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“Our knowledge is a receding mirage in an expanding desert of ignorance”
– Will Durant, Winner, Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction, 1968
5:45pm. Another 15 minutes and the agent from Alkahest will be here with further findings. I take another look at the manila folder on my desk and run my fingers along the printed label “Aiden Hawk”. Then I flip open the folder to view my notes and pictures once again. I’m overcome with grief as I steel my nerves to prevent crumbling into tears. My identical twin brother Aiden has vanished mysteriously, although the evidence now before me indicates a neatly executed murder. Maybe if I hadn’t had that accident I would have been there to protect him. Poor Aiden.
I am Ethan Hawk, Sergeant Major of the U.S. Marine Corps, medically retired thanks to some car accident on my way home from the Libyan Civil War which somewhat messed up my memory. I live mostly in the present now. Doctor Yen said I suffered damage to the frontal lobes and storage areas of the cortex in my brain, and this distorts the retrieval of my declarative memories and overwhelms my ability to acquire new episodic memory.
Essentially, I have difficulty remembering and recording specific personal experiences but I have no problems with my semantic memory, such as volumes of facts and random non-personal data like fluent English, Serbian, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, names of past U.S. presidents, historical events, memorized Bible verses and so on. Fortunately, my putamen was not damaged therefore my procedural memory is also fine; and so I have not lost the numerous skills that I have spent my military career building.
The earliest memories I can muster, I was about seven years old, sitting with Aiden on the floor of our room, consoling him as he wept. He was still bleeding where Father had forced himself upon him. What a bastard. Time after time he slapped him so hard for resisting, that his ears bled. Father molested Aiden over and again until he decided to run away from home. I reported to mother but she didn’t believe me; she later talked to Aiden and he was too scared to speak up. So I took matters into my own hands, cleaned out the loft above our room and he hid there, from everyone. For many months I shared my food with him and taught him everything I learnt in school.
One morning I woke up and found father dead, naked and castrated on the floor of my room. Aiden told me he tried to rape him so he jabbed him in the throat with a rusty nail and killed him, then castrated him with a pen knife. We had no idea how father knew Aiden had been hiding in the loft. Aiden was so scared, so I told him to run and I would handle things; like I always do. Mother screamed when she came in that morning; and I took all the blame. The policeman kept asking me why I did it, and I told him father was a pederast and he had been raping Aiden. They eventually referred me to some annoying therapist. As for Aiden, he never reached out in years, but I missed him sorely and understood that he was on the run.
I hardly remember anything else but thanks to my journals which I have been reading, I know a little. A genius; excellent school grades and ten years later, I had enlisted with the Marine Corps at the age of 17. I completed my Delta company recruit training and quickly advanced along the school of infantry, ranger school and others, promoted to the rank of Sergeant with numerous awards. I also served in research capacities as a Nuclear Biological Chemical noncommissioned officer. Career promotions, The Gulf War, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan with meritorious medals and service stars later and then Bridget came into my life. My lovely, beautiful Bridget. She was always there for me whenever I was back in the country.
We were at war in Afghanistan last year when Aiden sent me an email. I was overjoyed, to say the least. He had met an acquaintance of mine who thought he was me, and he was only too happy to give my long-lost twin brother my email address. Aiden had done well for himself as a scientist. He had sent me links to his blog on some of his research work, breaking into tomorrow’s technology. It was really impressive stuff. We stayed in touch but I longed to see him again soon. I told Mother and I was shocked that she grew cold and forbade any further communication with Aiden. “He is bad company for you”, she had stressed. That was when I realized that Mother knew it was Aiden who killed father. However Bridget was excited and she also looked forward to meeting Aiden.
Returning from Libya a couple of months ago, Bridget was meant to be waiting for me at a Hotel near home. It was going to be a great evening, and Aiden would be joining us later on. Arriving the hotel is as much as I can remember, for I didn’t write anything in my journal after that. Bridget had been delayed for some reason but she must have come eventually. My accident must have happened on my way back home, and I was notified that I needed to retire because of my state of mind. Bridget has been avoiding me, and she never wants to talk about any of it. Aiden also disappeared that night, and I was unable to find any leads. Finally I found a footnote I scribbled in the corner of my journal. “Alkahest. In case you are ever in a fix” and there was a phone number. So I called in, and Alkahest turned out to be a private investigations agency.
From my notes, Alkahest found out that Aiden had been murdered on the night of my accident, and someone had gone to extreme lengths to clean up the tracks. The weird part was that even the police seemed to be hiding something.
He arrives right on time. Mr Brown from Alkahest. Always precise, and he never says very much. He passes a folder to me and I flip it open and read eagerly. My heart jumps into my mouth. The reports clearly show that I lost my memory right there in the hotel room, and not on my way home in a car accident. I had been hit in the head during some fight of sorts. A police informant had revealed that Bridget was questioned that night, and she said I was overcome with unnecessary jealousy over Aiden’s attraction to her. However this report was destroyed. From all indications, I most likely killed my own brother and now I cannot remember a thing about it. I hang my head in deep sorrow.
“There’s more”, said Mr Brown, placing one last manila folder on the desk. “You may not like this very much”.
I hesitate, and pick up the file with trembling hands. I read it once, twice and then a third time.
I was definitely not prepared for what I just read. How could I have been?
“Thank you. You may leave now. Take the folders with you”, I tell Mr Brown as I get up carefully and walk to the window. I stare out at the snow falling gently in the street and ruminate over the reports.
When Bridget delayed in coming that night, I had stepped out to pick up a parcel for my Mother. And I returned to find Bridget making love to Aiden. I did not care if she thought I was the one. I was enraged and I attacked him wildly till he stopped moving. There had been blood everywhere. Then Bridget tried to escape but I rolled over and seized her foot in a deathly grip. In her fear she had pushed a heavy glass vase from the desk and it hit me in the forehead and shattered. That must have been when I passed out. The police came afterwards. I was found unconscious but Aiden’s dead body was nowhere to be found.
This was because, in fact, Aiden never existed. I am Aiden. One of the reports in the last folder included case notes from my childhood therapist. I suffered from dissociative identity disorder from childhood. The psychoses began when I was seven years old and my father raped me. My mind could not cope so it had created Aiden and externalized everything happening to me. I thought Aiden ran away but it was the therapist’s pills that kept him away. I stopped using them eventually when I joined the Marine Corps, and maybe due to some stress in Afghanistan, Aiden returned. As Aiden Hawk, I had published a public blog claiming research credit for top secret military technology that I had been privy to. Then I had emailed Ethan Hawk to reconnect with myself, my long lost twin.
After the hotel encounter, I was in a coma for almost a day but when I came to I had suffered brain damage from that impact. I had been susceptible to brain trauma, thanks to father’s slaps back when my ears used to bleed. Now I also understand why Bridget had every reason to avoid me, after I strangled and viciously stabbed myself for making love to her that night. It was very embarrassing that as the senior enlisted advisor to the U.S. Commandant of the Marine Corps, I was experiencing dissociative identity and so my superiors got the police to excise all the records, and my Mum was told that I had an accident on my way home. Moreso my blog had gone viral before it was taken down, having revealed a lot of military research information which should have been kept secret. I was asked to retire on medical grounds, but I didn’t reckon with the entire picture. Neither did Mother, and I’ll also keep it that way.
The last paragraph in the report was the most interesting. This is the fifty-second time that I will call in Alkahest and pay them to help investigate the problem. After solving it the first time, I made an arrangement with them to keep count in subsequent times. My episodic memory lasts about thirty-five hours. And when I have forgotten everything, I want to start all over again. Wake up trying to remember who I am, look through some pictures and read my journal, wonder what happened to Aiden, wonder why Bridget left me with no forwarding address, read the emails from Aiden on my phone, and accidentally discover Alkahest’s contact details, then call the number and get the agency to investigate.
Over and over again. Besides playing chess on my laptop, it’s one of the few things that keeps my mind sharp in my condition, and keeps me sane in my retirement.
I need to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be another day for my deserts of ignorance.