I used to come here as a child, but not to appreciate it. This park was my playground, site of pirate adventures and long-winded fantasy stories that never existed anywhere but between my ears. While the other kids preferred the swings or slides or sports field, for me it was always the trail, the bridge, the river bubbling merrily past.

When a person reaches a certain age, they find themselves returning more and more often to these places of memory. I’ve been back in person, but more often than not I return solely in my memory. The sunlight is stronger, the shadows darker, and the possibilities broader. I can be any age, any person, anywhere, so long as it is through the lens of an eight-year-old wearing an old blazer like a pirate coat.

It’s sad, devastatingly sad, that those days are now fixed like graven statues in the past. At the time, it seemed like that world was there, always there, forever for the asking and the taking. At times it seems almost unfair that those days nearly twenty years ago have cast such a long and deep shadow over the rest of my life, that all my years since are like a faded daguerreotype beside their brilliance.

As we age, it’s only natural to look back with regret; regret is in many ways the most human of emotions, the longing tug that connects us to our pasts. There are times when I feel I’d trade anything to go back and do it over again, do it right this time.

And then there are times when I just wish I could live it over again, the riverside trails and my childish games unchanged for all the time I’ve mulled them over.

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Now Jones may just have been working the Viper Security Systems gig to pay his way through college since a twisted ankle on the practice field cost him a scholarship, but he took the job seriously. Seriously enough to have a go at investigating reports of break-ins and trespassing, anyway; he hoped to get good references for a future career in criminal justice.

Most of the work was collaring drunk freshmen hog-wild with being out from under the apron strings for the first time in 18 years. But the recent rash of calls from Schumann Hall was puzzling. The people there, Engineering and Physics mostly, tended to work long hours and a lot of calls had been coming in about intruders in the building post-9pm, when the doors were locked.

Jones would get the call, respond, and find that the caller had no memory of any intruder.

He suspected crank calls at first, at least until Dr. Chandraputra had called–there was no mistaking that accent. There was also no mistaking the fact that Chandraputra resolutely denied ever having placed the call. Viper, as the security contractor, had access to phone logs; Jones checked and found that the call had indeed been placed. Confronted with that information, Chandraputra had grown quiet and confused.

More calls arrived, gradually building until there seemed to be one every other week. The descriptions were similar: someone was rustling about the building, likely a freshman, likely a girl. They were always more annoyed than scared, and more than one had promised to shoo the offending interloper away before Jones or one of his boys could arrive.

“It’s…I remember placing the call,” one Physics adjunct said when grilled by Jones. “If I really think hard there are…snatches, you know? Images. But the more I think about it, the more I realize there’s a gap, like the time was ripped right out of my memory.”

By then, Jones had resolved to stake out the building himself. If nothing else, he could trust his own memory.

Or so he thought.

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“It’s what we’re calling an improved McMemen technique,” Siston said. “Users are affected for longer periods of time and more strongly. It’s more difficult to snap them out of the trance state, and the problem of blackouts has been solved.”

“Solved how?” Friedman groused. “That’s been the millstone around the program’s neck for years. The assets always suspect something because of the memory gaps unless we take them into custody and implant false memories the old-fashioned and expensive way, with psychologists and bright lights.”

“That’s the beauty of improved McMemen,” replied Siston. “In addition to the orders and situational training, it implants…well, the technical term sucks so the boys have been calling it a ‘seed crystal memory.'”

Friedman glared. “What kind of new age hippie crap is that?”

“Well, the human mind has an enormous capability for creativity–just look at dreams. The technique utilizes that mechanism to construct artificial memories using the asset’s own building blocks. The ‘seed crystal’ provides the raw materials and a rough structure–say, a short camping trip–and within that framework the asset’s subconscious will construct a totally realistic and totally individual memory. They’ll remember it all down to the raccoons stealing their marshmallows.”

“Ridiculous,” Friedman said. “They’d remember a pink elephant or something crazy like that.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Siston said, grinning. “After all, this whole conversation was implanted in your mind the same way.”

Long days with the sun at just the right angle to cast stark shadows yet bright enough to fade the world around the edges like an old photograph…the sort of thing you think of in moments of peril. And yet you usually can’t name a date, or a time, or a place. Only impressions remain, the gestalt of a hundred school’s-out summer hours. Most numerous when we’re young, they fade into obscurity and oblivion as responsibility and adulthood arrive hand-in-hand.

I have taken it upon myself to locate those lost days, in whatever form they now reside, and to bring them back to the world. Don’t bother telling me why I shouldn’t–people with far too much common sense have laid every reason from madness to tilting at windmills by my feet. Instead, ask me how you can know my progress and my state.

Look for a day which starts out with a warm glow of anticipation, and then stretches out impossibly long in love, laughter, and light. Look for a day when the years roll off your back, no matter how many have accrued. Look for a day when once again every atom of the fields trembles with sweet possibility.

That’s how you’ll know I’m still out there.

That’s how you’ll know I’ve succeeded.

Why would Dad have bothered to keep any of this crap? I knew he’d been a pack rat, but…man!

“It can’t be that bad,” said Meagan over the speakerphone.

“Can’t be that bad?” I said. “If you were here you wouldn’t be saying that.”

“Cut him some slack,” Meagan said. “Speak no ill of the dead, and really speak no ill of the dead father.”

I felt a little ashamed at that, but kvetching has always been a coping mechanism for me–clearing out Dad’s old desk was no different. It was either complain or sob incoherently, which wouldn’t have sat any better with Meagan.

And, in my defense, there was a lot of strange old crap in that desk. A pile of promotional notepads from businesses that no longer existed, for example. Everyone in town knew that Detmore’s Lumber Yard had gone under ten years ago–would sending a note on their stationary really have sent the right message, especially if you were writing a friend or business partner?

Then there were the matchbooks. Dad had only smoked one or two cigars a year, usually around Christmas, yet the drawers housed a bewildering array of old-style matchbooks from places as far away as Hong Kong or Danang. All had been roughly handled–it wasn’t a matchbook collection–and I was reminded of seeing a thousand matches lit at once in the science channel as I looked at them.

This post is part of the December Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s challenge is to write hint fiction: a story 25 words or less.

“Why do you keep requesting that same waltz?” the bandleader cried.
“Because I wrote it,” the old man said, “and it reminds me of her.”

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own hint fiction:
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You have been, for the past several weeks, bothered by a restless disquiet. Not a physical malady, but an emotional one, a tight knot in the middle chest, near where one feels a broken heart but felt nowhere near as keenly. It is an empty feeling, dull yet with edges of glass.

Filling it has been difficult. Normally, busywork or strenuous leisure is enough to keep emotional pain of that sort at an arm’s length, but that has had no effect–indeed, the effect of trying to ignore it seems to make the disquiet all the stronger. Neither exercise nor food seems to have an effect, and weekends to not dull the sting as they so often do for doldrums of other sorts.

Asking around, you find that many have experienced the same before, as if in a long-forgotten dream, but are at a loss to describe how it was conquered. All they are sure of is that it’s a malady born of complacency, of stasis, of rut and routine. To break free is to step outside the ordinary.

But the ordinary is all you know.