Cold wind whistles across a scorched landscape, rattling the burnt branches of cindered trees with a sound like thousands of skeletal fingers typing. The sun sets behind a foggy horizon. Then again, the sun is always setting here.
A traveler picks his way through this barren world, grey duster flapping around his legs. He wears a slouch hat despite the dark sky. He doesn’t know why. It’s just what he does and what he’s always done.
He’s been walking a long, long time — forever, it seems. At least, he used to think it was forever.
Lately, though, images have been flitting through his mind. Memories? Was that the word for them? Something in his mind said it was. It was the same thing that spawned the images. But the word memory, or at least what he thought the word meant, implied there was a past and that he was part of that past. None of these things made sense.
Up until two mountain crossings ago, he’d known nothing except the frozen moment of moving across this dead world.
A structure appears in a copse of dead trees ahead of him. It’s tall, square, with clean, flat sides. House, that thing in his mind says.
“House?” he says the word out loud and jumps at the sound of his own voice. It’s the first he’s ever spoken, and the first he’s ever heard.
He walks to the house and the portal leading inside of it. He crosses into the dark.
Broken glass and splintered wood litter the floor. There are other things, like soft rocks on stilts. Furniture.
“Furniture,” he says.
He makes his way up the stairs and finds on the floor a tiny object shaped like a version of himself, but with braids and a blue dress. Doll.
He bends down and picks up the doll. The moment his hand touches it, memories strike him like lightning. He drops the thing and backs against the wall.
It’s the first time he’s known fear. It’s the first time he’s known grief.
Sarah, that part of his mind says.
“Sarah,” he says out loud.
His body trembles at the word. Things too big for his mind loom on the other side of that ocean he’s come to call “memory.”
Something like thunder cracks from the south. He looks out the window in its direction.
There, on a far, far distant mountaintop, a fire lights.