The Memory Thief

Brianna Gielow

Martha’s cravings were strongest for brains. Her infected roommate bit her on the face, and her brain was the first major organ to start decomposing. She soon lost her grandmother’s name, her multiplication tables, and all memory of second grade. It was devastating. She set about acquiring new brains immediately.

Word was spreading with the disease. When she got out of her building and onto the street, people were crowding around the televisions in restaurants and bars, watching the six o’clock broadcast. Some people were laughing, holding their arms out in front of them, pretending to drool. The televisions hadn’t yet mentioned that the contamination had reached the city.

Martha’s first kill was a teenage boy she ran down on Exchange Street. He had a noticeably high forehead and a funny little flip of hair that turned upward above his face, like an advertisement. His friends stood in the doorway of Treehouse Toys, watching and shouting but coming no closer as Martha worked her way through his skull.

His brains were soft, all emotion and very little knowledge. Martha devoured his ideas of love. Along with memories of popularity schemes, the wrinkled hands of a grandfather, and a proud red bicycle, most of the brain she tasted was peppered with romanticism. When she had swallowed the last scrap, the boy’s memories were still with her. They hadn’t mentioned that in the warning on the news, either.

After consuming her second kill, a young woman who wore a cross around her neck, Martha began to get nervous. The new brain had Thou Shalt Not Kill burned into almost every tasty morsel. The guilt was so strong that she stumbled back to her apartment and didn’t eat brains for a whole week. But her hunger was excruciating, and eventually an advertisement for an Alzheimer’s treatment on TV sent her back to the streets.

Martha found her next brain outside of The Roxy. His head was filled with bad pickup lines and midnight trysts which her other minds took no pleasure from. There were some surprises, though, like a crystallized memory of a departed mother, and a very funny joke about a whale and a tourist.

Meanwhile, Martha was losing the smell of her father’s cologne, the words her first boyfriend had said to her, the history of ancient Greece and her natural distaste for intimacy. But now she had the image of a sunrise over a desert in New Mexico, even though she had never been west of Niagara Falls, and she knew the taste of ice in the Himalayas, even though she had never climbed a mountain.

She became unstoppable in her hunger, and not even the fear of damnation could keep her from lusting after the brains of a man who had studied paleontology, or a child who still believed in the Tooth Fairy. No mortal with a memory was safe from her.

When they quarantined the city and the numbers of uninfected brains available were dwindling, Martha had to become more resourceful. Her younger sister, Kim, trapped and hiding in her apartment in the East End, didn’t hesitate to open the locks for her. The distorted image in the spyhole of her door must have hidden any change in Martha’s face. Kim did fight back once she saw Martha’s filthy clothes and slack jaw up close: in the struggle, Martha forgot her last name. Luckily, Kim was able to remind her of it again.

When she was finished, Martha sank onto the stained couch. Scraps of memories glistened in the moonlight that came in through the windows, but what was left of Martha’s curiosity was satisfied, and someone else’s laziness kept her from gathering up the leftovers. It didn’t matter that the original Martha had almost rotted away, or that she couldn’t remember where the apple tree in the photo on Kim’s coffee table was from. The branches outside the window were beautiful enough.

BRIANNA GIELOW was born in 1992 and began writing six years later. Her first genre was Harry Potter fanfiction. Over the years she has dabbled in other genres, including science fiction, magical realism, creative nonfiction, and love letters to Jorge Luis Borges. She studied creative writing at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and currently attends Columbia College Chicago, where she will be graduating this spring with a BA in Fiction Writing. Check her out at

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