Enjoy an excerpt from Amanda Hard’s “It’s Always Sunny in Our Memories” featured in our new anthology ON TIME.
They told us the first rains took years to end and eventually redrew the surface of our planet. Clear lakes rippled where rocky deserts had once stretched. Oceans covered dry plains. Forests of leafy ferns blanketed the low piles of dark, rich silt deposited by the receding waters. We became gardeners then, developing an easy system of agriculture that left us content and complacent. It was an easy life.
But that was before the cloud appeared.
I knelt alone in a far corner of the fields that day, my basket in hand, collecting brilliant red strawberries from the verdant bushes of our farm. Under the apple trees, a gaggle of teen-aged girls tried to attract the attention of my younger brother, Nick, whose blonde curls bobbed up and down as he gathered rich, ripe apples from the low-hanging branches. He pretended not to notice the girls, who in turn pretended offense at being ignored. I watched them for a long while, a happy community of children with no regrets, no longings, no distant memories of before.
A slight rumbling in the air made me turn my head to the northern sky, and the first ominous and nearly forgotten signs hovered on the horizon—a band of darkening violet, too deep and intense to be an ordinary cloud, rimmed with a gray that threatened to devour the sky. It spread quickly, dimming the bright sunlight. My first thought should have been to sound the alarm, but as I rose to my feet, I could only gape at the violet void now leaching color from the bright greens and yellows of the fruit and bean fields.
I don’t know how long I stood there, squinting at the approaching storm, feeling the pressure building in my ears, envisioning memories so keenly they might have all been happening again. It was probably only seconds, a minute at the most, but as the winds whipped my hair and caught me in their spirals, the moments stacked on top of each other, layer after layer, like sheets of phyllo dough from my mother’s kitchen. The burden of previous and approaching years anchored me there, just as that thick sweet honey had soaked through my mother’s baklava, solidifying it and giving weight to the paper-thin layers. That sweetness hit my tongue, the crunch of nuts crushed between my teeth as the tiny flakes of pastry dough melted on my lips. The fruit I had collected spoiled, withered, and dried at my feet. The desiccated remains of berries and basket blew into my graying hair, my tongue reaching over into the corners of my mouth for another taste of honey.
My brother broke my reverie with his scream.
“Storm. It’s a t-storm. Barbara, get out of here, now.”
Everyone else fled the winds, but the ghosted images from alternate timelines swirled around me as the bright world I knew diminished into a lavender twilight and raindrops splattered on my face. I could still smell the honey.
My mother had shown me how to keep the fragile dough moist, to fold it just so, mist it with cool water. I had stood on a chair beside her in the kitchen, my hands on hers, imitating her movements. Beside her, I would have learned everything she knew.
Nick grabbed my arm and dragged me into our farmhouse. He slammed the door behind us and threw the switch that powered the area’s protective wards. The infinite threads of timelines collapsed into one single present. The hairs along my arms relaxed.
I felt older and so tired.
“I don’t think many people were prepared.” His face sagged as the weight of a lifetime pulled on his cheeks. “We have to pray for them. Pray the rains don’t last. Pray most of the town was spared…this.”
His thin hair was now a dingy yellow-gray, and his hands trembled. He’d been hit by the storm. We both had, I realized, looking down at my wrinkled fingers. Heavy tears dropped onto my cheeks in silence. I didn’t care who had been prepared, and I didn’t want to pray. I wanted to stand in the rain and remember.
Wind whipped the shutters of our house. A bolt of lightning split the sky outside. I went to the kitchen window, where flickers of faces from various timelines appeared—a child with wet hair, a man with a rusting scythe, a woman with pale hair and sad green eyes so like my own, her mouth open as she shouted for two curly-haired children to crawl under the temporal shields.
Children now, which meant, maybe…
In my toes, the resonant humming from the area wards vibrated under my feet. The first gardeners had only primitive shielding to protect them, hiding under nothing much more than foil blankets that proved little defense against the rains that took our loved ones. Took them from their families, from their fields, from their own kitchens while they made dessert for their children. People like my mother, lost years ago during one of the worst time storms ever recorded, when more than half our population had been ripped away and dropped along a different, unknown timeline. We prayed they lived in the future and that the future was fertile.
We built the wards soon after—silver mushroom shapes in the ground that carefully preserved us in a perfect summer day. Properly maintained, the area wards ensured a perfect world, easy lives, and a full and fertile planet. Lush, rich fields of vegetables and those sweet to bursting strawberries grew easily and effortlessly.
But to tell the truth, I grew tired of strawberries.
Amanda Hard’s work has appeared in various magazines and anthologies including Lost Signals and Tales from the Crust, both from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. Her poetry has appeared in two volumes of the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase, and her flash fiction was part of three graphic collections from The Daily Nightmare. Amanda earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Murray State University, Kentucky, in 2018. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association and lives in the cornfields of southern Indiana with her husband and son.