Terry rocked the plasmal warp conduit until the big metal tube began to scrape and squeal against the wall. The sound was lost in the din of the machinery, the factory floor covered in silver and golden conveyor belts, dispensing stations, massive potion vats, chanting balconies for the liches to harness their unholy energies, and all manner of complex metal twisted into useful shapes.
The conduit groaned under Terry’s weight. He was a big guy, burly around the middle, hairy shoulders, unkempt beard, and the more he pushed, the more the conduit shifted.
The liches raised their hands as they gathered undead energy, peeled it off from the netherworld, and dipped it down into the brewing potions. Terry shouted with strain, the muscles in his neck and back bulging, as the conduit broke free from the wall and he fell backwards.
Light spewed out and the emergency klaxons screamed. Terry hit the ground hard and felt his elbow burst into pain. He rolled onto his side as the liches completed their ritual, but it was too late—the excess power had nowhere to go.
Lightning arced from the piping across the factory floor as workers scattered, and the machines burst and broke in sparks and flame. Terry crawled toward the chaos while the massive vats of Hoover’s Love Potions Number 3 turned rancid the Albus Hair Loss Stemmer Potion leaked from its containment field, and the liches chanted over the meltdown as another explosion rocked the room, and Terry flung himself into the guts of the machines.
“I think we both know why you’re here.” Mabeline’s short yellow-brown hair was a perfect coif around her skull. Terry couldn’t remember the first time they met. “This is never easy, Terry.”
Mabeline’s office was cramped, packed with spellbooks and test tubes and binders, so many binders. Sometimes Terry thought half of being in business was making binders with fancy covers and leaving them around for other people to admire. Mabeline leaned toward him and her face softened.
“I know things have been hard lately,” she said. “But really, an entire batch of Homer Sticky Serum?”
“I know,” Terry said, lowing his gaze to the perfectly bland carpet.
“Before that, it was late shipments. Before that, broken packaging. You know how delicate this whole operation is. One mistake during the spellcasting and—“ She made a dramatic gesture with both hands.
“I haven’t been sleeping well,” he said, and felt like a child in front of the principal, though he was at least ten years older than Mabeline. He’d worked for the Gaston Potion Company for most of his adult life, day in and day out, worked to ensure the complex machinery remained in working order, that the liches got their special breakfasts of freshly slaughtered pig meat, and soothed battered egos when arguments flared. He was part foreman, part councilor, and part repairman.
And lately, he’d failed at all three. This meeting with Mabeline was a long time coming, and well deserved. He tried to recall his first day of work for the Company, and failed. Everything beyond the week before was a blur of scattered motions.
Mabeline straightened. “Management spoke. We need to let you go.”
Terry’s mouth fell open. Words formed, were lost, reformed, failed. Mabeline’s face twisted into something like pity.
“There will be severance,” she said softly. “You’ve been a loyal employee. Management will take care of you.”
“You’re firing me?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and gestured back over his shoulder. “Please, Jacques here will walk you out.”
Terry turned to see the security guy Jacques standing by the door. Half troll and all muscle. Jacques grunted at Terry to get up and follow.
Mabeline turned back to her computer like she hadn’t ruined Terry’s life.
“How will I take care of mother now?” he asked, lightheaded.
Mabeline looked up. “I don’t know. Good luck.”
Jacques tugged on Terry’s arm, and pulled him out into the hall, where it felt like his life collapsed around him.
Mother’s hair was like a puff of cloud edged in golden sunlight. She smiled at Terry over the breakfast table. “You make the best eggs,” she said as he placed the plate down in front of her. “How long have you been making me breakfast, Terry?”
He stared at her, mouth hanging open. He couldn’t remember anymore. The breakfasts melted together. “Years,” he managed.
“Well, I love it.” She began to eat, her eyes clear and happy. She was skinny, and had barely touched his eggs in a long time, but now she tucked in like a ravenous bear. Terry watched until she noticed him staring. “What’s with that look?” she asked.
“You know who I am?” he asked gently.
She gave him an odd frown. “You’re my son. Now sit down and quit watching me.”
He turned to the sink and looked at his hands. His mother hadn’t recognized him in almost three years. Deep in the Alzheimer spiral, he’d thought the easy days were behind them, and was resigned to caring for a woman that couldn’t remember his name. Sometimes, flashes of her appeared, like when she played the piano, or when a favorite old movie came on TV. Mostly, she remained buried in there, lost to him.
Terry sat across from his mother and she asked about his day, about work, about the news. They talked like this was a normal morning routine, and by the time Lorna the day nurse appeared to take over mother’s care, Terry didn’t want to leave.
“She’s lucid,” he whispered to her.
“Really?” She seemed surprised. “That’s good, sweetie. You should stay and enjoy it while it lasts.”
Terry checked his watch. “I really can’t,” he said. “Work’s been rough and I’m already late.”
Lorna nodded and put a hand on his arm. “Go ahead. I’ll keep her company. Maybe make a little video for you.” She winked and smiled.
“Thank you,” he said, grateful. “I’d appreciate that.”
He kissed his mother goodbye.
“Have a nice day at work, kiddo,” she said.
Terry cried in the car. She hadn’t called him kiddo in years.
Jacques shoved Terry forward. “Get your stuff,” he said, standing with his arms crossed as Terry packed his personal items. He had a desk in a tiny closet off the break room.
Terry’s phone buzzed as he put his World’s Best Son mug into a cardboard box. It was Lorna. She rarely called during the day. He looked back at Jacques. “Have to take this,” he said.
Jacques glared at him, but Terry answered the call. “Hello?” he said. “Lorna?”
“Terry.” Lorna sounded tired and breathless. “I’m at the hospital. I called as soon as I could.”
He felt a jab of something icy in his chest. “Hospital?” he asked. “Is mother okay?”
“Sweetie, I don’t know how to say this but you have to come down here.”
“What’s going on?”
Lorna took a deep breath. “Sometimes, when Alzheimer’s patients are at the end, they have one last bit of lucidity. I think your mother came out to say goodbye this morning. Please come to the hospital.”
Terry dropped the phone and it clattered to the floor. He stared at his feet, at his fingers, then up at the ceiling and the buzzing fluorescent light.
He barely remembered his childhood. Fuzzy moments littered his brain. Sunlight on his pale skin beside a lake, he didn’t know where. His mother with a towel wrapped around her head. Music as his mother drove him to high school. It was all jagged and fragmented, and each time he tried to recall his life, it came back twisted like light through water, or not at all.
Every day he woke and recited names and places, just to be sure.
“You good?” Jacques asked. “Terry?”
He didn’t know if he could keep her memory alive. There was no other family. After him, everything would be forgotten. He never married, didn’t have kids, and at forty it was unlikely it’d ever happen. He gave his life to taking care of his mother, and working in the potions factory, and now there was nothing else.
Nobody to remember.
Jacques stepped closer and put a hand on his arm. “Terry, man—“
Terry lowered his shoulder and rammed himself as hard as he could into Jacques. The big man rocked back and he slipped on the dropped phone. His head hit the metal doorframe with an audible thump, and Jacques slumped down to the ground.
Nobody would remember this, and nobody would care. His mother was gone. Terry stepped over Jacques and walked to the factory floor. He looked out over the machines, at the liches on their platform, and spotted the plasmal warp conduit humming with excess powers.
He walked toward it, each step spelling resignation.
ps, An interesting piece in the the New Yorker about Elizabeth Loftus inspired in this one. Thanks for reading and give it a share if you enjoyed! Have a good week. - DC