"THE MEME PLAGUE chapter 1"
1.0 Funeral for the Past Micah Wallenberg Ah, Labor Day—and the end of mine. Labors, that is. I’d just lugged my last box of canned corn and ravioli for the summer. My community service sentence for something I didn’t remember doing. And it didn’t matter that what “they” told me I did and what I really did were not the same thing. Those few weeks in May (and some in June) were still a blank. But I trusted my friends more than I did the Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic Corporation—and this chip in my head. On my way, I texted Nora. I took a good whiff of my pits and added, after I shower. Then I crammed a cherry pop tart in my mouth, dropped my board to the sidewalk, and kicked off toward home—our new one. Black Dog Village was dust, but we had a shiny new apartment, courtesy of “them.” A.K.A., TFC. I had zero say in the matter. Mom signed us up for their Rehousing Program when I was in “juvie.” That was “they” called it. I knew now I’d been in Detention. The Big D variety. Shifting the weight of my backpack as I leaned into the turn, I banked around the corner of Market and First Streets. Mr. Jeffries had loaded me up before I left the food bank. He knew our situation. TFC cares about the concerns of our less fortunate citizens, a little voice whispered in the depths of my brain. I kicked off hard, trying to clear my head as I glided through the familiar streets of downtown. As I passed boarded-up shop after shop, I repeated to myself what I knew to be true. It was my own personal Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic experience—in reverse. Repetition made the last three months seem more real in my head. One. Me, Winter, and a girl named Nora—whom I’ve crushed on all year from afar—we got busted for distributing an underground comic about TFC and its less than savory practices—like blowing up cars and who knows what other shit. Two. My front wheels caught a chunk of concrete, and I nearly face- planted onto the sidewalk and into a pile of rubble. A wave of déjà vu washed over me as I lay there for a second. I’d taken my fair share of hits on a board. In fact, I’d just gotten a cast off my arm a few weeks before. I pushed myself up to my knees and took stock. Nothing broken, though my elbows looked like hamburger. Then I noticed where I was. In front of Fahrenheit Books, or what was left of it. Someone had spray painted “Memento” in red across the big FOR SALE sign. This is where it all started. According to Nora’s mom. This was where Nora saw the body. If she hadn’t been here when the store blew up, she and I might never I have met in TFC number 23. Or so we’ve been told. Something dripped down my back, and it smelt like pickles. Sure enough, the jar of dill slices had cracked and the juice was all over the place. I don’t even like pickles. I pulled out the cans of tuna, chili, and creamed corn and then dumped the pickles and broken glass out into the gutter. The rest of the pop tarts smelled like pickles, too. Crap. As I was sitting on my can stuffing the groceries back in my pack, somebody walked by. I jumped to my feet, grabbing both my pack and board, just in case it was a cop. My homeless habits die hard. It wasn’t a cop. It was a guy dressed in a black suit—with a top hat—carrying a long box. Written on the side of the gray box, which I swear was in the shape of a casket, was the word HISTORY in bright red. Behind this guy was a fairly long procession of other people in black all carrying their own mini-caskets. And they were all as silent as—well, a funeral. Most folks weren’t decked out like the first guy. A girl in a black hoodie carried a box that said MEMORY. An older guy in a black T-shirt carried one that said PRIVACY. Next was FREE SPEECH. LIBERTY. There were even ones for MEMECAST and MEMENTO. Then came people’s names. FRANK B. CECILIA H. JOSE R. SARAH J. I didn’t get it. Are these people dead? Are these ideas dead? MemeCast hadn’t exactly flatlined, but I hadn’t drawn a frame of Memento since I literally couldn’t remember when. The name on the last casket was JONAS W. My pack slipped from my fingers, and I stared after the procession as it disappeared around the next corner. It couldn’t be. There has to be zillions of Jonas W’s in the world, right? They can’t be talking about Jonas Wallenberg. My dad. I dropped my skateboard to the sidewalk and caught up to the mock funeral on the next block. The people were headed toward TFC no. 23. Now it made a little more sense. TFC erased memories. Each person inside TFC no. 23 was popping a little white pill to forget a memory that was haunting them. They might have seen a Coalition bombing, gotten beaten by their husband, or hit by a car. Forgetting wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, Mom always said. Would she still think that if she’d been to the Big D? The thought struck me. My dad could be in Detention. Not that I hadn’t considered that possibility before. It sucks that I couldn’t remember what happened to him. All I had of him was this recurring nightmare of losing him in a crowd. The lead funeral guy laid his casket in front the clinic’s glossy glass door. The other mourners did the same. The people inside the TFC pressed their faces up against the glass to watch the show. I hung back across the street. The guy in the top hat pulled out a piece of paper and started to read, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn the loss of …” He was quickly drowned out by the wail of sirens approaching. The city cops blocked off the streets but stayed in their cars, lights flashing. Then a black van roared in, and goons in Green Zone uniforms poured out. They were TFC’s own private army of cops. I melted into the shadows of a doorway. Most of the other people on the street ducked into other buildings or hustled off down alleys. I really should do that, too, I thought, but I was glued to the spot, unable to not watch. A city police car rolled slowly past me. One window slid down, and the cop yelled at me, “Run, kid.” She quickly closed the window— and pulled on a gas mask. Without a word, the Green Zone cops let loose a barrage of some kind of canisters—right at the mourners. Point blank. The people in black--men, women, and kids my age--crumpled to their knees in a cloud of gas. The real cops didn’t even get out of their cars. I ran like hell, my eyes and throat burning all the way home. No amount of hot water could wash away today, I told myself as I tore off my clothes and practically dived into the shower. Forget your cares at TFC, a little voice whispered in my head. Hot water pounded my face as recited what I knew to be true. One.