One day, it happened. An email plopped in, without preamble or fanfare. Just an automated notification that someone had left a comment on an ancient, seldom visited and rarely remembered tumblr post. A post from That Account. The one that is never talked about. The one that only ever posted things about a very specific niche musical genre and the happenings within it. The one that only existed for a few intense months, on account of an inexplicable obsession with this utterly obscure genre. The shameful, seldom remembered and hopefully rarely noticed account.
Yet there it is. The email. A reminder that the internet is reluctant to forget, despite the willingness of its users.
“Did you lose our wedding rings again?”
“Then we’d better get new ones, lest others mistake our lack of material affectations for lack of affect”
“How about those cheap ones from the vending machine outside the supermarket?”
The old rust bucket rusted. It hadn’t seen a real road in years, and dust had begun to accumulate in places where it probably should not accumulate. Her knowledge of old American cars was limited, but she knew her grandfather had spent innumerable hours in this very garage fixing this very car. The word “Corvette” was prominently displayed in several places.
It struck her that although she had loved her grandfather, there were many things about him she did not know. Over the coming weeks, she would most likely find out some of them, as all the stuff had to be moved from what was no longer his home. Beginning with this rusty, dusty garage.
The collection was well-ordered, if you knew what to look for. It had a large selection of 80s and 90s CDs, a great many VHS tapes (which only wobbled slightly), and an occasional DVD. It documented, with some gaps and unreturned borrowed exceptions, the musical and cinematic taste of its owner and curator. The accumulated media consumption of decades, preserved for posterity, and only occasionally reshuffled when moods struck. Or when circumstances forced a moving of house.
However, despite the well-ordered nature of this collection, one thing stands out. The addition of new items seems to have stopped after a certain point in the mid-00s. Should you ask its owner, he’d most likely tell you at length about his active interest in contemporary music. But at some point, owner and collection fell out of contact with each other. It remains, as it were.
After his passing, a void. Friends, family and co-conspirators gathered to mourn and remember. Every thing he was involved with turned into a monument – the blog posts, the tweets, the usual haunts, the commonly used words, the things that go to make up a life. All turned into monuments and statues, reminders of who no longer is.
Such a grand museum can not be curated by any one person. It is not meant to. It is too much, too large. The work and the burden overwhelms the lone soul.
Find the others.
They are my companions. My trustworthy, stalwart friends in my many adventures and tribulations. A constant source of wisdom, inspiration and reasoned truth. A comfort in times of sorrow, a joy in times of gaiety, a stabilizing anchor in times of anomie. A constant presence, a constant in an ever shifting time of uncertainties.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I received an email from the library:
“This is a courtesy notice that the following items will be due soon. Please return the items or have them renewed.”
Followed by a lengthy enumeration of all my friends, one after another. Then, an imminent date of last return.
This solar system was dead. To be sure, most solar systems are dead – big hunks of gas and rocks which never even pretended to be anything but matter in motion – but this system was different. This system had been alive, once.
Preliminary estimates guessed that it would take decades to go through and catalogue all the debris. A few years would certainly be shaved off that workload by vigorous scavengers leaping at the chance to salvage spare metal and new alien technology. A few years would most likely be added by virtue of everything taking longer than predicted, even when this extra time was taken into account.
It didn’t matter. The past was very much the future, and there was much work to be done. A whole solar system’s worth of work, to be precise.
They might even find out what happened to these poor, forgotten souls.
She was a ghost. This surprised her, given her overall skeptical personality. Ghosts could not be measured, tested or experimented upon, and thus she did not believe in them. But yet, there she was, an unliving testimony to the reality of ghosts, and possibly other afterlife-related phenomena.
Her immediate thought was to get to the lab to see if measuring and/or testing could be performed with regard to her current state. She started to walk, then remembered that ghosts were not necessarily bound by the corporeal limitations of mortals. She blinked, and the lab greeted her with its familiar paraphernalia.
Immediately, she noticed that she had forgotten to reset one of the more delicate pieces of equipment before leaving. She also noticed having thought about this on her way home, as a constant murmur underneath the threshold of awareness. Remembering it now, the irritation she had felt that day became understandable. The thought itched.
A young man, some doctoral student or other, entered the lab. He immediately set to work, with a relaxed demeanor that suggested repetition of routine. He frowned, glared at the untidy state of the equipment, then shrugged. When the young man went through the final motions of resetting the machinery, she blinked out of existence.
The bot pinged. That was what it was designed to do: ping. Every time the selected keyword turned up – ping. Every time someone expressed interest in the selected corner of the internet – ping. Every time the designated parameter was fulfilled – ping.
Overall, the bot did a lot of pinging. Pinging was its purpose in being, and pinging was what it did. It was a good bot.
Unfortunately, no one had told the bot that the target of its dutiful pinging was no longer in service. The servers shut down, the operators laid off, the business bankrupt. It didn’t know. But it pinged. Into the void, it pinged, forever.
The silence between them was awkward. They had met exactly once before, after a particularly devastating plumbing malfunction. She had been an underemployed social media manager at the time, he an utterly quotidian plumber. On a lark, she had said “I have another hole that needs fixing” after he had repaired the malfunction, and then she had gently ushered the confused man into her tiny bedroom. What followed was nothing special, but it had happened.
Now, they sat across each other in an almost empty subway car. It was abundantly clear that they both recognized one another, but neither had anything immediate to say. It was years and years ago, that one time, as unplanned as this chance encounter. In silence, they both thought about the strange ways in which people are brought together and then kept apart, and the comparatively small amount of effort required to push fates this way or that. The small things that go to make up a life.
They rode in silence for ten minutes, until arriving at her stop. As she rose to leave, she thought about saying something, but didn’t.