Ok, here's the deal, folks.
I finished the story last night, just as I said. But then as I was looking over things, including the original prompt, I noticed something was wrong. Instead of writing a story entitled, "The Spell of Unforgotten Loss," I had written one entitled, "The Spell of Forgotten Loss." Somewhere during the part of story creation where you stare out a window with your mouth hanging open, the "un" got dropped out of there, and now we have a very different story. Well... mostly different. I guess they would both deal with loss. Except... I only wrote one of them.
I went back and forth with myself for a while on whether or not to post this one, since it didn't fit the prompt. But I owe you guys a story. Since he suggested the real prompt, Matt can decide if I need to write another version that actually follows it.
But for now, you guys will just have to read this one.
The Spell of Forgotten Loss
It's a Sunday afternoon, and she’s playing with her niece in the park. She’s smiling. It is good to see her smile again. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but here she is, eyes alight, cheeks puffed and slightly red from the afternoon sun.
The child is waving at her, wants her to join in the game with the children. She calls back, “I’m coming!” Amusement plays in her words. The smile is there, too.
I watch her as she runs after her niece. A year ago, I would have never guessed she could play games like this, would have wondered if she ever had back before everything started, back when she was still young, before she became the solemn, sober woman I first met.
A year ago, and I am watching her. She is in my arms. Tears stream down her cheeks. She is pounding on my chest with such fury that it actually hurts. She is not mad at me, not really. I pull her close and the pounding stops. Her shoulders shake in heavy sobs. I want to tell her it will be alright, but the words die on my lips. It won’t be alright, not anytime soon. Our work isn’t done. Maybe it never will be.
She is laughing. The kids are playing tag. They are chasing her now. She’s waiting until they are almost on her and then skipping lightly, effortlessly, out of the way. She twists behind them and tugs at their shirts, their hair. They turn to chase her again, but she is too swift. She makes it look like a dance, like a fight, like an art. Proof that the body remembers things even when the mind has forgotten.
Five years ago, and I am amazed at her dexterity. The first time I watched her move through Them, I was certain she would die. She always waited for the last minute, the last possible second, and then the predator would become the prey. Her hands would come down bringing her blade with them. And then on to the next. As if she was born to do this.
I watch tensely. The body remembers. We need to know how deep the old patterns go. I need to know….
But now the kids have caught her. She lets them pull her down on the grass and climb all over her, holding her down. I worry that she will scream, or call for help, but she is laughing. She makes a feeble attempt to shake them off before falling back to the ground. The children are laughing, thrilled by their apparent victory, but I don’t buy it. It hasn’t been that long. None of them would be able to hold on if she was really trying. Surely some part of her knows this.
A dark part of my mind wonders if anyone in the Order had placed bets on how many five-year-olds it would take to bring her down. The answer, apparently, is six. I would have guessed higher.
Three years ago, and we are against a swarm of Them. I don’t have much time to watch her if I want to stay on my feet, but she is swatting Them away like flies. Three go for her at once, but she shakes Them off effortlessly. They go down under her sword and vanish back into the void from which They were formed.
They aren’t much bigger than five-year-olds, now that I’m thinking about it, but no one would mistake one for the other. Well, not if they were actually seeing Them. That, of course, is the trick. Most people misinterpret Them, see Them as shadows, a trick of the light, a fleeting glimpse of an animal or person. Even most of us in the Order had to be trained to see Them properly, see Them as They really were.
She told me once that she had always been able to see Them. I don’t think she sees Them at all now. I still haven’t convinced myself that’s a good thing.
The kids crawl off of her, hooting and hollering in triumph. She pulls herself to her feet. I look down at my book and pretend not to watch. She’s probably noticed, anyway. She always noticed me watching her.
Seven years ago. We are on assignment, our second one together. She tells me to keep my eyes to myself this time, that she won’t save me if I get into trouble because I’m not paying attention to the job. I tell her I always keep a bearing on my surroundings, that I’ll still look after her because that’s what partners do, and we can’t afford to lose people. The Order has a hard enough time filling ranks. She shrugs it off. If she thinks more or less of me for it, I cannot tell.
It is two years later and I find out how old she was. Perhaps she was right to tell me off. But a man can’t help but look.
A year past that, and she encourages it. At last I am allowed to look as much as I want. I am happy with this. I want to think she is, too, but I am never quite sure. She is always tense. Her words lack passion. Her smile never reaches her eyes, and all too often it melts into sadness.
She sits on the park bench next to me and lets out a sigh. I look up. She gives me a slight smile. “Is it alright if I sit here?” she asks.
I nod. “Of course.” Of course. How could I refuse?
I let my book fall to my lap. I can sense the closeness of her, feel her, smell her. I want to stretch my arm out and reach around her, pull her close to me, but…. Not now. Not anymore. She let that go when she let go of everything else. I have to let it go, too.
It is eight months ago. It took us three just to determine the right place, and another one to get there. You would think with all our modern conveniences, with the information age and rapid transit, that it would have been easier. But one thing you learn quickly in the Order is how little we really know, how powerless we are. It can make one feel very small. I wonder if her world feels bigger now.
It is eight months ago. We spent a month wandering through forests, caves, swamps, and far fouler places than most will ever see. Than most should ever see. But we are here now. There aren't a lot of places like this left in the world, and the ones that are easy to get to are always watched. The Order has files on most of these places, though they don't let just anyone have access to that information, even within their ranks. We chose this place because it would be one of the most difficult for anyone to track us through. Not just the Order, but any of the sentinels that might be on this place, and any of Them that might be waiting.
We have arrived. We begin the ritual. I try not to think about it. The Order will have my head when we are done, and God only knows what they’ll do to her. I know they’ll be right to do so. After all, we’re furthering what we’ve spent the last several years undoing. They have a right to be mad. They have a right to be furious.
But she needs this. I want her to have it. Maybe then, she will be able to see hope again. Maybe then, her days will not be so dim.
“It is a nice day today,” she says. She is sitting next to me on the park bench, her face turned up toward the sky, drinking in the sunlight.
“Yes, it is,” I reply.
“The sun is nice, not too hot, not too cold. There’s a bit of a breeze. I can’t remember the last day that felt like this.”
It is a week after we performed the ritual. She has spent the whole of it slipping in and out of consciousness. Getting her back into the States would have been a nightmare without the Order. As it is, they are too concerned with controlling the collateral damage from our journey to ask me too many questions. Yet. It’s just as well. If… when… it comes to an interrogation, I’m hardly going to be in better shape than she is. We thought we were prepared. No one can be prepared for that.
She's in the Order's medical center. I am wandering the gardens outside trying to piece everything together, trying to come to terms with it all. The sun is warm on my skin, but not uncomfortable. The wind is blowing gently. I should be enjoying a day like this. I know I should be. But I can't. She's never going to be the same. I mean, I knew before we went out there. That was the point of it all. But... she's never going to be the same. I guess I didn't really know it, after all. Not like I know it now.
Yes, she is definitely different. I can see it in the way she holds herself, how she relaxes and leans back on the park bench, almost as if nothing could go wrong. She juts her chin towards the kids swarming over the jungle gym. “Which one's yours?” she asks.
“Oh, um....” I try to think of a way to not sound like a creep. I can't come up with anything. The truth isn't going to be any better. Most people don't like finding out they're being followed. Even if we have good reason. Most people don't like finding out a shadowy group like the Order is the one following them, either.
I must be blushing. She laughs. “Don't worry, I don't think you're a pervert or something.”
I hadn't answered the question. Her mind is still sharp. I shrug and try to recover myself. “I spend most of the time working in dark places,” I say. “It's nice to get out somewhere bright sometimes. Somewhere peaceful. You know.”
She does know. How well she knows. Does she know? Does it count if she no longer remembers the dark places?
She nods and lets out a small sigh. For a moment, sorrow creases her face, and I see in its lines the person I remember. Is she also remembering?
“When I was a girl,” she says, “I used to have nightmares all the time. They were so bad I would see them when I was awake, too.”
They weren't nightmares. I nod politely. The sorrow disappears from her face.
“But you know what?” she says, a smile playing at the edge of her lips. “Now I can't even remember what they're about.”
She waves a hand in the air as if brushing them away. “Silly children's dreams, no doubt. I don't know why they bothered me so much back then. But yes. It's nice to get out in the sunlight, somewhere peaceful.”
It is two weeks past when we spoke in the park. I made my final report and turned it in. She is gone. She has forgotten all of it. She probably won't be a threat to the Order, but neither will she lend it her strength as she once did. She will just be another woman who works nine to five, runs normal errands, and takes her niece to the park on Sundays.
It's what she wanted, right? It's what I helped her get, what we spent months searching for, why I defied the Order. Why can't I just be happy for her?
But I hate seeing her like this, so restrained, so careless. I miss seeing her overcome and push through. I want to watch her graceful movements fueled by anger and determination. I guess I drew some of my own strength from that, from standing next to her in the darkness, against the darkness, taking on all that came with that. So that others could have that careless life. But that life wasn't for us.
She has what she wanted, but she is less for it. And it's my fault, at least in part. I should have been strong in her weakness, just as she always was in mine. I should have encouraged her to keep fighting Them, to keep standing up against the darkness. But I didn't want to see her in pain anymore.
I guess I thought she and I could be happy together afterward. I don't think I realized that, in casting off all her memories of Them and of the Order, she would also be casting off me. Or maybe I thought it would be worth it, that I could deal with it.
I guess I can't, after all.
I finish the last words on my letter to the Order and tuck it into the pocket of my jacket. They will find it when they find me. I hope they'll understand. I hope they'll keep me on afterward. I want to keep fighting this. I just... I don't want the ghost of her making me second-guess my movements. I don't want to keep wondering if she's alright now that she's forgotten, or if They are going to come for her in the night seeking retribution.
I chose this place because the Order will follow me here. If I don't get started soon, I won't finish before they arrive to stop me. But I don't want anyone else to carry the guilt I've been carrying since I helped her. I will do this alone. This is one of the places I can get to alone.
I start the ritual. When it is done, she will be but a shadow of a memory. Less than that, maybe. The Order will still keep an eye on her, to be sure. Maybe they'll even send me out, eventually. Just to check up on things. But I won't be worrying about it. I won't be waiting for the reports to come in, cutting corners and pulling strings to read them, to talk with others who talked with her. I can focus on undoing the damage we did when we broke those rules, when we ripped apart the fabric of the universe, letting more of Them in, offering her memories to the void that spawns Them. Forcefully taking something we had no right to take.
I take a deep breath. I am going to take again.
I start muttering the proper words for the ritual. Will I remember them afterward? I cannot dwell on these things. When it is over, if the Order will let me, I will try and undo the damage to the world. I will live with the damage to my mind. After all, she found peace in it. Why shouldn't I?
Darkness is creeping in at the edges of my vision. It is not simple shadows. It is not like losing consciousness. It is palpable, and coming closer. My breath quickens. I keep chanting. Come and take her from me. Give me the peace that comes with forgetting.
The darkness comes closer. I close my eyes and open myself to it.
Take her from me. Let me forget.