Remembering Earth (short story)
I am driving from a city. The city was a beacon of light in this dark world, but in moments it will be desolate. In moments it will be disintegrated by an impossibly immense impact. Millions of people will cease to exist in the blink of an eye. The bomb that will cause this impact will devour indiscriminate, it’s hunger insatiable.
You might question me as I drive from this city. As I pass mothers and children, families, lovers, as I pass the rich and the poor, the sick and the old. As I go I say silent goodbyes. I shed invisible tears, but I go. You see sometimes saving means letting go. The man who stands at the end of the street and screams out to his neighbours will be eaten by fire with all his neighbours. None will be left. In disaster moral questions will be asked and the saving will be done by those who answer correctly.
I’ve been asked the impossible question, to forsake humankind to save it. I am gatekeeper. This is my story.
“Bombs have now fallen on 47 capital cities. American, European, and several Asian Countries have largely gone untouched but the volume of attack will soon increase beyond their ability to defend. The origin of attack is unknown.”
I listen and reminisce. I was there when he whispered those words “I am death, the destroyer of worlds.” I witnessed atomic fission, but it wasn’t for the first time. He turned to me and said, “James we’ve done it. We created the atomic bomb.” There wasn’t joy in his eyes. I could respect him for that. No, there was a fearful awe, a dreadful wonder.
Thaddeus finishes his report and the room is quiet. They are waiting for me to speak. I know this but it is sometimes better to wait. It raises discomfort and reveals those of value.
“Will we ready the gates? This is surely the end”, Daniel stands his eyes glittering, bucolic in the dimmed room.
“No! We must wait. We cannot give up on them. We cannot be finished”, Thomas yells passionately his voice quivering, thick with emotion.
They sit on two sides of a circle. The table is expansive and perfectly round. The polished steel displays distorted reflections, rakish faces and clouded eyes. Around the table sit seven men. Each man holds a place at this table. This is the council. Behind each of the seven there are three seats and in them sit twenty one men. This is the lesser council.
I am alone where I sit. Looking out, isolated in a room full of faces. I am elevated before the table and as I stand the other two sit. “We will wait until we can no longer wait.”
I turn from them and walk from the room. My footsteps are heavy in the closed hallway and the echo they cause is joined suddenly by a quicker halting step. I know to whom the limp belongs. “What is it Thomas?” My voice is short. This is against the code.
He inclines his head, and then words rush out, “Sir, we mustn’t let go. This world is all that we have. To start again...”, he stammers searching for words, deep feeling clothes his voice, it covers his words. As I turn I see how old Thomas has become.
Age is dangerous. It tampers with vision. I would never advise one of the council on his need for the rite of passing, but Thomas is growing irresponsible. I am angered by his forwardness.
“Go now Thomas. I hear you and the council, at the sitting. You will go now!”
“Why do you anger so? James, is it because you have qualms. Remember your love, James. Remember.”
“You dare address me Thomas. You dare approach me. I anger not because of some silly qualms. No, I anger because you have forgotten yourself, and you are in danger of losing your place. Leave now, or I will destroy you!”
He shakes before me. His whole body trembling, and then he reaches out suddenly and grasps my hand, and for some reasons his touch calms me. Then he turns and walks back.
I stand and watch his awkward gait, his near stumbling motion. His image recedes and is gone.
Opening the door to my office I fall into the seat at my desk. Sitting at a desk I open a drawer and memories spill out. Pictures gather with voices and smells and sounds. I am back in an open field. One man stands before me. He is frail with age, his face drawn with lines, creases, and wrinkles, and his eyes sunken beneath harsh brows which fall to a jagged, hooked nose, and then to thin white lips set between hawkish, sharp cheek bones. In him there is demand. It is an unstated truth. He is expectant as he stares into my eyes.
In the memory I hone in on this moment before he steps forward. Before he places his hands on my shoulders and his head to my head, before the weight of the world is transferred, before the passing, before this old man wanders off to find a place to rest. Before I am fully aware.
It is peaceful there in this moment. The crickets are humming a low tune, and the wind is especially soft caressing my face. The grass tickles and scratches against my ankles and shins, and beyond the field the trees cast tremendous shadows which waver like creatures as the wind rustles the leaves. The moon is especially bright and I stand and stare up searching for the man on the moon, as I stand solemnly one man on the earth.
Then it is all gone and I am aware. I cannot express the feeling. It is awakening, a paradox; simultaneous and eons, immediate and ages. This is the passing, the giving of awareness. Time flashes and crumbles before me. I feel his forehead faintly against mine, but I have been awakened to something greater. Lives stretch out before me, events, images, pictures, information. It’s as if my brain is released from shackles and allowed to run free. My mind moves faster than possible and begins to separate the mayhem that promises to overwhelm and lobotomise me.
Instantaneously it stops. I walk out and in my mind’s eye there stretches an impossibly long chain of lights. As I peer into each light I have order. These lights are the gatekeepers of the past. They are suspended here on the edge of my consciousness calling out to me to explore. To delve in, to the secrets they hold.
I hear a whisper from some other world and it is nearly impossible to wrestle myself away from the lights. “Remember yourself James. Remember earth.”
The burden is passed and the man wanders away and I see backwards from the beginning. I don’t know how long I have been here in the field, but when I came I was one man, and now I am legion. I am the past, I hold the keys, I am gatekeeper.
There is a crackle and then a young woman’s face appears over the monitor.
“Sir, the president would like to speak with you.”
“Thank you Daphne. You may put him on.”
The pretty face is replaced by a resolute face with a square jaw and leathery skin.
“Hello Mr. President”
“James the world is collapsing. Our patriot missile defence is being overwhelmed and the first bombs will drop in a few hours. What do you advise?”
“Mr. President there is nothing to advise. This is the apocalypse. The world is ending and there is nothing you or anyone can do. If you hold your arms you will be destroyed if you launch your arms you will be destroyed. I am sorry Mr. President. I truly am.”
The president starts to speak and then stutters. His face is stretched tight and purple rings crowd the bags underneath his eyes. He is desperate, desperate for something, for anything. He starts again.
“James we are all about to perish. I need you to tell me what to do. Please James, please just tell me what to do.” The resolute face is taut and angry now. I know the anger I have seen it before, first anger and then disbelief and then anger and then resignation and then sadness. I have seen it all before.
“I am sorry Mr. President, but I must go."
His lips pull back and expose teeth, his brows raise and grow rigid, his eyes narrow and he speaks dangerously, “James don’t hang up that phone.”
“Goodbye Mr. President,” as I hang up I hear his muffled roar and the connection is ended. I stand up and retrieve my briefcase.
DIVISION AND FEAR The professor at the front of the room punctuates both words dramatically. This isn’t any professor lecturing this is Freud, this is Lenin, this is Marx, this is Churchill, this is Socrates, this is Shakespeare, this is Tsun zu, this is Confucius, this is Jesus and this isn’t a room at all. No, only the lonely corridors of my mind where I wonder as I drive, dipping into this door and that, remembering what is not mine to remember.
Their voices unite. It is my voice.
Division and fear will destroy us. We will destroy each other. We will destroy humankind and this planet earth. Yes we have compassion, we have love, we have kindness, but long ago all were forsaken for power, for greed and for convenience. Those in power didn’t want others to have an equal amount of power. Meanwhile, the people, they persuaded themselves that they wanted the poor to be raised up, and they would give meagre offerings, but it was all an illusion for if their living was ever threatened their claws would emerge and they would cast the others back down again.
So the world was divided. Some were prosperous and some were poor. Some nations were rich and some destitute, and those destitute nations were glorified slaves. They worked to satisfy the wants and cravings of others very far away, and those very far away did what they could to keep them in their place. Many of the destitute believed that these rich countries had their best interest in mind, that they cared for them and wanted to help them, but slowly one by one they began to realize that this was not true. That their interests would always be secondary, that their prosperity, their lives would be viewed as inferior, expendable. They recognized that they were tools in the hands of others and they began to watch, to observe.
Every man is divided unto himself, every family, every community, every ethnic, every nation. Division, and in division, in difference, there is always fear. Fear builds defence and breeds greater separation. Separation fosters hatred and hatred builds offence.
In the first World War I glimpsed the start of the end. A war of treaties, a war of greed, a war for power, an unneeded and stupid war, but it was in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I knew the end was near. It was in the discovery of a weapon too deadly, to voracious, to hungry to be handled by the hands of humans. A weapon meant only for the hands of the Gods.
“It only takes one domino to fall. We’ve done all that we can. Chance after chance they have been afforded and they fail every time. They complicate the process for there is goodness in them, and so we are torn.”
I stand in sand. It is blistering to touch, scorched by the sun; it stretches as far as the eye can see, undulating gently up and down in dunes rising and falling at the mercy of the winds.
“Gatekeeper, how can we go back? How can we slow them?”
I follow directly behind as he walks the dunes. I watch the desert breeze obscure his footsteps as his feet rise and fall rhythmically. I guess at the expression that envelops his face, and feel the cold drops of perspiration running smoothly down my brow and back.
“It has all happened before my child. History repeats itself. A different path is followed, but the same result is found in the end.”
He stops and crouches to the ground. He seems to be writing in the sand with the tip of his index finger and thumb. A slight metallic droning is heard, he steps back, and the sand begins to quiver. It shakes and dances in a circle and suddenly there is a click and the sand begins to rise, but quickly the sand is blown away and another thing comes into focus. The sun catches and glints harshly off the cylindrical object which continues to emerge. The object seems to be made of some brilliant metal, perfectly smooth, perfectly portioned.
When it has grown to approximately twelve feet its progress comes to a halt. It clicks and something begins to hum. Then rapidly lines draw back and a rectangle appears in perfect symmetry. A door. A portal risen from the desert floor.
He turns to face me, a subtle smile on his lips. This is a gate.