Steven Savile's popular fantasy stories embrace all aspects of the fantastic. Be it the wonder of magical realism, the darkness of the macabre, or the mythological, these stories have one thing in common: faith. Savile offers up tales of hope and wonder in equal measure, whilst treating sadness as a long lost friend. Nothing in his world is quite as it seems. The world you think you know isn't the world you're about to enter. Everything you think you've learned about life is about to be unlearned. These are stories of love. These are stories of loss. In some you will find redemption, in others the simple act of memory is treacherous and cannot be trusted. But in all of them there is an aching sense of loss and love. Savile's stories here speak to the part in all of us who still dares to fall in love again after a broken heart.
Steve Savile was one of my writing students, and he must have listened because he went on to publish dozens of novels, won some awards, and became a #1 bestseller. Steve approached me at WordFire Press about having us do a collection of his most poignant and moving stories, all centered on the theme of Time. These are strong and compelling tales. Prepare to be moved. – Kevin J. Anderson
Savile packs more imagination into a short story than many writers manage in a full novel.– Hellnotes
Stories about life and death by a man who has clearly consorted with devils.– TM Wright, bestselling author of A Manhattan Ghost Story
One of the most seriously creepy pieces it has been my pleasure to read in a long time.– Charles de Lint, on Remember Me Yesterday
A modern fantasist of the first order. Watch as Savile carves a niche for himself in the literature of the new millennium.– Tim Lebbon
Troubling, moving, curiously gentle, and a pleasure to read all the way through.– Ed Gorman
Lyrical, passionate and poignant.– Tom Piccirilli
Savile manages to successfully evoke a wonderful sense of atmosphere and place, while contemporaneously managing to constantly build the conflict and tension, and swiftly move the action forward.– Fear Zone
I remember everything.
It's all here, in this place. I've heard it called the Memory Palace, then again, I've heard it called the House of Dreams. I've never had dreams so I wouldn't know how true that is. I've heard this place called the well of souls, too, by new arrivals struggling to comprehend the enormity of it. Though why they think that, I have no idea. There is no bucket you can lower into the shimmering depths and draw up again, over-spilling with life. There's only one word that comes to mind when I think of it, prison. An infinite prison of sweeping turrets and spires, of dark windows and darker dungeons. And maybe somewhere in here there is a capstone that can be lifted to uncork the wonders of the world. Even I don't know every inch of this place, and I am both curator and warden here, as much a part of the place as any of the forgotten I tend.
I'm not the first and I won't be the last of my kind. We burn up and are born again, filled with the same memories and torments. We are the stuff of legend. They call us the Phoenix, but that is a simplification of our curse. They don't understand us, how our affliction makes us unique, how it strips away the most basic of human obsessions. They think we are beasts because we don't mourn the flesh, because we don't fear death. They don't understand that neither hold dominion here. They don't understand that there are so many more things worth fearing. If only they knew that most of them are in here with me that might change things, but I doubt it.
I walk these halls day and night, always moving, forced to listen to it all, every whisper, every sigh, every scream, and to remember their causes. Most don't want to be here anymore than I do. I take no joy in eavesdropping on their torment, but neither do I offer any easing of their pain. That is not my purpose. They are the real prisoners here. Who could have thought that devotion could become damnation? That's what it all comes down to, once upon a time they were worshipped, now they are here, remembered by the stones.
Here, on the edge of never, there is no such thing as time, so my torment can never end. Here, on the edge of forever, there is no such thing as ending, there is only now and now and now on and on. Sometimes I just stand at the windows and look outside at the emptiness. It's humbling. Every now and then I imagine I can see a distant spark on the horizon, another flame echoing mine, but it never gets any closer.
Gods, devils, demons, every mythology you can think of, no matter how obscure, you will find them within these walls. Even if the walls themselves are not constant there is no escaping them. How do I know? Believe me, I just do. You learn quickly in this place or you burn up. No second chances. It isn't that kind of place. The greatest surprise, the one I forget every time, is that it isn't all about deities. The first time I ventured into the depths I burned, because of course they adored fire, crouching around it as it drove the darkness away. They worshipped it in the most simple of ways without knowing there was no divinity in fire. There was only me. Yes. They released me from the flames. I am forged from that first flame. That is why I am here, because of those simple minds afraid of the dark. I am the original. The first of the adored. I belong here. But you? I'm not so sure. There's something about you that feels… wrong. Oh yes, I can feel you in here with me. That makes me wonder what you want. Or more precisely, why are you here?
Are you one of the newly adored? I don't think so. You don't have the feel of the worshipped about you. You're different. You're an outsider. But I suppose all of my prisoners were, once. For years I was alone here, that's enough to drive anyone mad. Utter loneliness. Isolation. Only the wind to cry your name. Then they created other gods to join me.
And they discovered the divine in their own bodies.
That changed this place forever.
There are cells in here that are nothing more than beds of writhing flesh, bodies hard and taut, flaccid and overflowing, it doesn't matter, they've all been adored. Beauty is in the eye of the fucker, I suppose. They've all shared that one true moment of ecstasy, coming together. It makes no difference if they are children in the eyes of the world or closer to death, they belong here the moment they surrender all sense of self and lose themselves in the spark of creation. In that moment they are gods. And this is the place where all gods die. Can you hear them? Their ecstasies echoing through the walls? To fuck and be fucked. To revel in it. Hand to mouth, mouth to cock to cunt and on and on in all of those endless variations of inventiveness. They can never stop now, these new gods. To stop is to abandon all that makes them immortal and in that moment, balls deep, they want to live forever. So I have to live with it, the constant chorus of grunts and moans and imprecations, fuck me, fuck me, harder, yes, oh my god… That's right, his god, her god, they're all gods down there in that endless sea of sex.
I'm slowly coming around to the idea that everyone deserves to be worshipped once in their lives, so what's wrong with that moment living on here?
It's not like these gods are wrathful deities, is it? They're not flooding the world and drowning all but a precious few chosen ones. They're not sending emissaries out into the night to murder the first born, or smiting infidels or any of that vengeful god stuff. Their only commandment is thou shalt cum, over and over amen.
There are others down there suffering, their torment no less driven by the demands of the flesh. They are the victims. Their screams are not in the least bit pleasurable, even if there is a release for them. And then there are the killers who found spiritual release, a command over life and death, and yes, they too became gods by taking life. They are not so easily caged in the lower levels. They wander the halls, drawn out by the life all around them, caught in that moment, wanting to end it all. In some ways their worship is purest of all.
It was simpler before, when there was only the sun and the moon and fire in here. It was elemental. Now it is so human.
And it's all inside here.
But what about you? Not killer, and you don't smell like a victim, neither adored nor adorer. So what are you?
Something sent here to consume me? Something meant to push me over the edge?
Or have you come simply to watch me burn?
Some of the old gods are harder to contain because their worshippers gave them inconceivable powers. How do you cage an entity which sees all, knows all, and created it all? How do you bar doors that the hammer of the gods could shatter? How do you cage Lady Luck when all she has to do is roll the dice to get a break? How do you control a raging drunk like Bacchus when he's tearing up the walls and trying to claw the brains out of his skull because his head's pounding? Mars, Horus, Ra, you name it, they've all got tricks up their sleeves and they're not sitting here quietly, they're all looking for ways back and they're not working in isolation, either. Together they have powers beyond imagining. They don't understand that they've been forgotten, that there's no place for them out there now, or that I am the only thing keeping them alive.
Because I remember everything.
If they ever got out of here that singular moment, that all-consuming moment when they were worshipped would pass. And then what would they be? Forgotten.
But I'm obsessing on the wrong question, or at least the wrong angle on the right question. Instead of worrying about what you are, as in what manner of creature, I should be asking if you are friend or foe. And to know that, I need to work out how you got here, and for what purpose? What do you stand to gain from being here? Answered together, who knows, maybe they'd even solve the riddle of what manner of beast you are.
So, friend or foe?
There are two reasons you cannot be a friend, the most obvious being I have no friends. I am elemental, I burn. That is all I do. I have never forged the bonds of friendship with any living soul. So you are no friend of mine, but of this place? You could be a friend, I suppose, but surely you would have sought me out rather than creep around in the shadows? So that leads to the only natural conclusion: you are an enemy, of mine and of this place.
How did you get here?
Why have you come to the memory palace?
What do you stand to gain from being here?
Three questions, how, why, what. I don't have the answers, but knowing that you are our enemy presents possibilities at least, in terms of the why and the what. Why would a warrior ever infiltrate an enemy's stronghold? The worst case, to destroy it, the best, simply to take it. Which leads to the what. What would you gain from destroying this place? Conversely what would you gain from deposing me and rising in my place? And if you haven't come to destroy or rule, then what is here that you could hope to steal? I can't see what you'd stand to gain from loosing the endless tide of sex and body worshippers on the world, unless you're hoping to drown civilisation in lust and semen, so the beloved are worthless to you. The only things here of worth are the forgotten ones, and they are only kept alive because I remember them.
Is that it?
Have you come to liberate the old gods?
Why would you want to do that? What possible use could you have for them in that modern world outside?
Not all of them, then. Just one? Is there one in here that would suit your purpose? Is that it? You hope to bring one of them back to the world. Don't you realise you can't possibly control them, not once they're out of this place? Who then? Kroni? Utukkū, Ravana? Iblis? Shaitan? Nakir and Monkir, Malak? The Asakku? They are little more than ideas now, not strong enough to survive out there. Surely you understand that, times change, all gods die. Who even remembers the evil spirits of Babylon? Asag, the monstrous demon, Edimmu? The names mean nothing to you, do they? I can tell. What about Akah Manah or Meihem? Nothing? How quickly we forget.
So what is it you want, then? Help me understand.
Or… are you me? Is that what's happening here? Are you some sort of reflection of me flicking inside this place, like that distant spark on the horizon? Have I divided? Diminished? That would be novel, I suppose, haunted by my own divine spark, but I don't that's what you are. The problem is I'm not sure I know my own mind anymore, it's hard even holding onto myself, what I am, what I was, after being alone here for so long. Remembering it all has taken its toll on me. I am not what I used to be. But then who of us is?
That smell… let me breathe you in. It's more than just wrongness. It's… I don't know. It's familiar and yet utterly wrong here. What is it?
All of these and more.
I know that smell now.
That's what you are, isn't it?
You don't want to free the forgotten or unleash the ecstasies of the body worshippers on the world, do you? That's not why you're here, is it? You're here for me.
This is the day I finally forget.
I can feel you moving about down there, letting them go, knowing that outside of this place they will simply cease to be because the world has moved on, and because they are exactly what they are, forgotten. That's what I can smell, isn't it? The forgotten burning up, becoming ash even as they escape, and I don't care, because this is the day all gods die.
Let that be it.
Because some endless days all I want to do is forget.