Set sometime in the past…
It was dark outside. Lillith could hear the rain on the old rooftop, banging dully in a heavy-water tempo, hear the light rumble of an offshore thunder rolling into the Georgia coast. The Atlantic summer storm season had arrived a few weeks back, the sticky summer punctuated by tempestuous relief.
Lillith couldn’t sleep, the anxiety of realization — of unavoidable consequence — ate away at the detachment required for the brief ‘mortal coil shuffle’ that is restful sleep. It was three days of gut-wrenched insomnia now, three days of ceiling staring, three days of clock-tick counting, of unbreakable torture of existence, existence within which to wrestle with the fallout of her own actions.
The delirium had taken its toll, she stumbled around during the daylight hours; the trellised wallpaper fuzzed with grey spots, a swarm of tiny hallucinations her tired brain painted over it.
It was the menthals, that was eating at her. They were her child, her invention, her responsibility. She had made them, birthed them into being. Her; her alone.
It had started off as a dire dare; Simon had needed them; what ever excuse she tried none of them painted over the bare fact that the mere possibility of their existence had proved far too seductive to resist. Her intuition had proved correct — forgetting was possible. Guided forgetting, more difficult but not undoable. Erasure of the mental circuitry could be done, as she had dreamed. The channel-reshaping her protein sodium smokes provoked were real, were durable.
People could forget.
Simon had needed them. He had been involved with the black bloc for too long. It was inevitable that the Savannah Civil Peacekeepers Corp, the police subdivision responsible for tracking and punishing certain brands of dissent, mostly leftist, mostly anti-statist. His deposition had been two weeks after Lillith got the idea for the minty smokes she was now famous for, in some circles. Simon had been the first and only experimental trial of the vape cartridges, designed and shaped from the waking dream that had birthed the original design.
That had been months ago. Simon was still in jail; he was scheduled to be released in a few weeks. His friends, however, were still outside the box. They’d been able to successfully raise funds to hire a very decent lawyer. The forgetting had been a success at keeping Simon from naming names.
Quietly, after the trial, Lillith had anonymously uploaded the files to a BitTorrent seed in West Virginia. 3D printed cartridges, back-yard level chemistry was all that was required to produce them. She hadn’t really advertised them, but one of Simon’s friends had started spreading rumors of their existence on discord.
Two weeks later, you could buy menthals, as they’d come to be called, on onion sites for a few thousand satoshis. They’d arrive in the mail a few days later, wrapped in light plastic bubble wrap, a cheap solution to hard memories.
It’d only taken a week for the pickup artist community, astute fuckers, to light onto the possibilities. Lillith hadn’t wanted to think about what uses people might put menthals to. She hadn’t thought about it, explicitly avoided thinking about it.
Until Becca called three days ago.
Becca had called, excited. It was the first factime Lillith had gotten from her, a real face to face chat, in six years. Five years ago she’d married Brett, and then disappeared into a shallow hole of spouse-fueled self-hatred. Brett had slowly let her friendships whither, isolating Becca into their relationship.
On the phone, Becca had sounded like herself, like the Becca Lillith had known before Brett entered the picture. She was herself, but hazy, foggy on the details of why she and Lillith had stopped talking. It didn’t take very long for Lillith to discover that Becca had forgotten the truth of the isolation Brett had imposed on her, of the consequences of contact.
Lillith was confused by Becca’s forgetfulness. It should have been obvious, in retrospect, but she hadn’t wanted to see it.
The truth became unavoidable about halfway through the call, when Becca took a long vape, the mechanical whine charge lightly alerting her to its presence. A steep inhale, a pregnant pause, a slow sighing exhale. Minty fresh, Becca joked, explaining how it had erased so much of her anxiety. She felt so fresh. Brett had gotten them for her as a gift a few days ago. What a sweetheart he was. Lillith didn’t tell her, instead texted her the reddit post a few hours later.
She hadn’t heard from Becca again. Texts went unanswered. Yesterday someone else wrote back: you’ve got the wrong number. Brett must know. Becca was back to being unreachable.
The rain had stopped. Lillith rolled over, burying her head beneath her pillow for the thousandth time that night. She reached her hand out for the vape Simon had left her before heading to jail. She checked the chamber: the last mental cartridge she’d made still inside, unused.
The vape whined as it heated up, its charge light brightening as the element got hot, casting an edgy red glow into Lillith’s attic room.
Then it was quiet. Lillith gave a steep inhale, a pregnant pause, then slow-minty sigh of an exhale.