The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers is a dark mystery about a girl with a special power to selectively erase memories, the dark and dangerous group out to get her, and a man who searches for the girl he loves but can't remember (available June 13, 2017).
Imagine getting beaten to within an inch of your life by brutal thugs who insist you know the whereabouts of a girl named Sally Starling. This is the nightmare that busker Harvey Anderson is living, and he really, truly believes that if he doesn’t die, he’ll end up brain damaged.
“WHERE IS SHE?”
That diamond of a fist drew back yet again and I braced myself, thinking the next blow would shut out the lights, perhaps cause permanent brain damage. I thought, bizarrely, of Swan Connor, Green Ridge’s celebrity resident. Swan had been a big-time record producer in the seventies and eighties—back when people actually bought records and there was money to be made. He was always so engaging and bright, happy to share an anecdote or a smile, but a recent stroke had turned him into a maundering imbecile. I’d seen him just the week before, stumbling down Main with the aid of two canes. He was drooling like a teething infant and had a thick green booger on his upper lip. That would be me after this punch landed. There’d be deep crevasses in my brain where cognitive functions and motor skills used to live. I would eat mashed potatoes with plenty of ketchup. I would wear eight-dollar track pants and maunder with Swan.
I waited, but the punch never landed. Another thug had stepped forward and placed his hand on Jackhammer’s chest.
“She got to him,” he said.
“I know,” Jackhammer said.
“I know that, too.”
I had no idea what they were talking about, but—for the time being, at least—the beating had stopped and that was a positive. Albeit a meager one. I lowered my head and started to cry again. Jackhammer loomed over me. He rolled back my head and used his thumb and forefinger to peel my swollen eye wide.
“We should make sure,” he said.
But wait, there’s more! They’re claiming Harvey lived with her!
“We need to find her.”
“I can’t help you.”
“We’ll see about that.”
Jackhammer had procured a chair from somewhere and sat opposite me. His expression hadn’t changed. He could have been waiting for a bus. Again, I considered my father’s theory about microchips in the brain and automatons. Maybe he wasn’t so crazy.
“We are proceeding under the assumption that you are telling the truth, and that Ms. Starling has performed her little party trick on you.” He linked his fingers and leaned toward me. The chair creaked, offering the impression of a tree bowing in the wind. “Let’s just see if there’s anything left.”
I nodded, as if that were all fine with me. As if they were suddenly being reasonable. Something warm trickled from my swollen left eye.
“Sally Starling isn’t her real name,” Jackhammer said. His blank eyes felt like the backs of cold spoons, placed on my cheeks. “She was born Miranda Farrow, June 1991. That makes her twenty-four years old. She used the name Charlotte Prowse after her parents abandoned her at age fifteen, then became Sally Starling when she moved to Green Ridge six years ago. Places of employment include Marzipan’s Kitchen, Pennywise Used Books, and the Health Nut.”
I knew those places well, but nothing stirred in my brain.
“Her last known address was apartment eighteen, Passaic Heights, Green Ridge, New Jersey.”
Wait. What??? That’s Harvey’s address!
So now these gorillas are claiming he’s been brainwashed. What the hell? Can you imagine? But when Harvey sees a picture of Sally, she looks vaguely familiar, and a gauzy memory of a dancing girl comes to him. Could it be true? Could his memory have been wiped? And if so, why? This is the premise that Rio Youers explores in his terrifically twisted new thriller.
If poor Harvey thought he’d get a reprieve from the thugs, he was right, but that’s when the spider walks in:
He was an older man—just into his sixties, I thought—with a pale, lined face and dark eyes. His forehead was dominated by angular eyebrows and a silvered widow’s peak that glimmered in the overhead light. He wore an unremarkable gray suit, given character by a red flower pinned to his lapel.
He took the seat opposite me (a pillow had been placed on it, I noticed), his long arms and legs folding neatly as he made himself comfortable.
The thugs were rough, but the spider is a different kind of menace, and he claims that Sally took something valuable from him. As the spider questions Harvey, he notices things about him, like the red flower on his lapel that’s two shades lighter than his blood or how “His eyebrows came together, forming a bird shape across his forehead. Not a sparrow or chickadee, either, but a raptor. Something with claws.”
He also discovers that Sally possesses a very special ability, one that allows her to selectively remove memories from a person’s mind. If the spider gives Harvey the creeps when they first meet, it’s when he crawls into Harvey’s mind that he earns his moniker.
He was inside me, scurrying along my memories and dreams. I tried to shake him loose—jibbing and rattling in my chair—but he held tight. I envisioned the sole of some gigantic sneaker slamming down and crushing his fat body into the grooves of my brain.
He skittered, explored. His many legs stretched, touching neurons throughout my brain, acting as conductors that drew the separate elements of memory together. I tried to thwart him, to imagine a blank brick wall, but he was beyond that. He crawled into the folds of my temporal lobe, stimulating electric impulses, uncovering memories with formidable ease.
Is this Mom? Why, she’s pretty.
Fuck you, man.
She stood in a stroke of sunlight at our living room window, her hair so gold it was almost white. I recall this with unnerving clarity; the day she told me she had breast cancer. The memory shifted to her lying in an eco-coffin made from hand-woven rattan and organic cotton. Her face was a pastel mask.
The spider burrowed. I jerked and cried out, the cords in my neck announcing themselves like tension wires.
Not until I’m satisfied.
They’re my memories … MINE.
It’s an intrusion of the most horrific sort, and Harvey decides he’s not going to let the bad guys win. Not this time. And he’s not going to let them find Sally. Youers’s prose is gorgeous, and he writes with a dark, sensuous fluidity that belies the treachery beneath everyday life, taking the reader on a breathtaking journey to a very dark heart indeed. Who is Sally, and is there a connection to a series of murders recently committed in the area? This is an offbeat, suspenseful meditation on memory and longing by a writer like no other.
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