THE MEMORY PUPPETEERHe was known as the Memory Puppeteer. No one knew his real name.
He travelled the streets in vibrant patchwork, dragging along with him what he called the Theatre of Thought. He would put on wondrous performances that drew crowds from all around, those longing for a glimpse of the impossible and subconscious.
You see, the Puppeteer had a miraculous power over memories. He could control, shift, replace, remove them, of course, though he rather loathed THOSE skills and refused to ever use them. The true wonder came from his ability to give memories physical forms - a volunteer called up from the audience, and then with a flair of his hands there was a rainbow of odd creatures, varied and shifting and colored by the feelings and events they represented. A memory of childhood turned to a many-legged neon rabbit, a deep and biting trauma turned to a clawed and fanged mass of beastial fur.
Then, with the memory-beings arranged, they would perform. Singing, dancing, improvised adventures... all with the feelings they embodied woven in. A popular recurring play was for the volunteer's kindest memories to duel their cruelest, always scripted for the heroes to come out on top. And then, when the show was over, the memory-beings would be returned to mere thought, leaving the volunteer with a sense of peace and mirth.
The Memory Puppeteer did not know why he had these powers. He did not know HOW he had these powers. He did not know why he had sworn off using their full extent.
But he knew that what he did made people happy, and so he was happy too.
On days where there were few volunteers - not everyone sat well with the idea of their memories being paraded about, after all - he would use his own. But he'd never been fond of those performances. The cast was too small, too vague. But he would do his best. It was all he could do.
So he thought nothing of it. He performed, he earned a crust, he lived pleasantly, even by his lonesome. He was the only one who could do what he did, after all.
Until he wasn't.
One morning, as he wheeled the Theater set along the street, he heard a murmuring crowd. He followed their gaze to a sight that almost made his heart stop - a grand and elaborate stage, a man in magician's garb bowing with a flourish as a menagerie of surreal colors and forms danced and twirled in the forms of beasts. A circus of memory-beings. Someone else's.
First, he'd reacted with fear. Another like him? What did this mean for his sorry little theatre? But then excitement despite himself- Another like him! Perhaps a potential friend? Collaborator? The possibilities whirled in his mind as he watched the performance with almost childlike delight. He'd never been the audience before.
As the show ended, the other folk filed away, and the circus wagon began to close up, the Puppeteer hurriedly made his way near and rapped on the side.
"Hello?" he called. "May I speak to the one in charge?"
"Who's asking?" an unexpectedly brisk and gruff voice responded.
"I am called the Memory Puppeteer, of the Theatre of Thought," the Puppeteer introduced. "I put on shows much like your own, and was hoping to speak."
There was a long, sharp chuckle on the other side of the door. "Very well." The door of the wagon slowly opened to show the magician, much less magnificent looking without the flourish of the stage. "Good to see you again. I am here now, so speak."
The Puppeteer hesitated, thoughtful. "We... we have never met."
The magician smiled. It was all teeth. "So we haven't."
The Puppeteer found himself fidgeting with the edge of his tattered coat. "Anyway, I meant to ask about... Well, what do you do here-...? I- I have a similar ability to yours, and those like us should stick together, and..." He trailed off. "Perhaps you have room for an assistant?"
The magician chuckled again. There was no mirth. "Ah. Yes. Those like us should stick together." He adjusted his hat. "I suppose you assume this is merely all about putting on a good show."
The Puppeteer stared.
The magician stared back, unreadable. "Performances are not all I do. I enjoy them, yes, but to do all this costs money. And perhaps you may not like how I earn it."
"What?" The Puppeteer blinked, confused.
"I rent out my powers. Rework memories, take them away, replace them. And other things. Worse ones. For whoever pays." The magician explained curtly. "I figured I should say this now, and save us both the time."
The Puppeteer's eyes went wide. "But- but that's-" He balled his fists, flaring with an anger stronger than he could explain. "You mustn't do that! Thoughts are not toys to be abused for the highest bidder! We've no place to reshape the mind like clay!"
The magician scoffed, his eyes bitter. "Ah, yes, I knew you would say that. Hypocrite." Behind him, luminous-bodied memory-beings crept fowards, eyes flashing.
The Puppeteer drew back- "Wait- what are you-"
The Puppeteer wheeled the Theatre across the sidewalk, whistling to himself. He'd had some bad dream last night, but he'd forgotten it.
A colorfully decorated wagon rolled across the road, some stranger in magician's garb eying the Theatre from within. The Puppeteer absentmindedly waved.
Later that day, he held one of his usual performances at the Theatre of Thought. He thought nothing odd of the volunteer that stepped forward, other than that the colorless rags that shadowed their face seemed awful dreary.
The volunteer was silent as the Puppeteer drew forth the memories and gave them form, but in moments he found himself staring at the beings in disturbed awe.
The stranger's memory beings were identical to his very own.
In a panicked confusion, the Puppeteer pulled more into form, and soon they became unfamiliar - but unpleasant. Horrible, twisted things. Reaching and clawing insectoid limbs wreathed in humanlike flesh, eyes in sickly clusters emerging from vibrant sludge-flesh, teeth upon teeth upon teeth... a parade of wretched trauma-things, haunting memories he did not have, yet teasingly familiar all the same.
Horrified, he dissipated the beings, watching as they disappeared back into the mind of the volunteer.
"Who? Why?" the Puppeteer asked, with a trembling voice.
The volunteer looked at him wordlessly.
Below the shadows of the stranger's hood, the Puppeteer saw his own face smiling back ruefully.
That was the last time the Theatre of Thought was ever performed.