…Jack Simons walked into the house. It seemed mere seconds since he had left it that morning. He was tired and aggravated, although he didn’t know why. And his finger hurt. Slowly, he parted his fingers and saw two words, cut in tiny strokes on the side of his left ring finger. Stay calm.
Someone must have known about his outburst the night before.
He sat down at the computer. Hi, Sarah.
Hi, Jack. How are you feeling today?
He felt like crap and wanted to punch something, but he forced a smile onto his face. I feel great. How about you?
I’m good, Jack. I’m good.
Over the next few days, it seemed as if everything in the house began conspiring against him. The next day, the toaster started smoking on its own. That made the sprinkler system go off, which soaked everything in the house, including his bed, but strangely, not the computer. Sarah had no explanation for this, as much as he accused her of setting it up.
Stay calm. The words rang shrilly in his head, making him more angry, if anything, but he contained his rage. This got easier when he discovered an extra heating unit and other electronics stuffed inside the mangled remains of the toaster and he knew that they—whoever they were—were testing him, trying to get him angry.
On the night of May 21st, Jack was woken up by sounds of movement coming from the living room. He went out and turned on the light to see a burglar—no mask, though—standing in his living room, filling a large bag with electronics and knick-knacks.
“What in Styx do you think you’re doing?” Jack asked, although it was pretty obvious.
“Go back into the bedroom and you won’t get hurt,” the burglar said. He was young, in his early twenties probably. He gave Jack a saucy sneer and suddenly Jack wanted to kill him. Not for the stuff he was stealing—it wasn’t Jack’s anyway—but just for being an arrogant prick who thought he was tough and thought he was in control.
Of course, this was only another test, to see what he would do. Jack forced a grin onto his face. Are you watching this, Sarah? he thought.
“Ah, come on. You’re not going to hurt me,” Jack said, suddenly changing his tone and giving the burglar a easy grin. “You just want this stuff and then you want to go, right? How did you get in?”
“Uh, the back door. It was unlocked,” the burglar said, suddenly unsure of himself.
“Makes sense, I honestly can’t remember ever locking it. Hey, do you want the TV?” Jack asked. “I don’t watch it anyway.” He unhooked the cables from the back and then carried it over to the door. “I’ll get the microwave for you too.”
Twenty minutes later, Jack and the burglar had stripped the house of anything of value and piled it by the back door. Everything except the computer and the telephone. Jack had offered them, but the burglar had declined, not surprisingly.
“Now go into the bedroom and shut the door,” the burglar ordered. “I’ll carry this stuff outside.”
“Fair enough,” Jack said. He went into the bedroom and lay down, listening to the burglar moving things out of the back door. He wondered if the burglar lost his memories every time he went through. That would be pretty funny. He wondered if Sarah was watching all this and what she thought of it all.
He heard the door shut and then there was silence. A moment later, the phone rang. Jack smiled and then got up to answer it.
“Hello, Jack. I saw you were up anyway.”
“Yeah, funny thing about that.”
“Jack, I’m here to tell you that it’s over. The experiment, that is. They say you passed.”
“Okay, now what?”
“Now, you can leave, for real.”
Jack heard a buzz and a click. Looking out in the hall, he saw that the front door was standing ajar.
“You’re in prison, Jack,” Sarah’s voice said. “You were sentenced to life in prison for killing two men, but you were lucky enough to be chosen for this experiment, to see if your behavior could change if you had no memories—to see if you were fundamentally bad or not.”
Jack knew he should shut up. His brain kept telling him to, but he couldn’t stop himself. “Is that what you think of me? That I’m a robot that has a GOOD-EVIL switch that might get flipped to GOOD if I couldn’t remember being a criminal? And you were going to prove this by trying to make me angry? Anger doesn’t equal evil, Sarah, and calm doesn’t equal good.”
“Jack,” her voice was sweet but warning at the same time. “They passed you; don’t try to convince them to undo that. This is only Stage 1. If you go out the front door, they will still be monitoring you, although you won’t know it. You’ll forget everything about this place and about prison. You’ll have a new identity and wake up in a hospital, supposedly with amnesia.”
“The Department of Corrections isn’t too creative with their ideas,” Sarah said and there was a hint of amusement in her voice.
“Will I remember you?”
“No, you won’t.”
“Then tell me: who are you, Sarah?” Jack asked.
“I am your fiancée,” she said, after a pause. “We would be married now, if two men hadn’t broken into your house a week before our wedding. You beat them both to death. The warden asked me to help in the experiment as a control, because I knew you. I was the one person you could never forget and they wanted to prove that you could. I love you, Jack.”
“I won’t do it,” Jack said. “If I have to be in prison for the rest of my life, so be it. I don’t want to forget you, out there. I’ve been trying to remember you in here and I couldn’t. I don’t want to live like that for the rest of my life, especially now.”
“Jack,” Sarah said, “you don’t remember now, but there was a time when you fell in love with me. You pursued me and charmed me and made me fall in love with you too. You told me you did this experiment for me, so let me do this for you, Jack. Let me find you and make you fall in love with me again.”
“Okay, I’ll trust you. What do I do?”
“Just walk through the front door. There are machines built into the door frame. You won’t remember anything after that and we can start again. I love you, Jack.”
He wanted to return the feeling, to say he loved her too, but the words sounded false in his mind. He didn’t even remember her. “I will love you too,” he said. Then he hung up the phone and walked out the front door…