Saturday, August 17, 2013

Story: Mnemonikos

This is a story that basically leapt fully formed into my head one night. I just kind of grabbed me, and four hours later, It was basically written as it is now. I've been submitting this to magazines for possible publication for a couple months now without luck, so I figured it'd be better to just get it out into the wild rather than letting it moulder until I inevitably hate it.



The Adaji marketplace swirled around Sanna, whistling and thrumming like a living thing itself. The air twanged with distant music and curving scents of spices and stone, and from all around was the constant hubbub of the native tongue. Interesting - but not Sanna’s preferred environment. Still, she had to be here until she found Odot, wherever he was, and if that meant she had to endure a stinkeye from a few locals, then so be it. Shouldering her way past a pair of merchants carrying a rug, she reflected on her search. Long, bleak, and disheartening, the whole course of it. Almost as bad as the time with Odot before he fled to Southron. Sanna grimaced. It’d be done with soon enough.
“Hey... Hey!” The call wasn’t very loud, but the presence of the Westmarch language caught Sanna’s attention. She glanced over her shoulder, and spied the person in question. “Yes, you. Here, come here!” The man was tucked away into a crevice between two of the titanic stone buildings that made up Adaji, stooped low over a table piled with bottles of all shapes and sizes, every one of them empty, yet sealed with wax. Sanna sighed and glanced around, then shrugged. She might as well see what he wanted - it wasn’t likely that she was going to find much other conversation here.
“Well?” she asked.
“Oh, well, you see, you just seemed like the sort of person who might be interested in my product.” The man was wrapped in linens and a robe from head to toe, only his brilliant blue eyes visible beneath. Sanna surveyed the table for a moment before answering.
“Air? You’re selling air? because, I don’t think there’s much demand.”
The man giggled, a high, unsettling giggle that shook his whole body. “Oh, indeed! Indeed!” he chortled. “I, I suppose you’re right!” he wiped a tear from his eye. “Indeed! It is a good thing that I am not selling air, then! No, my dear traveller, I am a merchant of minds! A seller of speculations, a retailer of recollections, a...” he paused, taking in a breath, deep and long. “...marketer of memories.”
He waved his hands broadly. “You see before you my phantasmagorically magnificent wares, cultivated from a generation worth of  travelers and traders! Are you in the mood for a sunny day in Abir, at the grand machine of Somier? Or what about a feast in the halls of Thane Alonso, the dragon-ruler of Cloudrun? Can I interest you in a day of hard, gratifying work, clearing fallen trees from a road on the Jazma coast?” Without leaving time to get a word in edgewise, he plucked from inside a fold of his robe a tiny vial, no larger than a thumb, stoppered with black wax. “Or perhaps,” he said, with a sly glint in his eyes, “Your spirit lusts for more forbidden fruit?”
Sanna raised her hands, cutting him off from continuing his pitch. “Hold on. Are you saying that each of these... bottles, holds a memory? You honestly expect me to believe that?”
“Oh, not just memories, my fine lady, you do me injustice to call me a mere dealer of delusions! No, no, no, in this bottle-” he seized one up, square with a brown clay stopper, “- I have for sale the conviction in the worth of one’s fellow man! In this one -” A blue wine bottle with a plain cork, “- there is financial worry, in this one -” A large, almost spherical bottle, “ - I have an elf’s entire collection of idioms! Nice fellow, wanted to make a go at learning the southern tongue, and didn’t want to be burdened with foreign turns of phrase.” The merchant thought for a moment, and then pulled out a crystalline flask. “As luck would have it, I have his entire journey across the sea to get here, as well. Very affordable!” he set the flask down, and leaned forward across the table. “But, but, but, I have spent all this time talking about what I have, not what you want!”
Sanna took a step back. “Thanks, but no thanks.”
The merchant straightened up. “Oh, I know your difficulty!” he said solemnly. “You, as so many others, doubt the truth of my offer! Very well! If you doubt my word, there is little that I can do...” his shoulders slumped completely, and in a moment he went from a manic jumble of motion to the very picture of dejected sorrow. Sanna turned away. “...except to provide a sample to prove my word!”
Sanna closed her eyes, and thought for just a moment before turning back. The merchant, still averting his shining blue eyes, was holding a stoppered phial at arm’s length, delicately pressed between thumb and forefinger. “Go on!” he said mournfully, “take it, though such allowances may soon leave me without bread or bedding!”
Hesitantly, she took the phial from him, and peered at it suspiciously. “So... what do I do with it?”
“Merely open it - memory is a hard thing to get rid of, and so it tends to adhere to anyone it can!”
Sanna frowned, considering the phial. definitely empty, at least as far as she could tell. Sanna took a deep breath, and twisted at the stopper.
Nothing happened. She opened one eye. Definitely open. She let out a sigh of disappointment, tossing the phial back at the merchant, who caught it expertly. “Some sample.”
“When you were young, you climbed a tall tree, despite warnings not to. One day, you fell. It was the first bone that you broke.”
Sanna stared at the merchant, agog. The wrapped man was now beaming with pride. “How do you know that?” she whispered.
“That memory,” the merchant explained, “Came from a Statton man, some two years ago.”
“But it can’t have!” Sanna exclaimed angrily. “I’ve had that memory ever since it happened! I thought of it - I was just thinking about it a few minutes ago!”
“Ah...” smiled the man. he was obviously smiling, that much was evident even under his face wrappings. “But how do you know that you were thinking about it?”
“I just-”
“Yes! You remember remembering! How do you know that you did not have a fistfight with a burly dwarf outside of a silversmith a few hours ago? Aside from the lack of bruises on your fine form, you know this because you do not remember it happening. Likewise, how do you know that I did not drag you into this alleyway by the hair? Because you remember coming of your own free will! Marvelous! Magnificent!” He raised a finger skyward, victoriously. “A memory is more than the moment! A memory colors the moments that have come since! They are the seasoning on the dish that is life!”
“I... suppose...”
“Ah...” The merchant looked crestfallen again. “But I can see that you are still doubtful! I can provide further proof, though!” he produced another bottle, this one a bright yellow, with an iron stopper sealed with white wax. He began to give it to Sanna, but stopped, while her hands just barely lingered above its surface. “Oh... but where is my sense! My business acumen!” he wailed suddenly, and clutched the bottle tightly to his person. “No, no, my lady, your otherworldly beauty will not distract me any longer! for this memory, you must pay!”
Sanna blinked. She was on limited funds, and yet... what if it was true? Could this memory be worth it? “Well... What memory is it?” she asked warily.
“A day of baking bread in the midst of winter, snowed into a cottage with a friendly woman.”
“What? but... that has actually happened to me!”
“Oh, of course, of course it has. and yet, for this memory, you must surrender... five silver, as I am feeling generous.”
Sanna considered this for a moment, and then, grumbling, pulled out the coins and plunked them onto the table. With seemingly one motion, the man pressed the bottle into her hands, and swept up the coins, tucking them away.
Sanna took a deep breath, and uncorked the bottle.
Once again, nothing seemed to happen.
“Well?” asked the merchant. “Do you remember such a day?”
Sanna gave him a confused look. “Of... course, I do, I just told you that I’d actually had a day like that, with my mother.”
“Oh, did you? of course. Of course you did,” the merchant said gleefully. he absently jangled the coins in his pocket. “Silly me, beautiful lady.”
Sanna narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean? what are you trying to say?”
“Say?” the merchant raised his hands placatingly. “I am trying to say nothing! I am merely... surprised that you would make such a deal, for a memory you already purported to have. It is rare that a person should want a spare of their own thoughts, don’t you think?”
Sanna stared at the merchant again, thoughts flicking frantically through her head. “I... Are you trying to tell me that I only remember... No, but I just...” she shook her head, hard, and pinched the bridge of her nose, breathing in deep. “I think...” she said slowly, “That I don’t want to buy any more of... what you have for sale.”
The merchant drooped like a wilting flower. “Of course, of course, dear lady. I must bow to your wishes, I live only to serve. and yet...” he perked up a little. “Since you have been so kind as to buy some of my stock, perhaps you may earn some of that coin back?”
“How... how would you suggest I do that?”
“You see, It is sometimes a struggle, to find a fresh stock, you see. Me, I have had little business this year. Terrible! Awful! Memories do not go bad, but they can go stale, and some of these...” he brushed at a brown bottle, lying on its side. “Some of these are simply not of a quality that I am willing to sell - especially not to such a lovely lady as yourself! So, I wonder... would you be willing to barter some of your own recollections? I can offer excellent prices for them - and surely there are some thoughts rolling around in your head that do not need remembering, at least not by you!”
“Sell my memories?”
“Of course! As they say, one astonishing beauty’s trash is another man’s treasure!” He reached forward, and took the bottle from Sanna’s hands. “Thank you, I thank you!” he beamed. he rooted around in his sleeve, and produced three pieces of silver. “An excellent trade!”
Sanna blinked slowly as she stared at the silver being pressed into her hand. There was a question forming in the back of her mind, though it took her a moment to put her finger on it. “What... where did you get that bottle?”
“Why, from you! I am very sorry for your disorientation, but that tends to happen. thoughts tend to loom large in people’s minds before they sell them, to the point where they hardly remember selling them in the first place!”
“I just... I just sold you a memory? Why?”
The merchant shrugged broadly. “Because my prices are good! beyond that, I don’t dare venture. What you think is your own business.” The man held a calm demeanor for about half a second, before erupting into another fit of giggling at his own joke. He clutched at his belly, and threw his head back, giggling and chortling and guffawing as Sanna looked on, still clutching her payment for the memory. “Why, thank you again!” the merchant exclaimed, as he tucked a silvery jar into the pile of glass on his table.
Sanna blinked again. “Hm?” The merchant passed her seven silver this time. “Did I just... What memories am I selling you, anyway?” Agitation grew in her voice.
“Oh, pretty lady, do not be upset!” chided the merchant. “For if you wanted these memories, than you would not be selling them! Even if you - Baldur forgive - do not trust me, humble servant that I am, surely you can trust yourself. Is it so unreasonable that there are some memories that you would not be sorry to lose?”
“Well...”Sanna allowed. “Perhaps not.” Suddenly, she was aware of another bottle in her hand. This one was tiny, and yet it weighed far more than she would have expected. she hesitated for a long time before, at last, she offered it to the merchant. he took it gingerly, placing it into the folds of his own robe before he withdrew her payment; a full fifteen pieces of not silver, but gleaming gold.
“You have done very well by me, pretty lady!” the merchant said humbly, with a bowed head. “You shall feed my family and I for many weeks, when this finds a buyer!”
“I... um. You’re welcome?”
“Indeed, indeed, pretty lady. So generous! Now, are there any other memories you would not fear parting with? any Embarrassing days or petty squabbles or annoying acquaintances that you could stand to do without? I have much coin that I would readily give you, for the right product! I have had some clients who practically begged me to buy their recollections.” The man shook his head ruefully “Ah, those were some bad days, dark days indeed, that trouble their minds no longer.”
Sanna gasped when she realized what she was holding - ten whole bottles, each of them a different size and shape, each of them sealed a different way. So many thoughts she had felt she could do without. Why?
For these, the merchant practically clapped with joy, a different reaction as he placed each one among his wares - more giggles, or knowing looks, or good natured tut tuts. When at last he had tallied all of them up, he handed over an entire purse of silver. Sanna took it gratefully. Whatever the memories had been, she could use the coin.
“You’re sure that these memories are... that I won’t miss them?”
“My fine lady,” the merchant said, his eyes crinkling up with a good natured smile. “How can you miss what you never knew you had?”
She nodded slowly. “Yes... I suppose there’s no point in second guessing myself.” She gave a nervous chuckle, and turned to go.
“Farewell, pretty lady!” called the merchant.
Sanna’s head was practically spinning when she emerged back into the street. as strange as that had been, she was still here for a reason, and the faster she did it, the better. she set off deliberately down the street. There was a lead in this direction, who could tell her something about Odot - she hoped.
Suddenly, Sanna stopped in her tracks, while the bazaar flowed around her like a living tide. She stood for a long time, squinting, thinking hard, but try as she might, she couldn’t remember where her contact was. For that matter...
Her eyes widened with alarm. She couldn’t remember who Odot was. Or why she was looking for him. Or anything at all about where he might be.
She frantically looked around the marketplace, for anything that could jog her memory - a sight, a smell, a person, a sound - anything at all, but the more she looked, the more certain she became - there was nothing left except the name, and the intention, and the knowledge that it was important. She had sold the rest to the merchant.
She looked up, mouth set. There was no other choice, then - she had to buy the memory back, no matter what the price. she had a pocket brimming with coin, surely it would be enough to buy back so important a memory, and then all she would have lost was time. Sanna took a deep breath to calm herself, and glanced around again to get her bearings for the walk back to the alley.
But try as she might, she simply could not remember the way.

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