“Dr Liu & Her Box of Memories” Dark Fiction by Dan Sands

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens…” The patients’ sister was reading aloud to her as she slept off the ECT the Doctor had just inflicted upon her. Lying there like Snow White, the fairest girl of fairy tale, yet no miraculous prince would ever wake her. These words of Gimli were, to her, the most inspirational in the whole of that epic novel. Tattooed in their runic script around her wrist, they were as ten anchors, Dwarf smelted, stabilising her fragile glass-coffin mind in the chaotic sea of reality. “Maybe,” the sister continued, teary-eyed, though firm, as Elrond made his reply: “But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.” That Elven response was to be inked permanent around the other wrist once Snow White was recovered, thanks to the Doctor.

The Doctor wore a long white coat, her black hair streaming down her back to her waist, and her hands held themselves in her pockets as she walked, each step echoing. She entered her office amid thunderous roars of storm from outside, the weather rumbling on the walls. Bolts of lightning streaked in refractions on the windows and her black-framed glasses. Her paperwork had to be done before she could vacate the building and drive home for the evening. She wrote that: …The patient has made great progress since the time we started treatment. She was then in no fit state, weeping and always close to violence, now she grows benevolent and pliant; she will recover well.

Signed:

Dr

That was how she, Dr Luna Liu, signed her name, with the Mandarin character she inherited from her father. was his name. He taught her calligraphy when she was a girl, intent on his daughter appreciating her heritage. “Our name, Liu,” he told her as she sat on his knee, a pop-up book full of whirling dragons, dazzling palaces and great walls. “is a name of the Han Emperors, who ruled China for more than four hundred years.” He looked down at his daughter who smiled sweetly up at him as he said: “Our name means kill originally…” and killing was a lot of what Dr Liu did; she killed the pasts of her patients.

As she left her office that night, her heels sending off clattering sounds in the corridors, she could not help but feel like the Wicked Queen. She had rendered Snow White in a stasis of seeming death, albeit through electrodes and anaesthesia instead of apple and comb. It was a cruel practice, but in its end there was kindness. The trauma the patient had sustained at the hands of her tormentors, enhanced beyond ordinary understanding by her bi-polar condition, would forever be diminished. She was, for all intents and purposes, a new woman, a clean slated being, the old one gone.

Gone, yes, but not forgotten.

Though she had effectively killed the person of Snow Whites’ past, the memories were still there, like small, black clouds in a sunny, blue sky of psyche. Her life would be retained, as with so many others, in the mind of Dr Liu. The voices, the abuse, the bad men, the drugs, the alcohol, the self-harm; it had all been written down, and the Doctor would recall it all, vividly, for the rest of her days.

The cost for her most recent customer had come to $13,000. Though steep as that sum might seem, the price of happiness to some is immeasurable. Dr Liu, however, was no wicked capitalist profiteering off the misery of her clients. After paying off her taxes and purchasing the necessities of life, what money she managed to save from her services enabled the progression of her secret project. She engaged with it as a mad scientist, downstairs in the dark, in her laboratory.

#

Journal Entry, 21 November 2024.

Presently ECT is the number one way on this earth to help one in leading a happy life if that person is so broken down that they are just not up to the task of living in a world of darkness and desperation; but it is not full proof.

This truth I had, unfortunately, learnt in the case of one schizophrenic boy. Seventeen-year-old Simon was so sweet and loving when outside of his melancholic episodes of psychosis. He did not improve, despite my treatment, and he became the first and (so far) only stain of suicide on the otherwise pristine record of Liu. Spurred on by his death, I have determined to pioneer this new method. One for those failed by ECT; my Electric Memory Therapy, my EMT.

The communities with which I professionally engage, the medical, the scientific, the psychological, can know nothing of it, for they would not approve, and I would face the consequences of malpractice. Yet I am no malevolent extortionist, no, I have for twenty years thought on all ethical considerations regarding my aspirations, and I have previously dawdled in developing this cure, but no more.

It was Simon who proved it. The needs of the few failed by ECT outweigh the ethics of my fellows heavily. So, I progress.

#

It was not chiefly Ugo Cerletti and his electroconvulsive therapy that she owed the development of her neurological ideas to, but other, darker historical characters. Her bedridden mother, killed by cancer many moons ago, gave the teenage Luna her copy of Forever Amber to read, and the dazzling England that Amber inhabited came to life in her mind. The Stuart Monarchs and their mad minds fascinated her, raunchy Charles II with his Court of debauchery, his grandfather James VI and his infamous Daemonologie, but most fascinating of all was what went on beyond the grasp of the Stuarts in their American colonies, the likes of Tituba and her contemporaries, witches and witch crazes.

There was a remedy for affliction once popular in Salem, where a victim of witchcraft expelled the demon from her body by urinating in a cake mixture, baking it, and finally feeding it to a dog to transfer the parasitic spirit into the animal. Ridiculous, but the theory is what always interested Dr Liu, the primitive ideas of man’s mind made manifest in such a logical fashion; to transfer evil, the means must be the expulsion and then ingestion of the said evil from one host to another – the expulsion was but one part of the process.

She applied the same logic to modern standards within the parameters of electric medicine. Could electricity itself be the means to this end? To siphon the bad memories out and into something else? Her device had been developed following these lines of thought; it existed under the same logical premises as the Salem Witch Cake.

Oh, to let a mouse imbibe the terrible thoughts, to let the patient go free and have the strain of ECT avoided utterly. Dr Liu, however, had long figured out that no animal, no mouse, dog or even the cousinly monkey, no matter how intelligent, none could comprehend the memories of men. Their brains rejected them. So, she expanded her experiments.

The homeless she sought out came willingly enough. She did not think there was anything in the memories she had collected which could be, empirically, worse than what these people had experienced on the streets. She made it clear that the memories were not theirs, nor theirs to inherit or to keep. As the transcriptions were transferred from the computer through her device, her Electric Box, the memories were zapped into their brains, and the results varied.

Each one of the subjects retained different degrees of the traumas to alternate extents; some remembered the molestation alone, others molestation and self-harm, others the face of the monster, some even recalled the feeling of the penetration. Most remarkable of all was Robert, who retained the broadest spectrum of memories; he described with perfect accuracy the face of the monster (a photograph of whom she had procured and uploaded onto the computer) and could clearly recount the experience of forced vaginal penetration; he was not handicapped at all in lacking a vagina.

That man had come close to cracking, she knew, but he just about remained sane.

These artificial memories were subsequently returned solely to the computer via the same device in a reversal of the initial implantation of the thoughts; she had not been able to remove actual memories from a live host at that stage, they were only taken from her notes. She gave the homeless ECT for their new troubles if they desired it, though not many required that extra touch, and her house was a haven for those people for a time.

She had effectively achieved one-half of her end goal. She had found that the ingestion was possible, that the expulsion from the patient was the hard part. For the Witch Cake she was baking it seemed that the dog had come well in advance of the piss he was to take in.

#

Journal Entry, 12 December 2024.

I realised after the experiments on the homeless that I needed to further develop the Electric Box – it had to take the memories out before it could implant them elsewhere.

I had yet to siphon, to transfer thoughts of mind directly from one human brain into another; I had to figure out how to harvest properly before I could resow.

I determined that when I could finally do both as one, my EMT would be completed.

#

A milestone was met even as Snow White began her therapy in the fall of 2024. That August, Dr Liu tested her harvesting technique on an old lady of one hundred and four years of age at a care home. The dementia-ridden dame had been a soprano in her youth, and when the Doctor played a Maria Callas record in her presence, she rose from out her rocking chair with sudden youthful vigour.

She sang, her musical memories flooding back to the forefront, as Dr Liu took out her portable, miniature device, recently developed. It performed one of her Box’s latest modified functions; neural transference. It was like something the Men in Black would carry, only this probed, snatched and saved; it did not erase. Scanning it over the singer’s temple harmlessly, several tiny bolts of lightning sparked in their gleaning.

Later, the device to her own temple, she unleashed them into her own brain, and the memory came streaming. She was singing in a Coliseum before a thousand people, a thousand observers in an amphitheatre. Her own rendition of ‘Ave Maria’thundered and thronged. Roses were thrown at her feet. An applause and ovation lasted countless minutes. Then she returned to her own world; delighted and dismayed.

She would be drinking of much darker draughts than this, and though she had finally figured out how to siphon off the memories, to achieve the direct neural transference between the hosts was the next stage, the unproven realm, the part of her plan which might never come to fruition; but she had to try.

So, now that it seemed her ultimate ambition was surely dawning, she became plagued by ethics. She had done questionable things in her pursuits as her experiments bore fruit. How, you might ask, was she to bypass most of these dilemmas?

#

Journal Entry, 1 January 2025.

I hereby vow to become the first recipient of my own experimental procedure. It will all be on my head if it comes to pass. If I go mad, or die, my research will provide scientists with the means to pick up where I leave off.

I will inform the first subject who consents of what is required of them, that it might be better for them to go with ECT given its proven effectiveness; but that they might also choose my procedure.

She knew that it would work, though, she felt it inside. The primary obstacle which had dogged her for years had been overcome, now she had to overcome her doubts, her fears, her many uncertainties.

“Can I not just destroy the memories?” She asked herself in an instance of hesitancy. “Do I have to do it?”

“You know you must.” A voice answered from deep inside. “A computer cannot absorb them, you have only uploaded notes, pictures, data, and transferred them to others. These memories will come directly from the Electric Box. One to one… it is your responsibility to investigate.”

“Can the psyche withstand it?” She questioned the voice.

“It is one thing to transplant a kidney, a heart, they will be accepted or rejected by the new host; it is something completely different to elect to transplant a portion of one psyche into another. You must do it because it has not been done.”

She ultimately concurred with the speaker within her.

#

Days, weeks, months, a year went by before she finally found someone willing. An Irishman had come to her for a free consultation. He came seeking relief, liberation from his past, his deeds as well as what was done to him; he had turned to the rosary, he had been truly penitent, sober for a decade, but still his mind was ravaged by history.

He had a problem with money. Even with all his savings he could not possibly afford the number of ECT procedures it would take to clear him of his inner turmoil.

“I have a proposition for you, Cormac.” She said, jotting down notes before she placed pen and paper down. She removed her glasses with a sweeping motion and looking at him directly. “Given your financial situation I may be in a position to help you out with alternative treatment; but I have to tell you, all the details will need to stay strictly between the two of us; is that okay?” He nodded his ascent and she fixed the man with a serious stare, leaning forward in her chair. “You see, I have developed this experimental procedure…”

“Is that right?” He said, interrupting in genuine inquisitiveness. “Tell me about it.”

“…well, it has not exactly been ethically approved, and if you agree you would be my first proper subject, but from the tests I have conducted I would anticipate less potential harm for yourself than for me. That does not mean that you will be harmed, it’s just given the experimental nature of the project…”

“What d’you mean?”

“Let me start from the beginning…” So, she relayed onto him the entire history of the development of her therapy, Tituba, the boy, the Electric Box, Robert, the old lady, all of it. “So, what I propose is, if you undergo the therapy, and, presuming I come out okay on the other end of it too, and you are still not happy with the results, say, if you still retain your memories, I will be able to reduce the cost of the ECT based on the value of the services you would have provided me.”

There was a pause:

“How much could you take off if that was the case?”

“I could make it next to nothing; I would personally cover most of the cost…”

There was no pause:

“When can we start?”

#

Cormac arrived at her house on a dark, stormy night the week following their first meeting. Rain pattered the tiled roof of her country domain as she admitted him through the electric gate. The gate was flanked by two guardian lions on either upper side, stone warders who kept off evil spirits; save those Liu let in. The Irishman ran from his car to be welcomed within the house, near saturated even as he entered; tea and towel was shortly proffered and accepted. Soon they descended into her basement, and he was introduced to the mechanism he would be subjected to. All was ready, and he was happy to continue.

“Sixty seconds…” Announced Siri as her automated countdown began. The Doctor had uploaded the specified memories she had taken from her sessions with Cormac onto the computer as transcriptions. She had programmed it to sequence the exact memories as listed and process them from him to her – he was hooked up and ready to go. The Electric Box, now set between the two of them, looked very much like a fencing battery, which is used to electrify wires and keep animals confined in their holdings; this one, silver in its casing, released monstrous beasts and herded them into their new lair of confinement through the electrodes.

“Fifty…” He was wired up with the electrodes plugged onto his temples, his ears, the cerebellum, the neural canal, and so on, as was she. He was manacled to his reclined chair, but she had to remain unrestrained. She had given him a sedative, but for her there was no anaesthesia. She had to remain vigilant until the point of induction; thereafter she relied on automation to do its job, until she woke up. Both their mouths were fitted with foam protectors for the inevitable bite which was to come once the seizure was induced.

“Forty…” Each number Siri counted was like a clap of thunder announcing a lightning strike, only for the lightning never to arrive at all. It was like waiting for the electric chairs bolts of execution to be administered in the causation of death. Perhaps it would be a sort of death that was quickly approaching; a part of him would die in him, and perhaps she would not survive, or else she would be changed utterly.

“Thirty…” Halfway through the minute and they might as well have been halfway to the moon on a slow rocket. The moon… white orb of mystery. Her mother named her for it, she who had first brought her to the history of witchy women, of demons. Her naming was a whim Hǔ had conceded, but neither she nor her father knew why her mother had been so adamant about that name, that it just had to be Luna. Without her leave, Simon started up:

“The Moon that Kills!” He screamed. “The Moon that Kills!”

She could not stop herself remembering his chiming song anytime the moon came up in thought – the unquiet sobriquet the schizophrenic boy had given her. His voice came pounding back into her head when she could least afford it. She shut her eyes tight and tried to drown him out, focusing on the countdown.

“Twenty…” Each second an eternal rotation.

Nineteen…” She concentrated on the numbers, just until the end was reached.

“Eighteen…” the age he would never see.

“Seventeen…” the age he had been.

“Sixteen…” the age of glee before the complete dark.

“Fifteen…” the age of normality.

“Fourteen…” the age he won gold in everything.

“Thir…”

Something else was wrong, and she realised it in a fraction of an instant. She did not know what it was, but the device had started the process early, the computer screen had gone out in a flash. The shock to her brain was meant to cause her mind to go blank in temporary seizure, but she was still wide awake in electrified petrification, the shocks sweeping through her body in long seconds of agony, and Cormac’s memories hammered themselves into her head like nails into a glass coffin amid the shrieks of a schizophrenic boy.

Every eternity she heard Siri, echoing amid chaotic scenes:

“Ten seconds…” She was a young boy. There was a white door before her. The paint and wood were splintering. It was being pummelled by something on the other side. Eventually, it cracked. The top half fell in and to the boys mind it resembled a playground slide of a sudden. Blackness lurked beyond the doors’ whiteness, and the blackness moved over it. Something happened to her then, something that she had hoped would have remained in her notes, known, but not lived, and now it was in her head, her own body felt it all, livid and vivid.

“Five…” Years later. She was fourteen and had gotten into a fight at school. “Knacker!” she screamed at another boy. He had punched her in the head while she was leaning back on the hind legs of her chair and kept punching while she was down on the ground. Another time: she was outdoors, was pushed, no, punched, into a ditch full of nettles and briars, with her head whirring and every inch of her skin stinging.

“Four…” She was at the funeral of her grandmother, and she felt dead inside as the casket was closed and she had to say goodbye forever. She was not the same person she had been only seconds ago as the lid closed, and when it was covered, eternally, over in earth her stomach, her mind, her heart, felt just the same as that wooden box buried in the wet ground.

“Three…” Alcohol, drugs, binging, starving; a big blot.

“Two…” A woman, her radiance faded no sooner than it bloomed, then nothing but a silhouette, then nothing at all…

“One…”

Blackness.

#

     Sylvia Plath spoke to her while she slept, spectral poetess who Cormac had idolised in English class. He was losing all memory of her, her poetry, of The Bell Jar, as the Doctor imbibed all of her. As ghostly Sylvia hung above Luna Liu in her temporary state of comatose stillness, it was the buzzing of a great many bees that came into the Doctors’ dreaming mind. Her head a hive, housing thousands of them, and Plath, terrible and beautiful, her face torn by the flickering light of the computer, one half shrouded in permanent shadow, the other illumined briefly again and again by the briefly lit screen, recited one of her poems for Luna Liu:

“…The box is locked, it is dangerous

I have to live with it overnight

And I can’t keep away from it.

There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.

There is only a little grid, no exit…”

Plath lingered there for a while, her face hard but not unkind, and from behind her shoulder there peaked the curious eyes of a boy of seventeen, behind him stood an upright Snow White, behind her a host of others, silhouettes that buzzed.

#

The Doctor awoke.

As her eyes blinked back into awareness and comprehension, she thought for a moment that she has been out for hours but knew in truth that it had been less than a few minutes.

Cormac still slept in his sedation. His burdens lost to him his expression was relieved, now that they had been stowed in the mind of Dr Liu, who, with electrodes now pulled off her neural passageways, rose whitely from her chair.

She picked up her glasses in a pensive state and straightened her hair out. Then the immediate memories of what had just transpired came back. She patiently awaited Cormac’s awakening, and when he did come back to himself, she greeted him heartily:

“Nice sleep?” she smiled. “Can you tell me why you’re here, Cormac?”

“Dr Liu,” he breathed in comprehension. “I came here to… to undergo your procedure.”

“And did it work?”

“I… I remember that it was meant to take my bad memories away and… I don’t think… I can’t remember what they were…”

Her head dropped down to her chest as though her smile weighed a tonne.

“Thank you, Cormac, thank you so very much.”

“But are you alright?” He asked as she helped him up from his seat. “Are you able to handle…?”

“I don’t think there’s much to fear with me, not to belittle your experience, but I’ve heard much worse in session. I was prepared for that, but I don’t know how many people would have been to be honest. You should stay here tonight for observation. I trust you’ll breath no word of this…”

“Of course, I’d do nothing to endanger your work.”

“Thanks… well, today was a success… one thing’s clear… my research has just begun…”

She stumbled forward in a faint; Cormac caught her.

“Doctor!” he cried out.

“The Moon that Kills,” she sang in a boy’s voice. “has gone behind the hills! When she comes out again, she’ll bring us our sleeping pills!” She giggled.

He dropped her to the floor and ran. Whatever had happened, that was not Dr Liu’s voice coming from out her own mouth, nor any laugh a grown woman should be capable of making. He turned back once to see her standing at the foot of the stairs, staring up at him with a smile that sent shivers up his spine.

He never breathed a word of what occurred that night to anyone, and though he was certainly shocked by the experience, Cormac went on to live a very happy and contented life. He married the woman of his dreams and they had four very happy and healthy children, and Cormac was plagued no more by his past. He retained his grandmother as she had been in life and not in death, and her memory lived on in the minds of his own children. For that and more he would be eternally grateful to Dr Luna Liu.

#

When she regained her conscious apprehension over her own faculties again, the Doctor did not recall the fact that another voice had come up to the surface.

She wondered where Cormac had disappeared to, but shortly dismissed him and returned to her work. She found that the files on her personal computer, of every session she had ever conducted, had vanished; gone with the malfunction of the device it seemed.

Gone, yes, but not lost, never forgotten.

As the Doctor stared at that blank screen, she felt a great strain weighing itself down upon her mind. She recalled them all… thousands of past subjects screaming in her mind… she could never forget them, but now they had been drilled in… a single head that contained multitudes… and Simon stood out, the foremost among them, alive again in mental resurrection.

#

Journal Entry, 17 February 2026.     Chinese New Year blazes in the night as the Year of the Horse gallops forth; distant fireworks explode red and gold as I look out my window with my glass of white wine in hand. I will be forty-six years old this year. My kind company keep reminding me of the qualities of my zodiac; powerful, energetic, beautiful, free. Simon, himself a Monkey, says that the Horse is also impatient and quick to anger, so they had all better be careful not to provoke me – I told them they could do no such thing. We had dinner then, Cormac said that he was looking forward to Saint Patricks Day, and before long we all slumbered like Snow White.


Dan Sands is a writer based in Ireland. Writing primarily in the genres of fantasy, historical fiction, magical realism, science fiction and horror, he one day hopes to publish a full novel. He is also a published poet who writes in both the English and Irish languages. His Twitter handle is @UdarUaillmianac


One thought on ““Dr Liu & Her Box of Memories” Dark Fiction by Dan Sands

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