It has been ninety-nine years since the collapse of the modern age. A reversal of human ingenuity that some saw coming, and some ignored. Nearly a century later and the new world, or ‘new-old’ world, has taken its place in the timeline of earthlings. So long has passed since the last electric bulb was snuffed out, since the final chime was heard from any notification. It’s now, again, a beautiful time to be alive.
Or so Mym’s grandfather would tell her.
Mym Saphora was born after the events of 2017, after the deconstruction of world politics. Many years in fact, after the death of the ‘millennial culture’ that had to fight for peace, fight for rights, and fight for equality.
Stuck in this position of power, as it is her—and those of this and the next generation—that carries a burden to either continue to revel in a new world, or attempt to regain the momentum of humanity. Technologically speaking.
Now though, as Mym walks down Broadway, in what used to be New York City, she is surrounded by lush and green nature. Vines crawl up and cover nearly every inch of concrete laid by those of a century ago. She reminds herself of her grandfather’s story, of a time before the war, before the Internet of Things became the Parasite of Man.
“It’s far better now,” he’d say, puffing on his hand-carved pipe. “These streets used to be noisy. They used to be greyed out by the zombie-like pedestrians that carved their names into wet cement.” He would grumble, “They thought that they were on the path to a future that could better us all. That their name would remain on that dank and soggy street corner in Hell’s Kitchen forever. But they were wrong.” He would often tear up at the thought of it. “Each one of them believed that they were the cure for a dying species, when really they became the grim reapers of hope, justice, and the good of all people.”
Mym noted, being there, that the streets themselves are the only source of sounds now. As the wind whips up through Manhattan, a whistle is heard from the leaves. The crunch of a chilled grassy ground beneath her feet made nearly no echo; the surroundings were so dense with nature, there was little surface to send the noises back.
Birds flutter and sing. A deer nearly twenty feet to her north makes a grunt as it lifts its head from the bush it grazes on, makes eye-contact with the girl, and bounds back into the alleyway of vine and branches. There seemed to be nothing complicated to this life. She would often wonder if that was something positive to cling to, or perhaps the birthplace of invention itself.
Those that survived the devastation of technological weaponry continued to live off the earth that was given new life, and those that didn’t make it were mourned and celebrated every decade during lavish communal feasts.
It felt like they had it backwards back then—Mym would think at times—considering the books and notes she read spoke of the direction life was headed before the collapse. Sentence after sentence seemed to plead for their way to continue. That way of life that she may never know, felt drenched in a desire that she could not understand. But this, right here, felt heavenly. Could her grandfather be wrong? Could she be wrong? Could they have been right?
These folks would have been—could have been—her peers were she around that day. These “followers” they coveted. These “likes” and “repost” desired so vehemently by a generation of human beings. Were they actually valuable? It seemed to have formed a slew of comprehensive and egomaniacal rituals. Could they— “millennials” one old copy of the New York Times had dubbed them—feel connected to the world, to their loved ones, the same way Mym could?
Here, she thought, strode a girl who could cook. She could fend for herself, hunt, sew, start a fire, build a literal bridge, write an essay, read a library’s worth of literature, and weather an actual storm. She felt pride in being one of many alive today without this reliance on technology so often brought up in stories from that time. This technology that ‘crippled, crutched, and perverted an entire civilization’ nearly one hundred years ago. The tales could be biased in their cynical view of the then current paradigm. Her grandfather certainly seemed to be so.
Here she was, now standing at the dead-center of Times Square, among the wildlife and nature eating away at the years of “progress” made. She knew this was beautiful. She could feel it.
Towers grew up from the streets around her, coated with thick thorns, barks, and berries. Stinging the green skyline with darkness was bank after bank of what she understood to be televisions. Giant, block-wide sheets of matte black that hadn’t produced light in a century. They told more of a story now as dysfunctional objects than they ever did when they were powered by anything.
No matter how often a penman waxed poetic about a “modern age”, this, right now, it all felt right to her.
In a world where civilization had been brewed down to base structure of habits, survival, and growth, she was free to love whomever she pleased, learn however and whenever she desired. There was no government to box her in. Nothing could stop her. In fact, she’d never met another soul that would want to. As a young person, this was essential to the feeling of “freedom”.
There were seventeen known families living on the island, and each of them consisted of intelligent, free-thinking human beings, capable of anything. Mym wasn’t ignorant either, or so she proclaimed. The good may not have survived in all the lands, but that which was in arm’s reach had never threatened to extinguish the life she had learned to enjoy.
Her grandfather once spoke of Junior Kings named Martin, and Princesses with giant hair buns that attempted to shake the world of its “disgusting habitual suicide”. He spoke of that dream that kept the good people up at night, and of the torment cause by the wicked, tucked in tightly. He once spoke of all the women in the world’s standing up for what they thought was right and fighting the wicked leader of the “free-world”.
But that world never sounded really free to her ears.
“I became unable to be human, love” spoke her grandfather. “When I was a boy, I took a job as a lifeguard, but saved no lives. I stared at this little screen instead of the stars, the oceans, or the people. I listened to preachers behind news desks tell me the world was a safe place, instead of stories that were trapped in the mouths of my loved ones, never to be freed because no one showed the time or interest in listening.”
Still in the Square, Mym began to hum the tune Grandma used to sing in the kitchen. She started spinning in place, arms stretched out like the “airplanes” she’d read about—which blew her adolescent mind. People could travel across the world in a matter of hours? In the sky? Hogwash, she thought.
She inhaled between hums a fresh air that solved her lungs of their hunger with pure, clean oxygen. It felt good.
After a while, she dropped to the ground and the litter of dirt and branch made a satisfying crinkle under her weight. She starred up at the bright blue sky, just sitting up there, mingling with the occasional fluff of cloud. Buildings erect around her like green arms jutting from her side. If she listened closely, she could hear the beat of the ocean on the sides of a heavily-barnacled dock nearby. The world felt alive, on its own.
“This has to be right.” She said out loud, convincingly, to herself.
How could it have gone so wrong, she thought. Before her, before her mother, there was a world that lived on top of this one, not with it. It must have felt so horrible. So, forced. So… insincere.
In one of the books she found at the NYU library, Mym read of a time before technology. Before a switch did more work than a hand. Before the inevitable replacement of radical thinkers began. Now, face up to the sun, in the middle of a growing city, withdrawn from humanity, she contemplated those fears described. The ugly side of a world yet to discover just how ugly it could all be.
Those that were eccentric and brilliant then weren’t “billionaire computer scientists”, they were painters, and poets, and protestors of anti-civility. They didn’t have power, nor craved it. Because before the voice of an electronic dedication became the winning combination of ignorance and ego, power wasn’t the currency so sought after like it eventually became. What path did they take to get there? This was a puzzle she may never solve, but often tried to.
Those with the capacity to dream and be beautiful wanted a world where love rose above gold values, and art reigned. “Chaucer and Keats would have hung paintings in Times Square, not adverts,” Mym would say.
It was always this point in her perpetual thanks of the universe, where guilt would strike . Was she happy that a purge took place? That what remained seemed so far superior to what it had replaced? It is this that helped her journey onwards, every day. It helped her cut ties with procrastination. It gave her the tools needed to seek out more wisdom, more triumph, friendly creatures, beautiful flowers, more threads of hope. Whatever world her and the generation after continue to build should remain void of the poison that birthed it.
It seemed she was leaning to a side.
“Social Medias” as grandfather often called it, “killed the idealist. It slayed the dreamer, and buried the sculpture. Nearly a hundred years ago, to this day, a petty man stood at the most powerful desk in the world and declared war against the little, the queer, the strange, the colored, and the different, “He reminded her during evening tea the previous night. “Flashes of light, people scurrying for shelter. Power sucked dry from the plants. One final time in a pattern of powerful, ignorant men doing insane things to protect their self-constructed egos, war with the world broke free from a rattling cage, and sung its way into the skies. All because a mean man in a red tie felt hate.” Grandpa talked with his hands. “One tweet to many,” he said, “ended everything that belonged to that world. This right here, it’s a fantasy. The way it should be,” He always sounded so damn sure.
Mym heard a loud rustle from behind a bush nearby that startled her from her daydream, and she sat up fast. She removed a wooden stick with a single sharp end from a leather holster on her hip as she stood. As she neared the bush the sound grew louder. Two dark hands rose from the edge of thick leaves before a voice came.
“Mym, it’s me. Don’t … do whatever it is you’re planning to do with that shiv.” said a young tone.
After a moment, Jad’s face appeared. A handsome boy, with glowing skin.
“Oh, thank god it’s you Jad,” exclaimed Mym through a sigh, unequipping her weapon. “You’re early.”
He nodded as he approached. He held out his hand for hers, and like a slinky in reverse they crumpled into an embrace. Surrounded by a natural world, these two bodies became so close you could mistake them as one.
“I just had to come and say hello really quickly. Mom needs me back to help raise the new shed. Sorry I can’t stay long.” said Jad while panting, making it obvious he had rushed here to preserve any face time he may get. The look on his face was sincere, and warm.
Mym nodded. She knew time was on their side for now, and understood that their day could be put off just a while longer.
He held her close once more.
They shared a deep and long kiss before he turned and ran back through the bush and into the street where he came.
The world would be theirs one day. She knew it, as did he. There was no rush to attain such a thing. Not with much more pressing matters to decide on.
While the afternoon had taken a sudden turn into the unscheduled, she would eventually make her way back to the house near Hell’s Kitchen before dusk. Without much ability to produce travelling light, Mym’s mother had always requested her return prior to the sunlight fading. Such a thing wasn’t imminent now being only slightly beyond noon, so she took her time going back.
On the way home, Mym met a crane, avoided a mother bear and her cubs, crossed a small stream that ran down 59th, found an old Yankees cap, and foraged a small pouch of mushrooms. Grandfather adored mushroom soup.
That old man she held so dear wasn’t long for this place. This place he’d learned to love so much. He made her promise a few years back that she’d live without abandon, that she’d love without an inch of hesitation, and that she’d remain filled with hope that her world, this world, be the best place in time. Often, she found the weight of this promise keeping her up at night.
Mym was told she must do what her parents had done, what Jad’s parents had done, what people like her grandfather had started. The world and their race were given another chance. An evil (along with some good) was purged with the war, just by greatly reducing the population size. From the ashes of a dying tribe of self-obsessed defenders grew a new time and place for happiness and truth. A historical period that—so far—lacked the prophetic lunatics of old, and the manufactured fallacy. Everything here is raw, and real, and tangible.
With few alive, parents took on a new responsibility. Attempting to produce only the good in their offspring. Instilling their children with hope, and kindness, and tools to fit a cleaner world. Without all of the “luxuries and safety” technology provided, documented in essays about health, science, and childbirth, this seemed a lot larger of a task.
Mym reached the clearing where her childhood home stood—just shy of Pier 96, at the edge of Clinton Cove park—and she froze in admiration of this true feeling boiling inside her. She couldn’t wait to see tomorrow, to see Jad again, to continue living.
As she breached the front door of their home two glowing faces shown at her; mother’s, and grandfather’s. Both greeted her with a smile.
She knew which world she wanted.