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Objects Left Behind at the Sea of Tranquillity Public Library

Eleanor R. Wood's stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Online, Deep Magic, Daily Science Fiction, Galaxy's Edge, Diabolical Plots, and various anthologies, among other places. She writes and eats liquorice from the south coast of England, where she lives with her husband, two marvelous dogs, and enough tropical fish tanks to charge an entry fee.

She blogs at creativepanoply.wordpress.com

An owl pellet, discovered in the Natural History section as I reshelve the Encyclopedia of Birds. Soft and dry, the tiny bundle of compressed fur and bones makes my heart ache. I used to collect them as a child, in woods that no longer exist. I kept that collection for years, but I can't imagine where this has come from. I can't imagine there are owls anymore. I tuck it in my pocket and return to cataloguing with a lump in my throat.
A tellurion, on a shelf in the Astronomy section. It's running, brass gears sending a tiny Moon in orbit around a rotating Earth. Someone has attached miniscule domes to the Moon, showing our settlements with precise positioning if not scale. I used to have one just like it, apart from the domes.
A framed photograph of a glorious mountain landscape, trees and rivers and distant snowy peaks, in the History section. That feels like a cruel blow. Crueler still that I know the place; Owen and I used to vacation in those mountains. It shouldn't have been lost to us. None of it. But we ignored the warnings. Fire, flood, famine, and drought took it all, and those who escaped with our lives found refuge on this dusty barren sphere, shining its light on a ravaged world.
A flute, clearly cherished, lying alongside bound scores in the Music section. I'm helping a violinist from the Luna Symphony Orchestra locate some Bach when I come across it. "Yours?" he asks. "No... I play piano," I reply. Except my piano is nothing but ash now. Flute... flute was Owen's instrument. I can't bring myself to pick it up.
A ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles in the Craft section. People make many of their own clothes now; I assume someone has been knitting in the library and left it here by accident. But the color... teal. My favorite. And when I hold it to my face, I know it's alpaca. There aren't any alpacas left. Alpaca is the only wool I can wear without itching. Who is taunting me with these relics of my former life?
A ceramic Rottweiler on the Domestic Animals shelf. A young girl asks me to help her find books for a project titled "Pets of Earth," and the lifelike model is sitting there, looking exactly like Bear. Tears catch me by surprise... my boy, lost to me like everything else. The girl asks if I'm okay. I don't know the answer.
A miniature TARDIS in the Science Fiction section. Doctor Who was our thing, mine and Owen's. We watched every single episode. We'd quote it to each other. I knitted Owen a Tom Baker scarf; he bought me Jodie Whittaker braces. They are ash too, now. So is Owen... so is my Owen. I flee to reception, leaving the TARDIS behind.
A cross stitch sampler in the Religion section. The frame is different, but I'd know it anywhere. It reads "Nature is My Church," and it belonged to my grandmother. She didn't live to see the harm we caused her Gaia, and for that I am grateful. But I'm beginning to feel the library itself is tormenting me. I don't understand. These objects are like paper cuts, every one, yet I long to gather them all and hold them close.
A stack of love letters in the Romance section, where I go to lean against a shelf and breathe deep. My hands tremble as I reach for them. I know the ribbon that binds them. I know the paper. The handwriting. Something else long lost to me, yet here. Owen... the sobs come and I am helpless. Only he had the letters I wrote him. They should have burned with our home. With him. Yet here they are.
It makes no sense. "You're dead!" I cry, wracked with fresh grief.
"No." A single word, in a voice I love so well. "But I'm changed. I didn't want to frighten you."
He steps, light in Luna's gravity, from behind a bookcase. I don't recognize his face, blemished with scars from the fire that should have killed him. But I know his shape, his eyes, his movements.
"Little things, to ease you into realizing I'm alive," he says. "Most from a box I put in storage for safekeeping in case the fires reached us."
"But I lost you," I say, my voice strangled with emotion. "How are you here?"
"I was unconscious when they pulled me out." His voice is soft. "You'd already been evacuated... no one knew who I was, and the doctors kept me heavily sedated for weeks. When I came around, I had no way to reach you. But I'm here now. I'm here."
I can hear the question in his voice: If you still want me. My breath hitches in my chest, and I reach for him.
His scars don't matter: not that I can see through my tears. He holds me, and things I'd thought lost forever are mine again.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

Author Comments

This story arose from a Codex Writers' contest and enabled me to combine my fascination with the concept of lunar colonies with my anxieties for the future of our planet. With seasonal wildfires increasing in both frequency and devastation, it's all-too plausible that people could lose everything that's ever meant something to them, including Earth itself. The objects are deeply personal items to the story's protagonist, but they're also symbols of what we all stand to lose, even if we can somehow flee to an extraplanetary refuge.

- Eleanor R. Wood
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