Author: Rick Tobin

“Ouch! That hurts!”

Clint Aurelius pulled back his tattoo needle from his thirty-something assistant wincing under his application. Clint took some deep breaths while resting his hands from arthritic agony.

“No intent to harm…just tidying your history a bit at day’s end. Some script needed sharpening.”

“I appreciate it. I want readers to tell my story because someday old recorders like you will be gone.” The assistant adjusted his shoulders, cracking his neck vertebrae to increase relaxation.

“One last touch to finish. I’ll read you shortly. You did a terrific job today coordinating all the people’s tattoos and customer traffic. I couldn’t manage without you.” Aurelius scanned his workmanship, adding a single line of fine ink to letters fading near edges of his flesh canvas.

“How did this happen, Clint Aurelius? You know your name and your history without writing. You have a great name, but I cannot remember mine.” His assistant stepped down from the workbench to stretch and ready for his identity reading.

“I was one of the lucky ones when it struck,” Clint explained. “It was an emerging virus carried by every biting bug on the planet. It was everywhere in weeks with no way to stop it. Docs called it a biological traumatic brain injury.”

“What made you different, Aurelius? I mean, you know your interesting name.”

Aurelius paused, slightly amused. “It means, literally, a golden hill. Like others who had retired with early signs of Alzheimer’s, I feared to become a drain on society. I had retired as a graphic artist. My hobby was calligraphy. Strangely, that virus turned off my affliction while it destroyed other’s memories of their past, including their names. People could not record new memories. What skills they had morphed into general labor capacities.”

“So only a few of us could remember who we were?”

“There were enough with Alzheimer’s who recovered, creating stability for a while,” Aurelius continued. “But, in months transportation and electricity disappeared. Survival became difficult. Of course, there were no more great wars or regional squabbles, but instead a dizzying descent into widespread madness. That’s why compounds like ours became bastions for preservation against marauders and insanity. Now writers, like me, and those who can still read, keep daily memories fresh for the afflicted by repeating life stories from their backs. Most survivors live in a continual now, with little context of their past or any long-term future. Only their daily storytelling gives them a history for their moment.”

“Is our future that dark?” the assistant asked.

“There are other ramifications. People can’t form relationships. Each day readers meet to introduce couples by telling their skin stories together, but after a day, there is no memory capable of constructing bonding. There is no family building…no ability to understand birth or raise offspring. I have met and mourned with many writers that we will not see our grandchildren…that this may end our species. We who sustain provide love and care by serving to read the same stories repeatedly, while experiencing diminishing optimism that a few, still undiscovered, will survive this plague and reproduce. For now…there is only a fading hope.”

“That is chilling, Aurelius. Can you read me now, and the prayer written for all our clients today?”

“Yes. Let me tell your story.” Aurelius began his oration from his assistant’s tattoo: “Bless me, for I have forgotten. I was once an air traffic controller. My name is Hank Aurelius.”