A Handful of Memories
by Oscar Deadwood
forum: A Handful of Memories
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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A Handful of Memories


       It is a collection of quiet souls that stand in the orange desert beneath a hazy purple sky, a hazy sky streaked with yellowed clouds, as if the world upon which they stand is exhaling the smoke of a million cigarettes.

       Most of the couples are either joined at the hand or locked in some tender embrace, and Billy reaches out towards Megan, reaches out with an unsure hand as he fumbles for hers.

       She shakes his hand away and stands with arms folded across her chest, staring at the purple sky, waiting for the black ship to find its way through the yellow and swirling haze.

       Billy sighs; he sighs and stands as close to Megan as he can.

       She inches away.

       "We should have taken her with us," Megan says, angrier than sad, as she is not quite ready for tears.

       It hasn't hit her yet; the grief is too far away, the memories are present but the grief is traveling from Earth, the grief has been travelling from Earth for months now and she can't cry, she can't cry until she can see the grief.

       She can't cry until she can touch the grief with her hands.

       Billy tries not to roll his eyes; he tries not to roll his eyes as he silently exhales a frustrated sigh.

       "Babe, listen, I'm sorry about what happened, really, I am, I wish we could have been there, but babe, listen, I mean, she wouldn't have liked it here. We've discussed this…"

       "But she was all alone, I mean, she didn't have anyone…"

       "Your brother's still in Seattle and that's close enough to Michigan, that should've been close enough in case something happened and we couldn't bring her here, you know that, I mean, come on… Do you think your mother could hack the colonial life? Do you think she would like stale tea and re-hydrated spaghetti?"

       "No, but at least she wouldn't have been alone…"

       "And do you think she would like waking up to a purple sun every day?"

       "I don't like the purple sun…"

       "Doesn't matter, you and I are getting paid to bask in the purple sun, but your mother, she would have been like a prisoner here, so come on, babe…" and again he reaches for her hand and she takes it this time but holds it limply, as if it was something to be reviled.

       The sound of thunder and exhaust cuts across the purple sky and the colonists move and whisper in anticipation.

       The black ship engages its downward thrusters as it loudly floats to the orange and rubble strewn surface and Billy and Megan use augmented eyes to strain to see the name etched into the hull of the riveted ship, even though the ship is still miles away.

       Memory. The ship is named Memory

       And the ship floats down on the far side of the horizon, just beyond the curve of the orange terrain of this planet mined for something akin to platinum.

       Billy and Megan move with the solemn crowd, they float across the purple sky in a gravity-reduced leap and dance lightly on the orange ground to the now silent and black ship.

       The lone occupant of the ship, a man wearing an ancient and simple black suit with a white shirt and silver tie floats out of a portal on the top of the ship.

       He lands softly and silent on the bare ground, he lands softly and consults a screen he keeps in the palm of his hand.

       "Hello," the man in black says. "Those of us at Hegelson Funerals Inc. thank you for your request and we are glad to help you end what was sure to be a horrible chapter in your life. We feel it is right and proper for those brave enough to be colonists to be able to mourn the same as those of us back on Earth.

       "So, when I call your name, please come forward with your TerraBank account information and we will proceed."

       The undertaker reads a list of thirty names and all the couples or individuals attached to the names are present. The undertaker collects thirty electronic checks, each check about the same amount as a month's worth of wages for a colonist, but a price the colonists are glad and willing to pay.

       Besides, funerals on Earth, real funerals, cost even more.

       The undertaker opens the door on the bottom of the black and oblong ship, a ship that tries to imitate an ancient hearse but falls far short as the demands of space have no use or need for anything ancient or awkward.

       A long and shallow silver crate floats out of the ship and lands without a thud on the surface of the colony and the undertaker opens the crate with the pressing of a series of buttons on the crate's lid.

       "Now, you must understand, that it is impossible to take the whole body into space, that would be too expensive, so instead we bring to you the most important part of the dearly departed, the part that you remember, the part that will allow you to grieve. When I call your name, again, please come forward and may you grieve fully and finally."

       Billy and Megan are called first and Megan walks ahead of Billy towards the shadow of the black ship where the undertaker stands with the open crate.

       "Your mother, I assume," he says to Megan with a smile and Megan hasn't seen someone with as many lines in their face as the undertaker has, the wrinkles and lines remind her of her mother and she can feel the start of painful tears.

       "Yes, yes, it is, I mean it was," Megan says and she can sense the grief coming, she can sense the grief travelling across the blackness and stars that is the space between Earth and the colony.

       "She will always be your mother, my precious child," and the undertaker removes a small and scaled-down coffin from the inside of the crate, a coffin just larger than the palm of his hand.

       "Now the rest of her," and he consults the screen in his other hand, "is spread across her garden in Michigan, but this, what's inside this coffin, is yours to keep. It is the most important part. Go in peace."

       And Megan holds the miniature coffin and she and Billy dance across the surface of the colony, back to their neighborhood of silver domes, silver domes that lie in the shadow of towering drills and excavation devices that stand majestically at the rim of the mine.

       They duck inside their dome and sit in their living room of matching and simple furniture. Megan sits on the couch and Billy sits next to her, as close as he can without touching her.

       Megan scoots away and her eyes start to water and her hands tremble as she opens the lid of the tiny mahogany coffin.

       "Do you know what's inside?" Billy asks just as Megan lets out a rush of tears punctuated with a wail.

       She drops the now open coffin with a scream and the contents of the coffin spill out on the floor and Billy sees a small object roll across the thin carpet of their dome.

       Billy stands and reaches for the small object and holds it in his hand.

       It is the shrunken head of his wife's late and departed mother. The eyes are closed and the skin is smooth and the face seems to glow in his hand. The pulsing face radiates memories across his mind.

       Megan, crying and softly wailing, takes the head away from Billy and cleaves it to her breast.


copyright 2006 Oscar Deadwood.

Oscar Deadwood lives in Royal Oak, Michigan. His novel The Perfect Revolution will be published this spring by Silverthought Press.