Auld Acquaintances

1.

Matthieu Valois remembers the south of the country as an idyllic place, with the hint of serene solitude that accompanied the emerald of plains that shimmer in the sunlight, and the unreachable skies that expressed no other emotion save for happiness. The nature cradled cities, towns and villages before embracing the wide lake in the south.

He glances to the side and took in the dark shapes of trees, pointed and rounded, fifteen metres deep in the murky grey-green water. It spread to the horizon, drowning all that exists except for the ominously glowing Sun. The smothering clouds mocks with their pitying laughs. You live now but we are forever.

The scientists, the leaders, the religious and the rest of the world unanimously dubbed it “The Revelation”, rather appropriately named, for similar to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Revelation came in four flashes. Wars— no one’s fault in particular, but nonetheless wiped a few well-known names off maps—were the first, succeeded by pestilence, fire and earthquakes. Then, in the false solitude of the aftermath, the water came (fairly noisily) and masked all desolation. That was the fourth.

Matthieu likes to call it “The Apocalypse” or “The Calamity”. A lot more down-to-earth and straight to the point, he thinks.

 

2.

During the quieter periods of the fourth flash, Matthieu runs a ferry route for and in search of survivors along the former northern shoreline of Lake Ontario. The route isn’t solitary, but it’s lonely, with nothing but water and hope that diminishes like the glimmer of the Sun does. No, there is hope, for every once in awhile Matthieu picks up a soul, struggling to stay afloat above the Atlantean ghost towns. This is a warm comfort to himself and everyone else, because “We’re still alive and have outlasted cities.”, so he tells almost every person he met, with the optimistic and charismatic air pertaining to his youth.

On this day, Matthieu’s boat has barely made it past the halfway mark when a cry of pure ecstasy tears through the air.

“The Ark! The Ark is here! We are saved!”

One by one the weary passengers sluggishly lifts their heads up to observe, and are immediately possessed by a raw power of desperation and joy as they cry in the direction of the horizon:

“We’re here!”

“Help us!”

The ship’s headlights cut thin pencils that extended like threads in the night fog, weak and lonesome but unwavering. Matthieu is mesmerized at how silent such a large iron creature moved. Even though he has heard of how grand the Ark was from one of the survivors from Montreal, the enormity of the ship still stuns him; a fully enclosed disk the size of a city square advances straight toward them, parting water in its wake. Moment by moment, the Ark grows larger in size, until it is large enough to feel that this hope is tangible, and not a mirage.

The small boat burst into an explosion of emotions. A few in the back fall to their knees, thanking God for their salvation; friends and strangers alike embrace each other, shoulders convulsing in quiet sobs of gladness. More of the crowd simply burst out laughing, short, staccato sounds that slice through the air that carry a myriad of nameless sentiments only they know.

Matthieu grins like a child who had executed a major prank on the morning of Christmas which also happened to be his birthday. I’ve seen this scene at least a hundred times before—galleons, fishing boats, desolate frigates that just glimpsed the outline of the coast, heck, I think I remember seeing Christopher Columbus reacting the same way! Alright, Matthieu, you’re familiar with this, don’t—

He feels his right eye twitch involuntarily, and a drop of burning liquid hits his hand, warming a minuscule area that had been previously drenched to the bone.

 

3.

Matthieu is one of the first to be pulled onto the Ark. He couldn’t help but feel slightly misplaced as he and the rest of the survivors stand on the impeccable enclosed titanium deck, and the original passengers on the Ark, with their curious stares and whispers, do not make it any less awkward.  

The Deck reminds him of a train station. The anticipation is similar. The survivors from the tiny boat, much like travellers just off the train in a foreign town, strain on their tiptoes and searched through the semi-circle of the original passengers of the Ark. Hopes are again up, praying to find a recognisable face in the unfamiliar crowd.

Must be wonderful to see someone you know here, Matthieu thinks.

He had barely enough time to finish that thought before two people dart out of the crowd and tackle him from both front and back, squeezing him into a tight embrace.

“We knew we would find you. Even in this calamitous, messed-up world, we knew we’d find you, or you’d find us.”

And at that moment, had he not been tightly wedged in a constricting hug that forced the air out of his lungs, and still miserably drenched to the bone, he would run around the Ark like mad and proclaim himself the happiest person alive, before or after The Revelation.

 

4.

“We knew we’d find you. Or you’d find us.” Alexander Perry repeat his words.

“Yes, Alex, I am glad that the three of us reunited in the middle of this, thank you for your concern for me, and cheers to our everlasting friendship, but the only sentence you’ve been saying for the past four hours at five minute intervals was that, and I’m beginning to think The Revelation did something to your head. ” Matthieu, sprawled across the bed in his new cabin,  finally no longer shivering, digs up his long-forgotten sarcasm and hurls it at Alexander.

“Ouch.”

“I’m sorry, but of course we are going to find each other. We are not going to die, and provided that someone wasn’t buried under a pile of debris, reuniting was just a matter of time,” Matthieu replies.

“Hmm.” The other friend of his, Liliana Liu, squeezes in. “How is the situation?”

“Ottawa is dead, so is half of Toronto. Two-fifth of Ontario is under water. Lake Ontario has flooded most of the towns on the north shore. There were survivors in Kingston last time I checked. The towns to the east had survivor too, but the mean is seven people alive per town. But it can definitely be worse. So, Alex, where did you and Liliana get on?”

“The Ark picked Liliana up in Newfoundland. They found me in— was it Maine. Don’t ask me why I was there.”

The wars saved them from The Revelation. Originally meant as large-scale weapons and mobile naval bases, the Arks performed a miraculous transformation to saviours before they were able to execute their intended duties. This Ark is the fifth, the smallest one to be dispatched from NATO. Off the Mediterranean coast of what was France it voyaged to Libya, scouted Northern Africa and crossed the Atlantic to the now decimated East Coast of U.S., before taking a detour to Newfoundland then entering the interior of Canada via the St. Lawrence River, carrying 1, 200 on board.

“We are going to Russia!” Liliana declares. “Vladivostok, to be precise. They still have the radio signal up. Then we sail past Japan and to the West Coast of America.”

“I had a friend in Vladivostok.” Alexander mutters.

“Then tell us about him. Tell us about your friend, about everything that went down, and Matthieu, about your temporary job of being Charon of the Living. The Revelation made it harder to hear stories, even to find somebody to spill to.”

 

5.

Vladivostok echos of static. The searing kind that would frustrate you if you turn on your car radio when driving on a remote highway, or the kind that sends you into panic if it’s the only sound audible over a plane’s communications. But static is still different from silence.

The kind Ottawa or Washington has.

“Matthieu, we had a friend in Vladivostok. Anatoly Sokolov, don’t ever forget him.”

“Weren’t you the one who came up with the idea of never mentioning him and made me agree to it?” In Alexander’s cabin, Matthieu spins around his chair to face him. “Why? And why didn’t you tell Liliana?”

“I avoided telling Liliana about him, because we were his closest friends for long!” Alexander snaps, and then quickly turns around, the edge of his voice shattering to pieces. “I was never friends with some sort of statistic. I knew a name, with a face, a soul, and a being behind it. I’m determined to remember a person, not a number. We weren’t even there when he disappeared! At least we should’ve been!”

“We did have a friend here.” Matthieu stands up and declared in a contented tone. “His name was Anatoly Sokolov. He defended what he had learned to cherish, he had dreams that wrote messages that can’t be erased by death. He was an important friend in any case, far as I know.” Matthieu stares out the window and smiles with optimism. “One day we will see him. We never die.”

The first radio broadcast from Vladivostok comes around midnight, the ending message in faint syllables which had arrived faithfully every midnight since: “Vladivostok says good night. And may the time we see each other again, the Sun would never set on us, the sky would never fall. But until we meet again, the night stays, and good bye, my beautiful friend.”

He oversleeps on the day of rescue. When he wakes up, he could detect something faintly wrong.

“Mission unsuccessful. Only able to rescue 6 people on board, 15 of the crew killed in explosion.”

Matthieu buries his face in his hands.

That night the only thing he heard was silence.

 

Matthieu Valois barges in headfirst into the Radio Control Room on the Bridge. Cornered and terrified, he grabs the first radio operator he sees and spins her wildly around.

“Did you send me two messages from someone called Anatoly Sokolov?”

The radio operator regards him, petrified. “Yes…please calm down…”

“But Anatoly Sokolov is dead. I’ve seen it. “Matthieu musters all his composure to his voice.

He discovers the radio operator taken aback in mortification and shock.

“You’ve been sending messages for a dead person— You didn’t know? Then…what is happening?” Matthieu is now as horrified as the radio operator probably was, every inch of him frozen with disbelief. He can’t be…what kind of inopportune horror story is this.

“I know Anatoly. He was nice to me, and he gave me sugar cubes. I brought those messages from him. And I asked Miss Radio Operator nicely, and she said she would find someone to give those messages to you. It’s not Miss Radio Operator’s fault…”

The girl is around eight or nine, and she is plain in all ways. Nothing exceptional about her Asiatic features, nothing exceptional in her way of carrying herself. Matthieu realizes that if she was really picked up at Vladivostok, then out of all the survivors, she was the only one not with dark hair like calligraphy ink, instead shiny russet styled into two pigtails held by green ribbons. She has a loud and squeaky voice. Nothing conventionally adorable about her.

The Girl with Green Ribbons, propelled by the unsuspecting confidence common during childhood, watches Matthieu curiously as if he was a lovable monkey in the zoo.

“Well, that’s good for both you and Anatoly.” Matthieu crouches down to her eye level in his attempt to endear him to her. “Can you tell me how he gave you the messages? The messages are for me, so don’t worry.”

“Oh, they are here.” The Girl with Green Ribbons beams at him and digs up a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket. “He gave this to me…nine months ago? He looked like he was going somewhere far away, and asked me to ask the radio operator to deliver this message. See, I didn’t lose it at all! You can even have it if you want to.”

Matthieu gingerly smoothes the piece of paper, with uneasiness pressuring his mind. Anatoly Sokolov scratched his signature with a pencil at the bottom, and the only three numbered paragraphs he wrote was coarsely written in a large and slovenly font, drafted by someone who wasn’t an expert with the Roman alphabet.

The graphite words were smudged, like smoke obscuring the sloppy characters on paper. The first two Matthieu had read already. He hasn’t seen the third one.

The words aren’t easy to identify.

“Vladivostok says good night. And may the time we see each other again, the Sun would never set on us, the sky would never fall. But until we meet again, the night stays, and good bye, my beautiful friend.”

Matthieu quickly thanks the radio operator and the Girl with Green Ribbons, swept over by a blurry combination of sunny encouragement and grief, but smiling heartfelt on the outside.  He folds the wrinkled paper into a square and returns the Girl’s grin.

“Thank you.”

 

6.

“Do you want to hear a story?”

The Girl with Green Ribbon’s request startles Matthieu. Since the Radio Control Room, they’ve journeyed through the halls of the Ark in silence, and although she was a chipper, Matthieu doesn’t expect her to start talking.

“Sure, why not? Go ahead.”

The Girl is noticeably pleased with his approval. “Well, you see, once upon a time there were four friends that lived in the deep blue sea. One day a huge disaster hit the kingdom they lived in, and they were the last ones living in their kingdom. Three of them decided to stay in the ruins of their country, because, well, the country was the only home and everything they had known, even though it was cold and in ruins. The other friend had family living south, where they said it was a whole lot better. So the one friend moved south, but then he found out it wasn’t a nice place. They had warm waters, but everyone who lived there wasn’t too friendly to him. The friend eventually realized that this place wasn’t his land, and at the end, he said: ‘I’m going home.’”

“That’s an interesting story. What happened to the four friends?”

“I don’t know. It’s their story, I wouldn’t know. Actually I didn’t have time to think of an ending yet.”

“Well, it’s still a nice story.” Something suddenly pops into Matthieu’s head. “Which one of the friends are you? Are you the ones who stayed home, or the one who went on to search for a new place to live?”

“I don’t know,” she says plainly, “First, it’s their story, not mine, but I guess I want to be one of the friends who stayed at their home, since Vladivostok had so many nice things. But so many people stayed behind, like my grandmother and my cousin, it’d be too crowded if I stayed too. Plus, I don’t want to. I wish wherever I go, the people there’d be nice to me.”

“Thank you for your explanation.” Matthieu isn’t sure what to do so he returns the Girl’s smile—she sure had a lot of vivid facial expressions. “How did you come up with this story?”

“It just popped into my mind one day, so I’m not sure either. Also, you said Anatoly was dead.”

“I have a story too.” Matthieu tells the Girl. “It’s certainly not as good as yours, since in my story, no one lived under the sea or was there a disaster, but do you want to hear mine?”

“Okay.” That piques the Girl’s fascination. “I’m listening.”

“Alright then.” Matthieu starts. “There are people in the world who live for one century with little aging, then after the century, they die and are immediately reborn again into his/her age in the previous cycle, with all of his or her memories ad experiences. They would even look similar to what they looked like hundreds of years ago. The cycle normally repeats without exceptions, meaning that they are practically immortal. They’ve existed for hundreds or even thousands of years, so they might have seen things or lived through events you find in your textbooks. Do you know Dr. Who? They are slightly like them. Except for they aren’t aliens and aren’t able to travel through time. I call them Everlasting. Like your story, my story has four friends too, and they are all Everlasting. They are trying to find their way in an unfamiliar world. That is the entire story I have, sorry for that.”

“So I don’t get to know what will happen to them after?”

“Not while I have no idea about it. Then again, you don’t know the ending to your story either. And well…can I tell you a secret?”

“Your secret is safe with me.”

“I came up with this story because I’m one of the Everlasting. So are two of my friends. One of their names is on the paper! We live in periods of centuries, and we never truly die. So is Anatoly. He is still alive, I’m sure of it, somewhere far, far away, but one day I’ll find him. ”

“Thanks, it’s a nice secret. It’s safe with me.” The Girl nods boldly. “So he didn’t die?”

“No. He doesn’t die. We never truly die, remember? Anatoly is buried under the layers of ice and snow and water, sleeping like a seed would in winter. In the spring he will probably sprout and become a daisy. Maybe he’ll have his own special kind of Anatoly-flower. Both ways, he will return for sure, and we are going to have a handful of him again.”

 

7.

The spirit is perceivably broken.

The Ark is engulfed in a dense gloom of bleakness. Despair is unidentifiable at first, alone in the cabin, but as soon as you open the doors even a crack, the heaviness, seeping into walls and rooms and heads, overwhelms you head first like tides or soul-sucking monsters, leaving you confused and shivering. Vladivostok announced the desolation of Eastern Russia, and Matthieu needs not to check to know a crew member is on the Deck to slash another name off the world map with a red marker.

“This is the worst part of an apocalypse.” Matthieu hears Alexander Perry venting his frustration one morning. “The living acts though they are dead, and I bet if I screech loudly on the Deck I wouldn’t raise too many heads, which sucks. Since when did everyone turn into zombies? No, not even zombies. At least zombies march forward to eat brains, lest they loiter around.”

Matthieu and Alexander (especially him) are overjoyed when Liliana carried the news of a New Year’s Eve celebration on the Deck, December 31st.

“For the first time in forever, I’ll talk to someone else other than you guys, how awesome is that?” Alexander beams, dodging both attacks from Liliana and Matthieu.

 

The celebration starts early at 5:30 p.m. There isn’t much time to waste when tomorrow could bring devastation.

December 31st has the usual morose of today, tomorrow, and yesterday. Winter on the North Pacific is no longer excruciatingly cold after the fire of the third flash. The glass dome recedes, leaving the Deck in open air. Light rain drizzles through the opening, instead of downpours that came with pressuring clouds. The ocean is its normal self of before the devastation, still and merely a stretch of water. By The Revelation’s standards, it is a nice day.

The passengers stand in impassive ranks, desperation condensing like water. Matthieu realizes more half of the ship was missing.

This thoroughly dismays Alexander.

“I didn’t come here to suffer through a major awkward silence.”

“Please, someone, say something…”

And a hushed, barely audible voice travels through the soundlessness and flows into a line: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind…”

Matthieu will never find out who sang the first words. In the gigantic crowd he never has a chance to. At the back of the mind he suspects it was the Girl with Green Ribbons, but he is under no circumstances sure.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne.”

“For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,”

Several of the crowd join in.

“We’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet, for days of auld lang syne.”

“We twa hae run about the braes, and put the gowans fine, but we’ve wandered many a weary fit, since days of auld lang syne.”

If the individuals who had joined in at first did it out of their hopelessness and sorrow, the voices that just came in support the words and are impressed by the singer’s tenacity. The myriad of voices started out as a mournful lament, but joined in by more voices the tune is touched by a hint of celebration. Not yet the wild, ecstatic air the song had in New York or other major cities on the same day, but the joy is discernable.

Alexander joined in at the third line of the song. He isn’t a terribly good singer, and he doesn’t mask the fact at all. Liliana started one line after, humming the song at a high register. Matthieu came in at the second line. Similar to Alexander he isn’t much of a vocalist, and he has forgotten half of the lines to Auld Lang Syne, he tries to sing it as loud as he could, grinning at the two of his friends.

He realizes curiously that he laughs very often, especially being in the middle of The Revelation.

“And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere, and gie’s a hand o’thine!”

The voices are now a roar. Although not many knew the full words to the song, many hum along with positive cheerfulness, while others sing it in their native tongues. The sky descends into darkness, and they sing to the sky and to the sea, with the only spark of light behind them.

Then, amidst the synchronized voices, Matthieu notices a little girl next to the railings, roughly the Girl with Green Ribbon’s age, unscrewing the lid of a glass jar and dropping its contents—hundreds of folded paper stars—into the ocean.

“They’re pretty.” Liliana nudges him. “From a friend, maybe?”

A taller girl beside her searches through her pocket, and drops a small prism into the ocean.

The box sinks as it reaches the pale beams emitted from the search lights. The light illuminates and sparkles on the last of the paper stars, before the sea drenches them.

And suddenly the water, like a stand at a garage sale, is littered with items. Some of them fully engulfed in the lights, some carried by the turbulence, held by the night. Each one a severe monument to a being, cherished by a reminiscing family or a nostalgic friend.

Matthieu doesn’t know that so many people brought the past on themselves, like each one’s share on the weight of the sky. It strikes him that they have all they had of their lives before The Revelation in their pockets, close to themselves and always easily found. He had thought that he would have shiploads of items to dump, from everything he has seen and every time he has lived and all he has bitterly regretted, but at that moment he finds nothing in his pocket.

Alexander has the paper with the messages.

Matthieu figures it’d be overboard by now. Or not, he can’t be sure.

The voices are thundering as the song comes to the final stanza, while the items drift to their rendezvous. The last object visible to him is a flag of some country, Matthieu assumed Austria or Canada (“Who has a flag on their person?”).

Later Matthieu would see this as an astonishing or even ridiculous affair. The passengers aboard a ship during the end of the world rallied by the lyrics to an overused New Year’s Eve song, learned to deal with memories of whatever they once had, and performed a heart-touching ceremony? That would’ve sounded funny if I wasn’t there to see it.

But The Revelation has its exceptions, and that night, in the loneliness of the North Pacific, the last survivors of The Revelation bury the last of their old worlds.

 

The despair is lifted when the song ended. For the first time in months, the interior of the Ark isn’t ominously quiet. From gloomy silence to chatters, singing, and dancing, the transformation is astounding. At last there is a hint of celebration befitting to New Year’s Eve.

Matthieu eventually reunites with Liliana and Alexander after taking a trip to the donut table (could you believe that, they have food?). Some of the crew are having a karaoke session over the Intercom, and Matthieu finds Alex and Liliana in a duet of their own, amidst other a capellas.

“…set my compass north, I’ve got winter in my blood!”

“Acadian driftwood, Gypsy tailwind,”

“They call my home, the land of snow…” Matthieu unapologetically stole the line from Liliana.

“Canadian cold front, moving in…” Alexander and Liliana clash.

“What a way to ride, oh, what a way to go!”

Matthieu “graciously” takes over singing the French lyrics for Liliana after almost dying from laughter from watching her attempts. “Sais tu, l’Acadie, j’ai mal du pays…”

“Ta neige, l’Acadie, fait des larmes au soleil…” Alexander doubles over with his hand on his mouth. “Liliana, you had God knows how many years to take French, and you never did?”

Liliana is too gleeful to punch the both of them.

Midnight approaches in a sea of cheering. Matthieu unconsciously hums Auld Lang Syne again in a fit of nostalgia, happily pondering over what came with this song. To have a happy future you must give up your past? He contemplates. Soon his train-of-thought is submerged in the overjoyed crowd.

Happiness is tangible.

The captain stands stiffly in the middle of the doorway, behind the mass.

“Passengers, we are the last Ark left.”

A few people spin sharply to face him.

He slumps against the wall in helplessness.

 

8.

No one ever found out how the fourth Ark disappeared.

According to the captain, it simply disappeared off the radar without any warnings or signals, uncannily similar to the Malaysian airplane a few years ago. It could still be intact and floating, but it was as good as dead. The first three Arks were destroyed either by oceanic disturbances, or lucklessly obliterated by a well-preserved warhead floating around. In any case, less than 1,200 were all the human race has left—not even a notable fraction of the original billions.

In the dead silence which no one even commented about, the Plague that came during the second flash with pestilence crept back and set the whole ship in terror. Suddenly no one knew what to do anymore. In the second flash the Plague was as contagious as the influenza and it’s able to take a man’s life in under nine hours after the incubation period, you see. A person is able of performing acts of atrocity or tragedy facing the Unknown. I knew that fact a long time ago, but it certainly wasn’t pleasing to see the piece of information attesting itself in front of my eyes again.

The first symptom of the Plague, after or even during its days of incubation, was psychological complications. This turned the Medical crew and all passengers into the Gestapo. One wrong word and someone will pop out from the shadows (breaking the ship-wide quarantine) and take you to “treatment”, cooing next to your ear that you are not going to die and everything will be alright. It happened to both passengers and crew members, even one of the high commands.

Alexander Perry was caught during one of his “psychotic” rants to the wall (funny, people had seen him do that at least seven times before–and that’s a conservative estimation–and no one complained a thing). Of course, I never saw him again.

When she was taken away, Liliana Liu had enough of their cooing and gave three nurses and a doctor straight falcon punches to the face. The act didn’t help her cause at all, but in a different circumstance I would’ve cheered her on.

I didn’t go with them or even wave them goodbye; instead, I hid cowardly behind doors and walls, acquiesced to my quarantine as a bystander. I knew both of their plights were inevitable—I’ve seen resistance and it did not end well—but to me that wasn’t an excuse to preserve myself selfishly. Plus, if the world is going to end this way, then why am I doing this?

Really, I had a chance to make it up to them both, and then I gave that up.

That is my most grievous fault.

What was sardonic was at the end, the Medical Quarter found out the “deadly” disease they’ve been locking up people for was—well, it wasn’t the Plague. It was only an outbreak of a respiratory disease that was supposedly unlikely to cause fatalities. A mere scratch compared to the Plague. But near the end, even if I knew it as clear as a mirror that there was nothing wrong, that their taking away was a mistake, I wasn’t sure of it. Fear knew each one of our names so well, that it got familiar and seeped into us, churning into acedia and desperation.

I scoured every inch of the Ark I knew, turned it upside down. I found no signs of the taken-away passengers. There were six hundred of them, they couldn’t evaporate off the Ark, and the ship couldn’t conceal them all. I went on this mission for the sake of Alex and Liliana; I found no trace of them either. If they can’t die, then WHERE ARE THEY? WHERE ARE THE REST WHO WERE TAKEN AWAY?

What happened? I don’t know, but I think I have a general idea. During the Black Death the extra sick were sent out to the wilderness, and during the Spanish Influenza people were sent to remote villages to be quarantined. We had the wide, wide, sea below us. Having said so I’m still looking for a hidden department in the Ark I’ve never set foot in before.

The Medical Quarter discovered their mistake in middle of March, by then one-half of the ship was gone. Ridiculously, the real Plague appeared, and it was astonishingly right this time.

There was a large paper pad on the Deck, and every time someone passed, another person would write the person’s name on the paper, with the absolute red marker they used to slash names off the map. Near the end, I took the passenger records and checked to ensure almost every name was on there. Alexander’s and Liliana’s.

When there were only six people aboard the ship, the captain anchored the Ark off the west coast of North America. It was the first week of April. Days later, I wrote every one of their names in red ink, even the valiant captain’s who resolved to never cease to fight.

You’d think this would never happen to this world, an affair that was entirely coined together by ludicrous coincidences, but it was all kismet, I believe. Or it’s the order of things.

So at the end, I, Matthieu Valois, am the only one left. Now, tell me, if I’m the final one here to commemorate everything we’ve lived and loved of humanity and of time immemorial, will they ever heave a sigh or a wish for me?

Guess I should’ve seen it coming six hundred years ago.

 

9.

The cold waves of North Pacific crashes with a vengeance against the resolute front of the boulders that shielded the tree line from the ocean.

Matthieu is clueless of his whereabouts. Down from the islands of British Columbia to the frontiers of Oregon the scenery repeat itself every few kilometres. Although the saltwater seeps down to his bones from his swim from the anchored Ark, at fifteen above zero with no wind hypothermia isn’t exactly a threat. It is never a threat in any case—however his mind refutes itself before he could finish the thought.

Will I still exist forever if the world ends?

Matthieu was never one to brood over his destiny. He had no need to think of any of that before, however it is now gnawing on his mind, comparable to anomalously large rats that spread raw fear as normal ones would spread diseases.

If I am still here, then where are Alexander, Anatoly, and Liliana? If they are dead—it’s just isn’t possible—then am I susceptible to sickness and death? What is the purpose to us? If there is a purpose, what? If there isn’t, why are we here? Are there implications to our existences? What would become of me? To be in everlasting silence in the dark or to face the beyond, both plights are equally terrifying! If energy cannot be created or destroyed, does that apply to me? To this world?

Matthieu darts up, turning around in staggering motions to face the dim forest, caught off guard by some unseen spectre, until all the thoughts converge into a single harsh pounding on a piano:

I’m irrevocably, the last of my kind.

That idea throws him into a sedated, albeit hopeless, silence.

Matthieu gazes at the sea, the very same body of water months ago the passengers of the Ark had bid farewell to their past on. The weather is even akin, tame water with overcast skies. During the muteness after New Year’s, he had time to contemplate the nostalgic tune over and over. So many of us had our auld acquaintances, he noticed, old friends, comrades, allies and attachments of us that stood watch over us behind our backs, like stars—you couldn’t see them sometimes, nonetheless they’re always there. The prospect of a brand new story uninfluenced by the past is tempting, but I’d rather not forget: I have at least ten regiments of familiar shadows behind me; but this world is my auld acquaintance!

He decides. Well, I’ll write their names down, I’ll write down what I remember.

Matthieu scrawls with a stick on the narrow strip of sand like a child would, his back to the ocean. Alexander Perry, Liliana Liu, he takes his time to separate names with commas, Anatoly Sokolov, the Girl with Green Ribbons, the Ark, Vladivostok, North Pacific, Auld Lang Syne…

The tides crashes and erases the names into the sea. Matthieu continues writing on the beach: Toronto, Kingston, Lake Ontario and radio signals, even The Revelation and the Plague with its psychological symptoms…

The tides grow higher and shove Matthieu underwater. When he reemerges, he sees the dusk fog settling on the coast in weary, incorporeal blue-grey mists. However, the Sun—Matthieu discovers with much surprise and exuberance—has burned its way through the sombre sky, turning the western clouds into brilliant conflagrations. The world is dead set on not to end with a whimper.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne…” “J’arrive, l’Acadie…J’arrive, l’Acadie…”

The tides this time hurls Matthieu mercilessly onto the rugged boulders. The eerie fog, like the high, timeworn wails of a bagpipe ports the night with it, and Matthieu’s eyes, red with saltwater, suddenly strains to search for the sleep-covered lights scattered like stars, clear night air mixed with the vague smell of burning firewood holding his every sense into an embrace.

And he thinks of the Girl with Green Ribbons’ story, the friends’ fates bitterly close to theirs, and the ending she never constructed.

Matthieu Valois writes with his finger in the familiar fog.

Set my compass east, I’m going

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