smell of death would linger on her clothes, following her wherever she went. Her sparse lunch tried to lodge itself in her throat. Mira swallowed it back down.

She frowned at her younger sister Grace, who stood behind their father’s balding head. At twenty-nine, Grace still looked like a teenager. Her blue hair, red t-shirt, purple pants, and black combat boots were more suitable for a punk show at a dive bar than for a deathbed vigil.

Their father’s eyes opened wide. He scanned the room as if searching for something no one else could see. An old silver scar gleamed on the pale skin under his left eye. His mouth moved but no sound came out. Their father raised a trembling hand.

Grasping his cold hand, Mira pressed the back of it to her hot cheek. She leaned close to her father’s face and said, “It’s ok, Dad. You can let go now. I love you.” She looked at her sister. “Grace, tell him—”

“Cerebral net status,” Grace said out loud to her neural link. Her eyes scanned the data received by her retinal link. She then glanced at the array of microscanners and sensors hovering like a halo over her father’s head. At a thought from Grace, her neural link sent a list of minor modifications to the halo. The faint blue glow turned red while it made the adjustments.

“For God’s sake! Tell Dad he can go!” Mira said.

Grace raised her eyebrows and glanced down at her father with piercing blue eyes that matched his and Mira’s. “Stop holding on. It’s your time, old man.” She turned to Mira. “How was that?”



Their father gasped one more time and then, nothing.

Mira and Grace held their breath.

The hospice nurse stepped forward and placed his gloved fingers on their father’s neck. Then he put his stethoscope on their father’s chest. The silence seemed to last forever.

“He’s gone,” he said.

Mira placed her father’s limp hand on the bed. Tears pooled in her eyes. She covered her mouth to stifle a sob.

Grace said, “Download stats.” She scanned the readout. The corners of her mouth lifted. “Mira, I got them. It worked.”

Mira shook her head. “What? How much—”

Grace grinned. “Everything from the last thirty-five years!”


Mira followed Grace into her office at Cerebri Corp. She stared at the spacious room and floor-to-ceiling windows as the soundproof door slid shut behind her. While Grace was on track to become CEO, Mira was one of Cerebri Corp’s many faceless, voiceless accountants, destined to be forever hidden in a tiny basement cubicle.

She sat across from Grace and tried to ignore the chair as it automatically adjusted to her height and posture. Mira frowned at the walls instead; they shone a dull gray with muddy brown streaks. The luminescent coating was programmed to shimmer with a rainbow of colors that changed with the time of day, the emotions of the viewer, and myriad other factors. It was something Grace had developed when she was an undergrad. I bet she never sees any ugly colors, she thought.

“I skimmed the files to get an idea of what the cerebral net was able to download,” Grace said. Her eyes were bright, her skin radiant.

Mira stifled a sigh. Her eyes looked bruised and abused from two days spent crying and barely sleeping. The wall color shifted; red streaks infiltrated the brown. Her face felt hot. She took deep breaths until the red faded away. “He didn’t want this. He didn’t want us digging through his private li—”

“Everything was fucking private! I doubt even Mom knew him. That’s probably why she left.” Grace turned to her console. “How do you love someone you don’t know?”

“I loved him,” Mira said.

“You loved an idea of him.”

Mira grimaced. “I knew him—”

“Then why are you here?”

“He’s gone. I want you to leave him alone.” Mira choked back a sob.

Grace stiffened. “Dad was always alone. Both he and that house were so fucking cold. Especially after Evan died.” She drew in a long breath before whispering, “I have to know if he ever loved me.”

Mira felt her scratchy eyes fill with tears. “Oh, Grace—”

“If he didn’t, I won’t feel bad I didn’t cry for the bastard.” Grace spun around to face Mira. “At his age, his childhood memories were too degraded to download, so we’ll have to start in his early twenties when he was a scout in the war. That would’ve been just before The Desolation.”

Mira shuddered. She remembered her high school history teacher describing The Great Desolation as if she were reading the day’s weather report. “At the end of the war, a doomsday device was detonated in Beratonia. When their shield dome unexpectedly vanished, our troops searched the entire country and found no one, living or dead. All signs of civilization had vanished without a trace. It’s unknown to this day who did it or why.”

“I don’t want to see that,” Mira said.

Grace continued, “I scanned for any specific events that could have been traumatic for him. We’ll start with those. Unfortunately, the Memento Vita project is still in the early stages. It can show us what Dad saw and heard, but not what he felt or thought.” She handed Mira a pair of wrap-around, thin-lensed glasses. “You really should get retinal and neural links, you know.”

“I didn’t even want the aural—”

“The glasses will act like a retinal link and auto-connect with your aural link. It might feel overwhelming. Just relax and remember, it’s not real. We’re only along for the ride.”

Patronizing as always, Mira thought. She watched Grace recline in her chair and shut her eyes. Mira fumbled around for a button or lever; she let out a small yelp when the chair reclined on its own. Her aural link emitted a hum when she slid the glasses on. The lenses turned opaque.

At first, there was darkness and silence. And then…

Bright sunlight streamed through the bare trees. The wind whispered through the branches. Small tufts of scraggly brown grass dotted the dry forest floor.

The scout touched his watch. A holo of a compass and map with a blinking dot appeared above the screen. He dismissed it and walked until he came to a deep hollow. He slid down into it, sat on the ground with his back to a rotting log, and set down his pack. He pulled a tiny, military-issue pill box out of his pocket. The lid was labeled ‘caffeine’ in red letters. He popped a tablet into his mouth. After drinking some water from his canteen, the man leaned back and closed his eyes for several moments.

When he opened them, the pack was gone. He jumped up and peered out of the hollow. A soldier in enemy uniform sprinted away, clutching his pack.

The scout chased after him.

The enemy ran toward a pile of boulders that stood near an energy shield.

The scout lost sight of him. He pulled a small pistol from its holster and slowly advanced toward the boulders. Circling them, he found nothing. The soldier was gone.

“Fucking hell,” he whispered. He walked to the edge of the energy shield. The shimmering gray wall rose out of sight. The surface rippled like water when the wind touched it. Partially liquified remains of squirrels and birds littered the bare ground nearby. There were no openings in sight.

The scout moved away from the shield and squatted on the other side of the rocks. Popping another caffeine tablet, he stared at the yellow lichen that grew in circular patches over the craggy granite. One of the boulders winked out of existence for a second, as if he had blinked. Then the boulder flickered and reappeared.

The man moved closer. The stone quivered and vanished, revealing a tunnel. He tapped the light on his left shoulder. A red circle illuminated the tunnel entrance. He stuck his head inside. It was silent. Pistol in hand, he crawled inside on his hands and knees. He followed the tunnel as it sloped down and then up again. It ended at another boulder. When he touched it with the barrel of his gun, the rock vanished.

He peered out into a dim, gray world. His breath misted in the air. The dome of the energy shield hovered high overhead like a permanent cloud cover. Scattered nearby were dead trees and animal bones. The crumbling remains of a small village peeked through patchy fog.

Twenty feet ahead, the enemy soldier crouched. His back was to the scout. There were no other soldiers in sight.

Creeping closer, the scout raised his aphonic pistol and fired.

The soldier stiffened and collapsed. Red blood seeped from the hole in his chest

into the mud.

The scout turned the body over with his foot. The soldier was a boy, no more than thirteen years old. The dirty, threadbare uniform of a much larger man dwarfed his emaciated body. Clutched in his hand was a meal bar.

A whimper came from behind the scout. He turned.

Another young, thin boy stepped out of the bushes. As he walked toward the scout with filthy hands outstretched, blood bloomed from a hole in his throat.

Bullets whizzed past. The scout dove behind a boulder. The top of the rock exploded. A granite shard hit his left cheek.

Soldiers swarmed over the scout. They took his gun and knocked him to the ground. Someone kicked him in the ribs.

The scout curled up.

Laughter rang out. The soldiers rolled the scout onto his back and searched his pockets.

The scout stared at the energy shield above. Red streaks had diffused into the shimmering gray as if a painter had dipped a brush filled with vermillion pigment into murky water. The red seeped out of the sky, coloring the edges of his vision.

One soldier said, “Voster anta restret?”

The scout was silent.

“Voster anta restret?”

“Rot in hell, bastards.”

Another soldier pulled out a knife. He dug the tip into the scout’s shoulder, pushing harder and harder.

The world turned crimson. It glowed brighter and brighter.

The scout screamed. Blinding white light filled his vision.

Everything went black.

The scout cracked open his eyes. Sunlight shone into them. He blinked and sat up with a groan. The fog had cleared.

The soldiers were gone. So was the dome.

The scout pulled himself to his knees and rose to his feet. Shading his eyes, he scanned the horizon. The village was gone. There was nothing but brown mud dotted with puddles of red.

Mira ripped off her glasses. “What the hell was that?”

Grace sat up and opened her eyes. “The Bleeding Fields. Dad must have been there when the doomsday device went off.” She rubbed her face. “But how the fuck did he survive when nothing else did?”

Staring at the carpet, Mira felt her breakfast creep its way up her throat. She swallowed it back down. “I don’t want to see anymore. That’s obviously what made him—”

“Mom said he’d been tortured as a POW. That they’d cut out his tongue. We haven’t seen that yet. We need to keep going.” Grace closed her eyes and leaned back.

Mira reached into her pocket and clutched a crumpled paper before she put on her glasses and followed Grace back in.

The scout tore off his sleeve and struggled to bandage his shoulder one-handed. He walked past the place where the village had been. The sun left its zenith and began its slow descent. A landscape of muck and red polka-dots remained unchanged until the scout came to a series of crimson ponds. He spun around and searched the horizon. A crow circling overhead was the only thing that moved.

He checked his map. The dot placed him in the center of a large city. He scanned the attached intelligence file. It noted a pre-war population of three million.

Red tinted the sky. The man sat on a rock and rubbed his face. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a small signal mirror, and held it up. His jaw glowed, turning the spatters of dirt and blood into black specks.

Footsteps squelched in the mud. The scout turned his head.

Soldiers wearing the same uniform as his surrounded him with aphonic pistols raised. Each man was tinged with red.

“Gre nata deta! Raise your hands!”

The scout glanced back at the mirror. His jaw blazed scarlet. He opened his mouth. White light poured out. He turned to the soldiers and yelled, “Run!”

There was a bright flash and then darkness. When the scout opened his eyes, the soldiers were gone.

With trembling hands, the scout held up the mirror again. His face looked normal. “What is this?” he whispered. He took a knife from his belt. He raised it to his throat. After several moments, he lowered it. Tears blurred his vision.

The man fell to his knees in the mud and jammed the mirror into a crack in the rock. “Why is this happening?” he screamed at his reflection.

The fringes of his vision filled with red. He opened his mouth. His tongue shined dazzling white. “No,” he whispered. The mirror disappeared in a puff of dust.

In one quick movement, the scout lifted his knife and swung it in front of his face. Blood splattered the rock. He watched his tongue splash into the red muck, its brilliant glow fading away.

Everything went black.

Mira and Grace sat up. They were silent for several minutes, each lost in her own thoughts.

Mira rolled her tongue around in her mouth to confirm it was still there; it throbbed where she must have bitten it. “We’ve seen enough. We have to stop!”

Grace shook her head. “There’s another memory I need to see.” She picked up her coffee mug. Her hand trembled.

“Grace, please. I can’t—”

“Then don’t!” Grace slammed her mug on the desk. Cold coffee splashed onto her hand.

Mira flinched and said, “What memory?”

“The day Evan died.”

Mira blanched. Evan had been home sick that day, so Mom had taken the girls to school on her way to work. Dad was supposed to be home watching him. In the police statement, Dad had noted that he had run to the pharmacy around the corner to get medicine while Evan was sleeping. When he returned, Evan was dead. The police had ruled it an accidental death.

Grace leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.

Taking deep breaths, Mira leaned back.

Evan lay in his bed with his eyes closed. His breaths were shallow and fast. His chubby cheeks were flushed red.

His father touched the watch on Evan’s wrist. On the strap, the cartoon dog and boy wearing a white bear hat danced. The screen flashed a temperature of 102.5° F. The man walked to the adjoining bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. A full bottle of children’s cold medicine sat on the top shelf. He poured the orange goop into the small measuring cup and took it to the bedroom. He nudged Evan awake.

Evan opened his eyes. He groaned, trying to roll over.

His father helped the boy sit up and gestured that he take the medicine.

“Ewww, don’t want it,” Evan murmured.

The man sighed. He held the back of Evan’s head and pushed the cup to his lips.

“No!” Evan knocked it out of his hand. The cup hit the wall, splattering orange goop. The boy struggled against his father. His flushed face darkened. A faint light shone from between his clenched teeth.

His father jumped off the bed and stumbled back into the wall.

Evan whimpered. The light in his mouth grew brighter until his jaw glowed.

The man turned and ran down the hall to the storage closet. He dug in the drawers for a large pair of sewing shears. He grabbed them and dashed back to Evan’s room. Before entering, he hid the shears behind his back.

Tears streamed down Evan’s cheeks. His lips trembled.

His father brought his index finger to his lips and shook his head as he sat on the edge of the bed. The man grasped Evan’s chin and pointed his mouth away from his face. He pulled the boy’s mouth open with one hand. The other raised the shears.

Evan’s eyes opened wide. His tongue moved as if he was about to speak.

His father flinched and ducked.

The boy wriggled out of his father’s grasp, leaped out of bed, and ran into the hall.

His father chased Evan down the stairs.

Evan flew toward the back of the house. He dashed out the door and into the yard in his bare feet.

The man ran outside, scissors still clutched in his hand.

Wet brown maple leaves coated the yard and surface of the in-ground pool.

Evan sprinted alongside the water. He slid on a patch of leaves, pitched backward, and slammed his head against the concrete patio.

The man stopped. He stared at Evan.

Evan lay still.

He walked to the boy’s side and knelt.

Evan’s eyes stared at the sky, unblinking. His breaths came in irregular gasps interspersed with long moments of nothing as if he couldn’t remember how to breathe. The boy’s mouth lolled open. The glow of his tongue dimmed to an ember.

His father closed Evan’s mouth. He brushed the boy’s bangs out of his eyes and caressed his cheek. He pushed the boy closer to the edge of the pool.

Then his father rolled Evan into the deep end.

Rippling waves sent a flurry of dead leaves sinking to the bottom.

The man stood and went into the house without a second glance. He put the shears away. He scrubbed the bedroom wall clean of orange goo and poured the remaining medicine down the drain.

The man went downstairs, put on his shoes and coat, and walked out the front door.

Mira pulled off her glasses. Her chest felt tight. She clenched her jaw to hold back a scream.

Grace sat up, her face blank.

Neither woman moved or spoke for a long time.

Mira finally said, “What should we do?”

Grace blinked and shook her head. “About what?”

“Dad killed Evan.”

“I think Dad killed a lot more people than our little brother,” Grace said. She spoke to her console. “What was the population of Beratonia before the Desolation?”

A pleasant disembodied voice responded, “One-hundred and fifty-three million people.”

The glasses slipped from Mira’s fingers. “You think Dad did that?”

“We saw it. He was the only one who survived.”

Mira slid her hand into her pocket. She clutched the paper. “No, he wouldn’t—”

“It looked like Evan could do it, too, whatever it was.” Grace smirked. “It actually worked out for Dad. An accidental drowning is easier to explain than cutting out your kid’s tongue.”

Mira glared at Grace. “Don’t tell me you approve of what he did.”

Grace shrugged. “Do you still love him after what you’ve seen?”

“I… I don’t know. He was a monster.”

“He did what he had to do,” Grace said.

“He was supposed to protect his child, not kill him.” Mira’s tongue throbbed in time with the headache that pulsed behind her eyes. “Should we tell someone about Beratonia? The government or something?”

Grace snorted. “Christ, Mira. Think! We’d get hauled off to some secret lab and tested like guinea pigs. Do you want that?” She pointed to the dime-sized data crystal sitting on the transceiver pad of her console. “Thankfully, I only stored Dad’s memories locally. No one else at the company has access.”

The walls swirled a sickly yellow-green. Mira’s stomach heaved. She slipped to her knees, grabbed the trash can, and vomited up her breakfast.

Grace’s eyes softened. She handed Mira a bottle of water. “You ok?”

“Of course, I’m not ok.” Mira’s stomach heaved again. She reached into her pocket for a tissue. A piece of paper fell out.

“What’s that?” Grace asked.

“Nothing!” Mira reached for it.

Grace lunged and snatched up the paper. “This is Dad’s handwriting. Where did you get it?”

“It was in the safe with his will. It didn’t make sense until now.”

Grace read it out loud.

“To Mira and Grace, I caused The Desolation. I spent years searching for the reason I was cursed with this terrible power. When I didn’t find one, I wanted to die. Then you girls and Evan were born, and you gave me a reason to live. But I passed my curse on to Evan, and maybe to you, too. I should have killed all of us when I realized. I was a coward. Do what needs to be done. Kill yourselves before it’s too late.

“Let this evil end with us.”

The letter slid from Grace’s fingers onto the floor. “He passed it on to us…” She pulled a bottle of vodka out of a desk drawer, poured some into her cup, and took a gulp. The mix of leftover coffee and vodka made her grimace. “I guess all of this explains why he chose sign language over a neural link and voice generator.”

Mira shoved the paper back into her pocket. “So what do we do now?”

“Get drunk for starters. The fuck if I know after that.” Grace picked up what looked like a silver pen off the workbench next to her desk. “We could use this laser cutter to remove our tongues. Or slit our throats.”

Holding up the bottle, Grace said, “Drink up, my dear, cursed sister. It could’ve been worse. At least we don’t have children.”

Mira’s lips quivered. Her hand went to her stomach.

Grace’s eyes widened. “Oh, my God. Tell me it’s not true!”

Mira wrapped her arms around her abdomen and didn’t respond.

Grace began to laugh hysterically. When she got herself under control again, she wiped her eyes and said, “You always make the worst fucking life choices. I don’t understand how we’re related.” She took a swig of vodka straight from the bottle. “You know you have to get rid of it.”

Mira glared at the walls. Red threaded into the murky yellow-green.

“Mira, did you hear me? You can’t have this baby. It’s too dangerous.”

“I won’t kill my child.”

Grace slammed the bottle on the desk. “Dad wiped out an entire country by accident. What happens if your child has a temper tantrum? They might destroy the whole world!”

The walls turned a deep crimson that pulsed in time with the pain in Mira’s head and tongue. “I’m not like Dad!”

“You’re right, you’re not like Dad! He did what he had to do.”

Crimson seeped into the edges of Mira’s vision. “I’ll go somewhere far away. You’ll never see me again. If you destroy the memory files—”

“Are you crazy?”

“Please, Grace. I’ve never asked you for anything. Just let me—”

“If you don’t have an abortion, I’ll send the files to the news outlets,” Grace said.

“You can’t! They’ll figure out who Dad is. They’ll take my baby and you and I will end up prisoners in some secret lab like you said.”

“That thing will cause another Desolation,” Grace said.

“That thing is your nephew or niece,” Mira said quietly.

“Who could kill every creature on Earth!”

Mira stood and said, “I won’t let that happen. Erase the files.”

Grace smiled. It failed to reach her eyes. “I’ll erase the files once you’ve erased that abomination.”

Mira blinked. The whole world was painted red. Her tongue burned like she was sucking on a hot coal.

“Mira, your face!” Grace jumped up and backed away. “Don’t say anything!”

Mira slapped both hands over her mouth. Her body trembled.

“Shit! Shit! Shit! Try to stay calm, ok?” Grace grabbed the laser cutter. “I can remove your tongue with this. It’ll cauterize the wound so you don’t bleed out.”

Mira’s eyes widened. She shook her head and stepped back.

Grace took a step toward her. She spoke in a quiet, soothing voice. “We have to, Mira.”

Mira moved one hand from her mouth to her stomach.

“We’ll worry about that later. Right now, let’s do what we have to do.” Grace took another step toward Mira. And another.

Mira ducked her head and shook it harder.

“Don’t be stupid! It’s not like you ever had anything to say anyway!” Grace snapped.

Mira’s head jerked up.

The sisters glared at one another.

Finally, Mira nodded. She stopped trembling as her hand fell away from her mouth.

Grace lifted the laser. “This will hurt. I’m sorry.”

Mira caressed Grace’s cheek. Then she took a big step back and closed her eyes. “Me too,” she whispered.

There was a blinding flash. When Mira opened her eyes, Grace was gone. A pool of blood seeped into the green carpet, turning it a muddy brown.

She wiped the tears from her face with the heels of her hands. She kept her breathing slow and even until the pain in her mouth faded away. “I had plenty to say. You just never listened,” Mira whispered.

She went to Grace’s desk and grabbed the data crystal. She dropped it on the floor and ground the heel of her shoe into it. Once she was certain it was pulverized, she threw back her head and yelled, “THIS IS WHAT I HAVE TO DO!”

Mira felt a tiny flutter in her stomach. She placed a hand over it. The shimmering walls glowed the golden yellow of a sun-dappled afternoon as she walked out of the office without looking back.