When memory fails

I had a strange experience recently. With a bit of idle time on my hands, I went to the local library and booked a vacation to a new story realm. Then I ran home with my boarding pass and immediately set sail for parts unknown.

My first impression upon arriving was that it seemed a rather grim and repressive place. Much of that sense came from the young man who was guiding me around. As he talked, it became clear that he was chafing against the rules and conventions he was forced to live under. Even though he was one of the most privileged people in his society—a student mage and the son of the most powerful man in the city—he didn’t fit in, but neither his father nor the conventions of his society would allow him to pursue what he really wanted to do. It was a classic case of misfit-itis, although somewhat unusual in that, this time, the misfit was a wealthy and pampered member of the elite, rather than a farm boy who hated farming or a baker’s apprentice who yearned to become a dragon rider.

Those differences intrigued me enough that I decided to stick around for a while. I’d never seen this particular take on the misfit story line before and the twin hooks of rebellion and adventure were firmly set. But every now and then as I wandered around in his wake, I got this strange feeling. A sort of déjà vu. Not strong enough that I ever knew what was going to happen next, but from time to time, some key moment would happen to him and I couldn’t help but think I’d seen it before, even though he and his situation seemed completely and utterly new to me.

I continued to stick with him because he was making brave but difficult choices and I thought he could really use whatever comfort my companionship might give him, but those occasional flashes of the familiar kept resurfacing—to the point that it was becoming a distraction. I ignored them as best I could and soldiered on, staying at his side through his banishment from the city, through the wild chase in which the city fathers tried to hunt him down and kill him, and through the ferocious battle to win his freedom. Finally, at that point, I had a flash of prescience and made a startling prediction. I was pretty sure I knew where he would go next with his horrible wounds and who was going to tend them when he got there. I say “startling” because it centered on a place and character that we had not yet been introduced to. I was fabricating pure nonsense out of thin air.

And I was right.

Dammit! Either I had become suddenly clairvoyant or I actually had been to this world before, and since I didn’t also happen to know the upcoming lottery numbers, I could only conclude that it was the latter. And that’s disappointing. It seems I’d followed this very kid around to all his unusual places once before, listened to all his specific complaints and grievances, even witnessed his exciting and unusual events, all without ever recognizing that I was retracing familiar ground. It made me feel cheated, like my previous visit had been a complete waste of time for having been so utterly forgettable.

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But it also got me curious. For an adventure that had fully engrossed me this time around, what was there about it that had allowed it to slip so completely from my recollection the first time?

So I went back over the events that had preceded my epiphany and noticed something interesting. My moment of clarity had come during a scene of dramatic conflict that had a rather iconic visual. A specific, memorable image. But while my protagonist friend had shared some interesting thoughts up to that point and done some interesting things, they were all rather cerebral, internal experiences. None of those “interesting things” had been paired with any specific and memorable images.

So I think there’s a lesson here for me. It seems that my memories of travel to exotic locations are tied to strong visuals. And if that’s how it works for me, there are probably lots of other explorers out there with similarly visual memories. So, note to self: When recounting tales of my own exploits, be sure to include dramatic imagery to make the experience memorable.

It also has me curious about you guys. Have you had this sort of déjà vu experience before? And if so, can you articulate what finally triggered your recollection? Was it a striking visual, or something else?

Also, you’ll note that I have neglected to mention what world I’ve been talking about, and I’ve related fairly spoiler-free clues as to what happened there. Was that enough for anybody to recognize where I was?

Gnomileshi boy in Gash-Garnok village

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.