Once there were no dragons. From Boston to San Francisco, the horizon was empty. Once, fires only happened when you started them. Once, houses were built only to weather time, never considering that a cloud was not a cloud.
Once, they called us earthquakes.
In the far off past things were different. A girl might walk along a road, cars speeding past her on every side. She is making her way to school (they attended school then) or the library (they hoarded books then) or perhaps the home of a relative (families were spread thin, oh so thin, then). She carries nothing, but maybe a bag. What is in the bag doesn’t matter.
She is alone, walking in a noisome world. The sky is empty and bare, coldly shining down on her tangled hair. When she gets to her destination, she puts down her bag (if she has one), and goes into her destination, be it school (a place of education in society of those times), or library (for keeping all the books away from the people who might try to hoard them), or home (separate from her own). Then she will open her mouth in the old custom, and speak.
She is very thin, and very tangled. Her mind is tangled, her thoughts are tangled, her clothes are tangled. She walks on tangled paths and looks at a tangled future, thinking about how she will further her education (going to another, larger school), and find employment (payment for labour of almost any kind). She rarely thinks about the sky, or the earth. Walking in between, she is concerned only for what she might easily touch.
Now, we know more than this girl. But we cannot fault her for her reaction when earth and sky closed together, meeting in darkness. We cannot fault her screams as light flickered before her eyes and all the ancient devices of humanity tumbled into the abyss. Libraries cracked open like eggs, spilling their hoarded knowledge over the ground. She took cover behind a bookcase, and watched the coming of dragons.
Fires ignited in our minds, eradicating everything that came before. All that was new and old fell back, leaving only what is eternal.
No one knows if that girl lived or died—the girl of memory, the girl of the past. We have her cowering before us, unable to move her lips to the rhythm of ancient speech. No one knows if she existed at all, a hundred years ago, when we were trapped beneath the crust. Perhaps her tale is only an anecdote of the wasted past.
Once, there was a girl (or not). Once, there was a world she lived in (or not). Once, she thought she might be happy one day.
first published in Daily Science Fiction (July, 2020)
Marisca Pichette is an author of magic and monsters, living in Western Massachusetts. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, PseudoPod, PodCastle, and Fusion Fragment, among others. She is on Twitter as @MariscaPichette and Instagram as @marisca_write. Website: www.mariscapichette.com
photo by Alyzah K and Zarif Ali (via unsplash)