In Memory Of Jonathan Wyatt
by Jessica Alden
In Memory of Jonathan Wyatt is an urban fantasy story is about a young boy who discovers a way of uncovering anyone’s deepest and darkest secrets. While fleecing all sorts of people he learns a costly lesson about greed, power and responsibility.
In Memory Of Jonathan Wyatt
by Jessica Alden
I began swiping secrets just after Mother died. I was barely ten years old.
Back then it was just a game. I would dart at a target, the amber orb cupped in one gloved hand, my other hand reaching for flesh. Before my victim could react, the experience of lying to his wife, of running over the neighbor’s cat, of murder in one case, would course through me. I liked the dumbfounded expressions of my marks when the secrets that weighed most on their minds were suddenly gone, trapped forever in my orb.
Don’t misunderstand: I had no misgivings that I was providing relief or that stealing memories was somehow a public service. What I loved was the thrill of having gotten away with something so tremendous. I was addicted, though I didn’t understand that until much later.
But I couldn’t go on that way forever, treating the orb as a plaything, giggling as though the atrocities I was collecting were just stories. When you’re brazen and open about possessing such incredible power—as any child would be—there will always be some enterprising louse ready to use your naïveté for his gain.
My louse was Jonathan Wyatt. Medium height, average weight, chestnut brown hair and eyes—he was plain enough to blend easily into any crowd. To this day I’m not sure how long he watched me before I noticed him, but once I’d seen him I couldn’t un-see him.
Jonathan frequented the coffee shop on the corner of Barnett Street. He sat in the same wrought-iron seat facing the square, with a newspaper open on the table, always paying more attention to my business than to his business section.
I decided almost immediately that I had to know his secrets. A man who watched with such intensity had to have some, though they likely weren’t his own any more than the secrets in the orb were mine. I wanted to know them. I wanted to know how he’d gotten them.
I stopped going to the square, choosing instead to watch the man from a tree a block away. If I climbed to the top, I could see easily over the market that stood between us. In watching Jonathan, I thought I might be able to formulate a plan to get close to him without him suspecting me.
After a few fruitless days, I was beginning to grow bored of the cat and mouse thing. I was sure Jonathan had lost track of me by then, so it wouldn’t be tough to sneak up on him and use my orb to collect his secrets the way I had so many others.
I made sure the orb was tucked securely into my pocket, then turned to climb down the tree. I was halfway to the ground when Jonathan stood, squared his body, and locked his eyes with mine. I froze, my nails dug painfully into the bark.
He’d been watching me all along.
A slow smile spread across Jonathan’s face, and he lifted one hand in a wave. There was no question it was directed at me.
At that point, I decided I might as well approach him directly. My hands were shaking as I made my way across the market, but I steadied myself and tried to appear confident as I approached the coffee shop. I hopped the decorative rail that separated the street ruckus from the outdoor seating area and plopped into the chair across from Jonathan.
“Phin Langston,” I said, thrusting out a hand.
“Jonathan.” He took my hand and pumped it twice. He didn’t feign confusion, didn’t play like he’d never seen me before. Right away I liked that about him.
I leaned back in the chair and studied the man. “You gonna try to steal my orb?”
“Then you probably don’t know what it does.”
“Do you want me to steal your orb?” Jonathan asked.
I stared at him. He chuckled, but I didn’t see what was so funny.
“You want something to eat?” he asked.
I had the sense he was trying to get me to trust him, that he didn’t really care if I wanted food, but I was hungry, so I nodded.
As I scarfed the pastry put in front of me, Jonathan asked, “How’d you come to have that orb, kid?”
I chewed, swallowed, set down my sweet. I eyed the man. I knew I should wipe his memory and get on with it, but I wanted to tell someone about the orb. What difference did it make if I explained the orb as long as I took that memory, too?
This is the reasoning of a hungry, ten-year-old boy.
“Pop’s a mortician,” I said through a mouthful. “He lets me keep anything in their pockets so long as I fish it out. This one washed up down river and I happened to find the body. Bodies don’t scare me. I emptied the man’s pockets and then reported it. When there’s an investigation, the pockets are always empty by the time the body gets to Pop, so I’ve learned to take what I want first, then report it.” I shoved the last of the pastry into my mouth and chewed. “I don’t find too many bodies, though. I don’t go huntin’ for ’em.”
“Families leave things in their loved ones’ pockets?” Jonathan asked.
I shrugged. “Would you want to touch your dead uncle’s stiff carcass just for a few coins? Plus, some of them don’t have any family, at least none that ever claim them. Death costs a lot of money when it’s not you dying. Pop taught me that.”
Jonathan said nothing, but he didn’t look convinced.
“Anyway, this man wasn’t at the mortuary. I told you, he washed up on the riverbank. Probably someone killed him to get the orb.”
Jonathan leaned forward, his elbows digging into the wrought iron table. “What makes you think someone’s not planning to do the same to you?”
Not one to be spooked, I leaned forward, too. “Don’t get any big ideas, Mister.”
Jonathan smiled. Leaned back again. The shadows disappeared from his face.
“I wouldn’t dare,” he said. “I have another thought in mind.”
“So you have been watching me,” I said.
Jonathan cocked his head and went on. “That orb of yours, what exactly does it do?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“It lets you hear peoples’ secrets, right? The really nasty ones they wouldn’t confess even to their priest?”
“If you already know the answer, why do you ask the question?” I demanded. “And it’s more than just hearing. I can see and smell and feel the secrets.”
Jonathan clicked his tongue, then sighed dramatically. “A thing like that could be highly valuable if you knew how to use it.”
“I do know how to use it!”
“I mean if you knew how to take the secrets you collect and leverage them.”
I didn’t know what leverage meant, but the way Jonathan’s lip curled when he said it, the way his grin crinkled his eyes, I knew it was the key to the whole thing. I’d been a child playing with a ball before Jonathan said that word—leverage; afterward, I was a man. A man about to make a terrible choice.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean you use those secrets to get what you want from people. Money. Power. Money and power. I bet your Pop would be proud if you came home with earnings of your own.”
Pop had always said he wanted me to have a better life than he did, that he wanted me to make something of myself.
I remember thinking that Jonathan would make an excellent business partner because he was already giving me excellent advice. Yes, as a ten-year-old, I thought blackmail was a swell idea. Believe me, if I’d known how this was all going to turn out . . .
“You’re not getting my orb,” I said. “I’m not letting you touch it. Ever.”
Jonathan watched me with a smirk that was too self-satisfied for my taste. I don’t know what tipped him off that I’d already made up my mind, but he knew. Part of me wanted to chuck my empty plate at his head and run off, but I didn’t want my new business partner to think of me as a child.
“What’s in it for you?” I asked.
“Money. Power. I said that already.”
“That’s what’s in it for me,” I corrected.
“Oh, I think there’ll be enough of both to go around.”
“There’s never enough money to go around.”
“You’ll see, Phin.”
And he was right. There was plenty of money. When you know a politician’s or a businessman’s or a wife’s filthiest secrets, there’s much to be gained by holding on to those secrets. Not that it would have been simple to prove any of it, but Jonathan and I were great at convincing people that we could.
The trouble was in the power it brought. By the time I was twelve, I was making demands of various highly respected members of the police force. I could call on the mayor at any time of the night. Gaining power over strangers filled me with an addictive high that was never enough to satisfy me.
But the effect I had on Pop was far worse than I could have expected. At first, I used the orb to wipe Pop’s mind of little things—nights I’d get home after curfew, the notes my teachers sent home when my grades started to slip—harmless things that made my twelve-year-old life easier but which didn’t harm Pop.
Even with all I’d wiped, Pop had noticed the change in me. He said my attitude wasn’t something he’d tolerate. The disappointment in the set of his jaw, the sadness in his eyes, the confusion . . . I couldn’t stand it. I never meant to hurt him.
The orb was hidden in my pocket, but I held it tightly in one gloved hand. I said nothing, only set my other hand on his arm as I had dozens of times before. I don’t know what I meant to erase. Pop’s understanding of the situation was so ill-formed, so nebulous, that there was nothing to grab onto. I didn’t understand how far I had already gone.
When I finally did latch onto something, it was a sense of overwhelming confusion that dragged me in. Pop had a body laid out on the table, a really mangled car wreck victim. There are lots of car wrecks, so he’s used to seeing melted hair and glass shards embedded in skin, but Pop was just staring at the girl like he had no idea what she was doing in his mortuary.
I was already panicking when I let go of Pop. I’d done this. I’d wiped so much of his brain that he couldn’t remember how to do his job. The orb still gripped in my pocket, I thought about pitching the thing and washing my hands of it. But if Pop couldn’t be a mortician anymore, someone would have to take care of us, and it was going to have to be me. I’d used the orb to destroy Pop; I could use it to rebuild him, too.
So I started leveraging: a hundred grand from Marcus Allen to keep me quiet about his on-set affair; another hundred grand from his wife so I’d keep my mouth shut about her affair while he was away filming. I raked in close to a quarter million from the city itself in exchange for silence about a number of high-level embezzlement schemes. Embezzlement. There’s another word I could have done without.
I told Pop I’d been spending my lunch money on lottery tickets. Then Jonathan came to the door, posed as a lottery rep, and handed Pop a check. If I hadn’t dulled him so much with the orb, I doubt he would have bought it, but as it was, I hadn’t seen him grin like that in years. He quit his job immediately.
Later, Jonathan and I celebrated our success. When he said, “I’m proud of you, kid,” I should have run, but I’d just pulled off a major con. I’d put Pop’s life back together. I was invincible.
I knew I should stop, but I was addicted. I kept taking, even from Pop, until one day I took more than I could handle.
I didn’t remember grabbing Pop’s arm, but the memory was flowing into me and I wouldn’t—couldn’t—let go. Through Pop’s ears, I heard the clatter of metal, a loud crack, and then a thud followed by silence.
Pop was out of the chair and rounding the corner into the kitchen before silence settled in the house. He knew what had happened before he saw it. I could feel his nausea as if it were mine.
He braced himself against the door jam, forcing down the bile, swallowing away what panic he could. Mom was sprawled on the kitchen floor, blood seeping from the gash in her head where she’d hit it on the counter. The ingredients of a half-made casserole littered the kitchen. The knife she’d used to chop the onions was splayed out next to her.
“Marce?” Pop’s voice was strangled as he dropped to his knees beside her.
I yanked my hand from Pop’s arm and stumbled backward. Alive? He’d told me she had died instantly. He’d said . . .
But I couldn’t ask questions now. I’d taken his memory of it. There was no one left to ask.
I vowed I was done with that orb. I locked it away and tried to forget about it, but Jonathan was persistent. He was ready to move our show to a national level. He wanted more, more, more, always more. Pop wasn’t working, of course, and I could have convinced him to move. I could have convinced him of anything with that orb, but I didn’t want to go. I wanted nothing more to do with Jonathan or the orb or any of it.
One night after our work was done, we were arguing in our typical way, Jonathan speaking with practiced condescension, my belly burning with emotion I didn’t yet know how to express.
“There’s more to be done,” he said. “We could run the country if you’d realize the potential of that thing.”
“We run this whole city,” I said. “You don’t think that’s enough?”
“You’re a child, Phin. You don’t understand what we could achieve. We’re squandering a gift by sticking around—”
“I command the mayor!” I shouted.
“And I command you.” Jonathan was calm when he spoke. He lowered himself into an overstuffed chair, throwing one arm over the back and resting his cheek on the other fist.
“You can’t control me. I have the orb. If I want to—”
“Then do it.”
“I—I’m not—You’re my friend.”
“I’m not your damn friend.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but I couldn’t think of anything to say to that. My chest felt tight, and I sucked in a shallow breath.
“I know more about you than I ever could have gotten with that trinket you carry around in your pocket. You think I’d need that to undo you? You’re a child. You’re simple to figure out.”
I wanted desperately to do something unpredictable, but he was right—I was a child and I was going to overreact. There were only a handful of actions I might have taken in that moment. I’ve played through each of them in all their variations a thousand times since that night. None of them were unpredictable.
I let my hand slip into my jacket pocket and wiggle its way into one elbow-length leather glove. The orb was in my hand before I knew I’d taken it from its drawstring pouch.
Jonathan stood up and backed toward the fireplace, his lip cocked upward. I gripped the ball of amber and followed him as he cornered himself.
“Do you really expect to wipe my mind of anything important? Do you think you can take a single one of my secrets without me giving it to you?”
“You can’t resist the orb, Jonathan. You know how this works.” I took another step toward him.
“Yes. I know how it works.” His gaze never breaking from mine, Jonathan took a box from the mantle and opened it. The gloves inside were identical to the ones that protected my hands from the orb.
“Ah, uncertainty,” Jonathan said. “You swore you knew how that orb worked.”
I stepped forward again. I didn’t know how my gloves worked, but I did know there was something special about them. I knew they were something more than thick leather because nothing else I’d tried had protected me from the orb’s scalding shock. But I couldn’t be sure Jonathan wouldn’t be protected, too, if he managed to get his gloved hands on the orb. He seemed so certain.
I was close enough to touch him now. I thrust my free hand toward him, but he knocked me away. The glimmer of memory that shuddered through me was insignificant, but it was something. The gloves hadn’t locked his mind, though that didn’t prove he couldn’t wrestle the orb away and pick it up.
With more confidence this time, I clamped my hand around his forearm and dug in my fingers. As the orb drew out his memories, my senses flooded and I lost track of the room we were standing in.
There was Jonathan as a child picking dandelions and puffing their fluff against a blue sky. And there he was, wallet in hand as he ran from an overstuffed, sweaty man whose anger blazed in his cheeks. Now Jonathan was a man, watching me yank away the secrets of strangers for my precious collection.
It wasn’t enough. I urged the orb to dig. I needed Jonathan’s recent secrets, the ones we’d bound ourselves together with. Jonathan fought, but his resistance was too little in the end. He knew how the orb worked, but knowledge was no weapon at all against it; knowledge was the vulnerability it thrived on, and soon it had consumed all of Jonathan’s.
When the orb stopped drinking and my hand let go of Jonathan’s arm, it was only a husk that crumpled to the floor. Sure, his heart still beat, his chest still rose and fell, but the body wasn’t Jonathan; it was only a body. I knew his pockets held more than just a few coins, but I couldn’t bring myself to search them. I would never be that boy again.
My instinct was to use my influence to clean up the mess I’d made. A few phone calls and Jonathan would simply disappear. I wouldn’t have to know anything more about it.
Instead, I picked up the hall phone, dialed 9-1-1, and waited for the ambulance to show up. I was done hiding behind the orb.
And now it’s yours, whoever you are. I’m not going to leave you with instructions on how to use the thing. I suggest you toss it into the ocean like I did and hope no one is ever unfortunate enough to find it. I destroyed a man—one man—and I spent the remainder of my life consumed by that knowledge. The potential for destruction contained here is too great to fathom. I’ve done my part.
Consider yourself warned.