A long time ago, in a time long forgotten, there was such thing as a monarchy. Each country was ruled by its own king and queen, they made rules, settled disputes and, in general, made sure that everyone knew who they were and what they could and couldn’t do and what their place in the world was. The king and queen would have a child who would take their place as ruler and this would go on and on until the rulers were overcome in battle, in which case a new king would be appointed and the pattern would continue.
Eventually the people in each country would realize that it wasn’t fair for the king to be selected by birth right, he should be selected by how well he would lead his country. Thus arose the democracy. Each country would reach this point at a different time, but once the people of a whole country set their minds to something, it is very difficult to stop them. So the people were then able to help select their own leader, but there was still a small group of people who ran the elections. The people of the country were not able to choose their options, just to vote for the best candidate given them.
The people then decided that they wanted to be able to choose their king for themselves. Of course, the democratic way of life fell apart. If every person decides that they want to choose their own leader and there is no way to condense the options, then everyone chooses one another and there is never a majority vote. This same scenario happened again and again as each country came around to the same way of thinking.
Humans though, prideful creatures that they are, would not admit their mistake. They had worked so hard to get to this point and they were going to make it work. But of course, with no one to make rules and settle disputes and make sure that everyone knows who they are and what they can and can’t do and what their place in the world is, people will have no order, there will be chaos. And so chaos there was. People would rape and pillage and simply do anything they pleased because there were no rules, no consequences. All that was left of the monarchy and the democracy were stories. Passed on through generations, told again and again until they were warped and distorted, more legend than truth.
It was during this frightful time, during the anarchy, that our story begins.
There was a girl, a young woman in fact, who was hiding. She had no illusions, no false reality, she knew where she was and what had become of the world. She had been born in this time, taught of the dangers as soon as she could understand, taught to hide as soon as she could walk, taught to lie as soon as she could talk because if she didn’t learn quickly she would surly die as soon as her parents did, she wouldn’t be able to survive. Parents can only protect you for so long, she was a girl, automatically in more danger than if she were a boy and she had no older brother to protect her. No surviving family at all. She kept her skin dirty, her hair short and her clothes old and used but not falling apart. This was her best chance at staying unnoticed. She looked like a boy, a boy who was poor, poor but not homeless. The longer she stayed unnoticed the longer she would survive and that was the only thing to work towards in this life, survival. Survive long enough to bear a child was a woman’s only goal in this world, but she couldn’t imagine finding a man she could trust enough for that.
She remembered her parents whispering the words, “Corina Lowell” to her when she was a babe, she knew this as her name and no one else did, her parents were dead, they were the only other people who knew what she was called. She kept her name hidden, deeper than she kept her body hidden, her name was the only thing she had, the only thing that couldn’t be taken from her, the only thing in this world that was good. The only good thing and yet never free, nothing ever had freedom. Almost no one asked her name, she had gotten very good at remaining inconspicuous, but those who did ask knew her as Cor.
Cor lived in the attic of an abandoned house. The people who lived there supposedly having moved somewhere safer. The attic was not meant to be accessed, the only way in was through the hole made by a fallen rafter on the second floor. No one ever came into the house, anything valuable either packed away by the previous owners or stolen afterward. There was no reason to be in this place, which is the very thing that made it a good place to be. If there was no reason to be there then no one would ever come in and, if they did, they wouldn’t expect to find anything. And humans, on the whole, don’t find the things they don’t expect to find, one of their worst faults being: no one looks up.
The house she lived in was on the outskirts of town, not so far out that it was alone, an obvious hiding spot, but far enough out of the city center that it was not a target. It was located in a small, once-cozy neighborhood a few blocks in from the edge of the city. The house was cheaply built, the outside walls made of cinder blocks that were cemented into place. The outside had been painted brick-red, once upon a time, but now the colour was faded and peeling. The window sills that were once covered in pansies and violets had come to hold only empty dirt. It was small and probably used to be a comfortable place, filled with family and food and laughter. Now it was dilapidated, broken and dead, all the joy and love that were here so long ago, sunken into the soil.
These were all carefully measured reasons for staying here, nothing she did was by accident, never did she act on a whim because the consequences of doing so were never going to be worth whatever small pleasure she got out if it.
There were three types of people in this world, those who fought for what they wanted, those who picked up what they could afterwards and those who pretended that there was still some sense of order and honour in this world. The Killers, the Scavengers and the Pretenders. Life on this Earth needed all three classes in order to survive. The Pretenders kept stores open, they kept hospitals running, they kept money moving between people and into cash registers. The Killers kept things real, they kept everyone on guard, gave everyone else a reason to pick what class of people they belong to, provided a distraction for the Scavengers. The Scavengers stole and collected, they were usually quieter and stealthier, though sometimes one would disguise as a person from a different class to get an edge. Cor was of the Scavenger class. She would walk down streets, pulling things out of garbage piles, stealing things out of stores. One of the most useful things her mother ever taught her was this, “Hold your head high, be confident, look like you know what you’re doing, even when you have no clue. Act like you belong and no one will question you.” And Cor used this piece of advice every day, it’s how she lasted as long as she did.
Anything that was still left in the house when Cor got to it was almost worthless. She looked at it all, she sifted through it for anything useful that had been overlooked but she left the place looking like it was abandoned. There was still running water and plumbing and electricity. Thank goodness for the Pretenders, they were the ones who kept the electricity and garbage and sewage systems up and running. She wasn’t sure why her house still had electricity, she never got a bill and she never would have paid for it if she did, she assumed that it was some sort of glitch in the system but she wasn’t going to complain.
Cor left her house only for food and supplies, she would stock up on everything she might need, from toilet paper to duct tape to microwave meals to new socks, about once a month. Most of her time was spent watching and surviving but she also went through hobbies. She learned to knit and crochet her own towels and socks, she had stamp, rock, leaf and flower petal collections, she read and drew and, most recently, she wrote.
Cor liked to read, and even though she knew that her situation wouldn’t change, that this world was as flawed as ever, she sought out books that held hope. Almost no one wrote books anymore. Cor liked to find old books, fantasy, history, stories of times past and of worlds where the worst problem is an ogre attack or a magic wizard, something that could be overcome and forgotten. She read histories of lands ruled by queens and kings and of lands where the people of the country would elect a ruler. These authors swore that they were telling true accounts of what used to be and, as unlikely as it sounded, Cor wanted to believe them. She knew that there used to be some semblance of order in the world, otherwise there wouldn’t be such things as cities and peeling paint and stores for Pretenders to keep open. She knew that there was something better before this and here were books telling her exactly that, they told her that not only was there something better but that there had always been something better, that humans could be better than this.
She started writing on random pieces of paper that she found, old napkins, business cards. She rather enjoyed this hobby so she started stealing paper and pens to write with until she found an old typewriter to use. Cor wrote about families that lived together for generations and houses that were freshly painted and yards overrun with flowers. She wrote about stealing and giving, right and wrong. She wrote of people and their ways and their faults. And no one read her stories, no one knew they existed.
Cor wrote. She created creatures and technology and worlds and entire social systems that would never exist outside of her attic. She wrote one story in particular that was noteworthy. It was about the human race, five years subsequent to the present time. In the story, humans started reading books about how life used to be, started believing them, started trying to rectify their mistakes and bring the world back to that happy place. They created machines that could erase memories, they could create artificial memories of monarchy and prosperity and morals and make sure that everyone knew that fighting for full anarchy was a bad idea. The book explained how countries still went through rebellion and into democracy but never past, and the world never collapsed into chaos.
Cor wrote her book, filling it with details of how life was for her and how life was in the stories she read. Fully describing the machines used and their effect on people, the side effects of losing one’s memories, and highlighting the fact that humans as a race had to admit their mistakes before they could move on. When she was done writing, she brought the manuscript to a publisher. Thank God for the Pretenders. When she was done explaining how she had found the book, abandoned and lost on the road, Cor told the publisher that she would like him to read it and that he should publish it for others to read. She had only a small bit of money, which she either found or stole, but she paid him what she could and he agreed to copy and publish it for her.
When the book went out, people read it. Some, like Cor, simply liked to read and were excited that there was a new book. Others got it from friends who recommended it. Store keepers read it before putting it on their shelves, putting copies of it in the windows for people to see. It traveled through the city, through other towns, across the country. It was a best-selling book, it was translated into many languages and read all over the world.
Then the scientists read it, the physicists and the engineers. They read it and they understood.
It took five years.
They managed to build a machine, a series of machines, that could erase certain memories and create new ones, that could implant ideas into the deepest part of a brain. And they figured out how to administer it to the whole population. And, for the first time in generations, the population voted. They voted as to whether or not this new device should be used, there was no going back from it, there was no way of separating whose memory got wiped and whose didn’t, it was all or nothing, everyone or no one.
In the end, humans managed to admit their mistake. The majority vote was to use the machine.
People never remembered how awful it had been, the book that had changed their world remained but it was never the reality, the author had created a horrible world that would be read about again and again, but no one would ever know how much it really mattered, what it meant.
This was a new world, there was order, there were rules, there were consequences, people knew who they were and what they could and couldn’t do and what their place in the world was.
Cor had written the book. She knew the story, she knew the truth that was held within the pages. The story had come right out of her life, the words were a part of her, written in her heart. The memory wipe only worked on certain parts of the brain, seeking out specific ideas and patterns to replace. The machine, however it worked, could not replace the ideas written in her heart, she forgot they were there but she could be reminded.
Cor bought new clothes, she grew her hair out, she found a man she could trust. She got married and had a daughter, and the daughter listened to Cor’s stories. At some point, she found an old book, and it was called Begin Again by Corina Lowell. And Cor remembered. She read the book and she remembered her life, she remembered how she had changed the world and no one would know. She remembered how she had put her name on the cover, her last truth, her last thread of hope, thrown into this book. Cor read it to her daughter and she told her about the way things were and the many things that the little girl would never have to do. She would never have to hide her name or live in fear, she would never run out of hope, never lose her sense of whimsy.
Corina knew that no one would praise her for what she had done, she had put a name that no one knew on the cover, she had made it possible for everyone to forget. She had made it possible for humankind to redeem itself, to begin again. She made herself content with teaching her daughter all that she could, and she made sure that the girl had a set of words written in her heart, should there ever be a time when she might need it, “Hold your head high, be confident, look like you know what you’re doing, even when you have no clue. Act like you belong and no one will question you.”
I will never forget those words, and I will never forget to thank my mother, every day I live, for creating a world where I will never have to go through the things she did. I now have my own daughter and she will know the truth, we will make sure that my mother is never forgotten.