Memory

Remembrance

                No matter how far you fall, no matter how deep the hole. There is always a way to freedom. Someone casts a line into the abyss and you take hold. You cling to the smooth, frictionless walls as they hoist you toward the light and who you once were. And you are rescued. But there comes a time, when you are almost back at the surface—when you can feel the sun on your face and the wind tickles your nose—where they can pull you no further. Where you must climb the rest of the way and liberate yourself.

                That moment for me comes now.

                It is dark, though whether that is because it is the dead of night, or just the regular fugue state of my disassociated self I cannot say. There is a part of me that remembers… everything. Cayne, our Mother Eve, a battle between us on a level larger than the moons and stars, on a level smaller than quark or atom. We came to blows over the fate of the universe, and I was defeated. I fell far. So far. And that part of me is furious, that part of me craves vengeance. That part of me is also miniscule. The larger portion of me forgets, is confused, drools like a senile old man, and listens to stories. I can see the sun on the horizon, I feel the wind, but still I am trapped. Without a push, I may stay here forever.

                But then, in the dark, I have a visitor. A presence that, even in the fog, I remember well.

                “Oh, Aible… what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”

                Cayne? Here? I try to speak. I try to scream, but all I can manage is to gurgle. My eyes flutter desperate, the flames in them still far too dim.

                I am deeper in the hole than I realize.

                “Do you remember being born brother? I do. I remember the darkness before, being little more than an idea, than a blink. The heat, remember the heat brother? The heat and the water, bubbling around us? We didn’t know where we were, or what, or why?”

When I squint, I can see him standing just before me, pacing back and forth. Working himself into a fury. Even kingship, it seems, does not heal old wounds.

“But there was the voice, whispering, singing, calling us forth with words we did not yet understand. My children… come my children… I know now that is what she said. Souls percolated through us and we were imbued with many selves, a countless selection of faces, as befitting us Gods. And then there was the light, pulling us toward it. And we flew up… up… until there we were. In Eve’s garden. Me first and then you.”

Here he stops, and leans down to my level, squeezing my shoulders with his hands. They bite me, and if I could do anything more than dopily meet his gaze, grimace and groan with the pain, I would. In my mind’s eye, I rise up and wallop him in those crazed, fiery eyes. I… I… do more than that also.

“Remember that, brother? *I* was first. Then why were you made king?”

You were too jealous brother, too possessive and too volatile. I see nothing has changed but your title. How has our multiverse suffered for your folly?

In reality I do not respond. I am an invalid. Perhaps I fart loudly as my brother, the usurper Jorah Cayne, sniffs disdainfully and steps away.

“No, it seems you do not. You have lost much, dear Aible. Forgotten more. And that is what makes a God, John… I should call you just John now, shouldn’t I? A human name for a mere human? What makes a God-”

He steps back, and I see myself stepping with him. Grabbing some nearby metal and making a new hole in his abdomen and another… and another. But in reality I merely tremble in my chair.

CAYNE! How dare you take from me? My rebellion continues only in stillness and silence.

“What makes a God, John, is we do not forget. Not a single thing.”

He turns from me, preparing to leave. Walking away, he does not look back.

“You’ve forgotten everything, John. Less than a man, you are. These creatures, at least, remember that they will die.”

He does not walk to the door, as he approaches it, it seems to stretch further and further away. He slowly disappears in the middle distance, facing with shadow back into the All. Still, his voice echoes, even when the room is empty.

Goodbye, John… I do not expect we will meet again.

I imagine the smile on his face, smug and certain. I remember what he took from me, my memories and faces draining away, joining with his own. I remember our Mother, cast from All’s locus and forced to create her own world in the distant eddies of a distant universe.

Meadows with leaves dancing in a whirlwind. I see her face, streaked with tears. “When it is time. When you remember…”

I remember a titanic struggle, on a battlefield of where and when. Stretching back and forth across the cosmos and through time. But I cannot remember how I lost. Perhaps those memories will return to me. But now-

-now I must leave.

The shackles come away like butter. I scrabble up the walls, scratching upwards with my nails seeking desperate purchase. I float up out of the chair, dark fire in my eyes. I can feel the sun. The sun. THE SUN. I remember. I remember what I must do. And where I must go. A meadow, tall grasses swaying in the wind. Mother Eve’s sad face. “When you remember… come to me.” The wind, it howls in my ears, crying vengeance.

“I was… I was…”

A strong hand closes around mine, a familiar grasp, this time it does not constrain but tugs me forward, freer of my restraints, further from the chair. Out… out… into the hall. I look into its owner’s kind, gentle eyes, gray and mournful, and I remember the stories. And I know what stranger cast me the first line, hoisting me back to myself.

“No John, you are-”

I shake my head at that name. That small human name.

“Not John, not today. Call me Aible.”

He doesn’t miss a beat.

“And Aible is…”

Alarms sound in the hall, such quiet insignificant sounds now. No drug can cloak me, my memories fill me with a great force. A power, though insignificant compared to that I once knew, still strong enough to effect my escape.

“I was. I am. I will be-”

I close my eyes and picture my destination. A distant meadow. Home to deific castaways. Eve. I open them and finish my thought.

“KING!”

The aide, still by my side, nods as if he has suspected this all along. And perhaps he has.

“King Aible. My name is Ricard. All my life I’ve sought someone worth serving, coming closer sometimes than others, but never quite landing with the right cause.”

His hand shakes in mine.

“I’ve sinned, King Aible. I’ve taken lives without cause, all in the name of small men. And I must repent. I think serving you, I might be able to begin.”

I look in his eyes and see devotion, and also something more. Something that tickles me, and stoked other memories of how human men once served…

“Very well,” I allow. “Come along, but hold to me tight. This is a long journey we make. And we make it all at once.”

He does not respond, but his grasp on my fingers grows the stronger.

I smile, fierce and proud and angry, teeth glittering in my skull. Eyes lighted with black fire. And as other aides pile in, armed to the nines with tranquilizers and rifles, quavering before how openly I have regained myself, we step into the air.

And disappear from the prison that trapped us both.

The Usurper

                On the apotheotic throne sat the Usurper, Jorah Cayne, lamenting the ill-fortune brought on by success. He had achieved the most dangerous feat any creature could: the realization of all his dreams. The mass of women and men die hoping in quiet desperation, even from their final resting places, that ‘Someday… someday…’ they might reach the impossible peaks they climbed towards. They die not knowing whether or not the accomplishment of these out of reach hopes would satisfy them, would fill the bottomless pits we call souls.

Jorah was a God, part of a family of Gods. He had the time, the patience, the anger and vim to plot, to overthrow, to become all he ever wanted: King of kings and master of creation. And he achieved that dream. His brother become an amnesiac outcast, lolling in an asylum for the criminally insane. His Mother Eve become Exile, toiling to build new worlds of her own in some forgotten corner of All. Now nothing remained for him but the truth. The crown, the penumbral castle, Godhood, these things were not enough.

Even with the multiverse dancing before him in mercury pools, with anything he wished but a thought away, he remained unsatisfied. The great challenge of his life was overcome. His younger brother—the genteel statesman and Mother Eve’s favorite—had been undone. Now nothing remained but dotage. Nothing but the eternity stretching before him, stuck in the seat of power, saddled with infinite responsibilities. Jorah sighed, not for the first or the millionth or the last time. Responsibility bored him. It always had.

You warned me, Aible. You laughed, even as all your memories drained away; even as your faces became my own. You mocked me with your derangement. You knew I would not want this. That I knew not what I did.

And yet here he was, inundated by the prayers of a googolplex creatures, disinclined to answer a single one. Here he sat, beset by the needs, the songs, the praises and scorn of lives he may not have created, but now was indelibly responsible for. Here he mourned for the freedom he once had and gave up. The dalliances that once held his every breathing moment were like ash in his hands: unsatisfying and lost to the winds of change.

Running his hands through fine golden hair—the face he wore today was cold and pale, eyes piercing, yet empty, black as crows with their feet perched at the corners—he watched the twisting liquid that reflected back to him the worlds’ strife, waiting for moments that required his intervention. At the locus point of All, he was the Decider, who determined the victor of each major conflict, who choose which worlds might self-destruct, and which might veer away from such a path and toward a greater, if still insufficient enlightenment. Jorah Cayne, the child Lord, the unsuitable one, had the blood of many on his hands. He delighted still at destruction, the one joy left to him in his station.

He watched with an indifferent wave as a black hole swallowed a world entire, created by fool scientists whose own dream was to achieve a measure of power approaching his own. He was supposed to decide whether or not to rescue them in time or leave them to suffer the consequences of their folly, but all he could think of was the past, when time was young and stars boiled fresh from Mother Eve’s pot. The locus of All was not a castle then, but a garden, and Eve beguiled her children—young Cayne and younger Aible—with tales of Father Adam, the proud and reckless creator who did not heed her words, and who she herself banished.

“Creation is a woman’s work,” She said, stirring her cauldron in which another universe was born, “But fate conspired to birth me only sons. You will have to do.”

And as she spoke she looked only at Aible, and Cayne knew even then jealousy’s burn. The fire in his eyes raged emerald green, an envious and impure flame.

He remembered beseeching Eve to change her heart.

“I am the oldest. The throne should be mine!”

She looked at him that with sad eyes, her flames had always burned blue—the color of loss.

“Do you know what your brother told me earlier?”

Cayne did not answer, so enthralled he was by rage.

She sighed and continued. “I will tell you anyway. He begged me to choose you instead. He does not wish to be king as strongly as you crave the power of the Penumbral Throne.”

Cayne grinned savagely. “Well then, your choice is simple. Give it to the man who wants the job. Why torment the both of us?”

“It is precisely because he does not want power that he will be granted it.”

“But Ma-“

The fire her eyes flared hot orange.

“ENOUGH!” The force of her sudden, and ne’er before seen anger sends him stumbling back several paces.

“Enough.” She says again, more quietly, her eyes again a soft and sad blue. “You have so much of your father in you. The same insolence. The same disregard for caution. Please, just listen to your Mother. You’ll be happier for it. Promise me… you’ll listen?”

He nodded meekly, and they embraced. But still, in his heart of hearts, he plotted. It was the only way he knew.

A shimmering in a pool shook him from the memory. A message from one of his avatars. Powerful as he was, he could not divide his consciousness infinitely. So on each planet there hid a representation of God, bearing one of his many faces. They watched, and if anything merited his notice, they called on him, in case his gaze was elsewhere.

The call was from Earth. Immediately that caught his eye.

Could it be? Brother…

A face different from his own in all but the eyes, burning the same envious green, appeared.

“My Lord Cayne, the vengeful and just, overthrower of Aible and Eve, great plotter and Master of All-”

Cayne sighed, this litany might continue for another several hours if he let it. So many titles did a God possess. “Get on with it, Cayne #314. What is your message?”

“Well, uh… sir Cayne, we got a call. From… from…”

“…from?” The God continued, mocking his servant’s frightened tone.

“The, eh, the latest asylum, sir.”

“Yes?”

“Well, it seems, it seems that John Aible-” His avatar, the 314th false Jorah, paused again.

“Out with it then!”

“He seems to be, uh, remembering sir.”

“I see.”

He did not say anything more for a long while. Just stroked his chin, the beginnings of a grin haunting his lips.

“I see…”

“What should we do, sir? If he remembers everything, he might-”

Jorah blanked the pool with a blink, the nattering of underlings interrupted the schemes sprouting once again in his mind. The source of his greatest joy, the battle between brothers, an ultimate rivalry… could it really be on again?

“Don’t worry,” He spoke to the silence. “I’ll take it from here.”

And with that, Cayne rose from his throne, the apotheosis of all thrones, made of metal, of bone, of shadow and of light. An eclipse hiding the true nature of all things. He strode into the pool he had just wiped clean.

For the first time in over a century, he re-entered the world of Men.

I am coming Brother. Do you remember what I stole from you?

Once I Was King...

                They tell me the first lines are the most important part of any story; hopefully these will do:

Most days pass in a fog. I sit in a white room, watching the sun track across the sky; I watch the light rise and fall. A gentle aide, smiling, whispers in my ear. He tells me stories that begin 'Once upon a time…' or 'Back when the world was new…'. He whispers words from some fairy-tale, a child's story about vanquished dragons and valiant knights and beautiful princes and princess, their bodies wreathed in fine cloth, their fingers adorned with jewels. Sometimes these stories have Gods, just and vengeful creatures. Sometimes they end with a wedding, with all gone right in the world. Sometimes they end in tragedy; a hero boldly sacrificing themselves so that those they love, or Earth itself, may survive. These are the tales I like best; they remind me of what someone told me—my father perhaps—in another life:

                "No true victory comes without cost. No true King ascends to his throne unscathed. No day passes in this world without those whom you rule, whom you serve, taking from you. They take and they take… until nothing remains. Nothing but what they demand you become.

                "This is what it means to be King."

                Sometimes the fog lifts briefly, and I can see this white room, this sterile building, clearly for what it really is. A hospital… and a prison. On these days, I notice what each passing moment takes from me, bearing me down a river whose current beats me further and further into the future, further and further from my glorious past.

                I was… I was…

Winds blow in my room as my suborned self returns in flashes. Perhaps my feet even leave the ground. In the distance I hear thunder, and in my hands crackle lightning. My eyes become dark and deep. My old name dances on the tip of my tongue. I taste its power, and with it, on the precipice, flirts a glut of lost memories. But the gentle voiced aide rushes in; calms me with his whispers; feeds me pills with his soft hands. There is kindness in his eyes, I see, but also fire. Sympathy, but also fear. He guides me with surprising strength, until my feet again touch the floor.

                "There, there," He whispers, leading me back to my bed, tightly restraining me, watching until my eyes fade back to white. "It doesn't do to get so stressed. Let me read you a story, you like those right?"

                Back in the thrall of the fog, I can do nothing but mutely nod.

                And so passes time, be it weeks, months or years, to me the distinction no longer matters. Deep within me, something remembers, long withered roots grow stronger. Dreams of my past become clearer. With each remembrance I go stronger; my jailor must wait longer for my fits of reassumed kinghood to subside. The doses of whatever they use to subdue my powers, I suspect, get larger yet still more inefficient. The others in white rooms, they who once ignored me, now gaze at me openly with fear or awe or some mixture of both in their eyes. At night, in fitful sleep, I begin to mutter the same refrain, speaking it still as I wake.

                I will cast down my usurpers. I will stamp their names from history. They will be undone as I was undone. They will know fear. They will hear me resurrected, and all their hopes will die on the vine.

Once I was king, and will be so again…

Forgetting the Dead

                Every world deals differently with loss. There are those who mourn death, those who celebrate it as a homecoming. Those who find some happy medium in between. But by far the most interesting of worlds are those who do not acknowledge death at all…

                Grandma, sitting at the kitchen table, has a massive coronary during breakfast. It only causes her to spill her coffee briefly, before bringing it back to her lips. Her heart has stopped, but it’s the only part of her that does.

                “Ma, did you just…?” Her son, washing dishes, calls over his shoulder.

                She checks her own pulse. “I reckon so, no heartbeat. I can’t feel the coffee burning my tongue.”

                “That’s a shame. How long?”

                “I guess we’ll see.”

                “I guess so.”

                Life continues around her like nothing has changed, her family still recognizes her presence as if she still belongs among them. And, for a while, she can convince herself she does. But death, accepted or not, has a way of claiming its own. More slowly in some worlds than in others, but it creeps upon us all the same. Undefeated to the last.

                Grandma notices the color drain from the world. The sunset, once a rich tableau of orange-reds and burning yellows, turns dim gray. The leaves mush brown like autumn is upon her, even though the country still falls under spring’s thrall. Everyone speaks either too quietly or too loudly, always whispering, always shouting, and never quite at a level she can understand. Blood doesn’t flow so her wounds won’t heal, small scratches and unbruised blemishes mark her apart from the rest of her kind. As her nerves die, everything becomes a pain, even holding her beloved grandchildren, even a gentle hand resting on her shoulder. She knows, she can’t put it off any longer.

                She turns to her son, her beloved daughter in law, and their three kids one night. Or perhaps it is day. All is dark to her know, all food tastes like dust or ash.

                “It’s time,” She sighs, “I put it off for as long as I could… but it’s time.”

                Her son’s eyes glisten, but he will not cry. “I had a feeling this day was near. We’ll miss you.”

                If she could still feel, she’d mourn. But instead she is empty. The howling void creeps near, step by step it envelopes her. She feels her extremities crumble back to Earth.

                “No… you won’t.”

                The family blinks. Father, Mother and children stand around a floor covered in debris. They stare at the detritus, memories of the lost themselves already a distant memory.

                “What were we-” The mother begins.

                “I-I…” The father stops, the sadness at the tip of his tongue fading away, “…can’t remember. Grab me a broom, will you hun?”

                There are some worlds where death is a rest-stop, a brief respite on the journey to oblivion. Those on these worlds remember, if not the truth of it, its essence. They know their time together is short, and after it’s over, all memories recede with it. These are worlds without mourning, without history, where the past and future exist on the same Möbius strip. Where they are shrouded by the same forgetting and never-knowing, a candle that burns on both ends.