Memories by James Rumpel

James Rumpel's character has a job collecting donations for a billionaire, and he's questioning his choice of career.

"Did I ever tell you about the Christmas when I was twelve years old?" said my boss. He had that nostalgic grin on his face, the one that meant he was going to tell me the story, whether I had heard it before or not. "I, like most boys my age in the 1960s, wanted a Davey Crocket coonskin cap with all my heart. Times were tough. We were poor. My parents had been trying to hint to me that I had to be able to handle disappointment. You know, side comments about how men don't cry or how a twelve-year old should get practical gifts for Christmas. Well, that night, I prayed and wished with all my heart, but I knew there was not going to be a coonskin cap under our tiny, sparsely decorated tree. When morning came..."

I tuned out his words and focused on his face. With each sentence, the sparkle in his eye grew just a tiny bit. It was obvious how the tale was going to end. The fact that my boss was barely thirty years of age and that his parents would have barely been born during the time the story took place did not strike me as strange. I had only been working for him for two months, but this type of journey down memory lane was very common.

"...all that was inside was a pair of stockings that my mother had knitted. 'Put them on,' she insisted. I bravely held back my tears as I slid the wool socks onto my feet; I felt something in the bottom of one of them. I reached in a pulled out a tiny piece of paper. On it was scrawled a single word: FIREWOOD. I raced to the pile of split logs and branches that we kept near the fireplace. Almost immediately, I saw what looked like a grey tail sticking out of the side. My parents had changed their minds and gotten me the gift I most wanted. I beamed that morning. I was as happy as I had ever been in my life."

The smile that he wore as he concluded his anecdote had to be as large as the one in that childhood memory.

"That's a great story," I said. "It's nice to see you so happy. Unfortunately, I need to meet the eleven-thirty appointment."

"Very well," he replied. "I hope to share more memories with you."

"Have a seat." I motioned for Robert to sit down. The elderly man, as usual, followed my direction. "Are you certain you wish to donate again?" I asked. "You've already given enough."

"As long as you're paying, I'm donating." The gray-haired gentleman pulled his worn jacket tighter around his body. It was not cold in my office, but he shivered slightly.

"There must be some other way for you to get money?" I should have simply refused him, but my boss liked what he had to offer.

Robert gave me a grim look. "Look," he said. "I've led a miserable life. I've had very little joy. If I can experience a little happiness during the last few weeks of my life, I'm going to do whatever it takes to get it."

"I thought you donated so you could support your grandchildren?"

Robert looked at me with an odd expression on his face. He seemed to be deep in concentration. "No, you must be mistaken. I have no family. My lovely wife, Amanda, died years ago."

Reluctantly, I gave in to the old man. I did my job. I paid him a fair price and took him to the lab.

My boss had a huge grin on his face when I reported to him the next morning.

"Have you ever experienced real love?" he asked.

"Not that I know of," was my short reply. I wasn't in the mood to have much of a conversation.

"I will never forget when I first met Amanda," began my boss. "She was new in town and she'd come to church with her family. The moment I saw her, I fell in love. She was so beautiful..."

That was the moment when I began to understand the true price Robert was paying every time he made a donation. I had to do something to fix the terrible things I had done.

I found Robert's address in the files. He had donated enough times that we had to keep data on him for tax purposes. I found him sitting on the porch of a rundown two-story house. He sat staring at an old oak tree, a forlorn frown on his face.

"Robert," I called as I approached.

"What do you want?" he scowled. "I just gave yesterday."

"I'm not here about your donations. I'm just here to visit." I spied a second chair, overturned in the corner of the porch. I picked it up, set it next to him, and sat down.

"Why would you want to visit me? I'm just a boring old man."

"I thought you could tell me about your wife, Amanda."

The same confused look that had I seen many times before appeared on Robert's face. "I remember that I was married, but that's about it. Was her name Amanda?"

"I'm so sorry," was all I could bring myself to say. How had I been so blind? How had I allowed things to go this far?

"It doesn't really matter," said Robert. "It's not like anyone has ever cared for me."

I stood up and took him by the arm, pulling him from his seat before I began to explain. "Robert, I need you to come with me."

The guards recognized me at the gate and let me and Robert in without question. After all, I was the boss's personal assistant. I didn't mind seeing to the needs of the clinically depressed billionaire. I wished those had been my only duties. I also wished I had been quicker to realize the cost of my other responsibilities. But it wasn't too late. I could fix things. I told Robert to wait in the lab.

I went to my boss's bedroom. He always took a strong sedative at night and did not wake even as I moved him into the wheelchair I had appropriated from the lab.

Once in the lab, I laid my boss on the table and attached the neural extraction device. I was not a trained memory removal technician but I had watched the process enough to have a very good idea of what to do. Everything went smoothly.

I returned my boss to his room. He fidgeted slightly when I returned him to his bed but did not awaken. I laid an envelope containing my resignation on his nightstand. I would be fired the next day anyhow.

Back in the lab, I had Robert lay down on the lab table. He did not resist me. He didn't seem to care. I placed the neural insertion device on his head and started the machine.

I sat on the porch with Robert. I listened to him intently. Smiles adorned both of our faces.

"...I barely got Amanda to the hospital in time. They rolled her directly to the delivery room..."

I knew I had made the right choice. I may have not made up for all the negatives I had done, and I faced a difficult road ahead. I didn't have a job and the prospects of finding anything soon were very bleak. I didn't care.

"...holding Rebecca in my arms was the most amazing feeling..."

This was going to be a happy memory.


  1. Sci-fi with a heart. Excellent story.

  2. I might be willing to "donate" my best memories, only if they were bundled with the bad memories at the same time.

  3. Interesting scifi concept. Could be made into a novel, with this theme.

  4. Interesting technology. Money buys happiness...or rather transfers it at someone else's expense. I could imagine using this tech to remove the memories that cause someone's PTSD, or erase a particularly embarrassing moment. But I love the choice to focus on the selling of good memories, which gives the tale more of a horrifying/dystopian feel.

  5. great feel good story, or is it? Somebody with that much power. I also think it might work out if expanded into book form.
    Mike McC