The Right to be Forgotten
May 30, 2014
A friend challenged me with writing a story with this title. This is what I wrote out in the half hour or so that followed.
The rain had been coming for three days and three nights, joined by parties of thunder and the soft music of wind through the city. Sorba stood facing the northern stretch of the valley, watching the great river swell and bloat while he ate simple grain cakes and drank only water. Woven between the drops of water came an errant ribbon of smoke tinged with the sickly sweet touch of roasted flesh. It was a smell that haunted Sorba and, in turn, haunted those below him in the ever-living city.
“The price is paid, man-thing.” The creature behind Sorba, who had worked tirelessly in his empty stone room, far above the ever-living city, turned back toward an empty black cask. It yawned outward, seemingly trying to eat all that was in the room, all that was in the world, and trap it within its blackened oak-planked domain. Cut into the oak were marks that were deliberate but unknowable, written in a language that was never real using a name that had never been said and written by a hand that couldn’t know.
“Did you hear me, man-thing? The price is paid. You may go.” The creature stalked around his small room, kicking what remained of those who had come before Sorba. Their bones were peeled and parted, split and sundered. The air was thick with their sorrow. Sown with their suffering and screams. Screams that had become hollow and meaningless. Sorba could no longer hear their voices. No longer could he see their names or faces in his mind. So he wept, his tears pouring down his face, spilling over his chin, and flooding the great, gorging ganges.
“Man-thing! You try Assarock’s patience! Begone from this holy site!” The creature rolled its shoulders and snapped its tail across the stones. The cackle was electric, as lightning skittering across the holy river. Another bone snapped beneath its great blackened nails. When it exhaled, the water fallen from the sky escaped and screamed. Great clouds of steam fled from it, seeking the pure embrace of oblivion. It growled in a way that no man could hear, no man could stomach. Its hands reached out for the seated man sitting in the rain. Crying and watching the great river swell and roll.
“Nothing stops me from feeding upon you, man-thing!” Sorba’s body was wracked with pain and fatigue but still he stared out at the great river. He opened his mouth and his body shook and shattered in fear. From deep in him his breath exploded, rolling out of his throat with the force of an explosive fire. There were whispers of sound and meaning deep within his breast but when they touched his teeth, they became numb and hollow. He soundlessly called out to the river, the great artery which his tears fed ever-flowing.
“As I have consumed completely those who have come before you, man-thing, I shall feed upon you! I shall eat upon your flesh! I shall gnash upon your heart! I shall chew upon your name! I shall crunch upon your memory! You will be forgotten! You will become as I am, hidden upon the names of men and unknown under the holy sun! Your violation of this holy place cannot abide the fierce Assarock!” The creature shuddered and shook, rippled as a pond angered by the impetuous youth who strike upon its surface. The names of gods and monsters piled upon the beast’s shoulders and gave it authority. The unspeakable strength of natural rite, the unknowable force of an order that knows both evil and good. As Assarock was created to Feast, it would Feast indeed.
Sorba looked up into the sky and spoke only once. “Look upon the river, Assarock. Even now it sweeps us up, it frees us from the bond of your forgetting. You have erased he gods and monsters. You have erased the pain and suffering. You have erased war and famine. But so great was your ego that you have now, in the eating of my own name, erased the last thing that fed your power in this world.”
The creature screamed and gnashed and fought. “Man-thing! Speak unto me the names of your fathers! Tell me why does your blood taste of poison and your flesh taste of deception! Tell unto me why your name tastes of dust and your memories taste of desolation?!” The creature fell to its knees. The weight upon its shoulders lifted, evaporating into the air. The stones around it grew cold and dry. It became dead and hollow inside its holy place. The man, his name forgotten, fell to the dust and collapsed. The stones beneath him grew cold and grey. Already sprouting from his body were the soft flowers and buds that would become the arms of the Dark Mother welcoming the body of her children to her last embrace.
“Speak man-child! By what name were your fathers invoked!”
The dead man’s blackened face and ashen eyes turned to the creature, slowly falling into deeper horrors than the even the creature could see. “We have forgotten.”