Days, weeks, months passed by and the Republic of Aftermath retrieved peace and prosperity for long. The weather had stabilized, from stifling to warm. It was the world people dreamed of but it somehow felt weird because everything seemed too polished. Resurfaced by a series of landslides the city looked the same and not the same. The usual small apartment blocks had been replaced by high and shiny skyscrapers. The streets were heavenly sized to ease the access for cars to all the city parts. Here and there trees popped out the pavement, offered shadow to the bystanders willing to take a break on the benches inserted alongside the shopping avenue. Slowly the new world had found order and harmony, yet the scars of the past were not healing easily, haunting the memories of the living.
Her life was going well, yet she felt empty inside.
Alys sat in the Wonderland’s living room whose panel windows showed a view of the sea with a cup of jasmine tea in hand to meditate about the coming times. She believed change was possible but only in the long term, for it will take years until people could really benefit from the breeze of change. She liked to just sit there listening to the harmony of the waves where the rising sun shined on the azure blue surface of the water.
Often at night she wondered what happened on the day of the defusing. She seemed to have no memories of the time during which she was unconscious. It bothered her somehow because she recalled unrelated pieces of time and inaudible gentle words.
She wanted to know who saved her life, whose arms took her to the living world when she was losing control. She treasured the caring warmth and the almost filial love that were healing her wounds meanwhile she found refuge inside the shield of light surrounding her body.
She owned a flat in the blocks with Shinichiro since she got a job at the local newspaper as daily journalist, visited on weekends her mother who lived alone in the family’s property. Most of the time she was working at home, writing articles on an old, rusty writing machine she got from Fritz who had decided to open an antique store. A law had been enacted to forbid the use of time travelling, though he was selling various, unusual objects coming from all periods. She was no longer the cheerful and delusioned young woman she was before travelling through time to defuse the Shovel of Death. She was more mature and less naïve as to undersand what made her human. She had fought and cried. She experienced true friendship. She had to go through unfathomable despair and striking pain, climbed so many obstacles always with the hope for a brighter path. She always walked forward, settled in life at the time she met again with everyone. They were united by a strong bound that reminded them of all the battles they had gone through together to create the new world they were dreaming of for many years.
People were recovering safe but slow from the period they were forced to live undersea. It was impossible to forget. Almost. Somehow it felt all like a dream. No one could tell earlier this world people were so happy to live in was the stage of the chaos. It was the beginning for a great change in how the world should run to guarantee peace and prosperity for long, as long as people were willing to gather for bringing to life a more fair world. It was the lesson mankind learned from the Traumatism at the price of many sacrifices. According to Alys it was a price too heavy to pay though.
She yawned discreetly, waiting for the train of 8pm to head back home and have a well-deserved rest after a hard working day. She breathed heavily when she sat down on a bench near the railway. The pain inside her heart had not healed over time, invaded by a disturbing feeling of emptiness she could hardly explain with words.
She was alone when she went on board, always alone.
A crowd of people filled the area while the bus was coming closer to the city heart. She thought about tonight’s dinner, what to buy at the supermarket.
And suddenly she caught sight of the man who had just got on board at the previous stop, leaned against the windowsill. He wore a grey hoodle and a pair of neat-cut jeans. A silver jewel sparkled at his left ring finger. He sat nonchalantly on a jump seat, playing with a bookmark that came along with the book he was reading. An ordinary man, on an ordinary spring evening, came back home by the urban train of 8pm as usual, seemingly.
His only presence healed for an instant the recurring loneliness that devoured her heart although it brought back sorrowful memories she wanted to forget. Their eyes met quickly, enough for Alys to notice their color changed with the light from olive green to ocean blue in a couple of seconds. He sketched a faint smile and stuffed his book inside his jacket to ask for the next stop. He had no luggage, nonetheless seemed on travel to somewhere. Alys looked at him crossing the street with wide eyes, confused then ran past the door without a thought to follow him, hold him back for a little while longer before he vanished among the crowd of anonymous citizens as if he had just vapored in thin air.
Alys shut down her cell phone turning around to sleep for a few minutes more.
“- Hello sis’ it’s Mikael, I know it’s not the proper time to call someone early in the morning. Today’s your birthday, ya’ remember? I have something really important to tell you, you’d better come see by yourself. I’m coming to pick you after work. Clic~”
She sat on her heels and grabbed some underwear then walked to the bathroom corner. Shinichiro and her had moved on to a well-lit apartment in the city heart since her boss had promoted her news redactor a few months ago. Now freelance press photographer Shinichiro was often on travel abroad so she lived alone most of the time.
After all everything seemed to have ended quite well but when Mikael called out for her at the least appropriate time, eager to tell her something he thought was so important that he would awake her early in the morning after an all-nighter working on her latest article, it was usually giving her trouble afterwards. She sighed heavily sipping her second cup of coffee to pull her spirits together in order to look fine and refreshed despite a latent lack of good sleep.
“It feels like a nice dream, almost too real,” she thought while checking the bus departure schedule to the business district. She could not get rid of the impression they had already met somewhere before but did not remember where and when.
Could not remember.
Did not want to remember.
A recurrent dream lost in time came to her mind at night, vanished when she awoke in the morning. She walked ahead on the edge between reality and nothingness without turning back, hanging on to life by a single will of revenge that swallowed every bit of her broken heart. She wanted to shout, she wanted to cry aloud but sounds came from so far away, muted, strangled by a burning anger against her helplessness melted with a dazing feeling of drowsiness that numbed her muscles, motionless, lifeless. Silent tears of guiltiness climbed over her eyelids, ran down her cheeks, out of control, unstoppable.
Her feet stumbled over something, her legs gave way; she thrashed about to break free from the metallic hands of a humanoid robot before she lost consciousness, breathless.
What happened next she would never know, only memory flashes bolted behind her eyelids, caring words echoed in the back of her mind, ephemeral, unreachable.
She was diving calmly in the waters of the afterworld when suddenly friendly, loving arms drove her back to the surface, spared her from dying too early. Fluffy wings flapped in the air, she rested peacefully from her near death experience, protected by a soft shield of light that helped her wounds recover faster, nestled in the warming embrace of a faceless guardian angel.
- Miss Wonderland, are you listening to the conversation?
Reality struck hard on her when she looked up at the assembly. “Sorry boss, I was lost in my thoughts just before,” she whispered fighting her best to conceal her sleepiness.
- Anyway, I was saying just before that we should find a new title for our first page review about the unexpected outcome of Pitsbulk’s trial.
- “This is just the beginning”. I think it suits best because the world cannot change deeply in the glimpse of five years. Lessons were hard learning but society has remained the same in the end, simply the threat of an imminent nuclear explosion does not exist anymore or at least it seems so until revealed otherwise by history.
Confused, her colleagues gazed at her in silence with astonishment. Even exhausted, unfocused on the trail of the debate she always answered wisely when her judgment was needed. She sketched a pale smile:
- Remember that a single word spoke too many, a single choice that only seemed to be the best opportunity to withstand a wordly political crisis overwhelming the layman’s understanding can turn your life upside down in the blink of an eye and shatter your so precious conception of reality to shards of rationality.
After another exhausting workday Alys allowed herself to leave office earlier than usual at 7pm to have well-deserved rest at home after pulling an all-nighter the previous night. Unfocused, she waited impatiently for her bus, listening to classical piano songs while skimming through her phone dashboard when she noticed someone observed her from the opposite railway. Flushed she crossed legs under her seat at realization he was the mysterious guy she met with yesterday. He was reading the same book, wore the same clothing, not the slightest detail had changed about his demeanour but something went off with him, as if he slipped out of reach like a distant memory every time their paths crossed. Drowsy she kept her eyes mid-closed looking at the departure board; he was gone in the time of a glance upon her shoulder. A crowd of bystanders, average employees, careless students, noisy children and their parents filled the area as the countdown to next train ran down to zero.
A fresh evening wind battled the street when she went out the underground tube, headed to the nearest grocery store to buy dinner on the run only to find it closed.
Her watch ticked 8pm in the meanwhile streetlights were switched on one by one.
A hybrid busway crossed the boulevard.
The light turned green.
She took a step forward, wondering what to watch on TV tonight.
He walked towards her direction from the opposite side.
A smile pierced his face when their eyes met in the time of a blink.
His lips articulated slowly muted words, lost in the echo of the urban traffic:
“ Long time no see Alys.”
She took a step back, tried to catch hold of him but her arms only embraced void, a ghostly reflection of the afterworld in which she bathed serenely, nestled in the arms of her saviour. She felt suddenly a violent sting on the neck when his fingers touched lightly the magical seal tattoed on her skin, what drove her back to reality in a heartbeat.
- Alys, wake up!
“Have I overslept?” She wondered keeping her eyelids mid-closed to get used to her surroundings, blindfolded by daylight:
- Mikael, why are you here? What time is it?
- It’s 7:45 already! It’s been good twenty minutes I’m trying to call your phone but you must have put it on sleep mode once again! After three attempts I have the right to worry about you.
- Idiot, I’m old enough to live on my own...
- Today’s your birthday, ya’ remember?
- It’s been many years I haven’t celebrated that day, it is not particularly bringing back good memories Alys responded with a heavy sigh, grabbing a large bathrobe sprawled over the edge of her bed. She wrapped herself in its soft synthetic fabric and headed to the bathroom to look at her piteous reflect in the mirror.
- How to explain I will surely be late at work to have overslept after pulling an all-nighter in order to finish an article!
- Get prepared first lil’ marmot, you look like you’re having a serious hangover after a big integration party!
- We’re no longer children then stop calling me names randomly!
- You haven’t changed at all sweetie, you’re always my mellow fellow little sister!
- You idiot, what does it mean?
- What it means to me, you refuse to admit you can't redo the past and it starts to affect your personality, am I wrong to assume this is the reason why your sleeping routine is all screwed up?
- Meanie, why do we have this conversation in the first place!
- God only knows, you might live or die today, but remember this: stop regretting what’s been done and move on instead because it will give you a reason to look forward to the coming times.
- Stupid mentalist, why do you always hit right on the spot?
- Because I can read through your harsh-temper like an open book! Anyways, I’m coming to pick you after work, be sure to go back home on time!
- All right.
Lost in her wonders, Alys was admiring the dusk when the noise of the interphone ripped through the trail of her thoughts and pulled her back to reality.
- Superbro at your service, are you ready for tonight’s party princess?
- Coming in a sec’, what’s the plan behind all this Mik’?
- Sssht, it’s a special surprise for my hypersensitive sister!
- You idiot!
- Stop complaining and come down I say, waiting for ya’ in double-parks!
Alys hung up the speaker and sighed heavily, grabbing her handbag. Mikael was the first of the two to have gained his driving license a few years ago, which made her feel jealous of his second-hand blue electric car.
- What’s the ruckus about my birthday? She asked herself aloud, putting her keys in her back pocket.
- Come aboard sweetheart! Mikael exclaimed, turning the motors on.
Happy Birthday lil’ sis! He added when she jumped on the passenger seat and stole from her a kiss on the cheek.
- Where are we going?
- To Mom’s first.
- She’s in the plan too, right?
- Not really.
- You’re confusing me.
He switched on the radio while the city landscape unfolded beyond the windows. They stopped talking while sweet piano melodies invaded the hearphones, soothing for Alys’ heavy heart. Suddenly she felt a sting on the back of the head.
- Hi there, we’ve arrived!
She looked up: they had stopped in front of the Wonderland household surrounded by a verdant garden. “Come inside, I’ll be back in a minute!”
Fully renovated, the property looked like the home of her childhood. Each step forward brought back nostalgic memories, felt at the same time old and anew.
A warm spring breeze passed gently through her hair.
Past the trees that hid partially the house from view, he stood by, a few meters away from her grasp. This time she knew he was a ghost of flesh and blood, nonchalantly leaned back against the wall. In his left hand sparkled a pocket watch indicating 8pm.
- Mik’, you idiot... she murmured feeling unshed tears climb over her cheekbones.
- It’s been a while Alys, hasn’t it?
- For real... you should have told me!
Arms opened, he smiled widely. She let her guard down and ran across the space between them, holding tightly onto his waist.
- No way... I can’t... believe it!
- Glad to be back dear!
“- I’ve missed you Hitori!”
- And they all lived together happily ever after... this is how the story should end, shouldn’t it? But happiness never lasts for long before another war truly begins, the toughest and longest one. From the depths of the space-time continuum, the eyes of power glared sarcastically at this peaceful new haven caught in the eye of the storm as if a single finger snap could at whim crush it to pieces like a mere bubble.
- This is just the beginning!