Ben Crowder

A Past Not Yet Forgotten

Fantasy. Around 10 pages. Published April 25, 2022.

Your name is Retzi (short for Yaretzi) Gurschman. I’m you. But you’re not going to remember me.

Don’t know how much time I have, so I’m writing down everything you should know about yourself. It won’t be complete — a whole life in just a few pages! utterly impossible — but I’ll do the best I can. Apologies for anything I forget to include.

I’m a wreck. From my perspective, this is death hurtling toward me like a crazed bear. (I watch too many nature shows. You should maybe lighten up on those. Fewer nightmares would be nice.)

You’re pregnant. I found out a couple months ago, so we’re due in the fall. It’s our first. Not much morning sickness so far. The father is…let’s just let that cretin be forgotten, and good riddance. I know, I know, our baby’s going to want to know who their daddy is. Make something up. Let them think that he’s noble and kind and good. (And now I’m worrying that he’s going to show up on your doorstep and you’re not going to know who he is. Maybe forgetting isn’t the best idea. I’ll think about it more.)

You’re Quushti (mostly), a citizen of Quushtar. That’s the country where you live. (I don’t know if you’re going to forget literally everything or just the specific details of my life, so I don’t know what to include. Elista — coworker, best friend of ten years, though now she doesn’t remember me at all which is unbearably tragic — Elista still remembers the countries and flags and basic history, but Gorgor — another coworker, not so good friends, Gorgor isn’t really his name, it’s your nickname for him — is a completely blank page as of last week. This is what I fear most right now. That and getting bombed.)

Your identification papers are at the bottom of the top drawer in the study. That’s the room with two windows just past the stairs, with the black leather chair. (I don’t know if you should move your IDs after you read this, in case someone finds this paper. Because this is pretty much the keys to your life.)

Your mother, Dweri, passed away six years ago when — well, it doesn’t matter. Better to just forget that part. Mom’s maiden name was Lreivasa. Nobody pronounced it right. More about her family later.

Your father, Toritemno Gurschman, is alive and well. He lives in Vo, the town you grew up in, though your childhood home burned down in the big fire so he’s now in a cheap rickety apartment in the center of town. I don’t know why — he can afford better. He’s weird. His address is in your brown notebook, on top of the desk in your bedroom. (That’s the room with the bed.) (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Dad’s from Quushtar but was adopted by the Gurschmans (we don’t know anything about his biologicals) and spent most of his childhood in Mirza.

(If I were you, by the way, I’d downplay the Mirzan connection. There’s a war going on with them. It’s not looking good. That’s why I’ve been in the kovamnes for work, which I suspect has something to do with why we’re all losing our memories.)

You’re an only child. You had a decently good childhood, I guess. Lonely here and there. Not many friends. Not close ones, anyway. Especially not after the rift. (Your parents belonged to a political party that ended up becoming wildly unpopular all of a sudden. It doesn’t really matter now but it mattered a lot back then.)

You live in Slaver City. (Pronounced “slavver.” Name of the man who founded it and promptly got eaten by subterranean monsters. That second part probably isn’t true but it’s part of the lore.) (But maybe it’s true.)

This is your apartment. 373 Coalt Street, #63. Don’t take the elevator, it’s not safe. I’m not kidding. I’ve written up a checklist on the desk for what bills to pay and when and how. Next paycheck should be here in a week, but lately it’s been unreliable so who really knows. (Wartime woes.) There’s still enough food, which is an unexpected relief. Don’t know how long that’ll continue.

I’m know I’m forgetting things that will no doubt end up being vital. I’m sorry for that. This situation is…less than ideal. Bleak. Horrific (to me anyway) (talking about losing my mind, not so much about the war though that too is horrific). If I sound cool and collected here, it’s an utter miracle because I have to break every few minutes for long sob sessions curled up on the floor.

You’re my other baby, in a way. Newborn into a world you don’t know. I imagine it’ll be scary. Know that I’ve been praying for you each day. (Well, mostly praying that you never end up existing. Selfish, I know.)

I almost forgot to tell you about work! That’s how we got into this mess… So, I went to university and studied ancient languages. I don’t know if you’ll remember any of that. Elista’s knowledge is patchy and Gorgor’s is of course a gaping hole. Good news: for what they’re currently having you do, it doesn’t matter as much. You really just need functioning eyes and hands and legs.

Straight out of school I got snatched up by the gov to work in their translation division. Did that for a while, then moved to Preservation, where I’ve been ever since. In peacetime we prepared artifacts for museums, and it was lovely. I miss it so much.

Then the war started. Mirza wants its ancestral land back. That’s mostly Ghasht province, next door to the east. (Quushti people moved in a thousand years ago after the Mirzans left because of a famine.) (I’m going to feel a little silly if you still remember all this.) The fighting is all in Ghasht, so far. How long that lasts, who knows. There’s been a lot of back and forth, gaining territory here, losing it there.

Why it matters: about a year ago, when it looked like war was on the horizon, the gov found out what Mirza is actually after. Or why they care about getting their land back, anyway. You know how there are all the ancient cities everywhere? Built over or grown over, linked by underground tunnels, all that. You’ll probably remember this. But I guess I’m doing this just in case, so: while most of the old cities are in Mirza, a handful are here in Quushtar. So the gov mobilized Preservation to go to each city, find all the kovamnes (most are mapped but some aren’t), copy down all the spells on the walls in each kovam, and then scrub down the walls so Mirza can’t get the spells.

It’s awful — these sites are over a thousand years old! — but it’s better than the Mirzans getting their hands on the spells. In theory, anyway.

So I’ve been spending my days walking around Ord Ilt (one of those ancient cities, abandoned to nature, and what a majestic, glorious wonder it is!) with my coworkers, looking for kovamnes, frantically copying and scrubbing. Not what I signed up for, but it must be done.

(Just yesterday, by the way, my home sashta issued a declaration condemning what they call “the kovamnetic desecration.” With enough opposition, maybe the gov will change its mind.)

I just realized you’re probably wondering what a kovam is. It’s just a room. A special room locked in such a way that you have to glove your hand with a pig’s bladder to use the handle to get it open (because magic). A room with spells written all over the walls, by the ancients, presumably as a kind of library. Very creepy. You can feel the weirdness in the air, thick and musty. Every time I expect something awful to happen. I guess I was right.

The kovamnes are usually high-ceilinged, so we’re up on precarious ladders a lot. Because of the baby, though, Gorgor has recently been handling the higher spells for me. I appreciate that, even if I can’t give him the romantic attention he so clearly craves. Craved. I suppose that’s a silver lining.

So: we’re all losing our memories. It’s utterly terrifying, and I mean that intensifying adverb with everything I have. Our best guess right now is that there’s some kind of remnant magic in the kovamnes, maybe in the dust or something on the walls. An ancient curse, basically. Let me tell you, nothing like knowing you’re walking into an ancient curse each day to boost morale.

And yet we still have to do it, for the war effort.

I’ve thought about deserting — switching jobs to something safer. But the baby’s coming and I don’t want him born into homelessness. (I now think of the baby as a he, but I don’t actually know yet.) If I keep this job, I’ll have months of maternity leave and things will be okay. But if I keep this job, I’m also going to be a blank slate. (And it may be too late already.)

I wish you could tell me what to do.

Okay, I’m back after a couple hours of nighttime sobbing. No shame in that, right? I should be sleeping, but I can’t. Is there anything else I need to tell you?

Oh, yes, family. I promised that, didn’t I. There’s something else niggling at my brain, though, and to be honest I don’t know how much Mother’s side matters. If you really want to know, go find cousin Derret — he knows everything about the Lreivasas and can fill you in. Address is in the book.

It’s a day later now. I don’t think you actually care when I’m writing this, but for the record: it’s 8:29 pm and I’ve just gotten back from dinner at the Rietanska. Figure if it’s one of my last meals, I may as well splurge. (I apologize for the small hole I’ve left in your bank account as a result.) I’m sitting at my desk in the study, lamp on and curtains closed even though it’s not quite dark yet.

Enough of the meta. That niggling I mentioned? I remembered it this morning and followed up on it. We’ve been thinking that the memory loss is some kind of ancient curse, or some bizarre biochemical response to something that’s in the kovamnes. (I don’t think I mentioned the biochemical idea, did I. Sorry about that.)

Well, this morning in my shower I had an epiphany: not all men are good. (This may have come about from stewing on thoughts about The Ex. And we’ll let him stay forgotten. Sorry if that causes you grief later on.)

Not all men are good, and this holds true even within Preservation and the gov. It’s so obvious in hindsight: someone is using one of the spells to wipe our memories. (It’s embarrassing how obvious this is.)

It has to be someone with access to the spells. I checked the archives and yes, yes, there is a spell for wiping away memories. It was attached upside down to another spell sheet — somebody’s been covering their tracks — but it was there.

I took it.

100% illegal, yes. I know I shouldn’t have, but I detached it and slid it right into my purse. (Technically I wasn’t supposed to have any bags in the room, for this very reason.)

So…there we are. Hopefully this stops whoever it is from wiping any more memories. Oh wait. I forgot, there’s a backup copy somewhere. I don’t know where.

I guess this is my diary now. I may have written about The Grand Theft with more cool and calm detachment (see what I did there?), but I’m still shaking and sweating and flushed, and I had to lie down for an hour straight after I got home (before dinner). I am not made for a life of subterfuge and espionage.

Finding out who is behind this is key. Because it could be anyone who has access to the archives, I need to find someone with authority who doesn’t have access, so that I know it’s not them. Unless they had an accomplice. Oh dear. It could be anyone.

Think, Retzi, think. Whoever it is, they want us to forget what we’ve done and seen. Somebody who doesn’t want the spells in our hands, or doesn’t want the spells taken. It could be a Mirzan sympathizer embedded in our midst. Could also just be someone from a sashta (or anywhere, really) who thinks we’re desecrating the kovamnes. That’s a broad pool.

One thing I’m worrying about: if whoever it is just wants us silenced, taking the memory spell probably won’t stop them. With it gone, maybe they’ll escalate.

To murder.

Am I being overly dramatic? I have to remind myself that it still could just be something in the dust, or just an ancient curse. (“Just”!) It doesn’t have to be someone bent on exterminating us, even if that’s effectively what they’re doing.

Well. If it’s someone with the spell, and if they don’t have access to the backup copy, then we shouldn’t see any more people losing their memories. In the meantime, I’m going to try to find out where the backups are.

It’s a few days later. No luck. Tight security on the backups, which is good. And no new memory losses. I don’t know what else I can do except wait.

Another week has gone by. Bortomisli lost his memory yesterday while he was scrubbing down a kovam in Ord Ilt (we’re almost done, but there are a lot of kovamnes there, more than we expected). He was with Tregger, who was copying. All of a sudden he turned to her in a panic and asked where they were and what was going on. She thought he was joking at first. But no, he’s forgotten everything.

Everybody’s spooked. Everybody thinks everyone else is a Mirzan agent. We all assume we’re next. It is without a doubt the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. (Sorry, Mom.) (I’m probably being overly dramatic.)

I need to get out of here.

It’s later. I tried. Didn’t work out. I don’t want to talk about it. So I keep scrubbing and copying, hoping for salvation.

Hello, dear unofficial ad hoc neglected diary. Six months have gone by and whew! A lot of things have changed.

The war is over. People say we won, but Mirza ended up with Ghasht province so I don’t know that I’d agree.

We finished copying and scrubbing the kovamnes a week before the armistice. If only it had come sooner. They probably would have had us finish anyway, though. The Quushti gov is nothing if not thorough.

I got married.

After Bortomisli, nobody else has lost their memory. Including me!

Someone in the archive ran an inventory and found that the memory loss spell was, well, lost. The gov did not like that one bit. Thorough, invasive searches of homes and everything else, for everyone in Preservation as near as I can tell. Guess what they found. So…I lost my job. Which is not great (thus the marriage, which I’d also rather not talk about here), but it’s better than jail or execution.

Guess what they also found. Our boss, Narit, had copies of all the spells stashed in his apartment. And Mirzan gold. He was supposedly about to leave the country. Never would have suspected him. (Until I started suspecting literally everyone, I mean.)

Most importantly: only a little longer till baby comes. She’s a girl. Sorry for thinking you were a boy, dear.

So, as is probably clear, I did not in fact lose my memory. And you, future Retzi, do not exist. And hopefully never will. I feel heartless and morbid saying that, but I’d rather keep my life, all things considered.