“So I suppose you want to ask me why I left town.”
Melissa didn’t want to ask him anything. She wanted to finish her drink and go home. She fixed her gaze on the baseball game on the TV above the bar.
“I mean, it’s the Happiest Place in America! I think they even trademarked that,” he said.
When she came here after work tonight, Melissa had worn her eyeglasses. Usually that was a foolproof way to avoid being hit on. But this middle-aged guy had come right over and plunked himself down on the next barstool.
“Yup, they’re pretty good at making you forget your troubles in Olvida, Kansas.” Chuckling, he guzzled his Heineken, rubbing stubbly jowls as he watched the Cardinals’ pitcher strike out the Brewers’ shortstop.
Melissa sighed. He seemed harmless, more chatty than creepy. And she didn’t want to abandon this tasty 15-year Irish whiskey. She’d humor him. “You lived there a while?”
“Since I was a kid! I worked in PR. Gave tours to folks who come through town.”
A memory flickered. “Olvida,” she said. “Don’t they have that big hospital that specializes in mental health? They claim they can heal PTSD and whatnot?”
“I always figured it was a cult.”
He laughed. “Everybody thinks that. Voodoo, faith healers, bullshit artists. The methods aren’t magic, but they do work. The town’s population was over 26,000, last I checked.”
“People move there for good?”
He grinned. “Why would they leave? It’s the Happiest Place…”
“… in America. Right. But don’t they have families to go back to? Jobs? Must be some trauma if they want to run away forever.”
He lowered his voice. “Remember that man in the news last year? The one who forgot his baby twins all day in the hot car? He lives in Olvida now.”
Melissa raised an eyebrow. She had read about that. She’d studied the photo of the young man sobbing in the courtroom and wondered what it would be like to be him, waking up every morning knowing what he’d done. “Anybody else I’d know?”
“We got several 9/11 first responders back in ’01. People who’ve witnessed horrific violence, women who’ve been trafficked or gang-raped. Combat veterans… you get the idea.”
“And the doctors can make them feel better about that?”
He leaned forward. “They can make them forget.” His eyes held hers.
Melissa sipped her drink. She was starting to see why people moved to Olvida and didn’t return. Things could get tricky.
The man glanced left and right. “It’s not psychiatry,” he said. “Not drugs either. They found a way to physically remove memories, through a chemical process. The methods are top-secret. Even—” He clammed up as the bartender strolled over with a fresh Heineken.
“Even the patients don’t know how it works. You wouldn’t believe the waivers they sign.” The bar’s hanging lamps cast his face into shadow.
“I’d say live and let live, except...” He cleared his throat. “Last week we had some visitors, wanting to speak with the head scientists. I was supposed to wait up front to escort them out, but I hid. Listened to them arguing in the lab. When they left, they took the chemical applicator.” He drained his beer. “Their vehicles had federal government plates.”
A chill went up Melissa’s spine. Just this morning, three federal witnesses had withdrawn their testimonies against the President, stating they could no longer recall details of the events in question.
“I haven’t been back since. They’ll be looking for me. Listen,” he said, urgently. “I know you work for the Post-Dispatch. I followed you over here tonight. I’m sorry.” He gripped her forearm and handed her a piece of paper. “Here’s my cell. Please, Melissa. Write about this. Tell everyone.”
As he walked out, she realized she’d never asked him what brought him to Olvida as a child.
The story was nearly finished. After final fact-checking and proofreading, it would run on Tuesday. Always a strict critic of her own work, Melissa knew this one was good. She couldn’t suppress a secret wish that it would be a stunning scoop, that it would silence the cynics who said journalism was dead, that it might even change the country for the better.
She smiled and waved goodbye to her co-workers, feeling good as she left work on Friday afternoon.
The men came out of the alley. The cold metal applicator touched her neck, and everything went dark.
- Occupation: tour guide
- First sentence: So I suppose you want to ask me why I left town.