“I push at the wall, half expecting it to crumble in my hands. The wall holds its stance. I look behind me at a figure slumped against the wall.”
I have not been in correspondence with you in quite a while. Amid the war and the brutal rebellions of the Mirusians, we somehow have failed to sustain healthy contact with the people that we once trusted. It is funny how we forget about the things we need most in the midst of times like this. Well, I have written this with a proposal in mind.
Too many times has Caspian Actus revolted against his own people and turned the minds of the displaced. Too many times has he destroyed the work of his peers and even himself. Too many times have we allowed him to carry on, destruction in his wake. I am ashamed to know how many have died on his conscience, but unfortunately we cannot change the past. I believe that it is time to take action against this terrorist.
Ever since the fall of the Actus Liberium age, I am aware that we have not exactly been on the best of terms. I do not yet wish to apologize, but all people need to come together to resolve an issue as extreme as this one. We already have a few countries eager to participate in this plan, and if you choose not to join, we hope your citizens will not be hurt in the midst of it all. As Roman Ferris united our world, he broke the unspoken alliance of the Greater Region. I hope we can ignore our difference of opinions in time to stop this minor setback.
What I propose is a plan. A plan to control our people.
Please respond soon so that we can discuss my proposition.
August Arcurius, Director of CONTROL
Chapter One: Memories
We stop, all of us out of breath. The strong torrent of pouring rain outside seems almost calming after everything that has happened. People are sitting up against the cracked stone walls and simply working on breathing normally again. Some are passed out and lie strewn across the wet dirt. A booming noise outside brings me back to my consciousness right before I’m about to fall asleep myself. I find my way to my feet and stumble across the rock to the side of the cave.
The vines creeping up the walls seem meticulously placed, just like everything else I have ever known. I push at the wall, half expecting it to crumble in my hands. The wall holds its stance. I look behind me at a figure slumped against the wall. He still holds a lantern as if he hadn’t meant to fall asleep. I survey the rest of the room to realize that I’m the only one still awake. Feeling alone, I try to push at the wall again. I turn around. I’m going to need help if I want to move the barrier. Who should I wake?
“Rory?” I call out.
No reply. I don’t dare try again in fear that someone or in fact something other than Rory will hear me.
I run over to one I recognize, Wren. I shake him, his stormy eyes flutter, not quite open, and I’m not sure if he’s completely awake. It was him that ran the farthest– all the way from the cave entrance on the tip of the coast– just to warn everyone on the way. He stirs, his eyes shifting from consciousness to still. He swings his arm to the side as if he’s attempting to get up, but falls.
“Amerie,” he says between deep breaths. “The police are coming.”
“I know, Wren. And we took care of that,” I respond.
“No, they’ll make it this time…” He starts to drift off to sleep.
What does he mean? They made it every time before. So their final goal still hasn’t been achieved? I try to stop the thoughts as they race through my head. They’ll come soon, and there’s no where to go but through the path that no one here has the strength to run. All I can do is wait to hear what they have to say. I sit, pulling my knees to my chest, rocking as the rain pours outside. Maybe I could make it across the chasm alone. I’m not as tired as the rest. But something other than gravity keeps me grounded. I can’t find the hope to get up. Maybe I have a few minutes to rest before the police arrive.
Just before I’m about to fall asleep, I see a shadow at the front of the cave. I jump to my feet. “Officer Lyre?”
The shadow speaks, “There has been a change of plans. Officer Lyre is dead.”
“Wh-” I begin to say.
“There is no need to speak. We are the higher power. Come a day when the Mirusians no longer walk about this earth with shame or fear, our reign of freedom and equality will come to a complete close.”
A beaming brilliance shines from somewhere beyond the cave and I shield my eyes, attempting to retain my vision enough to keep my senses, but it is in vain. I can sense cold footsteps edging towards me and I scurry back, only to meet the wall behind me. The floor quivers. I feel an indescribable stinging in my arm and close my eyes. The extreme pain of my arm feels like it’s being ripped open. A figure kneels next to me as if trying to help, but falls to the ground as well. “Rory,” I say.
“And that’s all that I remember,” I say.
“Well, miss. You certainly have a vivid memory,” the officer says. “We’ll get the citizenship papers set up, and then you’re free to go.”
“It’s that easy? I don’t need to take a test or anything?”
“We don’t exactly need to worry about overpopulation or fraud. You’re the first one to come to our town in a long time.”
While I’m very curious as to what he means, I don’t question it. I ask a more pressing question that has been on my mind. “Any report of new visitors? I doubt I’m the only one from the memory that came here. Any boy named Rory?”
“Miss, you’ve been here for about five minutes. They still have time to come.”
“So, can you answer some of my questions now?” I ask.
“Where am I?”
“The Ophelia Grasslands. It’s an area that was formed shortly after the Caelestisian Wars. Most of our small population-”
“Sorry, the Caelestisian Wars?” I interrupt.
He sighs. “The wars over the new stars? No recollection at all? The only way you could have been completely oblivious to those nine wars is if you were in the Undergrounds! They would never let a girl like you in the Undergrounds!”
“And the Undergrounds are…?” I reply.
“The huge cities!” he says gesturing with his hands in disbelief. “The network of beautiful streets built in the old mines after the explosions from World War IV!”
“Hold on, I think I have a photo I can show you.”
As the door clicks shut and the officer leaves, I examine my surroundings. The perfectly square room is ornately decorated with maroon velvet curtains and patterns etched onto the walls. Patterns that I cannot place, but I have seen before. A chandelier hangs above my head, swaying gently from the wind of a window left open. And last of all, the paintings. I don’t have very much memory, but I’m pretty sure there has never been this many paintings per square foot of a wall in one room. The images shown in the paintings vary from large cities–that primarily differ from what I assume to be the norm–to barren deserts to tranquil meadows to unrealistically detailed portraits. I stand up and wander the room to get a better look at the strange paintings. I look over at a smaller painting with a little boy on a boat- maybe 25 feet across with a strong sail- with the words Actus Liberium carved on it with silver glittering paints staining the impression. The boy smiles and squints in the sun at the camera. He truly looks happy. On the frame of the painting it reads “Navis Caspian!” I stare at the painting for a long time.
The officer reenters the room. “Ah, that’s Caspian Actus there. He was the one to start the rebellions that got us to where we are now.”
“So, why would you have this picture of him as a little kid?” I respond.
“Oh, people don’t dislike him. We respect and honor him. He brought about the change of the billennium. We’re happy here, in our little…” he trails off, “our little community.”
“It’s still a bit strange that you keep his baby pictures in the police office,” I say.
The officer looks puzzled and laughs dropping the photo he brought in. “In what world did you live in that you have a building for the police to rest in?”
I glance at the picture he dropped. A group of people in white dresses and t-shirts stand at the bottom of a huge cavern decorated with vines sweeping across. Victorian style houses are stacked upon each other, built into the walls. Ladders lead children from one house to the next. At every window are flowers, planted neatly and brighter than any other flower I have ever seen. A cobblestone street lines the ground a hundred feet down. There are people on the street and no cars in sight. Through a tunnel at the end of the street I can see another cavern, with a similar scene. More roads lead in and out of the huge rooms. These streets must go on for miles. But the strangest part is the boy. The point from which the photo is taken is a platform that must be at the very top of the cave. No one looks at the camera. In front of the view is a boy standing. His face looks familiar. He’s not smiling, but he looks proud, regal. He looks almost as if he’s trying to stifle a laugh for the sake of the picture. After staring at the picture I finally speak. “Where are we, then?”
“This is the Observatory,” he replies, pausing before saying, “let’s take a step outside.”
He begins to exit the strange room and I pause and pick up the picture he dropped. Crumpling it in my hand I stuff it in the pocket of the coat I arrived here with. He leads me through a dome shaped door with a shiny silver handle. After I blacked out, I woke up in this “Observatory” and I haven’t seen this strange outside. The light peering from outside the door barely breaches where I stand. I scuffle my feet, hoping to get a better look at what’s outside.
The officer shuts the door suddenly. “Change of plans, the Parade is here.”
“The Parade?” I ask.
He looks distraught. “A mob. Anyone who follows them joins the Parade. There’s no way to get out. If the police try to stop them we just black out. But we never know where they go or when they’re coming other than the fact that they always come after something big has happened. Sort of as a reminder that no matter what happens this town will always be the same. Come on. We need to head to the glass tower,” he says, grabbing his coat and heading to a spiral staircase in the center of the room. How had I not noticed it?
“What was the big event?” I ask.
☽ ☽ ☽
I can hear people yelling outside and I see traces of fire in the window. Suddenly, I hear a huge crash and the room appears to be blurring. My vision blackens on the edges and I can only fathom colors when I concentrate on them. I can hear speaking somewhere, but I can’t place the words. For a moment I can’t really remember how to decipher words or even listen. Everything that my body used to do voluntarily now seems like a job for me to do. I can’t control myself, I’m falling. If I ever made it up the stairs, I don’t know.
I wake up to people marching, but my eyes are still closed. They’re chanting as if they were off to war in a bittersweet it’s-ending, we’re-off-to-our deaths kind of way. I only catch a few words like, “tired” and “insane.” I seem to be being carried somewhere. My eyes fly open against my will from my curiosity. For a moment all that I see is a blur of colors. I lie on a wooden plank adorned with a old looking off white carpet on top. My eyes adjust, and I’m looking at the sky. The clearness is almost off putting. I can’t see a cloud in miles each way. The chanting loudens to an almost ear-splitting volume. Just when I feel like I need to make a break for it before my eardrums stop working, the chanting stops.
“She’s awake!” a voice calls.
I shut my eyes and squeeze them shut. They don’t seem to care. With a jolt, the plank I lie on is dropped, and the dust and anthills of the dry ground surround my face. I lie motionlessly.
I hear a whistle and the dust clouds around my face as the people I never really saw, leave. Without thinking, I sit up and only catch one face, the boy from the picture, staring at me as if he recognized me too.
☽ ☽ ☽
I stand up and begin to walk, heading from memory in the direction that only feels right to get back to town. I pay attention to my steps, trying to make them even and balanced, but that only throws me off, putting me back in my limp.
Finding my memory to be correct, I arrive back at the green. I take a step back. The clearing that was once empty is now filled with huge trees, covering the sky like a deep green roofed forest. The trees are the tallest I have ever seen, maybe 160 feet tall, with trunks big enough for a human to live in. The mere scale of the tree makes me feel small and puts my recent experiences into perspective. I remember a life before this. No details from it, not even a last name, but I sense it was there, and it, even not remembered still feels like normalcy I’m missing. But I can tell that it’s gone. How can you go back to something you don’t remember? Lost in my thoughts and feeling swirls of misplaced nostalgia, I hardly notice when a car pulls up behind me.
“Beautiful, aren’t they? Nothing quite like ‘em in this town,” says a soft voice behind me. I hear the car door slam shut. “I’m Officer Edley. I hear you’re familiar with my friend, Officer Surrey. Welcome to Ophelia.”
I nod. “These trees…” I start, finally turning around to face a tall brunette woman who looks as if she commanded armies in her free time. She has a puzzled look on her face that throws off the whole threatening look. Something about her reminds me of something I once knew.
Finding it difficult to finish my train of thought, I watch helplessly as the woman cuts me off. “So what are you doing all the way out here?”
“The Parade, they-” I begin again.
“Oh, I heard about your run-in with the parade, practically the whole town has. Headline: ‘14-Year-Old Stranger Rejected by the Parade.’”
“Is that actually-” I start to ask. “I’m 15,” I point out, unsure of how I know that or why that was important for the officer to know.
“Not in the news yet, at least, but I’m sure they’ll be all over you the second you emerge from this forest.”
Maybe that is what I need. If the others from my memories are here and have memories of me like I have memories of them, maybe they will be able to find me before I find them. I push that out of my mind. “About the forest, it just appeared…are things like that commonplace around here?”
“You came to this place twice, I’m guessing, on your way back the second time you must have come the wrong way. See, this dry area, it’s a circle. Surrounded by the grass. On one half is the forest, the other half the clearing. That’s how I found you, just driving around the circle.”
I nod uncertainly.
“You got nothing to worry about, we’re a pretty average town.”
But if there’s one thing I remember learning in my past life, it’s that things may be disproved–rumours told by people about other people, facts from the past– but once someone has felt a certain feeling because of the rumour, the feeling stays even if the rumour is forgotten. Something was off about this town, even if this desert was in fact a circle. There was some reason I was brought to this town of all of the possible places that booming voice could have brought me. There is some reason I can’t shake the feeling I know everyone in this town.
☽ ☽ ☽
I open the passenger seat door and collapse on the plush seat. The engine turns over with a rumble and the car starts to move.
“Have there been any new arrivals?” I ask.
“Yes, actually, a boy was found. Three days ago. He was asleep in the wine cellar uptown. Dark brown hair, light hazel eyes, know him?” the officer rambles on.
“Three days ago? Three days ago even I wasn’t here.”
“Kid, you’ve been here for a week now. We’re a good 60 miles from the Ophelia. From what our scouts saw, you walked with the parade for six days.”
“No, no,” I reply, “I was sleeping… I was unconscious!”
“Clearly you haven’t heard or felt the nightmare of war,” the officer starts. “You know what made World War IV special?”
I shake my head. “Never even heard of a ‘World War.’”
“Well it was the memory loss. Over half of the total deaths were suicide. And it wasn’t the loss of family members and a sense of home that drove them to it. It was insanity. The biggest weapon of the war that let Arcurius win was his ability to erase and plant memories. After a while the people couldn’t trust themselves and didn’t even remember their fondest memories… or which side they were fighting for. Your memories define you. Memories are supposed to be forever, that’s what nature meant them to be. That’s why they’re so powerful. No person should be able to forget what they once knew. What you know and have experienced defines you. When that was taken away, the people didn’t have a reason to live anymore.” The officer stares ahead at the street. It’s drizzling now. The soft patter of the rain gives the effect that the officer is crying, but she keeps a straight face and drives on.
“All my memories are gone,” I reply, “but the emptiness isn’t complete yet. I still feel like I know myself. And I’ve learned too.”
“That’s the scary part. Memories are something Arcurius shouldn’t have messed with. You could have gone across the universe and back last night and not remember it. Maybe you did. You’ll never know. And maybe tomorrow you’ll wake up and not remember me. Maybe neither of us will remember this conversation, and it’s almost like it’s gone. If there’s no one there to think about it, it won’t matter if it happened or not. It’s gone.”
I try to take my mind off of the contemplation of the inevitable demise of my carefully orchestrated mind. We are silent for a long time and I observe the car we sit in. The ride will be just over an hour seeing that the officer needs to stop by a farm on the way back. The car is a brilliant shade of red with scratched handles as if people are always in a rush to enter and exit the car. The windows are roll-down, and as much as I’d like to open one to let some fresh air in, I’m sure I would just be embarrassed by my lack of strength and inability to open the window. Fake wood lines the seat and the control panel in front of the car. I suggested she put on the radio, but the officer said music these days wasn’t any good. I wouldn’t know.
Finally, I decide to speak. “Do you still have all of your memories?”
“No,” the officer replies sharply, “the chemicals used to change memories, there was a big spill back in the war. All the people who forgot, they were moved all over the world to different places. I don’t know where the others went. Hell, I don’t even know if that’s the truth. I don’t remember the others, or even my family. Maybe I didn’t have one, I’m living off of belief of what they told me,” her voice cracks, “and I don’t even believe them.”
The silence is deafening.
“I’m turning on the radio,” I say, “I don’t care if the music is crap.”
I’m about to click a station when Officer Edley stops me. “There is no music. We only get static nowadays.”
Suddenly something is different with the town. The connection I once thought Ophelia had with the rest of the world is gone. It feels hopeless, abandoned. What’s wrong with Ophelia? There’s nothing? No signal?
I see a tear run down the officer’s cheek. “They left us here.” She lets out a sob. “I don’t know where we are. We’re never going back home. This… Ophelia place wasn’t meant to be inhabited and will never be anyone’s home.” She turns to look at me. “Everyone here realizes it, we’re all just too scared to say it.”
I sit back on my seat. The rain smudges our view out the window now, and the windshield wipers are doing nothing to clear out the waves of water. I can’t tell if we’re even on a road anymore, everything is just the same colors, blurred together into different shapes to make a different image.
The officer sniffles. “We’re here.”
I pop open the car door and step out into the pouring rain. Everything seems slower, sadder. I can almost see the real Ophelia, hiding behind its mask of content. I see people running through the rain, holding books and bags over their head. Their eyes are bloodshot, and they all seem just a bit more tired than people should be, escaping the cold. I can only hear the patter on the street and a faint call in the distance. The town may seem calm, but the people are screaming on the inside. A few people catch my eyes and smile a bit.
There is some reason I feel like these people aren’t genuinely content although they all smile when looked at and force a laugh when they feel it necessary. There is some reason. I feel like I’m the reason these people can’t really smile anymore.