The scar does not ache anymore—two lines embedded in her left hand like dry blades of grass.
A river twists, blocking her path. The first time Nev traveled this way, the river was wider. Water rushes past. She crosses.
In the Forgetting Place, a person forgets two things—a memory of happiness, a memory of sorrow. Sometimes it is the same memory. Something once joyful, now burdened with regret. Something once painful, now understood. These memories drown—forgotten, unknown. This is the bargain Nev once made.
Nev has a good memory for landmarks—the shape of hills, the curve of a river seen from above, a stone crooked at an angle. She has seen these stones before. Three stones, almost touching, half swallowed by the earth. She knows she must pass them.
Nev should not go to the Forgetting Place twice. No one should. No one has. It is too difficult to find the way back. Even the name erases itself—a different name in each language, changing, morphing. The Eater of Memories, it was once called. The Maw of Joy. The Mother of Secrets.
When she was younger, Nev did not understand the price of a memory lost. Her memories are like grains of sand cupped in her hand. So many grains, but they run through her fingers just the same. Even the loss of one memory makes her lesser—less alive, less herself, less able to understand where she is going. Now she must recover what once she destroyed. She must recover this part of herself.
Beyond the stones, the path branches. Instead of choosing a trail, Nev walks where there is no path to follow. She winds her way through a clutch of trees.
She cannot remember where to go unless she thinks in a truer language, one that has no future tense. In this language, it is not possible to say that one will do a thing, only that one is doing a thing, or that one has done it. In this language, she remembers the way she went, the way she is going now.
Beyond the trees, Nev finds brambles too wild to pass through. She knows she must pass through. Her knife is not large enough to hack a path.
Each step is careful. Brambles scrap her. She gets nowhere.
Nev lets herself remember where she has gone, where she is going.
The sun beats down as brambles move aside for her. She makes her way closer to a clearing. Before the clearing stands a wall—knotted, tangled, sharp.
Nev draws back, runs, jumps over. Her hand stings where the brambles rip. On her right hand, two lines well up like red blades of grass. On her left hand, a scar sits like a memory—one that cannot speak.
There will be a cost, she knows—a price for returning to the place where no one should return. The Forgetting Place is not marked on any map. Her way home will not be easy, if she finds her way back at all.
She takes a breath. She goes forward.
In the clearing, a door leads into the earth. It has a symbol, one that looks like her scar. Unnecessary. All who have made it this far know this door and where it leads.
Her memories wait for her beyond the door, in the Forgetting Place. She does not know which memories were taken, only that they are a part of her. She can feel their absence—a hollow that she cannot see, a space without breath.
Nev opens the door.
A memory can be many things—a place, a feeling, a person. She must know what she has lost. Below her, the earth is dark. She promises not to regret her journey, whatever is returned to her.
Into the earth she climbs.
—Beth Goder worked as an archivist at Stanford before becoming a full-time writer and parent. Now she enjoys writing speculative fiction stories about memory, records, and the relationship between the past and present. Her fiction has appeared in Escape Pod, Mothership Zeta, and here at Zetetic. You can find her online at bethgoder.com or on Twitter at Beth_Goder.