Short story: A Memory of Now
By Eric Johnson
“I promise only a little further up this way.” I told Emma.
“How do you even know where we are going?” she whined back at me.
“Look, according to the map, I parked due east of the caves and it should just be a mile and a half hike.” I assured her.
“Are we going east then?” I felt her grip firm up on my hand, as if testing her assurance of my being able to guide us.
I smiled at her, not certain she could see me in the star light. “No, we are walking west.”
I could just make out her face. She frowned and knitted her eyebrows.
“We parked east of the site so we have to walk west to get to it.” I explained.
“How do you know we are walking west though?” The hand shifted grip again.
“Because I have Polaris in my right ear.”
That stopped her cold and she even dropped her grip on my hand. “You have a what in your what?”
I stifled a laugh; I have long been the outdoorsman, not her. It would not be so obvious to her.
“Listen,” I started to explain.
“To Polaris?” Her voice strained. “I don’t hear anything but you and the crickets.”
“No, no, no.” I walked forward and took both of her hands. They shook. It seemed all so simple, why could she not give me a chance to explain.
“Remember she is not a rocket scientist.” I told myself, though the thought somehow did not seem my own. “Make her see it.”
I removed my left hand from her right and pointed straight left and a little up to the star I instinctively knew the location of.
“Polaris is a star in the sky.” I told her. “It is always in the same place so you can use it to find your way by.”
“But it looks like it is moving” She said watching where my hand pointed.
I looked to my left, straight up my own arm and found it there, as always. But something seemed amiss.
“It is moving,” my thoughts said. Again they sounded somehow foreign. “Just keep watching.”
I did, a moment later the dot that represented my forever constant heavenly companion shifted and become two dots. One the star and one… the other one something else. It moved slowly and steadily towards the horizon. It became fractionally brighter at first. In the matter of a minute, its magnitude had doubled, and then quadrupled.
“Steve.” She dropped my hands and pointed up a hill behind us. “We could see it better from up there!”
“Don’t go up there!” my voice screamed, but not out loud. I heard it, but did not say it. Ellen did not give any indication that she did either. She already scrambled up a steep climb of scree.
“No! Wait! Don’t go up there!” I called to her.
“Now who is the scared one!” Ellen chided me.
She picked up a small rock and tossed it playfully down the hill at me.
“You have to stop her!” The voice, my voice rang out again.
I started ineffectually up the hill, calling out to her and got rewarded with some falling loose scree.
“Ellen!” I called to her, but she pulled herself up over a ledge a short distance up.
“You have got to get up there.” I felt myself commanding me, but still unsure.
“Okay, give me a minute to figure this out.” My voice sounded contemplative.
A moment later it continued. “Okay, it took me a week, but I think I got it.”
“A week?” I asked the air around me.
“Steve!” Her dulcet voice called down to me from above. “The view is remarkable from up here! You have to get here.”
“You have to get her down and now.” My thoughts told me.
Then suddenly I felt dizzy with vertigo. I felt as if in a high place, I felt the wind blowing at me, whipping my hair into my face. I took in the fantastic view, but I did not see Ellen anywhere. I looked down. My entire body absorbed a sudden cacophony of emotions at once. Below me the valley lay out beautifully lit by the star light. It felt wonderful, but looking further down my emotions went from elation to horror, regret, destitution, and sorrow. There lay Ellen.
Ellen lay broken below; she had fallen off the precipice and onto the rocks below. I shook my head and blinked hard.
I still stood at the base of the hill.
“You coming?” Her voice rang down to me again.
My own voice said, “Get her down or get up there or SHE IS GOING TO DIE!”
“What happened just then?” I wondered out loud.
“I put the memories out of sync for a moment, which is what took so long. Now get up there now!”
The loss of her still fresh in my mind gave me courage and strength to scramble up the side with speed beyond what I thought imaginable.
I crested the steep hill and she stood over near the edge where I had seen her body. She took in the same beautiful vistas I knew of but had never actually seen before from this view, yet.
“Come away from there!” I cried out to her and she turned and smiled at me.
“It is so wonderful! Come look at it with me!” She held out her hand to me and in that moment, lit by the stars, she looked perfect. The wind blew her long hair out behind her. Her shirt and skirt blown against her features showed her goddess like form. Her smile, I could write songs about that smile. Her arm outstretched, a promise from god of riches everlasting if only I reached out to take it.
Then the moment shattered. Her foot slipped and she slid backwards slightly and then down roughly onto her chest.
“Ow!” she said as she hit the ground and she went silent. But she still moved backwards off the edge as the rocks acted as bearings beneath her body.
The image of her broken body set itself in his head again and I dove forward just grasping one of her hands before it slid away. I pulled with both hands and managed to stop her slide. Blood covered some of the stones, not much but I could see she had a cut on her head.
I stopped her fall, but could not get her back up. Her limp body seemed to weigh more than I ever imagined. My grip continued to slip.
“You need to get her other hand” I heard myself instruct me. “You had to get both then brace with your knees to get her up.”
I made a mad grasp with my right hand for her other hand and nearly lost the one I had. Ellen edged a little more away.
“Try again! You get it this time. I remember it now!” I said in my head.
I thrust myself a little forward as I made the attempt and my hand closed around her wrist. I pulled. My other hand slipped now and I loosened it slightly and reached up her wrist there and got a better grip.
“There is a rock outcrop by your right knee, brace with that.”
I pulled my knee up and hit good solid rock just above my knee. As I placed my knee I felt a biting in my leg.
“God dammit!” I shouted out and heard it echoed through all the valleys around.
“Oh, I forgot about the dog catcher, sorry.” My own voice said in my head.
Dog catchers are these little small one inch round cactuses that have between three and five inch spines on them. They grow in masses around rocks in the desert and my dad told me they were dog catchers because if you brought your dog out here, and let it run around, it would come back with these completely covering the bottom of their body.
I shut out the pain of multiple needles digging into my flesh and pulled backwards until I had Ellen’s form against me. Not knowing what else to do, and needing to get her further, I leaned back and then to the side so that she briefly laid on top of me before I rolled her off.
I sat up and looked at her body there, whole. She had a marvelous body and I appreciated it all the more for knowing what could have just happened had I not been here. But that memory seemed to be fading from me somehow. I remembered looking out over the valley then looking down, but now only remembered grey shapes in the darkness below. The horrible emotions faded quickly too.
“What is going on?” I spoke out.
“I am giving you some of my, or rather your memories from the future.”
“But how?” I asked the voice.
“A device I found. Actually we found it.” The voice stammered for a moment. “You found it. I have to keep reminding myself here who is whom.”
“This will take some time.” Came the response and then silence.
“How long?” I finally asked.
“That was about two and a half months.” My voice said finally. A metal object, glowing and smoking, appeared on the ground in front of me.
“I had to find it, separate it from its memory and then find a way to make it belong here in this one.” My voice said in a matter-of-fact way.
“What is it?” My question, I did not verbalize it, but my future voice seemed to hear it.
“It is a communication device unlike any other.” I sounded rather snooty as it explained, “It can transmit along fourth dimensional wavelengths as long as the other three dimensional positions are relatively the same.”
“So where are you?” I asked, out loud this time.
My voice snickered. “Right here beside you.”
I looked about quickly. I did not see another of me. That reminded though of the unconscious body that lay on the top of the hill with me. I had to figure out how to get her out of here and keep her alive.
“She will be fine. She was up here with me last time, but had an appointment this time.” I annoyed myself with the way I talked to me.
“She had to go see her mother. We got married you know.” I continued in those thoughts of my future self.
“So you can transmit message back in time?” I asked.
“Not messages per say, but thoughts. You receive them as your own.” I explained to myself, “Every time I have to respond to you, I have to pull up our next memory, compose it the same as it was but add my response to it. You are not so much hearing me, but remembering that you heard me.”
“This is too weird” I said to myself, or maybe to him, this future me. I said it to one or both of us.
I checked on her form. She breathed steadily and her head injury did not look serious. But the low light made it hard to tell. Not till then I finally remembered the flashlight I carried in my bag. I had wanted to save all the battery for the cave so we walked by star light.
“Let me see if I can make it easier. This will take a bit.”
I waited for only a moment, and then bent down over her still form. I could not help but smell her body as I came close. She always smelled of freshness. Kind of a clean you don’t get from perfumes. Sweet, but not artificial I guess is the best way to describe it. I planned to ask her to go steady tonight in the caves. It surprised me she had agreed to come out here. Looking back, the whole evening turned into one bad idea after another. I flowed the light over her form and she seemed okay, just unconscious and the one cut on the head. It did not show any signs of bleeding any more.
“Here, how is this?” the voice returned.
I instinctively turned in the direction the voice came from and there stood someone.
Me? I don’t know. I could not tell immediately. It looked somewhat like me, I had much shorter hair shaved on the sides and a neat left part on top. It looked very businesslike and adult to me. I had gained weight. I wore a double chin and my tummy stuck out far enough that I probably could not see my own feet from that perspective. Come to think of it, the figure had no feet. Most of the legs just faded into nothing and I could see the background through them.
“Oh, the legs.” The image said and he placed his hand on his forehead… or my hand on my forehead.
He shifted for a moment and reappeared about a foot out of position. This time he had legs.
“They say that is why ghosts never have legs; they forgot what they look like.” The image explained and laughed at the idea. I noticed though that the legs were slowly fading out again though.
“So I have got to get her down.” I said. “What did I do?”
“You left her here.” The body lacked legs again, but this seemed unimportant.
“What?!?” I asked, shocked.
“You went on and found the device then got help.” The image said. “I remember it very clearly. She was fine.”
“I don’t know” I hesitated.
“She is here with me now, I know she was fine.” The image replied.
“Wait, I thought she was with her mother.” I said.
He shook his head. “That was five days ago. She likes it out here and comes out half the time to join me.”
The image seemed to stop and consider something then said, “Wait a second.”
The image flickered and appeared right nearby. Next to him stood Ellen. You could not mistake Ellen. She radiated beauty. It looked like she had never cut her hair as it flowed down in long tresses that had a wonderful natural ringlet curl to it that blossomed out close to the bottom. She had put on a little weight, but it all showed just as curves. Her lips filled out a little more maybe. Her skin, flawless, except for that tiny scar on her forehead. She did have legs, long and slender, but showed nice tone in all the right spots. God she was heaven.
The image of my older me smiled, he remembered exactly what I thought.
“But she nearly just died!” I said, but somehow I felt a little unsure of my own statement.
“What?” my older me seemed shocked. “She just fell and hit her head. I remember.”
“But what about that part at the bottom of the valley, her broken body?”
The image of Ellen disappeared and my older self changed position again.
“I can find no memory of that. It never happened.”
“It did, or at least I think it did.” I felt confused, but I had a point to make. “Look, I remember, or at least I remember remembering that she fell off the cliff and died.”
The image flickered again. The new image did not even have a hint of legs. Actually he lacked everything below the belly button.
“No, I do not remember showing that to you. I have no memories like that.” He insisted. “She nearly fell, we caught her. I remember that very clearly.”
“But she did…” I started hopelessly. I did not know what I wanted to gain from this except some kind of acknowledgement that I did not imagine it.
“I want to get her out of here.” I finally said weakly.
“You will, but you need help.” He seemed to implore. “Go get the device and then go get help! This is what I remember you doing. It worked out fine!”
I sighed. I reached down and ran a finger along the side of Ellen’s face. It felt warm and soft. I could not leave her here.
“Come on,” the voice pleaded. “The sooner we get the communicator, the sooner that we can get her some help.”
I looked again at her and then the image. I shook my head.
The image flickered out for a moment, and I took that as my cue to pickup Ellen. I lifted her from under her arms and pulled her up to me. Her smell warmed my nostrils. I shifted some and tilted her to the side a little and then scooped with one hand for her knees and only got one of them. I took two steps to regain my footing and nearly toppled us both over. In the back of my head somewhere the image from over the edge of the cliff emerged again before fading into oblivion. I tried another grab and had her now around the back and lifted with both knees. I had a comfortable grip but her body already started to weigh me down.
“You are going to need help. If you try to go down yourself, you are going to fall.” The voice and I presume the legless body because I did not bother to turn and look, had returned.
I continued to the edge where I came up.
“No!” The voice shouted right as my foot dislodged some scree and I went down hard on my ass.
Somehow I still held the girl in my arms.
Then we started to slide. I pulled her to me as tight as I could and tucked the top of her head under my chin as best as I could.
I lost track of what direction we were going besides down. At some point I hit my own head and just remember getting hit a lot after that. All the while I clutched the precious cargo to me and sheltered it as best as I could.
We stopped. My feet and head and switched places along the way and Ellen became a heavy weight on top of me. I slowly rolled a little to set her down. We moved slightly on the loose rock here, but not much. Somehow I knew we already made it to the bottom and most of the danger passed now.
I laid her gently beside me, looked her over. She did not appear to have any new injuries and still breathed regularly.
I passed out.
I don’t know how long unconsciousness gripped me. When I awoke, everything seemed the same as before except there I heard a voice calling my name, my own voice.
“Steve!” it persisted. “You need to get up!”
I listened to it and slowly pulled myself up. I ached all over but I felt relatively whole. I did not See any bleeding and fortunately had no broken bones. My head throbbed though with each movement.
“Get up! It is important to get moving!” I heard myself warn further, but I did not rush. Movement felt too painful.
“Listen, I remember it clearly. After you get up, you go after the device. When you get there, you meet someone and they come back to help you with Ellen.”
I shook the fatigue out of my head and instantly regretted it. I could hear my heartbeat loudly inside my head. I felt it even. Each beat pressed outward on my skull followed immediately of the sensation of sucking back in on the counter beat.
I made it to my hands and knees then pushed myself back into a kneeling position. Gravity pulled the excess blood from my skull and a sudden shock of pain pulsed even louder with my heartbeat before it started to fade.
“If you do not hurry though, the other guy is going to find it. I still remember us finding it though so there is still a chance! Let’s get going!”
I stood up and as the blood completely cleared the brain, the pain faded a little. My future me desperately pointed west.
I felt one foot step forward and then the next. It seemed as though I remembered walking before taking the steps. My feet just filled the destiny already set out.
“That’s it!” he called out.
I looked down at my feet beneath me, but did not see them there. I could not remember what my feet looked like at that instant and though I moved forward, I could not see my feet doing the work.
I stopped. I looked down and clearly saw my feet standing directly beneath me. I seemed to remember now that I stopped walking again, but I could not quite picture the memory. Seems I remembered the feet moving but could not see them move as I stood there and stared.
“We must go now! I am not sure if we can make it.” He pleaded. “We find it now just before meeting the other guy. If we delay, he will find it first!”
It was a he now, it was not me. It was not a future of myself, at least not any future I wished to be a part of. No one would just walk away from a helpless person in the middle of a desert.
“Go, we must go—“
I made a decision. As soon as I made the decision, I no longer heard the voice. I did not look to see if he still stood there. I turned around and went back for Ellen. Ignoring all pain, I gently picked her back up in the same position we had taken down the hill and started back towards the car.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered something about someone else being out here with me through this ordeal, helping me through it. But somehow I could not remember who it was. Even as I tried to remember it as I walked with my beautiful burden, I remembered less and less, as if it never happened.