The Memory Game | Franki Haber

*Nominee for the Shirley Jackson Award for Short Fiction*

What You Will Need

• Player(s)
• Lighter
• Three candles
• Beacon item(s), one per player
• Quiet, clear space
• Three distinct memories


The Rules of the Game

If you follow these rules, no harm can come to you. It is important to remember these rules. This game relies on your memory. How much can you remember?

Memory is active and alive. When you reach for it, does it reach back? Do you reach for it at all?

This game should be played by those who would stretch, who want to pull their past into the present. If you doubt your abilities, you may ask someone to play with you. The sensations of your past are braided into you; this game unravels them from you. The length of the game varies from player to player. The stronger the memories, the more sustained the effect.

The fabric of your history changes shape and color over time. To succeed in this game, you must remember its original pattern. There is a difference between recall and fantasy, between genesis and forgery. Imagination is poison to this game. You must be honest.

Your beacon item must help you remember your emotions. It is a tangible reminder of what was. Use it when you feel yourself splitting off.

Failure to follow the rules has three results:

• You will not be able to untwine yourself/yourselves. You will have to live your life fully ingratiated, like everyone else.
• The texture of your memory will be punctured and incomplete.
• You will create something new. It will not belong to you.

You may only play this game once.


How to Play

1. Begin the game where it starts. What do you remember first?

2. Remember the warmth of the sun, the brightness of the day. What season was it (and does it matter? Weren’t all your days drenched in color, a twisting kaleidoscopic rush in your mind’s eye)? Remember the tangerine glow behind your eyelids and the breeze whipping against your chapped face. Do you feel the arc of the swing set tip you backward?

3. Locate the focus of your memory. Where is she?

4. Is she pressed against a tree, looking up from her book at you? Is she watching you between snippets of conversation with the other mothers? Is she calling your name from the car door?

5. No. She is next to you on the swing. Her adult weight rocks the frame slightly. You’re
(She is sitting next to you because no one else will. The other kids don’t like you.
swinging opposite of one another. She faces the sky when you face the ground, then switches.
You don’t make friends easily. Last week some girls called you ‘hideous.’ It sounded bad.
Your hands are clammy and smell of iron. You look up from the dirt to watch her ascend;
When you told Momma, she got really angry. She went to the school and yelled really loudly
she yelps a little laugh. Her dark hair lifts into weightlessness, and the sun cuts through it.
at Mrs. Prescott. Mrs. Prescott put you at the back of the class the next day. It was probably
It reminds you of when your hips rolled out of your seat and the seatbelt snapped into your chest
because you’re ‘hideous.’ You swung upwards, toward the sun)
and the way the light from outside lit her face up but

Stop. That is not how the memory goes. Remember the rules of the game.


6. When you remember the first time, light the first candle.

7. Notice your space. Has the light in the room changed? Is it colder than it was a moment ago? Do you feel something tugging at your edges?

8. Hold your beacon item. What does it mean to you? Remember the shape of your past. Run your finger along the plastic edge of the polaroid.

9. It’s the gentle slope of her shoulder where you pressed your face. She sang you lullabies.
(In the photo, you’re both sitting on Grandma’s yellow couch. Your smile is sloppy because
It’s the color of Lake Erie, the color of her eyes. It was the warm, smoothness of her hands
you are twelve and drunk. Her blinding smile is missing, a tight-lipped smirk wholly covering it.
when she stroked your forehead. You sat on the back porch in front of the small fire pit. Mom
You giggled stupidly, body lolling, and pulled at her sleeve. She swatted your hand away
built it before Grandma died. You closed your eyes against the flames, listening to the crackle
and glared at you. Lake Erie iced over. You began crying hiccupy, wet sobs. You only started
and then heard the screen hinge shriek. Holding a warm cup of cocoa, she sat next to you.
drinking because Uncle Bill kept giving you beers and told you it was ‘impolite to decline.’
You let the smoke seep into your favorite sweatshirt, nesting your head on her shoulder.
She disappeared into the kitchen, where Uncle Bill and Aunt Jess were playing cards. You
She stroked your forehead and sung you a little lullaby. You started crying. She noticed and
heard the voices from the kitchen getting louder and went to the bathroom to throw up. You
wiped your tears away. She asked if you were all right, and you really did want to give her
stayed in there until she knocked on the door and told you it was time to leave. Uncle Bill
an answer, but you couldn’t so you told her you were okay, just a little tired, but you
snarled at her from the porch. When her back was turned, he gave you a wink that made you
knew that it was your fault that you had to leave the party, that she didn’t like Uncle Bill, that
feel sick to your stomach and hideous. You gagged, remembering his wet breath on your)
he liked you, that Aunt Jess and your cousins didn’t come to the hospital or the funeral

Stop. Remember her hands and the sound of her voice.


10. When you remember the second time, light the second candle.

11. By now, the room you are in will start bending at the corners. Your outline is blurring. You might notice a pain in your belly. That’s your past splitting itself from you.

12. If you play this game with others, they might be able to tell you what it looks like, how it looks like you’re coming undone. Like a crochet doll, unspooling its yarn onto the floor. Don’t worry. Your memory is just borrowing your physicality. If you were standing, now’s a good time to sit. If you’re sitting, now’s a good time to lay down.

13. Your mouth tastes like hot bile and cocoa. The room sounds like thunder from the kitchen.

14. The last memory is essential. Try to remember the rules.

15. Laying on the floor of the space you’re in, you look up at the ceiling. You clutch the photo
(She helped you pick out a dress for prom, an enormous silky thing puffed up with tulle. You
like your life depends upon it. It might as well. The deep fingernail of a memory pries into
hadn’t wanted to go, but she encouraged you to accept an offer from a boy in your class. You
your brain. You don’t want to let it in. You want to remember the beach. You want to recall
were putting it on when the zipper the stupid fucking zipper caught. You snuck into the hallway
the way you both smelled like Coppertone and mint ice cream. You want to remember playing
to steal a shoelace to slip through the eyelet when she saw you half-dressed. That’s when she’d
arcade games on the boardwalk until you both ran out of quarters. The stinging sunburn on
seen the bruises on your legs. The ones blooming yellow-black above and between your knees,
your shoulders and ears and the cold stickiness of the aloe. You want to remember her face lit
and even higher between your thighs that made it hurt to walk. She looked like the world
blue and pink by the neon of the carousel. Her smile framed by laugh lines, even though she was
was ending and she’d started crying, and you knew it was your fault she was crying you were the
only as old as you are now, beautiful creases fringing her happiness. They evade you.
one who upset her and she was asking you questions that you couldn’t answer without weeping
It arrives, tacky and dark as tar. It’s the smoke from the fire pit and the light of the sun and
and she grabbed your hand and pulled you to the car. She wanted to take you to the hospital,
the scoop of her collar and the sting of the sunburn all rushing together to fill in the blanks
or the police. You tried to tell her it was because you fell, but it was too late she already knew.
of something you never wanted to remember. The acrid gasoline stench, a syrup of oil and
You wanted to respool what you had undone, but you could see your cousins staring at you
blood on your tongue, the way the headlights shone and her hair hanging from the ceiling.
and Aunt Jess crying and Uncle Bill winking at you over and over again.
You knew you would remember, of course you would, how could you forget?

It was your fault

It was your fault

It was your fault


16. Is this your memory?

Somewhere in the room, you hear a piece of fabric being torn over and over again. Opening your eyes to stare at the ceiling, an attempt to ground yourself, you find that the light above is blindingly white. A globe-sized knot dangles where the light fixture used to be; its loose strands paint black shadows on the walls. You want to get up and move around, but you can’t. You can’t do anything.

17. Have you been here before? Try to remember.

Something slick and nauseating moves in you, wriggling down vertebrae into your chest and the bowl of your stomach. Clammy hands of panic batter around in you as though your body were a cage. There’s heat on your arms. Spread eagle on the floor, shuddering, you turn your head as much as you can to stare at your right arm. You expect it to be on fire, but you won’t articulate to yourself why you think that. It is not, but your burns are shiny in this black and white space. Hundreds of sharp, crystalline specks lay beyond your fingertips. The light changes. The wriggling thing crawls into your throat.

18. Is this what you wanted?

The huge knot is fraying, each fiber snapping as it swells from within. It bulges as more and more ribbony strings break away from the central mass, blocking it from view. They sway disorderly at first before finding a pattern, moving uniformly. They grow down towards you. Fear jags through your chest—what if they grow so long they touch your face? You struggle to get up again, but you’re still stuck to the floor. You feel a weight on your knees and on the meat of your thighs. The swirling strands abruptly pull up to the side, and the mass that was a knot is no longer a knot.

Lake Erie is black as night. Laugh lines gorge her pink and blue cheeks. Her lips are pressed tightly together, but when she sees you, she shows her perfect teeth. Something is dripping from her bent nose. She opens her mouth.

Baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby


19. Did you create something new?

Franki Haber is a freelance writer by day and fiction writer by night who lives in Portland, Oregon. In her spare time, she looks for inspiration in galleries, museums, books, and old horror movies.