Chain of Memories
Weathered old wood creaked perilously as Sunny sat down on the front steps of her home. The warm air, rank with smoke, whistled through the bare trees. She used to sit out here, hot cup of tea in hand, to watch the sunrise every morning; alone, yet hopeful. All hope had fled many moons before.
She reached up to brush a strand of her wispy grey hair away from her eyes. Her wrinkled hand swept roughly against her face. There was nothing to see out here this morning, just the ever-present red glow from the smoky skies. Her quick glance around the yard revealed nothing new. Sparse clumps of dead grass still clung to the soil in places. It had held out the longest against the onslaught. All other signs of life had faded quickly away in the months prior.
With a sigh, Sunny reached for her cane, but just before hauling herself up from the steps there came a low rumbling sound. She tensed a little, although it came as no surprise – the rumbling and shaking of the ground rattled her little house often. Luckily this time it was a minor tremor, and quickly passed.
She finally heaved herself up the stairs, cane in hand, and opened the front door. It stuck a little, a previous quake had sunk her house slightly on one side causing some distress. As she stepped into her silent home, a flicker of memory crossed her mind.
She and her husband had purchased the little house, way out in the quiet country, to live out their retirement. When they first viewed it, they had excitedly discussed everything they wanted to do. A vegetable garden in the back with a small chicken coop to one side. Shade trees to relax under in the warm summer evenings. A pond just across the way for fishing.
A brief smile flashed across her face, but was quickly diminished. They had just finished packing up their old house when her husband had been struck with a terrible illness. It had taken his life, and millions of others, when it spread like a wildfire around the globe. Miraculously, Sunny never caught that fateful disease.
“Small mercies,” she muttered sarcastically into the silence.
She had never had any children, though she had two sisters. One had died very young and the other was estranged. Her husband had been an only child. Sunny was left very much alone.
With a shake of her head, she hobbled into the kitchen for breakfast, floor grumbling quietly as she passed. Very little graced her cabinets anymore. In fact, most held nothing but a fine sooty dust. Her closest neighbor, some two miles down the road, had been bringing her food, knowing Sunny herself couldn’t get out much anymore. But her neighbor hadn’t arrived in three weeks, around the same time as the television and radios had stopped broadcasting.
She started some grits up in a small pot. The electricity had finally cut out 5 days ago, but this far out in the country she mostly relied on propane anyway. That, she knew, was still quite full, as she used very little.
“Small mercies,” she repeated, this time with sincerity.
While waiting on her water to boil, Sunny let her mind wander back. She’d had the television on, though for why she didn’t know. It had shown nothing but death and destruction for weeks… newscasters throwing the word ‘Apocalypse’ about constantly. It seemed as if every natural disaster that ever had occurred was happening again, all at once, world wide. Nobody knew what to do, civilization was collapsing.
A massive earthquake had struck then, her last glimpses of other humans screaming in sheer terror as the scene vanished. Forever. Sunny had skimmed the radio multiple times since then, but only static had cut through the silence of her house. Unable to go anywhere, she had just carried on as well as she could.
She shuffled over to her tiny kitchen table, hot bowl gripped carefully with a towel. Sitting down to eat, she peeked out the back window. The empty yard sat in silence. She had never bothered to get chickens, the proposed pond across the way was still just a tired old ditch, and the dusty remnants of her garden, surrounded by a weathered fence, sat there neglected. Nothing had grown the past two seasons. Only underground facilities, manned by the government, had produced anything. They had packaged it up and sent it out, free of charge, anywhere that humanity still clung on.
Later that morning, as she was sorting through a small box of yarn, the sky suddenly grew brighter. The ever present redness was shifting to an ominous orange and yellow glow. Snatching her cane from the side of the chair, she rushed to a window.
The sky was visibly roiling with smoke now. Flames, which as of yet had avoided the surrounding dead woods, were licking the sky all around her.
Heart pounding, she fled to the back door, knowing she had to get to the storm cellar. Upon exiting the house, however, something odd in the field caught her eye. She froze on the last step, staring. There sat something very black, almost boat-like in shape. She had never seen anything like it, but before she could guess at what it might be, a strong rolling quake sent her flying off the step.
A rumbling that seemed to last an eternity kept her bouncing about on the ground like a rag doll. When it finally ceased, she felt around her bruised body, but luckily nothing seemed to be broken. On hauling herself up from the ground, however, she could see that her house did not fare as well. One whole side, and at least half of another side, was lying in a heap on the ground. The roof was mostly collapsed inward.
A brief gust of wind showered her with embers, spurring her back into her escape to the cellar, but on turning around, cold fear crept in… the quake had destroyed the stone half-walls surrounding it. There would be no crawling into it in its current state.
Though Sunny had been a strong woman in the face of so much destruction, none of it had crept as close as this before now. The danger was terrifying. Without realizing it, she had turned towards the field again and to the black shape that was odd but somehow safe. With little choice left, she headed for it. Surely it’s sides could help protect her from the wall of heat that was edging ever closer.
The crackling rage that had stayed so distant was now growing into a deafening roar. What little air that was left, was choking and rank. She felt as though she was a small speck, slow as a snail, racing towards uncertainty. Halfway through the field she abandoned her cane, foolish though it may have been.
Another shower of sparks sent her running, a feat she could never have accomplished without the most intense of fear at her side. And just as she began to believe she might make it to her goal, the ground rose up in another wave and threw her at the object.
Head first, Sunny slammed into it’s cool surface before her consciousness retreated to safety.
The ground shimmered and waved now, faster and faster until it began to break apart in huge chunks. Explosions of magma erupted from fissures crisscrossing the land. The last of the atmosphere burned away in a hissing rush, out into the silence of space.
But somehow, Sunny was still aware.
A gentle blanket enveloped her being, and she felt secure. Time was gone, along with the planet she had once resided on, yet she felt no fear.
“We’re glad we found you, Sunny.”
She felt the words more than she heard them.
“We’ll get you set right again shortly.”
Sunny struggled to open her eyes, unsure why it was so difficult. Terror streaked through her as she realized she couldn’t even feel that she had eyes at all. Though just as that feeling shot through her whole self, she began to sense her body again. Calm pulsed slowly through her mind.
Her eyelids lifted heavily but she could only see a shadowy form surrounded by golden light. As she watched, the golden light spread and the form faded. She was engulfed in a brightness that caused her to shield her eyes. Looking down, she realized she was standing, feet firmly planted on the ground. A gentle breeze caused the golden light around her to wave gently to and fro.
A glorious rustling noise passed gently all around, as her eyes finally took focus. Golden wheat surrounded her in the field. The sweet scent of fall drifted lazily on the wind. She lifted her crinkled old hand to brush the tops of the stalks lightly, then turned her eyes upward again.
Trees, their glorious autumn colors just beginning to show, lined the field. She gasped at the cool blue sky, littered with cottony clouds, the likes of which she hadn’t seen in many years. A small sparrow flitted quickly overhead, but the sight of it awed Sunny. Then a large green butterfly fluttered serenely by, and gave her pause.
“I’ve never seen you before,” she whispered into the wind, gaze still locked on it’s graceful form.
“Sorry,” came the gentle voice, “We’re trying to sort out millions of disjointed memories.”
Sunny turned about, still feeling calm, but wanting to find the speaker. No one came into view, however. “Who are you?”
“We are beings, much like you, from far away.”
Sunny gaped. “Aliens?”
“If you must,” came the reply.
Sunny breathed in a deep sigh, “My apologies but this is all so very strange. What shall I call you?”
“Whatever you wish, we have no name such as you have.”
Sunny’s eyes caught onto the butterfly again, though now it had changed to an orange Monarch. “Well that’s much more sensible,” Sunny gleefully remarked.
“Good,” came the voice, and Sunny had the sensation that it was drifting past like a seed on the breeze. “You can help us sort this out if you will just remember everything you’ve ever seen, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted.”
“Memories,” Sunny mused, “You mentioned that before.”
“We’re using memories to rebuild your planet.”
“All the memories we could catch.”
Sunny’s brow furrowed as she tried to comprehend, “I don’t understand.”
A gentle sigh sparkled through the air, “If we tell you the story, will you help us by remembering?”
Sunny blushed, “Oh of course, dear, I’m sorry I must sound a bit rude.”
“Do not worry, you are only just remade, things will make more sense soon. Some time ago, we heard desperate pleas through the cosmos for help. I am sorry to say we were slow to arrive and our technology did not match yours. We scrambled to gather enough material for rebuilding, as the planet collapsed, but it was fraught with challenges.”
“Oh my,” Sunny mumbled quietly, “I’m afraid we mostly destroyed the planet ourselves. Though many were working to turn back the tides of destruction.”
“You may fix it.”
“It is lucky we found you, Sunny. We collected memories from all over the globe as beings perished, but it was hard for us to make sense of it all. Our probe found you, the last of the humans, just in time. Now it will be easier to rebuild the entire planet.”
“The last human? Me?” Sunny chuckled, “Rebuilding the entire planet… that sounds amazing but not everything was good here, rebuilding it as it was would just cause a return of that destruction. I could not face that alone again.”
“We will not rebuild that which you find harmful. We can replace the good, and discard the bad. Return the planet to it’s proper state.”
“Hmm…” Sunny mused to herself, “I can fix it. But I cannot possibly remember the entire planet!”
A ringing sound, reminiscent of laughter, danced around her. “You will not need to. As you remember those you knew, they will in turn remember those they knew. Onward and outward until the whole planet is remembered. You were all connected by memories.”
Sunny took a deep breath, hope alighting in her heart, “People? You will bring back everyone?”
“The good people. We will not rebuild that which you find harmful.”
“Oh yes,” Sunny breathed again, “You did say that.”
A few tears formed in her eyes, and she shut them tightly, holding onto the spark of hope. Then she began to remember. Her husband, tall and strong. His salt and pepper hair always trimmed neatly, framing his warm brown eyes. His gruff laughter filling any room. The scent of his blue jeans, often caked with dirt from working in the garden. His strong hands, somehow still smooth despite years of hard work, slipped gently into her hands. Sunny opened her eyes with a start, and there before her was the man she knew so well, but had missed for many a year.
“I’m glad we moved out here, my Sunshine, it’s beautiful.”
“Oh!” Sunny gasped, placing a hand upon his cheek, “Even more so when you are here!”
His rough laughter echoed gently across the fields, “Well if you’re going to get all mushy about it, I’m going back inside for some lunch.”
His eyes twinkled merrily, staring at her a moment more before spinning and heading off to their home, whistling as he went.
Sunny watched him go for a long time before remembering her ethereal friend. “You are amazing.”
A light sigh drifted around her, “He will not know of your hardships these past ten years. To him, it is as if he never left. We must turn back all of the memories ten years, so all those lost can return.”
Sunny sighed softly, “That is probably for the best. This descent into chaos… no one should have to live through that.”
An air of understanding surrounded her then, making her smile. “I think it’s time to make this world the best it can be.”
“And with all those people who have the same goal, we will rebuild the world with a chain of memories.”