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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Mystery · #2285204
Two siblings with different relationships to their father visit his abandoned work site.
This piece contains implied sexual abuse. While I have first-hand experience with this subject, the main purpose of their inclusion here is in the examination of the emotions brought about by knowledge of trauma. Additional trigger-warning for parent death.

         My father was the kind of man who never forgot a face. That made him popular in Holberg, since it had become something of a boom town during the Cold War. It seemed that every ferry brought new faces for my dad to memorise, new names to rhapsodise about at dinner. As a kid, I dreamed of the day I could work at the Station, and he'd talk about some clever idea I'd had, just like he did for his coworkers.
         The Station, as he lovingly put it, was the airforce base that presided over Holberg. It was the heart of the whole region; with its construction came shops and a sense of pride that hadn't been felt since Holberg's foundation. It's what made my childhood vibrant.
         My father never forgot a face, until one day he did. He came home one morning, covered in bruises and brambles. Mom sent me up to my room. The doctors said it was the fastest onset of Alzheimer's they had ever seen, and suggested we move to Vancouver for better treatment.
         When my mother and I grew faint in his memory, Dad never forgot Heidi. I visited him alone a few days before the end - Heidi decided she'd rather catch an afternoon showing of Hellraiser. When I got there, he demanded I get Heidi. The only person he ever wanted to see was Heidi.
         A few months later, my father died. A nurse left his door unlocked and he wandered into traffic. So much for better treatment.

         The Station closed shortly after Dad's passing. That's why it was strange when my sister told me she needed me to take her back to Holberg; there wasn't anything or anyone to see. She showed up at my door, stone-faced, wearing pink pyjamas and a pair of hiking boots. She had an idea that could not be changed.
         Mom always said Heidi has the most focus out of anybody, she just didn't know where to put it. Once, she spent her life savings starting a "business" painting and reselling pots from Canadian Tire. No one could talk her out of it, let alone put one of the ugly things in their homes. Needless to say, I told my husband I would be away for the weekend and made reservations for the ferry. At least she would have someone responsible with her.

         On the drive up, Heidi told me she had found her childhood friend Vicky coked out on the Downtown Eastside. Vicky made Holberg news just before we left, when her boyfriend assaulted her. Heidi said she wasn't the same after that. "Thirty years of trauma from one event. I felt too guilty to say anything."
         I parked at the abandoned post office just inside town. The Station loomed above us through the mist, canopied radar arrays staring blankly like eyeballs trapped in a spider's web of cables. Before I could stretch my legs, Heidi took off in that direction.
         Holberg rain is unlike rain anywhere else. It's not your typical pitter-patter that nurses you to sleep at night. It's a heavy cloak known charmingly by denialistic old folks as "heavy dew". It permeates your clothing like sap. It clings to your skin, not out of some natural cohesive force of water, but through a sadistic will to leech warmth from shivering bodies.
         When I complained, Dad would say, "You're not made of sugar. You won't melt, Colin." Heidi just told me to keep walking.
         It startled me how the town had forgotten itself. It pulled brambles and vines over slick, dimpled roads. Houses that were once homes concealed their cracks with mould and filth. Holberg had covered its peaks and trees with a veil of murk, embarrassed of what lay behind.

         I was glad when we made it to the chain-link fence that separated us from the shelter of the Station. The gate opened easily, the heavy chain barring it having been cut by hikers or vandals some time ago. Double doors in the radio building led into a lobby ripped straight from a fifties Sears catalogue. Desks and dusty carpet every faded shade of orange or teal ran down hallways on either side. I swear I could still smell the nicotine.
         To think that this empty station once held engineers from across the country, scanning the skies and keeping us safe. I was roused by the history before me, and that my father was once part of it.
         As I followed Heidi's muddy footprints, it dawned on me that I had never actually been in Dad's office. "Heidi," I asked. "How do you know where we're going? He never let us come up here."
         "Dad never let you come up here."
         The rotted door to dad's office caved in with one hard kick from Heidi's boot, leaving debris strewn across the carpet. His office hadn't been touched since his untimely retirement.
         "Just what in the hell is going on here?" I demanded. "You've dragged me miles into the middle of nowhere with no explanation, and now you're busting up my dad's office? Goddamn it, give me something."
         Heidi held up a hand. "Colin, Dad wasn't the man you think he was." Her determination had slipped. Her eyes were red. "He would take me here late at night and..."
         Words unspoken swept through me like a chill, a mixture of shock and disbelief. That my father could do something unspeakable, and that my sister hadn't trusted me enough to tell me was unbelievable.
         "H- how come you never told us?"
         "I didn't know. Not until I saw what happened to Vicky. When I saw we had the same bruises.
         "He had this... device." Heidi's eyes searched the room, as if to find the proper words. "A cassette player. I never remembered him playing it but I always remembered him putting it away... after.
         "When I put the facts together, I confronted Dad. He tried to get me to listen to the cassette, said I'd understand when I heard our song. Before he pressed play, I put the headphones on him. I let it run and run until the tape ran out.
         "It erases your memory, Colin. I used it on him until it erased everything he knew. I felt so guilty seeing you and Mom crying over him I didn't have the heart to tell you."
         I felt betrayed. The man I spent my whole life trying to become was a monster. His death wasn't a tragedy, but justice. And it was deserved.
         Heidi set a device the size of a deck of cards on the desk. It was heavy, black and reflective like a beetle's carapace. The grey light from the window reflected off its curved surface, gleaming crescents that laughed menacingly. It didn't seem to belong to this world. No fingerprints, not even a speck of dust marked its surface. A cassette player that eats memories. I shivered.
         "Mark cheated on me. It was a long time ago, almost ten years, but for some reason he had to tell me. I didn't ask; I don't even care - God knows I've felt temptation myself, but every time I see him I just feel so angry. Just to think I wasn't enough."
         Finally, I understood why I was here: To use the cassette player to remove her memory of what Mark did. She could continue living in blissful ignorance.
         "I can't. How could I let you go back to him after he betrayed you?"
         "I don't care, Colin. We were happier when I didn't know."
         Heidi pulled a set of headphones from her bag, plugged them into the cassette, and placed them in her ears. "Press play. Twenty seconds should be enough. Then stop, and we can go home. Please, I just want to forget this ever happened.
         "When you're done, I'll use the cassette player on you. Five seconds. You won't know about Dad. Only I have to live with that knowledge, just like before you knew. As far as you'll be concerned, this was a pleasant hiking trip."

         I held the cassette player, felt its weight, its cold plastic. I wanted to vomit, the decision heavy in my mind. Play. Twenty seconds. Stop. I hovered my thumb over the play button. My mouth was dry. Play. Five seconds. Stop. It will be just like before.


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