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Harold The Tortoise



Estimated reading time โ€” 10 minutes

I happened upon the book at a kiosk in my town’s annual witchcraft festival. The seller, a young, red-haired woman, told me it was known as the Book of Memories. If you wrote down a recollection on one of its many blank pages and closed the book shut, it would vanish from your memories forever… or those of others. Only $14.99.

This was a strange way to sell a diary, I thought, but the cover was remarkable. Pitch black with an embossed rune I had never seen before. Despite the bogus backstory, I was intrigued; transfixed by its design. Even if I never put it to use, it would fit in nicely with my ever-growing collection of odd, supernatural relics (most of which were just strange craft items from Etsy). Just as I was about to hand over my debit card, the woman spoke.

“It can be yours for free, depending on your answer to this question. Do you have a troubled past?”

I looked at her, utterly confused.

“Yes. But who doesn’t?”

She made eye contact for an uncomfortable period of time and then smiled, handing me the book. Her behavior was very strange, but I was more than happy to not spend any money. As such, I thanked her and went about my day.

Upon coming home that night and venturing up to my bedroom, I threw the book beside my pillow and grabbed a head of lettuce from the mini fridge to feed my pet tortoise, Harold. He was off in the corner, chewing up one of my stuffed animals, as he so often did when famished. I pulled the plush aside and broke off some greenery to placate his hunger. He was pleased.

I sat on the bed and picked up my new collectible. I thought for a moment about the seller’s words and decided to prove her wrong, at least to myself; if for no other reason than to have a good laugh at her expense. I grabbed the nearest pen and jotted down Harold’s name in one of its many folds. I then shut the book and waited.

I looked over at Harold, eating his lettuce. I was not startled by his presence, knowing exactly who he was, and remembering every facet of his life. My parents gifted me him as a youngling before their untimely passing. I was very close with them, so the time immediately following their funeral was truly trying. Harold was there for me. I fell in love with that stupid green face of his. He kept me company when I was at my worst and provided a shell for me to cry on. You could say that he saved me, in a way. A torch that guided me through dark times.

But Harold was no youngling anymore. His surface area took up a decent portion of floor space, similar in size to a large tire. I watched as a bit of lettuce fell from his mouth, and then chuckled.

“Cute, silly Har…”

In saying this, something happened. I choked on my words. I still knew my pet tortoise, but could not for the life of me think of his name. I panicked, but looked over at the herb garden on the window sill; a place for his treats to grow in the sun. Above it was a sign I’d made.

Harold’s Garden

The name was completely new to me. I had no memory of ever having come up with it. The book didn’t delete him from my memory, only his name. But it actually worked.

Was the woman at the festival… a real witch?

This was a shocking revelation. I now had the power to erase any of my memories with the flick of a pen.

Or those of others.

I remembered the woman’s words. She specifically said it could erase my memories, or those of others. But how could I do the latter?

I scoured the book for clues and came across a page at its end with a different format than the blank ones before it:

PERSON:

__________

MEMORY:

__________

I thought for a moment. Excited, an idea came to mind that I quickly acted on.

After turning on my TV and flipping over to the news channel, I put my theory to the test. In the top box I wrote the anchor’s name. In the bottom, the memory of how to speak. Cruel, yes, but I desperately needed to know, and half-expected it wouldn’t work. Upon closing the book and opening it again, the ink vanished. I patiently waited for a result.

In a matter of moments the anchor stopped talking and bore a look of intense confusion. He continued to open his mouth, but no words came out. Eventually, the footage was cut short due to “technical difficulties.”

It actually fucking worked.

This was my chance. I could now do what I always dreamed of doing – and I wasn’t going to wait another second to put my plan in motion.

***

The door to his house was locked, but it was easy enough to bust open. There he was, a pitiful excuse for a man, relaxing in front of the TV, as if he had the right to do so. Surprised by my arrival, he questioned me.

“Who are you?”

He stood up and began walking to my position. I was prepared for this, having already written in the book. After shutting it, his legs gave out, as he completely forgot how to walk. He now had the motor skills of a toddler and was helpless to my attack.

He cried out, but this was futile. Another quick bend of the book’s binding kept him from ever speaking again. Now, he could only listen.

“How does it feel, Robert? Being so helpless and fearing what might come next?”

He looked up at me, the face of a scared boy painted on an old man.

“Good. That’s how my parents felt when you crashed into their car and drove away. The highway was empty that night. You were the only one who could help. If you had just called someone, they might have lived. I never even had the chance to say goodbye!”

He tried swinging at me with his arms, but another scribbling in the book put a stop to that.

“You didn’t deserve to get away with it. There wasn’t enough evidence in my favor, but I knew it was you. I was there. I saw your face when you walked up to the wreckage. I screamed out for you to help us, but you drove off anyway; a frightened child in a man’s body. You probably didn’t expect I would survive.”

His mangled form shook in an attempt to move with what little memory of this action he had left. It was no use.

“Now, you will suffer, just as I have over the years, forced to live without them. Goodbye, Robert. You won’t be missed.”

With one final closing of the magical tome, I erased his ability to breathe. I then left, satisfied with a mission accomplished. I had already collected the names of his neighbors, so it was easy enough to erase any memory of me ever being in the area. I was sure I wouldn’t be caught. After all was said and done, I smiled, genuinely, for the first time in years.

There was only one thing left to do.

I drove to the local cemetery, strolled through the headstones, and stopped at my parents’ grave. I sat there for a good long while, not yet ready to say goodbye.

“Mom… Dad… I did it. I took care of him, just like I always said I would.”

A steady stream of tears trickled down my cheeks.

“It’s over now. You can finally rest.”

I opened the book, one last time. I was going to erase them from my memory, once and for all. It was the only way I could ever truly be at peace.

“I miss you terribly. Things have been pretty dicey here without you, but Harold and I have been getting by as best we can. If I could change things, I would take your place in a heart beat. But I can’t, and that’s why I have to do this. The pain is too much to bear.”

There was now a flood of tears wetting my face.

“I never had the chance to say it before, so I will now. Goodbye. I love you both so much.”

Before I could jot down the appropriate words, a cross-section of space opened up in front of me; an oval-shaped portal of swirling energy from which a woman stepped out. The vortex vanished, and she pried the book from my hands, knocking me back in the process. It was the seller from the kiosk at the festival. The one who gave me the book.

She opened it up and stroked the pages in a meditative trance, all the while licking her lips. With a look of pure satisfaction, she opened her eyes and turned to me, frozen in fear on the ground.

“With every memory I acquire, my demons feed from the darkness within. The sadness and spite with which you acted. The vengeance. These will do nicely!”

She took a single step in my direction. My heart pounded.

“Who would have thought? A witch living among mortals. I was lucky to sense your presence and act when I did. My darlings and I were starving.”

I digested her initial statement and bore a look of shock.

“A… witch? You think I’m a witch?”

She cackled.

“Of course you are, child. You would not have been able to use the book otherwise. Did your parents never tell you?”

I slowly shook my head, still fearful.

“Stranger still. It’s unfortunate you’ll never be able to explore your latent abilities. In order to capture the memories you’ve collected, I must seal them with your blood.”

We locked eyes. She pondered for a brief moment before speaking again.

“But first, let’s see what other repressions we can dredge to the surface!”

With great precision, her hands moved in a circular motion, a fantastic glow pouring from her fingertips. She drew an intricate design in the air; the same one from the book’s cover. She finished by flicking it over to me. I tried to run, but the rune flew at a velocity my legs couldn’t hope to match. Its glow enveloped me. I could no longer see anything else. Then, it dissipated, revealing my new surroundings. The woman had inflicted me with a visual illusion. At the time, it felt all too real.

My parents. They were alive.

We were sitting at the dinner table in my childhood home. The food was delicious; the company, even better. We talked and ate for a long while. For a time-frame that could never have been long enough, I was happy.

But then, the thread was pulled, undoing the charade.

The expressions on my parents’ faces changed abruptly from smiling to stoic. They stared directly at me, piercing my soul with empty eyes. My father spoke first.

“Why did you live?”

My heart fell back in my chest. I couldn’t respond. My mother chimed in and broke the silence.

“Why didn’t you save us?”

Before I could even hope to form a reply, they stood up from the table and and walked around to my sides. They then lunged at me, to which I winced and took cover beneath the haphazard safety of my own arms. There was no attack. I unraveled myself and was greeted by a new environment. I was back at the cemetery, but not in my own time. It was another memory; one I would have sooner died before reliving.

Th funeral was just as I remembered. In the particular portion I was experiencing, I had asked the guests and other associated parties to leave. I wanted some alone time with my parents. Standing between the caskets, the sentiments I had rehearsed to myself earlier in the day escaped me, leaving me only with tears that quickly formed a puddle on the ground below. I couldn’t bear their sight any loner. The mortician did a wonderful job of hiding the wounds, but no amount of make-up could hide the feeling that resonated from their corpses.

I stepped away to gather the other guests, ready to lower my family into the earth. This is when the memory diverted its course.

Hearing a rustling behind me, I turned back to the coffins on display at the edge of the cemetery. The guests had magically returned, and were now standing as still as ever, staring me down with sullen faces. My parents had risen from their caskets and were standing at the front of the crowd with blackened eyes. They all moved towards me. I tried to escape, but they were always there, no matter where I pointed myself to run. They quickly surrounded me and closed in. I screamed.

The scene melted away and I was back in my own time, standing opposite the mysterious woman.

“Perfect! That fear and anguish you feel. Such a wonderful taste. My darlings and I will feast for a whole year!”

She licked her lips some more.

“Now, the fun part. It’s time to seal your memories away forever. You must perish.”

A wicked smile danced across her face. I trembled as she reached her arms out to attack. That’s when the most peculiar thing happened.

Another tear in space opened up directly in front of me. Harold trotted out from the void. He extended his neck and opened his mouth, out from which a green blast was expelled. The woman barely had time to dodge the blow, her smile now replaced with a look of surprise.

“You have a familiar?!”

She adjusted herself and sent a glowing, black bolt of lightning at Harold. He retreated into his shell and spun in place on the ground, deflecting the attack. He came back out and immediately craned his neck back to see me. I can’t explain it, but I swear he was making sure I was okay. It was this feeling that washed over me. In that moment, I felt safe for the first time since my parents died; protected by a warm, loving energy.

Harold turned back to face the sorceress. He awkwardly galloped to her. From his mouth, he shot an expansive blast of green light, filling my entire field of view. I didn’t cover my eyes in reaction to its brightness. It was somehow soothing to look at. I was captivated by its glow. When it made contact, it shrunk to outline the woman’s form. Her shape writhed within before the light finally faded, revealing only a skeletal structure left that disintegrated to ash and fell to the earth below.

I directed my attention to Harold. He was back in his shell.

Was he okay? Had he exerted too much energy?

I rushed over, panicked. I had never seen him so still, even when he slept. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just laid my head on him while tears rolled down his sides.

“Please Harold. Don’t disappear like Mom and Dad did. You’re all I have left. I still need you.”

There was no movement.

“I can’t do this without you. You can’t leave, okay? Do you hear me in there? Come back!”

Harold’s limbs and head slowly slid out of the crevices of his shell. He nuzzled up to me with what little strength he had left, clearly exhausted. I let out a shriek of joy and hugged that stupid green face of his. The nightmare was over. We could finally go home and rest.

***

I’m not sure if the book survived the blast, but that doesn’t matter to me anymore. The whole ordeal taught me never to be tempted by the forces of dark magic ever again. I felt it swimming in my veins; flourishing throughout my entire body. I became powerless to its control. I never want to feel that again. As far I’m concerned, the book can rot in the cemetery with the woman’s remains.

Despite my age, I’m still a child with many faults to be learned from, but now, I have someone looking out for me. My parents saw to it I would always be taken care of, no matter what happened to them. Harold is my familiar- but more than that, he is my closest friend. Whatever the world has in store for us, he will be by my side, and that thought comforts me.

I will never have to feel alone ever again.

The author of this story wrote it for free. If you enjoyed it, please consider leaving him a tip. Any amount helps! Visit his donation page today. If you want to feature this story on your YouTube channel, don’t forget to follow the author’s narration instructions.

WRITTEN BY: Christopher Maxim (Contact โ€ขย Other Stories โ€ข Subreddit)


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