Recall Chronicles, Volume I – Way of the Serpent – Chapter One (excerpt)
The café was down a couple of side streets, in an area of Dallas Jenda never went to, but she thought she might have been to the café once before. She couldn’t remember. Without looking at the menu, she ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with fried potatoes and sweet tea. It was plain food, but she liked it. She was halfway through her meal, savoring the anonymity afforded by this out-of-the-way eatery as much as the greasy food, when she noticed the woman who had turned on her stool at the café’s counter to stare.
The woman was old. That in itself was disturbing. Nobody got old anymore, not since Chulel – the drug that prevented aging – had come on the market a hundred years ago. Jenda, at 111, was as fresh and vigorous as she had been in 2035 when, at the age of 22, she had received her first annual Chulel treatment. Jenda’s grandmother was 165, but appeared no older than she had when she began taking Chulel in her mid-sixties. What was this old woman doing in Jenda’s world?
Jenda turned away, but she could still feel the woman’s dark eyes boring into her, probing. Jenda couldn’t help herself; she looked again. When the woman saw her looking, she smiled.
“Zujo!” Jenda swore, quickly returning her attention to her unfinished sandwich. It was too late. Taking the look as an invitation, the woman dropped down from her counter stool and shuffled over to Jenda’s table.
“You’re Jenda Swain,” she said, cocking her head to one side and narrowing her eyes. “God, you look the same as you did in high school.”
“Excuse me?” Jenda sat up straighter and used her best business voice.
“Of course you don’t remember,” the woman said, dragging out the chair across from Jenda and sitting down heavily. “Nobody remembers much of anything anymore.” She shrugged and looked down at her hands. Jenda looked, too. The woman’s hands were wrinkled, misshapen, and covered in brown and red splotches. “I remember you, though,” she continued, looking up into Jenda’s face. “My god, you were a firebrand back then. I idolized you and your boyfriend, you know. Such temerity! The things you did…” The woman refused to turn away. “Do you still paint? You always had your mom’s gift for art.”
“I think you must have made some mistake,” Jenda said quietly, fighting to modulate her voice against the tightening in her throat. “You may know my name, but you clearly don’t know me. Nothing you are saying makes any sense at all.” Jenda felt her cheeks warm as she flashed on an image of herself with an easel and paintbrush. Her last bite of sandwich seemed to have lodged somewhere near the base of her esophagus. “Now, would you please go on your way? Leave me alone.” Jenda blinked, shuttering herself away from this intrusive presence.
The woman’s face clouded and she leaned forward, looking Jenda squarely in the eye. “You need to ask more questions.” She spoke the words clearly and forcefully. Then she pushed her chair away from the table with a loud scraping noise. As she leaned over to pick up the leather bag she had dropped under the chair, the pendant around her neck clanked on the table top. It was an old fashioned timepiece, the kind with a round face with numbers and moving hands. Jenda reflexively reached up to grasp her own necklace, a cluster of plexiform flowers in the latest style from her favorite recyclables boutique. The woman took in a deep breath, as if rising from the chair had taxed her strength. She looked at Jenda again. “You’re the one who doesn’t know who Jenda Swain is.” Her voice was gentle, maybe sad. Then she turned and walked out the front door.
Recall Chronicles, Volume II – Shadow of the Hare –Chapter One (excerpt)
The café was down a couple of side streets, in an area of Dallas I hadn’t visited for decades. As soon as I sat down I saw her and I couldn’t help but stare. It had to be Jenda. I saw her looking at me and so I slid down off the bar stool and walked over to her table.
“You’re Jenda Swain,” I said, smiling and hoping she’d say, “And you’re Malia Poole!” But she didn’t. I hadn’t seen her in almost ninety years and it was clear she’d been taking the age prophylaxis, the miracle drug Chulel that kept everyone young in our 22nd-century world. Almost everyone. She was giving me that look—that what-the-zujo-is-an-old-woman-like-you-doing-in-my-world look—followed by the averted eyes.
“Of course you don’t remember.” I pulled out a chair and sat across from her. “Nobody remembers much of anything anymore.” I looked down at my wrinkled, age-splotched hands and then up into her smooth, fresh face. It was hard to believe I was two years younger than Jenda. “I idolized you and your boyfriend, you know. Such temerity. The things you did…” I was hoping to elicit some of those things from her or perhaps startle myself into recalling what some of them were.
She said nothing, glancing around the café as if to offer an apology for my presence. For my existence.
A memory suddenly came to me, a full-color portrait of Jenda as she was in high school. Not this business-suited twit, but a passionate firebrand of a girl. An artist?
“Do you still paint?” I wasn’t giving up. “You always had your mom’s gift for art.”
Jenda was clearly embarrassed and growing quietly angry. But I thought I detected the old passion under the surface. Come on Jenda—show me some of the old spunk.
She avoided my gaze. “I think you must have made some mistake.” Her tone was flat, dismissive. “You may know my name, but you clearly don’t know me.”
Her face flushed slightly. Was that a glimmer of recognition in her eyes? Leaning forward, I looked into those eyes. “You need to ask more questions,” I said. I pushed my chair back and rose to go. “You’re the one who doesn’t know who Jenda Swain is.”
My tears began to fall as soon as I was out on the street. I felt betrayed. Damn these disconnected memories! I have more memories than most people these days, but there’s that one year from high school—the period when I’m sure I knew Jenda best—that’s always been a blank. At least until recently. It’s cruelly ironic that now I’ve reached an age when normal memories start to fade, these submerged ones begin to wash up like shards of sea glass on a beach. I write them down, cataloging them like curios of uncertain provenance.
After I left the café, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jenda. She felt like a key to something. I may not remember a lot about her, but I do know that up-tight little prude with the pressed lapels isn’t the girl I knew in high school. I’m pretty sure that back then she was a passionate Vintagonist. Something had happened to her, something very different from what has happened to me.
Friday, March 7, 2127—I loaded my meager belongings into the back of the autocar and crept away under cover of darkness, not even switching on the lamps until I’d rounded the first bend in the broad arroyo that was the only road in and out of the community that had sheltered me for the past seven months. There was nothing left for me in Lechuza.
Fresh snow fell in big silent flakes that clung to the dry grasses and junipers. The only sounds were the slow crunch of tires through gravel and the occasional slap of plastiflex blades sweeping wet snow from the windshield. I listened past those sounds, attuning to the silence of the snowfall.
If I were making a flick, this is how it would open, with this scene of a man driving alone through the damp New Mexico dawn in a tiny solar-powered autocar, the only transportation available to us after civilization ended. No narration, no sound.
Zoom out. Fade in music. Something with cello and oboe and the slow heartbeat of hand drums.
The car turns onto the paved roadway. Its beams fall on the rubble of roughly harvested crops. A recumbent cow startles, eyes glowing, head erect. It flicks an ear and resumes chewing.
Pan to fields of towering TotExx windmills silhouetted against the dawn. Silent, motionless.
Wipe through a sequence of abandoned shops and recharge stations. Doors and windows are smashed, walkways littered with debris—food wrappers, drink containers.
Fade to a city. Add horns and tympani as the music rises. I’d need to show the cities, even though I’d be creating these scenes from my imagination. From my nightmares. I’d already left my city—it’s called Denver, in the US state of Colorado—before the pandemic, months before the collapse. To tell the truth, I was already on the run from the corporate cops but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with this flick.
Just stop. Who am I kidding? Flicks are finished. There’s no audience anymore. No cameramen, no actors, no musicians.
No plot. Only frayed ends, static chaos. Everything I thought I knew seems to matter hardly at all now and I don’t think I can storyboard my way out of this leaden sense of hopelessness that hangs in the air, choking out the last vestiges of life as I knew it. To tell the truth, I don’t know if there’s anything left out here at all. But here I am anyway, on my way back to where I was seven months ago, back when the world still existed.
Okay, it’s not like we’ve been wiped out by a nuclear holocaust or a global earthquake or an alien invasion. All the buildings are still standing. And I know there are survivors. I survived. Most of the community of Lechuza survived. Anyone who wasn’t taking the anti-aging drug called Chulel probably survived the pandemic; how they fared after the collapse is another matter. I was in a town that was well prepared to fend for itself. Most weren’t.
Snow flurries evaporated into sunshine as I continued my journey westward, heading for my friend Dextra’s town on High Mesa in Arizona. Before I did anything else—and I did have a plan of sorts—I needed to find out if she was still alive. To let her know I’d survived.