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The God of Forgotten Things

a short story
by Steven Savile

He took the dying girl's hand in his, as though by sheer force of will alone he could stave off the Angel Road by Steven Savileinevitable.

He had never imagined dying alone.

For as long as it was within his power he wouldn't let her go.

Holding her hand he tried instead to conjure all of the memories he had accumulated over his life; all the things he kept alive by remembering. Locked away inside him were things that had been cherished once, and now, without him to remember them, would simply cease to be part of the every day and would fade into the blurred landscape of the Realm of Forgotten Things forever:

The simple joy of attaching a baseball card to your bicycle with a clothespin so it hit the spokes as you rode, letting you pretend you were on a motorcycle. Hoppity Hop and Hoppity Horse, Klick-Klacks and Sea Monkeys, Lite Brite and Loop-da-loops. Spirographs and Etch-a-Sketches, Jumping Jacks and Mr. Potato Head. Captain Action, G I Joe, Creepy Crawlers, and Big Wheels (perfect for making wooden go-karts if you removed the huge rear wheel). Playing on construction sites on a Sunday in the days before rabid security dogs, nearly drowning, nearly buried alive, uncountable near crushing accidents, all in the name of childish fun. Building forts out of bricks and branches and mud, to sit and read books in or to play cowboys and Indians. Slinkies and Saturday morning matinees, pirates and swashbucklers, duelling with make-believe swords. Playing when it was okay to give a kid a plastic gun that fired fancy Spanish caps. Rubik's Cubes, Chutes and Ladders, Pong and Lincoln Logs, Whizzers and the Starland Vocal Band.

And the core beneath it all:


Before childhood had its dreams doled out by graphics and gadgets that plugged into a console. Long before the Great God Television spawned its hundreds of channels, and children made their own adventures in their minds.

Going out to bust ghosts, to have adventures, to play at being explorers beyond the fringe of the neighbourhood when the cars were a nuisance and not filled with potential predators. Tea parties and Ez Bake ovens which were anything but easy to bake with. He carried all of these things and more, kept them safe. As the God of Forgotten Things the old man nurtured the hidden treasures of all of our childhoods, keeping them safe from our forgetfulness.

He looked at the little girl swallowed in the swaddling clothes of the too big hospital bed, the drips and sensors monitoring her vital signs as they hiccoughed towards the flatline.

Her death was inevitable. Her organs were failing and shutting down one by one.

He continued to read from the book he was holding: Hoke Berglund's mesmeric The Forgetting Wood. He had chosen the book because he hoped the story of King Wolf's by-blows sneaking out of the wood to steal away children might somehow reach her in whatever darkness her soul had taken refuge; that she might somehow respond to the story.

Nurses came and went throughout the day, sparing him their looks of pity. They saw an old man and a child; perhaps his granddaughter, dying, and they shared his heartbreak without understanding the true nature of what it was they were actually sharing.

After all, candy stripers and staff nurses were not renowned for being tapped into a hotline to the wisdom of the spheres. An old man was an old man and a dying girl was a tragedy, and never the twain should be Gods or followers whose paths have crossed for a final farewell.

He stood up. Across the cramped room was a small mirror.

"What good am I?" the old man badgered his reflection -- the face in the mirror was far from glorious. The lines ran deep and wide. "A god of petty trinkets and plastic toys." He was talking for someone else's benefit; not the dying girl, and certainly not his own. Someone who could have intervened, if they cared enough to do so. "For all that the miracle of creation flows through my veins I can't actually do anything ... I remember things best left forgotten and fumble toward understanding or lack thereof, of the most mundane mysteries. I can't even keep a little girl alive."

For a fragment of a heartbeat, the stress drew the miracles to the fore, threatening to unleash all that he remembered on the world, and the memories showed through the map of his face -- and in the glass he saw things long since lapsed from the collective memory of everyday people. The secrets beneath the surface that made him Him.

Kids building ramps to launch their bicycles through the air like Evil Knievel, the bicycles cobbled together from scraps salvaged from various junkyards. Super 8 mm cameras and projectors. Forgotten youth filled with Rin Tin Tin and The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix and Pez dispensers. Playing with telephones made of tin cans and string, blowing an infernal racket on plastic kazoos and playing practical jokes with squirting flowers, fake cigarettes and hand buzzers. Sky King, Have Gun Will Travel, Sugar Foot, Wanted Dead or Alive, Give-A-Show Projectors and Bazooka Bubble Gum. 10 pence comics, Doc Savage and Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. Drive-in movies with homemade hotdogs and cokes in real glass bottles. Days spent playing with miniature petrol station play sets, and building cut-outs from the back of cereal boxes. Shooting marbles, and losing favourite 'steelies' to dead eye shots. Vinegar withered Conkers and Stink Bombs. Pedal cars and Silly Putty. Green Slime and Weebles that wobbled but wouldn't fall down. View Master and Presto Magic papers, Hungry Hippos and Buckeroo Banzai. The things inside him never ended. He was infinite. He contained multitudes of memories. Hunting tadpoles in the creek, and searching for bullets and shells soldiers had discarded during a war equally long since forgotten. Punch balloons and candyfloss. Battered yellow Tonka Trucks and Hot Wheels and Matchbox Cars racing on narrow plastic tracks. Stalking the neighbourhood with a Red Rider BB-gun. Spending all afternoon building plastic model cars and planes, just to smash them up in the driveway in some horrific accident. These were all the things that made him Him.

And he couldn't imagine letting go. Letting them go.

It wasn't death that scared him.

It was ceasing to be and all the things that would be lost along with him.

So he knelt beside her deathbed, waiting. He held her tiny hand in his and felt the flutter of her pulse.

"I'm not ready yet," he repeated and knew, truthfully, that he wasn't. Her eyes were glass. She was going. He looked back over his shoulder toward the door. No one was in the corridor. Breathing deeply, he leaned in to kiss the girl they all thought was his daughter. Their lips didn't actually touch. They didn't need to. A mere fraction from contact, he inhaled, drawing her out of herself and into him, absorbing her. It was a strange sensation, like drinking, swallowing and not being able to stop as more and more of the girl's spirit poured down his throat.

And then they were one.

She was in him and the shell was empty.

A dead thing on the bed.

He felt her inside him, a frightened being trapped inside his infinite walls. Her panic was palpable. He touched the surface of her thoughts, gently soothing, calming, and felt --


That was the overriding sensation. Cheated. There was no light. No heavenly host. No lost family members come to bring her into His warmth. She was alone. She resented the fact that she'd been left to go into the Kingdom of the Dead alone.

"No," the old man soothed. "No, no. Not yet. You haven't taken that walk yet. We have a little time. One last glorious huzzah, a few hours at least, to capture it all, to see, to taste, to explore, to savour, to devour, to share. A few perfect hours to live an entire life in. That is my gift to you. Dying like this isn't right ... now, let's see, what do you love more than anything? That seems like a good place to start."

He teased the petals of her memories apart, sifting through the darling buds of life she clung to. She was good. Her memories were perfect; each one possessed a dizzying clarity, each aspect beautifully rendered in sound and colour. It was fitting that she should be the last; that together they should leave.

He kissed the shell gently on the forehead. "I'll bring her back safely," he promised.

He walked toward the row of elevators by the Nurse's Station, and rode on down to street level. What would a young girl like? He wondered. The answer was, of course, everything, which meant starting at the very beginning. He was hungry. It was a basic need but, he realised, her food had been doled out through straws and drips. It was far from the delicious sustenance of junk food. He turned left as he hit the street, passing beneath the giant hoarding advertising super-sized grease in paper wrappers and thus began his quest for the Big Yellow M. He couldn't help but chuckle at the irony as he turned off Arthur Street onto Galahad Drive and was greeted by the sight of the Golden Arches beckoning.

He marched in, walked straight up to the long disinfectant-gleaming counter and ordered the jumbo deluxe super-sized monster meal and a minute later staggered back to the plastic seats clutching the massive paper cup of Coca Cola as though it were the Grail itself. A gallon sized grail at that.

He unwrapped his prize carefully, peeling back the layers of paper to get at the meat patties, limp lettuce and sesame seed bun inside. He took a bite, chewed, and swallowed. He felt her joy as he took mouthful after gluttonous mouthful. It was a simple delight. A sweet thing. The simple joy of food. He ate with greed inspired by the truth that this was his -- and her -- last meal. He stuffed the food into his mouth until it was difficult to chew and slurped the coke and crunched the ice and belched and chewed and slurped and belched. He didn't care what he looked like, what other people thought when they saw his gluttony. He ate and it was good. They could stare all they wanted. It wasn't about them; for once it was about him.

He wiped off his lips with the back of his hand and stood up. The lighting in the 'restaurant' was designed to be uncomfortable -- the franchise holders didn't want customers loitering after they'd enjoyed their taste sensations.

Outside the street was grey, overcast, and in every way a perfect presage of the miserable February to come.

The wind had teeth.

People shuffled by, women with shopping bags bulging, men with hands stuffed in pockets and heads down, deliberately not looking up for fear of making eye contact with passing strangers.

This was the city.

This was what it had come down to.

With infinite possibilities to choose from his feet led him toward the train station where its steel arches and sheltered pigeons replaced the golden ones of the restaurant. He bought a ticket to the coast and was alone in the old carriage when the 10:43 pulled away from the platform amid the snorting of engines and scattering of birds. He had deliberately chosen one of the older trains with separate compartments within each carriage because it was a reminder of a simpler time where travellers with their battered brown leather luggage would actually talk and share a journey. Few travellers wanted to do that any more; they craved the expedience of the shortest time between point A and point B and had all but forgotten that the point of a journey is not to arrive but the simple joy of travelling itself.

The landscape metamorphosed from concrete and steel to rolling greens and browns as the industrial ceded to the rural, and finally, for a mile or more as the tracks ran along the coast he gazed out at the blues and greens of the sea and the sky as they wrestled on the horizon, each trying to impose its splendour on the other. These were the images worth remembering; wheeling seagulls, storm clouds, roiling breakers, the rhythm of the tracks, the faint tang of stale cigarettes trapped in the No Smoking compartment, the hard springs of the worn seats, the old world charm of the conductor poking his head into the compartment and saying: "Tickets please."

The train pulled into the station, and given the season and the weather it came as no surprise that the platform was deserted. His footsteps echoed. He whistled a snatch of an old war tune as he walked over the small wooden footbridge that crossed the tracks. The melody was amplified by the vast emptiness of the station's roof.

"Nearly there," he told the girl.

'There' was a huge white-domed amusement park with slot machines and waltzers and rollercoasters and ghost trains, shuffle board and tin pan alleys, merry-go-rounds and carousels. The amusement park was chained up but that didn't matter. He followed the chain-link fence around to a sheltered corner that wasn't overlooked by the road or local houses. The top was tipped off with razor wire so he pulled at the bottom, working it until it was loose enough for him to wriggle underneath. He didn't care about getting dirty.

Of course, everything was lifeless, the rides and the slots. Several of the attractions had been battened down for winter, so the first thing he did was walk around pulling back the tarpaulins to see what treasures lay hidden beneath. A few, like the Whirl-e-Gig and the Octopus, were easy to spot because of their light bulb clad tentacles. The candyfloss machines and the chestnut roasters were empty, no ingredients nearby. He walked between the rides, remembering all of the happiness they had brought people before they closed for the season. That was one good thing about being responsible for remembering; he got to cherish the best of the memories, got to relive them over and over, first kisses in the tunnel of love, the hot flush of summer flings, the heady cocktail of enthusiasm and energy and undeniability that is youth.

He stopped by the fairground's behemoth: the waltzer, resplendent with its garishly painted faces of Elvis and the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Madonna and Cliff Richard and George Michael, and he started searching for a switch that would bring it all to life.

He found what he was looking for in the centre booth. The glass door wasn't locked, and a row of switches promised power for the lights, the music and finally, the ride itself. He flicked them one at a time, and suddenly the waltzer sprang to life, the bucket seats revolving lazily as the monster stirred. He flicked the final switch and Calliope piped music shrilled into life. Grinning, he triggered the five minute ride, and navigated his way out across the rippling wooden boards as they gathered momentum, and sank into the seat behind Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten's sneering faces and rode the nauseating waves as the bucket seat span faster and faster to the pull of gravitational forces.

Next, he lined up the skeet shoot in Tin Pan Alley, popping ball bearings into battered metal ducklings as they waddled across his sight. He rode the Octopus and the rollercoaster, then soaked himself on the flume ride, and dried off in the tunnel of love. Alone in the dark the ghost train was creepy; all of the creaks and groans of the settling wood, the unoiled tracks and the real cobwebs across the fake plastic ones were far more unnerving than the day-glo skulls and the tape-recorded screams that haunted the tracks his small cart rolled along.

It was a good day.

In one of the metal carts by the concession stand he found the pink makings of candyfloss. He fed the mix into the candyfloss maker and watched the twin blades circle and fold the gloop into just the right consistency of stickiness and sugar. Eating the candyfloss with his fingers was a sticky treat. It popped and fizzed on his tongue and clogged in his throat until the sugar dissolved. He ate until he felt sick and then he went in search of the carousel.

It was beautiful, and as out of place in this Mecca of thrills and spills as he himself was. It was a remnant of a better time. It was a glimpse of the craftsmanship and beauty that had been a fundamental part of the travelling funfair. Unicorns, horses, griffins, lions, tigers, zebras, even a dragon, each one carved in loving detail, their seats worn shiny by countless riders. He chose the simplest of the animals, a plain white horse, to ride, and clung on to its mane as it rose and fell in mock gallop. Going round, he remembered a few of the things he would miss most of all, and found that they were all of the simplest things, a smile from a pretty stranger, first hearing a song that touched the heart, laughter, and then something occurred to him. Where before he had always assumed that losing the past would inevitably mean that the future made no sense, he had forgotten one key component of humanity: they live neither in the past or future, they live almost exclusively in the present tense. Things happen to them and they adjust and cope even as they are happening. Very few look forward, and only the very old look back. His absence was not likely to be felt, not in the way he believed he deserved. That the very old could not remember clearly would surprise no one; they would call it Alzheimer's for want of a better diagnosis. And he would be left to slip away among all of the other forgotten things.

If anything, instead of lowering his spirits, the thought gave him the will to do what he had to: to die. The world would get by without him. Things would fade from the memory and while they would have no-one to keep them alive and cherished, that was the way it would have to be; entropy would have her way.

That was what it was all about, ultimately: entropy. The memories of the universe would become useless, the energy they offered would degrade until it became unusable, and eventually every one would succumb to this kind of soulless uniformity. The uniqueness of God's creation would be lost. But, he knew, entropy would have her way. To fight against her was pointless.

No, it was better to savour the day, follow the example of humanity and live in the present tense.

He touched the girl's thoughts, intending to see if she had enjoyed her final few hours, but instead came the revelation that the wisdom was not his own. She was the one who had calmed his soul. She was the one who had helped him come to terms with his obsolescence. She was the one who understood better than he did the need to live for today. He smiled, lesson learned.

"Have you enjoyed yourself?" he asked, knowing the answer. He could feel her smiling inside. He dismounted and pulled the plug on the carousel. Attraction by attraction he went around the funfair turning off the lights and hiding them back beneath their tarpaulins until, eventually, there was nothing to suggest he had ever been there.

"You know what happens next," he said.

He couldn't find it in himself to feel sad. They had had, together, the perfect day, and now, together, they would go gently into the endless winter night.

All that remained was to return to the hospital and wait for the inevitable.

He took the slow train, enjoying the gentle rocking motion and the clatter of the wheels on the tracks and the fact that the tiny windows wouldn't open enough to let the air in and the sunset as the darkness claimed the day. In everything around him there was something to enjoy. And enjoy it was exactly what he did. He savoured the uniqueness of everything around him, and shared his joy with the girl inside: the simple things like the smell of cinnamon buns baking, the honking horns of frustrated drivers, the drizzle of rain on his upturned face, even the most basic act of walking -- just walking. It was so long since she had done that.

The hospital room was empty. The bed had been made. His copy of The Forgetting Wood was on the nightstand.

He heard the nurse come up behind him.

"I'm sorry," she said. "She died just after you left. You missed her by a few minutes."

"No," he said, not understanding. "That's impossible ... She can't be ... I just ... we didn't ... "

"I'm sorry," the nurse repeated, nothing more substantial to say. "She went quietly. I am sure it didn't hurt. And now, well, she won't feel any pain where she is, will she?"

He didn't understand. She wasn't gone. He could feel her. She was inside him. She was alive.

And then he realised.

She would always be alive.

Inside him.

She would live in his memory, and as long as he remembered her, he would live inside her. They were inextricably linked.

He was the God of Forgotten Things.

And she was someone he would never forget.

© Steven Savile 2004, 2005.
"The God of Forgotten Things" was previously published in the
collection Angel Road.

Angel Road was published in November 2004 by Elastic Press; ISBN: 0954374797.
Angel Road by Steven Savile

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