Madison curled her toes as brave autonomous flames tested their freedom outside of the fire pit and sent their tendrils rollicking in her direction. She took in the potent smells of the hardwood and dried dung with olfactory aplomb, turning her head to follow a wisp of the smoky perfume. It was a learned aesthetic preference. In the world where her childhood had lived such smells were merely historical footnotes. Now that world was gone and the habits of the world before it had come full circle. A bat swooped down to snatch up a moth that had revealed itself in the fire’s trembling light, and drew her attention upwards. Although she had developed a pleasure in things like the scent of burning excrement, the sky was a book of revelations she could never quite get used to. Ever since the OMG, reality itself had changed, and no place was that more evident than when she gazed upon the two moons above her.
“Your brother should be here soon, Maddy. I am going to fill the kettle and grab an extra cup. Would you like anything while I am beneath?” asked Jayden, the woman’s husband of nearly sixty years.
“…ICE COLD,” he cajoled along with her. It was a very old joke between them. It had been even longer than they had been married since anyone had drank an ice cold Popsi. The memory of sugary things always excited an almost primal urge in them, but over the years they had learned to appreciate even that urge. Anything that mutually connected them to the old world was welcomed, as it was the only remaining evidence left that they had not gone absolutely insane.
“B-R-B,” he said, again summoning a past that had become even less than the threadbare memory that preserved it; and shuffled down into the tunnels whistling an extinct melody.
The OMG had blanketed the skies with ash for fourteen years after. During the first six months the skies were almost completely black and the world beneath them either died away or plummeted back down the ladder of human history. When the first noticeable light began making its way through the post-apocalyptic smog, the sun was entirely unvisible as an object. Its rays stretched out into the ash and clouds and the focus of its fiery beams dissipated over the facing hemisphere and beyond. Refraction, or something like that, the last surviving scientists had said. While the moon still was still noticeable as a celestial object, it no longer held all its singular glory as a glowing orb in the sky. Some other trick of light and matter had caused the moons beams to split as they passed through the suffocating atmosphere, which created the perceptual effect of dual moons. The old priests, the scientists, had tried to explain the effect. As years passed, those who had been frightened right out of their old belief systems, as well as the new generations, began to believe that there actually were two moons. In fact it was the birth of this new moon, they believed, that caused the OMG in the first place.
Despite the protest of surviving academics, experts and authorities; the belief in the two moon theory became widespread. And so fourteen years after the entire thing began, as the ashen curtains began to part, two beautiful moons sat defyingly obvious in the gloriously deep, open skies. Absolute faith in the methods, models and myths of the pre-OMG world were abandoned and the oldest human truths began to replace them. Beliefs are not based upon reality, as the world of their childhood had imagined, but precisely the opposite.
“Don’t even try to sneak up on me, Connor. You have the grace of a wooden bull and are likely just to hurt yourself again,” Maddie called out at a slight rumbling in the near-distant darkness.
“Hush it, sis. These are the creaks of an old man, not the squeaks of one who sneaks,” Connor rhymed in his equally charming and infuriating way. Slowly, achingly, he ambled up next to her and took a seat. “Where is Jayden?”
“Fetching refreshments. He will be back shortly,” she answered. “Lovely night. Thanks for coming over.”
The two of them sat in silence waiting for Jayden. The three of them together represented nearly half of the surviving humans from before OMG. So far as they knew, from the small portion of the world they had contact with, at least. That is why they had gathered on this night. To prepare their final report to the council of elders. It would be the last time they would meet and their final edicts would breathe one last breath into a world that they were too old to recognize or shape any further.
Little sparks were pushed by the smoke up to the tops of the trees only to disintegrate into the night sky. Like man, they had been born of a great fire that reached with all of its might for the heavens, only to come floating back down as ash. Someday that ash would mix with the earth to create fuel and a new fire. Such was the cycle of things, growing and collapsing, gasping for new heights in which to set new fires, and then falling yet again. Where the ego of man saw this unending cycle in the terms of successes and failures, the world recognized the process as rebirth and renewal. A chance to begin afresh and become something entirely new. Individual humans measured this as a failure or loss but the great mass of human consciousness renewed itself through these events like the rising and falling of waters in the fountain of eternity.
Jayden returned to the fire with a great rumbling of laughter, “If you two aren’t the most serene geezers the world has ever seen…” he trailed off back into a fit of coughing and laughter.
“Grab me a Popsi while you’re up.” Connor joked. The three of them were a trifecta of anachronism and they reveled in that mutual difference even more as their days grew shorter.
The three of them sat around sipping a tea made with herbs, roots and bark. It was no Popsi, but it was still a special treat in this world of diminished resources and practical rationing. They caught up on personal and family news and gossip and occasionally drifted off into bouts of silent fellowship. The spring sky was full of insects and the flying mammals who ate them. While most species of birds had not survived OMG, and those that had crept cautiously through the shadows of the food chain, bats had fared quite well in the new landscape. Their whirling dives and aeronautic playfulness were endlessly fascinating. As they wove dizzying paths around one another they flew through the dual beams of the twin moons, like some fantasy story from the old world, or a science fiction Halloween decoration.
“Yesterday Viv got back from Melvinville. She says the journey took them only two days. When we first came here it took a full four days of steady travel. As the years have gone by that number has halved. I don’t see any other explanation. The world is shrinking.” Maddy stated her opinion confidently and waited for an argument to counter her suspicion, but none came. The two old men made barely perceptible nods of agreement.
“What the council wants cannot be done. It is a fools errand. When even the world shrinks to fit the beliefs of those living in it, no edict from old farts like us is gonna mean anything to anyone,” Jayden lamented quizzically.
“You are right, you are both right. We are all too wrong to be right anymore. We are obsolete. Museum pieces. The younger people have humored us long enough.” chimed Connor.
“So we won’t go?” asked Maddy.
Her toes curled again at another escape of flames in her direction. She drank in its warmth and smells. Life was good. Even when it wasn’t. The acrid aroma of the fires fuel sent her spinning back into herself. The night was music. The bass sounds of frogs and the groaning of dying and growing trees mixed with the high pitch sounds of insects filled the nights natural auditorium. In the harmonic center a cacophony of other living instruments filled the aural spaces. The music was alive under the twin conductors of Earths two moons.
Carson sat alone at the great table that once seated many of the greatest survivors of OMG. The five remaining seats around him stood empty. The final meeting was a bust. He didn’t blame them. He wouldn’t of come either, if he didn’t live here. For some unknown reason he pulled his tired old body up onto the great wooden table and lay on his back. Looking up into the clear blue sky he relaxed for the first time in over sixty years. It felt good. Life was good. Even when it wasn’t.