They came chasing the same thing. They were typically in their forties, men and women alike. This day, it was a man who knocked on the nondescript door of the nondescript office above the nondescript Persian rug shop. It drizzled outside, gray, like a cloudy memory.
“What exactly should I expect here?” he asked, stepping inside the office with a curious gaze before plunking a small stack of banded bills—damp from the rain—into the woman’s expectant, gloved hands.
She counted it carefully—purposefully emphasizing the sound her latex fingers made as they shuffled through the money—before committing to an answer. “As we discussed, you only provide me with the song, along with the cash, of course. Whatever reasons you have for wishing to feel the things you once did? You keep those to yourself.”
They always took an extra moment to consider the purpose of the bizarre machinery in the room: shining blue diamond crystals displayed inside a clear box atop a control panel bursting with blinking lights, knobs, and levers. It looked like a campy set piece from an Ed Wood film. A dozen coiled cables ran to a dozen sealed, egg-shaped pods, each large enough to hold a person. The muffled sound of music hummed within them. There was one more pod, but this one was open. It had a cushioned seat and a shiny metal rod protruding from the floor.
He asked quietly, maybe looking for a way to still back out. “How does it work, exactly?”
“You’ll feel a vibration and a near-unbearable buzzing in your head, but it’s only your body and your memory working to align with the quantum acoustics of your song, trying to find their way back to when you first heard it. When this part of you ‘finds’ the song again, the buzzing will subside, and you’ll be free to experience that particular memory again, just as it was the first time.”
The funny thing was, inexplicably, they all wished to re-experience the moments that made them saddest. It was the first song I heard after my mother died, they’ll say. Or, I’d never heard that song until it played in the car the night he broke my heart. Or even just, It was the song that brought me to tears at the tenth-grade dance, when I realized I was never going to find a partner.
There existed within them what’s known to psychologists as a ‘reminiscence bump’, mostly that nostalgia from their teens and early twenties that they can’t seem to stop thinking about as they get older and older. Musical emotions flare their memory processes, and give them a big hit of dopamine. The brain’s Heschl’s gyrus lights up like fireworks. Other psycho-physiological responses, like chills and goosebumps, occur as well. “But because of how your flawed minds work, music isn’t simply allowing you to retrieve memories and relive them, it’s mostly creating all-new memories. And you don’t even realize it. Those chills you think you still get are not the same ones as you had initially. Your thoughts and feelings, your chronology, and the people around you, cannot be recreated because you are different now, even if that song is still the same.”
His song, a bittersweet rock ballad, had once crackled through his bedroom, sounding like the end of everything he knew. There was a wistful guitar solo that got him every time. The last time he ever saw the love of his life. It had woven into the smells of the changing seasons ever since, but never quite the same.
“When you feel you’ve finished with your experience, simply let go of the conduit and you’ll wake up.”
“Will I remember everything that just happened?”
“As well as you already recall experiencing it the first time around.” She pressed a button and motioned for him to step inside the open eggshell.
He climbed in. “Does this work for everyone?”
“No one else has yet to let go of their conduits. They must have discovered what they sought in coming here and don’t wish to lose it again.”
He laughed an unsure, muffled sort of laugh but immediately questioned whether she was joking or not. She merely remained straight-faced, as the eggshell sealed itself and her hand steadied to pull down on an ominously large lever. “Let’s begin.”
R. Tim Morris has previously published five novels, and has had other works of short fiction published with Louisiana Literature, ELJ Editions, Roi Fainéant Press, Maudlin House, and Cerasus Magazine, to name a few. He lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife and two children, and is currently working on his sixth novel. You can read more about his work at rtimmorris.com