The Memory Smith - Part 3 (Aaron Achartz)

Part 3

Magnus finally caught up to Val outside of Mr. Dakken’s place. The two were talking in the front step when Magnus arrived, breathing heavily through clenched teeth. “What do you think you’re doing?” He snatched the memory from Mr. Dakken’s hand. “What’s going on with this?”

Val stood there, too stunned to speak.

Mr. Dakken cleared his throat. “Now, Magnus, I quite like-”

Magnus held up his hand, silencing him, but continuing to stare down Val. “Did you make any other deliveries?”

Val narrowed his eyes and glared back at him. “Not yet.”

“Good. Let’s get back to the workshop.” Magnus stomped down the street, leaving Mr. Dakken in his open doorway, mouth agape.

“Listen,” Val called as he jogged after Magnus, “you’re the one that said I could do this.”

“What? Use my reputation to sell your own inferior work?”

Val stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, eyes wide. He swayed for a moment, and then spoke in a quiet, shaky voice. “No.”

“What were you doing then?” Magnus’s cold eyes stared down the sidewalk as he trudged through the cold slush.

Val wrung his hands together and swallowed hard. “You said that I reminded you of yourself.”

“Yeah, when I was young, arrogant, and impetuous.”

“Unlike now,” Val muttered under his breath.

Magnus whirled around. “Listen, I’ve earned my clients. You can’t just steal them away from me.”

Val pointed his finger back in Magnus’s face. “Mr. Dakken approached me over a month ago.” He jabbed his finger forward. “At school.”

Magnus turned away and continued walking. “Well, he shouldn’t have.”

“And why not?” Val asked, squaring his shoulders.

“This workmanship is atrocious.” Magnus began to point to different parts of the memory. “First off, it’s nearly twilight. Too dark, too moody.”

“But that’s what time it was.”

“Our job is to make the memory the best possible. It doesn’t matter what it was, what matters is what it can be.” Magnus pointed again. “And look at the smog over the town.”

“What of it?”

“You should remove it. Preferably the whole town.” Magnus whirled his arms in the air as he pondered the possibilities. “Put in some rolling hills or a beach. Or, I know, a small farm, with a red barn and a picket fence and a white farmhouse.”

“But none of that was there,” Val said, his voice tense. “The town was there.”

“That’s why we change it,” Magnus said. “And the tree!”

“I like the tree!” Val said loudly.

“It’s a few battered leaves hanging on in irregular patches.” Magnus jabbed at the memory. “Replace it with a tree in full fall color. An autumnal regalia to capture their attention.”

Val’s shoulders slumped. He spoke quietly to himself. “But that’s not the focus of the memory. It’s about Mr. and Mrs. Dakken.”

They arrived outside the workshop. He jerked the door open and motioned Val inside with a stab of his finger. Magnus slammed the door behind himself.

Val stood in the corner of the darkened room, his right hand fidgeting with something in the pocket of his coat. “Can I show you something?”

His voice was soft, hesitant. It threw Magnus off. “Uh, sure.”

From his pocket, Val carefully removed a small memory. It was simple, just a flickering fire. Barely a memory, it was closer to the sensations that Magnus collected. It gave off no sound, no heat. Just the image of a gentle fire.

Val held it in his trembling hand. “This is my earliest memory. I have no idea where it is from, what was happening, who was there. But it’s so beautiful.” He leaned in close, his face lit by the fire. “When I saw it, I knew I wanted to be a memory smith one day. To bring these feelings to others.”

He set it on the table.

Magnus stared at the memory. “Go home, Val. We can talk in the morning.”

Val left Magnus in the dark and cold of the empty workshop, lit only by the faint, warm glow of the memory. Unmoving, Magnus stared at it. Thinking.

The rhythmic click of the clock echoed in the darkness. Each second marked as Magnus pondered how to get Val to see the importance of perfection. The minutes stretched out in the lonely darkness.

Seeing the cabinets behind the memory, Magnus finally came upon his solution. He set to work, pulling out sensations and gathering tools. His wrist, now healed, gave him no trouble as he set to work. It took most of the night, but he finished it.

The memory was no longer an anemic flame, but a complete scene. An old rocking chair sat next to a stone fireplace, in which the fire flickered. A radiant heat, warm but not scorching, emanated into the room. A few decorations hung on the bare wood walls. Outside the window, a gentle snow fell. It was perfect.

When Val arrived that morning, Magnus was waiting for him.

“I have something for you.” Magnus held up the memory that was brimming with sensations.

“What is this?” Val asked hesitantly.

“This is what our job is. I’ve taken your memory, basic and flawed, and made it perfect.”

Val fumbled, nearly dropping the memory. “You… you changed it?”

“I made it better,” Magnus said. “That’s our job, as memory smiths.”

Val dropped the memory to the table like a hot coal. “It’s not my memory, though.”

“It is,” Magnus said, smiling. “That’s what I’ve been trying to teach you. We take them and make them into something great.”

Val stood there, lips quivering, staring at the memory for the longest time. He took a deep breath.  “I’m glad to see your hand is better and you can work again.”

Magnus looked down, realizing for the first time that his wrist was, indeed,  healed.

“It seems you have no need for me anymore.” Val swallowed hard, eyes still on the memory. “I’ll go then. Goodbye.”

The door shut with a heavy thud. Magnus caught just a quick sight of Val walking past the window, wiping his eyes, before he was gone.

Magnus picked up the memory and collapsed into his chair with a heavy sigh. He held it up in his hand and examined it. It was perfect. What more could Val want?

“No matter,” he said out loud to the empty room. “Now I can do my own work again.”

He stayed in the chair a long time, staring at the memory that shone with a hollow brilliance.
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