Author : Thomas Desrochers
A little girl runs down the street in her bare feet, her vivid orange skirt prancing through the air behind her all the way. She is young, barely six, and more full of life because of it. She loves the flowers in her mama’s garden, the cookies that old miss Dunham gives her every day at the bakery (When her mama isn’t looking, of course), and the way her papa reads her stories at night about cats and rats and mischievous little boys and girls. Never in all of her 8354 lives will she forget the way he tucks her in, kisses her on the forehead, and says, “I love you.”
The young girl never really knew what computers were. They were before her time. They were before everybody’s time. Back when she was a girl people didn’t have computers. They had cars, planes, trains, and wars. No computers. The planet had a computer, of course, but people didn’t.
The girl stops suddenly, her messy brown hair swinging all about her. There is a caterpillar on the ground in front of her, green and fuzzy and, to the girl, cute. She kneels in front of it, peers at it, coerces it onto a leaf and names it. As the sun shines through the old oak trees on either side of the road she babbles to her new friend about anything that seems important. There’s the cat at home, always up to something, and of course there’s Pierre down the street who’s always teasing her. Boys and girls being what they are the little girl hasn’t ever figured out that Pierre likes her despite the thousands of times she has experienced it.
Below her, beneath the planet’s upper strata, lies a machine. If men had ever lived long enough to discover it they would have been fascinated with it, and not without due cause. The machine is massive, a rough sphere almost a mile in diameter, and lives off the heat of the molten planet around it. It knew the histories of men, had recorded the lives of all creatures, from every maggot to every great whale. The movement of every piece of matter had been duly observed and saved.
The girl, absorbed in the intricacies of pretending to have a life with a caterpillar, finally breaks away from her play. She looks around her, puzzled. The street has gone quiet. Where are the songs of birds, the static of wind through leaves, the endless buzzing of toiling bees? A shadow falls across her face, and she looks up. The world disappears.
A singularly spectacular cataclysm has occurred 8354 times in the planet’s past, though it was only felt by the machine once. It retained its shape, but inside was broken. Its vast communication arrays went dark, unable to transmit its plight. After some time its data banks filled up, unable to offload old data. The vast projection arrays it held activated. Designed and intended for in-depth examination of a civilization should it be lost, the devices became the projectors of the ghost of man.
Were there still an atmosphere on the planet then cold winds would be scouring the bare rock where a little girl had once stood. Instead the granite and dust lay undisturbed under the blanket of black skies and stars above. Then, suddenly, miraculously, there is life. The world is sent down the same path again, and after several millions of years the girl’s footsteps will again haunt the gray face of the planet like the specter of lost love seeking closure that was never there.
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