Coyote Fog, Gregory Scheckler
Alvin donned a hand-rolled circle of old computer wires as if it were a clumsy hat. His image reflected in his living room’s picture window, which reflected faraway as a tiny rectangle on the inside curve of a vast transparent dome. Its protective bubble arced over trees and fields, the tents of the farmer’s market at the hospital, and thousands of homes. Their reflections blanched into a wall of white-hot light slammed from the ground to the highest inner arc of the dome. The burst of brightness blazed across the land.
Betsy hollered from the foyer. “Time to scour the skull and tickle the scalp. I love a good Reset! “
But Alvin tightened his hat’s wire chinstraps. He crouched against his pile of antique computer parts, next to his snaggle-toothed Pomeranian, Masolino. Light rays bounced through the gaps among empty computer cases. Maso buried his head in his paws. Alvin slammed the heels of his hands over his face. Radiance engulfed him until the Reset faded and the bright pink glow through his hands and eyelids returned to a normal darkness.
Maso drooled, and held his luminescent eyes half-open, sleepy-happy. He looked calm, despite the cancer burning through his lymph nodes. And Alvin loved the little dog because he wagged his tail until his whole body wiggled, and maybe because Maso never said “Oh thank the Reset.”
Across the house, Betsy looked blank and lost in a Reset vacancy. Funny what she did and didn’t remember. She blinked and steadied herself. She said, “Oh thank the Reset. That was a good one. Anyhoo, if we want dinner, we’d best get over to market.”
Betsy blinked again, regaining her composure. She said, “And take off that crazy hat, makes you look like some kind of jail-break, or one of those rememberers.”
They strolled the long way through the dome. Masolino stumbled, tangling his hind legs in his pink leash. Alvin couldn’t bear to see him panting, so he hoisted him into his arms. They passed gardens full of orange lilies and red tulips. In the hospital’s parking lot, the farmer’s market held bushels of ripe tomatoes, cuts of trout next to wild sage, tubs of butter, carrots, and fresh corn. Dozens of people milled around the food stalls, gathering provisions. A flute chorus tweedled lullabies.
Through the hospital’s windows, patients reclined, unconscious behind kaleidoscopic neuromachines, rows of dark tubes ringed around their scalps. Betsy giggled. “Look at those losers, am I right?”
She scanned a mound of corn. Maybe in the dark corners of her mind Betsy figured she could just do or say anything no matter how cruel. Alvin remembered that he loved her a long time ago. But now he wasn’t so sure. Was it the way she sneered at the less fortunate, or how she sometimes held a kitchen knife too tightly? Or was it her words, or her tone of voice and constant use of the word ‘anyhoo?’
Alvin said, “They’re not losers.”
He picked out a delicate slab of trout, and inspected its oily, orange flesh. But he imagined how technicians slipped hair-thin fiber-optics through each hospital patient’s nostrils and ears into the depths of their brains. The neuromachines blasted hunks of colorful lights at malfunctioning neurons, melting their fatty strands of myelin-insulated networks. They grafted new networks grown from stem cells trained into light-sensitive threads of thoughts. All to be tuned and retuned by the Reset. Alvin scowled, and said, “There’s no rest for the remembery.”
He cradled Masolino. Betsy turned to a big pile of dirt-stained carrots. “It’s not easy seeing the hospital. They should install some blinds.”
“You shouldn’t make fun.”
“You shouldn’t wear that stupid hat of yours.”
Alvin said, “Why don’t you want to remember more?”
Betsy scoffed. She selected a basket of small red potatoes. “We’ve got great food, good neighbors, and a nice small house. It’s our privilege. The Reset makes life livable. Why mess with a good thing?”
“People say this dome’s got doors and exits.”
“So? Find a door and leave me out of it!” Betsy picked out a handful of asparagus.
At least Masolino seemed happy to ride in Alvin’s arms. The dog looked up through the dome and to the stars. Alvin rubbed Maso’s soft belly, and wondered what the smeared stars might look like without a glass dome in the sky. He paused and Betsy raced ahead. He whispered to the dog, “I feel so out of tune. There’s got to be a better way out of this. Right?”
Maso bumped his cold nose to Alvin’s cheek, and licked his ear as if to say yes.
After a day of weeding the gardens, and an hour before the Evening Reset, Alvin sat in his big easy chair. Masolino rustled around but then fell asleep on Alvin’s lap, and wheezed. His pulse thinned. His heart faded into a quiet stop, and Maso’s ribs didn’t expand or contract. Maybe he was finally resting? No, to say he was resting was a little lie; a tiny reset that offered no solace.
Alvin more or less expected he’d pass sooner or later. But he wished later, and with no suffering. And not right now, dammit. But his wishes didn’t matter. They didn’t change what happened. Masolino’s paws had such nice little claws and his smile had that one ridiculous wayward tooth. Alvin set him down into the backyard recycling pod, weeping his goodbyes. He couldn’t bear to look at Masolino so he poured crispy brown leaves and grasses over his corpse.
The Reset’s wall of light blazed across the neighbor’s fields. It’d be so easy to let the light wash over him, rewriting his memories, removing sorrows and pains. The light hit the edge of the house. Alvin stumbled. He scrambled to the living room. He fumbled for his cap. The light shoved through the windows. He pulled the hat over his scalp and tied it tight beneath his chin. He slammed his eyes shut. The light poured over his piles of old computers. Hidden into the shadow of their rubble, Alvin almost felt like Masolino was still on his lap, inhaling and exhaling. And maybe Maso’s weight might make his left leg fall asleep. It didn’t. But the slightest breeze seemed to be Masolino toying with his worn-out teddy bear, or asking to play, or just sniffing the floorboards. The Reset’s light faded, passed through the yard, and pushed through the rest of the dome.
Betsy teetered, tipsy. She said, “So many changes. I don’t feel quite right.”
She coiled her fists into tight knots. “I wish you’d clean up these old computers, you slob.”
“Yeah, sure.” Alvin knew he could say anything, and maybe he could’ve said something cleverer. Maybe. He said, “Maso’s gone.”
“Who’s that now?”
“Our little dog.”
“We had a beautiful Pomeranian. Snaggle-toothed.”
“No we didn’t.”
Alvin’s sweat pushed through his shoulders. The Reset Controllers had it all figured out, didn’t they? Somehow in their awful rhythms they decided it was better if they deleted memories of Masolino. Alvin wanted to dig him out of the recycling pod, and shove his limp fuzzy corpse in Betsy’s face. He said, “You’re filled with lies of omission.”
Betsy said, “What’s wrong with you? You sound ridiculous.”
“You’re in a bubble of the Reset’s erasures.”
“No bubble. No bubble. You’re the bubble.”
She lunged for his hat. Alvin shoved her. She clamped his arms and wrestled him. He shoved her back again. She came at him a third time, sputtering and hissing. “What is wrong with you?”
Betsy twisted around and wrested the cap from his grip. Alvin punched Betsy’s shoulder. She howled and thrashed. He dodged. She lunged. He braced his arms. She grabbed them. Tears slipped across his cheeks.
She said, “It’s that damned magic hat isn’t it?” She relaxed her grip. “Let me take you to the hospital.”
Alvin grabbed his cap and ran for the fields of synthetic switchgrass.
Alvin ran so hard that the switchgrass thwacked against his shins and forearms. He ran to the dome’s edge until he collapsed against its inner wall. He crawled like a dog, feral, scraping the dirt. And there it was. A doorway, a large flap of plastic for a giant dog. No lock. No complicated mechanism. He pushed through, and panted. His legs ached. He had no choice but to crouch through a low, long, dark hallway toward another door. He pushed its flap with his head, and tumbled out into the open. Sooty air soaked into his lungs. Outside the dome, scraggly cedars clamped their roots into rocks and patches of mud. A hardened path led along a drainage ditch lined with shreds of trash and rusted-out cans. Alvin stumbled and walked until he came into a dense neighborhood of clapboard sheds and brick buildings.
He hid in brambles and brush, scratching himself against thorns and sharp-edged gravel. He spied the creatures who prowled along black-rock streets: people whose eyes cornered against their own sharpened wrinkles, giant dogs whose thick claws scraped the concrete, and ambulating recycler robots whose rubbery tentacles plucked cans and bottles out of the wet, grimy corners of alleys and drainage ditches.
Tattered billboards showed off specialty replants like monkeys, cats, and crows. And at sea, certain types of octopi and dolphin could be hired to maintain the undersides of boats. At dusk, beggars crowded the intersections, hoping for scraps of food, or work. They called after the well-to-do: the eidetics, the grafts, the partials, prenatals, and post-natals and the trade-offs, who’d lost some skills in favor of gaining extreme cognitive ability in a specialty field like programming or scheduling or gardening. Throughout the night, Alvin hid his cap and hoped there was no such thing as the Reset outside the dome. He forced himself to stay awake, pinching his forearms. No wall of light washed over him. Instead, the darkness slogged around all night long.
Dawn brought dying autumn leaves that wounded unkempt garden plots. The leaves plastered against shanty houses, office buildings, and an old brick joint called The Recycling Bin. Alvin sat on a rickety bar stool. Dust clogged an old air vent. Alvin loved it because nothing in-dome was so unkempt.
Steve-O and Wellington sat near him. Steve-O wore a beat-up bowler hat tipped to the side. He smiled too much. And Wellington had a welt along her left cheek, which had faded to the yellow-brown of an old bruise.
Although it was still early in the day, Alvin nursed a beer which he didn’t know was flat and was not supposed to taste syrupy. “No, I never saw a guard dog in the dome.”
“I swear it,” said Steve-O, “the place is full of them. They’re called Controllers. And their eyes glow during every Reset.”
Wellington was having none of it. “Oh ha-hah, that’ll be the day. Glowing eyes and replant interfaces. Some prison guards, eh? That prison doesn’t need guards.”
Steve-O adjusted his hat. “No it’s true.”
“Eraserville Incarceration Center for Rehabilitation,” said Wellington, “No way they need any of that. The Reset does it all, supposed to, anyway. That’s why the dome exists.”
Alvin puzzled. “Why are you calling it an incarceration?”
Wellington winked. “It’s what it is, smarty-pants, that’s why.”
Steve-O took off his hat, revealing a furrowed bald spot. “I’m sorry, but I just have to say it… Alvin you’re a damned fool to leave the dome. And me too. I was a real idiot. The luxury! The best of the food! The forgetfulness! And regular jerks like us the smartest around? No prenatals? No eidetics? I mean come on. Prison was nice. Blissful even. Sometimes all I want is to go back into Eraserville and live the Reset all over again.”
Wellington snorted her beer.
Alvin snorted his, mimicking. He murmured. “Some punishment. It means nothing if you can’t remember the worst of it. Sheeeee-it.” He said shit like that because it seemed more down-to-earth, and they were the grittiest folks he’d ever met. “Sheeeeeeee-it.”
Wellington snorted her beer again. “You in-dome folks always sound so funny?”
Alvin sniffed. “Sheeeee-it.”
Wellington laughed again at Alvin’s idea of out-dome jargon.
Steve-O straightened his cap. “You coming?”
“Nah,” said Wellington, “I’m doing scrapyards today. See you after.”
Alvin and Steve-O headed on over to the job site to sort tomatoes. Conveyor belts ran in speeding double rows. They picked the best fruits for shipping into the dome. Human fingers still had a finesse and softness of touch that the agrobots couldn’t manage. And Steve-O was kind to help him find a little work for regular humans, regular rememberers, who were without the big replants and certainly without prenatal replants.
Alvin plucked a few fat reds. “Say what do you think I did to get jailed into Eraserville?”
Steve-O giggled and said, “Who knows? Maybe you hacked some kids to pieces.”
Alvin said, “Maybe you ate your grandpa for supper.”
“Can’t remember what I did either.”
“But they let us out, just like that?”
Steve-O squished a too-old tomato until its crimson juices gathered along his knuckles. “Yup. Word is if you escape after enough Resets, then it’s proof you’re rehabbed. Nobody cares. The Controllers either keep you there where they can control your every memory, or throw you out-dome. And here they control you with shit jobs like this. You’ve got to grub for food. They’ll make money either way. Neat and clean, huh?”
“People are stupid. Who are the Controllers anyway?”
“Rich pricks, probably.”
“Can’t we fight them?”
Steve-O kept smiling. “Maybe so and maybe you don’t get it. It’s all one big trap. So why stay here?”
Alvin said, “I’m not going back.”
Steve-O shuffled to a row of over-watered tomatoes whose skins had cracked. He tossed them into the recycling bins. “I have to go back.”
At the end of their work hours, Wellington found them standing along an asphalt road. They showed Alvin how to gather his pay, enough to buy a few slices of protein bread, and a ration of water. And then they showed him how to head out to the street to beg.
Like the other humans, he called out to the replants and the prenatals, and they all ignored him. He called out to the grafts, and none even looked him in the eye. But a big eidetic dog named Buzzbeewulf stopped and said, “I have no memory of you. You’re new here.”
“That’s true,” said Alvin, “and I could use a hand.”
Buzzbeewulf was almost a bear. Almost. More like a big wolf. He lifted a paw. “Actually I could use a hand. Come along then, human.” He began to amble away.
Alvin stayed in place. For Reset’s sake, a talking dog, what’ll they come up with next?
Wellington pushed Alvin into the street and said, “Don’t be a dumb stray.”
Steve-O waved Alvin along. “Take it. He’s offering you a job.”
Alvin jogged after Buzzbeewulf.
Buzzbeewulf’s house stood comfortably in the middle of a rundown street. A two-story bungalow, it had several broken windows, an unkempt yard, and a loose flap as its main door. Inside, however, it was bright and warm. The big dog said, “My charge, Mr. Austerlitz, he’s far too old to be of much use.”
Alvin said, “You work for him?”
“We prenatal replants do not work for humans. I look after him. He’s starting to have gaps in his neural networks.”
Alvin said, “And you fill in those gaps?”
“To say ‘Let’s play fetch’ means I sniff for clues, smells, and ripe passageways that can retell memories for Austerlitz. I’m his memory guide dog.”
Alvin didn’t know what to say.
“Listen,” said the dog, “I earn a good living. I have a couple of guest rooms. You can stay in one. But I don’t have opposable thumbs. So I need you to do a couple of house chores. I mean in exchange for a room. Austerlitz is too old and frail for chores.”
Alvin said, “I’m trying to get used to this. I had a dog, but he never talked. You’re my first talking dog.”
Buzzbeewulf’s ears perked up. “What was his name?”
“Ah yes. A charming model. An excellent caregiver.”
Alvin stepped back, surprised. The elderly Mr. Austerlitz fidgeted in an old easy chair, staring out the living room picture window. The man hardly moved. Alvin said, “What? You knew Maso?”
Buzzbeewulf said, “Ah well, not your Masolino. But I know the type.”
Alvin waved a hand in front of Mr. Austerlitz’s face, and got no response. “Masolino wasn’t a type. He was my sweet dog and I miss him.”
“Silly humans. You don’t get that you’re caretakers. Dogs are caregivers. It’s a working balance. We both care but in different directions. And Masolino did some excellent work. You’re obviously nearly rehabbed.”
Buzzbeewulf said, “Give yourself time. It takes time.”
“This is too much. I have to work this off. Chores?”
Buzzbeewulf dug weeds from the yard. Alvin fixed a couple of windows, and installed a door-sized brush against a corner near the fireplace. Buzzbeewulf got up on his hind legs and rubbed his back against it, and Alvin plucked remnants of fur out of the brush. The hair was almost as soft as Masolino, and almost as large. Alvin stuck it in the recycling pod, and covered it with leaves and plant cuttings.
Out-dome, people pulled their leash-lines, followed by the dogs. Inside the dome, people happily forgot. Ignorance was bliss, no shit. But knowing everything, remembering it all like Buzzbeewulf did — that had to be hell. Everything spun in opposites and nothing felt like home.
No wonder Steve-O wanted to go back. But then home, a life back in the dome, it had been a big bubble of fakery and programmed forgetfulness. Was that what home always was, a sensibility borne of selective memories until it was a happy nostalgia?
That evening at The Recycling Bin, sitting with a round of beer, Alvin said to Steve-O, “Say where’d you get your magic hat? I mean you had one, right, and it helped you remember until you decided to leave Eraserville?”
“What those old things? I copied the design from some plans I got online. Gave ’em to a lot of folks.”
“I printed out the design too. They’re just wires, wrapped the right way, right?”
Steve-O slurped a gulp of brew. “As far as I can tell. The schematics said the pattern breaks up the Reset’s signals.”
“I’m going to make more hats,” said Alvin.
Steve-O sighed, “I thought the same thing, once. You’ll find some more wire in the scrapyard.”
The great dog’s work day was busy, so he dropped Alvin off at the scrapyard, a big fenced-in field filled with old computers and wires, circuit boards, pliers, wrenches and screwdrivers. It reminded Alvin of playing with outdated tech back in his old house.
Excited by a thicket of old wires in the distance, Alvin scrambled over a pile of metal boxes, fans, and antique circuit boards. He slipped and fell next to Wellington, who sat on the ground, gathering metal screws. The welt on her cheek had faded.
She said, “Well look who’s here?” She pulled another bolt off of a circuit board. “We get good money for screws and bolts. Solid metal. Dogs can’t do this. Needs a human touch to get them out.”
“I’m going for the wires,” said Alvin. “How’d you decide to leave the dome?”
“First earn your keep, then chit-chat. Got it?” Wellington tossed a scrap full of wires at him.
After several hours laboring over scraps, sorting out useful bits of metal, she said, “I just ran. I ran real hard. This asshole hit me in the face. I had a real bad day and decided anything else had to be better. So I ran. And I found a door. And here I am.”
Later she said, “I still can’t believe there’s no Reset out-dome.”
Alvin showed her how to construct a cap, twisting rolls of wire into a loop. “This is how I did it. Wore this, and then the Reset didn’t work on me.”
Wellington balked at the idea. “A magic hat?”
“I thought I could make more hats and help people in-dome.”
Wellington said, “You’re sweet. But you have to see something. Come with me.”
She grabbed a hunk of wires and walked Alvin through a winding path between piles of cooling fans reddened by patinas of rust. Mounds of empty plastic cases towered next to heaps of LED lights sorted by their colors. The path carved into the scrapyard, and sank lower until mounds of computer parts grew several times higher than a person. They rounded a corner, and found a gargantuan hump of wires, neatly rolled into rings. Hats. Thousands upon thousands of hats.
“I think there’s enough of your hats,” said Wellington.
“Good,” said Alvin. “We should use them.”
“I don’t think the hats stop the Reset.”
“No, they do. I swear.” Alvin pulled out a large ring, untied its two clasps and stuck the ring on his head. He tied its clasps under his chin. “See? Just like this.”
“Privileged in-dome dopes control everything. Your hat’s just a convenient way to organize the recycled wires. People do this work because dogs have no thumbs. There’s no magic. The powers-that-be lie and trick and steal and sooner or later, whether we like it or not, we work for them.”
“No, I swear. I’m taking these.” Alvin grabbed several more hats.
“Back in-dome you could do any nasty anything… and after every Reset no one would remember.” Wellington started weaving her bundle of wire into a quick, useful roll, just like the circlet of Alvin’s style of magic hat. “I can’t go back there. I’d do it. I’d hurt them.” She tossed her hat into one of the piles. “And I’d do it on purpose. For all that he did to me. I’d… no, I can’t have the power. I don’t want any of it anymore.”
Alvin grimaced, clamping and releasing his jaw. His hair poked through the gaps between the wires of his crazy crown. He said, “But we should make them change. They can do the most delicate neurosurgery, but they couldn’t cure Masolino? Why not? They’re all wrong.” Alvin thrilled at his own words, pumping his lungs to widen his chest. What kind of bum-jerk does nothing and just lives out his days sorting tomatoes and tearing apart old circuitry when he can do something to correct an awful wrong? “I’m going back in. I’m going to darken the Reset forever.”
Wellington scowled. “I can’t help you.”
“Who says I need your help?”
“Forget being a big hero.” Wellington stared up at the sky. “We’re free already. Look how there’s no barrier between us and this pile of shit scrapyard and the sky. Goodness is just being normal and doing a few good things for the people around you, if you can. And surviving.”
“You preaching me?”
Alvin said, “Well, don’t. Eraserville is all wrong. No two ways about it. Why do they get all the good tomatoes, and the best cuts of fish? As far as I can tell we did nothing wrong and they’re hoarding all the good stuff. Assholes. I’m going back in.”
“Goodbye then.” Wellington yanked a few more screws out of decaying circuit boards.
Alvin said, “I’ll be back. I got my hat. You’ll see.”
The next day, after Buzzbeewulf dropped Alvin off at the scrapyard, Alvin crawled to the top of the mound of hats and stuffed a dozen into his knapsack. Steve-O followed. From their high perch, they surveyed the terrain and found the path to the cedars at the edge of the dome. Steve-O rushed and Alvin raced to keep pace with him. Together they pushed through the door flap, and entered its long, dark, and too-low hallway.
They tumbled into the dome. Steve-O marveled at its meticulous, green gardens. Skeins of switchgrass reached their full height. Tulips donned red, orange and striped-white blossoms. Apple trees rounded their branches in perfect sun-gathering proportions. Gardeners hoisted clippers which clacked and thunked as they trimmed the shrubbery. Steve-O sputtered. “It’s so fucking nice here.”
Alvin clutched his bag of caps. He tied a handwritten note of directions to each cap, just in case people forgot. “Magic Hat Helps You Remember Better, Put On Every Day Before Evening Reset, Safe to Take Off Only After the Reset.”
Gardeners and their clippers turned toward him. They grit their bared teeth. They closed in around Alvin and Steve-O. Shears snipped the air. Steve-O cackled. He said, “Gotta love this place.”
He slipped underneath one of the gardeners. Another swung his shears side to side, narrowly missing his neck. Steve-O bolted deeper into the dome.
Alvin hollered. “Don’t attack. It’s me. It’s Alvin.”
The gardeners said, “You don’t belong.”
They didn’t remember him. Erased. Bastards. He dodged away from clattering garden shears. He ran for it. Someone tripped him and he fell onto paving tiles among the gardeners’ boots. His hat fell off. Someone kicked it. Someone grabbed him by the backpack and he wriggled out of it, dodging to the side. Alvin threw dust at the gardeners’ eyes. They stumbled, wiping their faces. He rolled, found his footing, and ran through the switchgrass toward his house.
Panting at the edge of the forest, Alvin stomped his feet and clapped the dust off his pants. He brushed his hand against his head, and felt his hair. No cap. Shock gulped its way down into his stomach. No hat. Somehow during the fight he dropped his knapsack of caps. He had to find one, or the Evening Reset would take him. And evening was approaching. He headed for his house. His computers. Maybe he could rip out enough wires to make a new cap.
The house was locked. But they’d never locked the doors. Alvin knocked. No one answered. He went around back and found the recycling pod. It was clean and well-maintained. Backdoor was locked too. The doggie-door was sealed shut with a chunk of plywood. He shoulder-slammed it thrice until it busted open. He crawled through. The clean, gray-green living room contained no pile of computers. No gizmos, no dust. Masolino’s teddy bear sat in a big easy chair and changed Alvin’s mood from desperation to grief. A clattering of keys echoed off the front door. Alvin hid in a closet, keeping its door ajar.
Betsy and some man stomped into the house, and argued. They headed to the kitchen. Pots and pans slammed against the counters, or the walls. Betsy shrieked. She returned to the living room and flopped down into the chair. She held the big kitchen knife, and blood slid off its edge. She went back to the kitchen. She dragged the man out the back, leaving a long smear of his blood along the floor. She shoved and heaved and rolled him into the recycling pod. She stomped back into the house. Fists whitened with rage, and knuckles bloodied with death, Betsy slammed the closet door open. “What are you doing in my house?”
“It’s me. It’s Alvin. It’s my house too.”
“You’re not Alvin.” She lunged toward him, readying to fight.
Alvin shrunk away.
“Wrong house, mister wrong-man.” Her fist headed for his face.
He ducked. He ran out of the house and into the thick synthetic switchgrass. Coyote-dogs lumbered in the distance near the edge of the woods, and their eyes glowed. He ran until he fell onto an old trail, where to his surprise Steve-O sat on the ground and wept.
Steve-O wiped the tears off his cheeks. “It’s just so beautiful here.”
“They kill people. They never know.” Alvin dusted off his pants, catching his breath in great hot gasps for air. “We have to go.”
“The Reset will fix us. Everything works out.”
“No. Masolino. And Betsy.” Alvin’s pained wince tightened until his lips dried.
“I’m staying.” Steve-O smiled through his tears. “Finally get some serious peace.”
The wall of light pulsed in the distance. The Controllers at the edge of the forest stepped toward them. Their canine eyes flickered.
“It’s all a lie,” said Alvin, “a damned utopian confection. There’s no going back.”
“I’m sick of life out-dome. I tried it. But I want the good food. This beauty. These gardens in here.” Steve-O held out his hands. “I’m staying.”
The Reset’s wall of light passed through the forest and blazed the sides of houses until they turned golden-orange. It neared the edge of the grass fields.
Steve-O said, “You don’t get it. I’m not like you. I hate it out there.”
“No, you’re fine. You’re just like me. I swear you’re fine.”
“You should run.” Steve-O shoved Alvin.
Alvin stumbled. “There’s too little time.”
Alvin panted. “I’ll try to remember you, and Wellington, and Buzzbeewulf and Masolino as long as I can.”
The Reset’s wall of light surrounded them. It rolled over Steve-O’s back to the front of his neck and his chest. His face disappeared into the light. The Reset enveloped Alvin’s fingers, and then his wrists.
Alvin slammed his eyes shut, but the brightness burned through his eyelids until he stood in a wide field full of light so bright that he saw no walls, no floor, no sky, no distance. Gravity pulled through the soles of his feet.
He recalled holding Masolino, and how his funny snaggle-toothed grin seemed almost human. He stroked Maso’s forehead. Maso closed his eyes halfway, which glowed ever so slightly as they always did during the Reset. Alvin whispered to his memory of his dog. “Thank you for all of your help. I don’t need this anymore. I don’t know what I did to be stuck in here. But I’m fine, I’m adapting. Thank you. I miss you, but I’ll be okay.”
Maso faded. The light receded.
Alvin knelt down to the ground where Steve-O sat. “How are you?”
Steve-O’s eyes fluttered and he grinned. His face had the drawn, vacant slackness of the Reset. “Feeling good…”
Alvin said, “Wellington was right. It wasn’t the hat.” He shook the dust off his shirt. “Steve-O I’m going to miss you.”
Alvin said, “Steve-O?”
“Yeah, I live over there.” Steve-O pointed to Alvin’s old house. “Betsy and I’ve got ourselves a nice little place too. I was thinking about tinkering with some old computer parts. We’re thinking about getting a dog. You from these parts?”
Alvin backed away, hit too hard by Steve-O’s words. How many times had he been renamed? Had Betsy, or Masolino? Was Steve-O, or Alvin, or every human just another placeholder? Alvin stumbled into a jog. Stale air tickled his nose. The dome’s gardens seemed mechanical, too perfect. He ran until he crawled through the exit, hunched through the low tunnel, and fell into a puddle of mud at the edge of the cedar trees. He wretched, as if dry-heaves would clear out the last remnants of the Reset’s light.
Buzzbeewulf’s charge, Mr. Austerlitz, died of natural causes one week after Alvin returned from the dome. Cold rain pelted the metal roof of the neighborhood church. In his casket, Austerlitz looked bony and sunken-in, but calm and waxy. The great dog sat next to the altar, and kept his head down, ears low, and tail curled. Alvin and Wellington kept him company from the first pew. A good twenty or so people scattered through the church behind them.
The priest mumbled her obeisances, and pressed a button at her podium until the casket closed and dropped into the recycling pod below the altar. She said, “Blessed be all, now and forever. An informal wake will be held at The Recycling Bin in half an hour. Come on out. Drinks on the great dog and extended family.”
The crowd cheered a grumbly cadence, and Alvin joined in, unsure if this beer-joy might be uncouth at a recycling ceremony. The big dog grunted at them. He said, “Hey thanks for being here.”
Wellington said, “Better this than living forever back in that, oh well, that place.” She thumbed in the dome’s direction.
“It’s a somber thing, losing a rememberer like Austerlitz,” said Alvin, “Losing his whole life’s memories, it’s like cutting a hole in reality.”
Buzzbeewulf sighed, and kept his ears low. “It’s all Swiss cheese. Bubbles of air and absence. Every memory. Mushy old cheese. C’mon, beers, okay?”
They strolled along puddles and wet streets to The Recycling Bin. Buzzbeewulf got a big bowl of brew. A little foam dripped off of his mouth-fur. He slopped it up and said, “Wow this beer smells like an autumn day at the ‘cross town ball park. Zoysia grass, clover, dry sand.”
“I don’t get it,” said Alvin. “Aren’t you sad? Didn’t you know more of Austerlitz’s old memories than he ever knew?”
“Sure I’ll miss him. But all these bubbles,” said Buzzbeewulf. He kept his chin to his chest and refused to look up. “I guess I’m grateful to know his memories. They expanded me. Sometimes the world lets us know little pieces of bigger truths.”
“Comings and goings, I suppose,” said Alvin. “I got through a Reset by not wanting it.”
“Yup,” said the dog. “But Steve-O still wanted it.”
“Can’t help everyone, even if you want to. People have to make their own choices.”
“So do dogs.” Buzzbeewulf slurped the last of his beer and ordered another round.
On the walk home, Alvin and Wellington minded their leashes and Buzzbeewulf sauntered behind them.
“A couple days ago I put in for guardianship,” said Alvin, “I’ve seen enough to know I’m just fool enough not to be able to survive out here on my own.”
“None of us can,” said Wellington. She held onto her leash and let herself wander to the side. She slapped her feet against the puddles, disrupting reflections of the sky and the distant dome around Eraserville.
Buzzbeewulf said, “I asked for you.”
“What?” said Alvin.
“Both of you actually.”
Wellington ran up to the dog. “No one’s that nice. Stop lying.”
Buzzbeewulf grunted. “No fooling. I told the state it’s just as easy to guard-dog two humans as one. And you’re not even eidetics, so why not save a dime and assign me to both of you? And they did, to keep tabs on completing your rehab.”
“Thanks you big oaf,” said Wellington.
The dog said, “It’s a bit of a pay cut, but we’ll do all right.”
Alvin patted Buzzbeewulf on the shoulder. The sky above them was clear and sparkling. Thinking about the entire Earth made Alvin a little upset and a little happy. The atmosphere around the planet’s one big bubble. It’s all just this or that bubble in some other bigger bubble. Masolino, had he seen the sky expand to all horizons, maybe he might’ve liked it. He liked the stars when they’d been wee smears in-dome, and now out-dome they grew into sharp pinpoints dancing across the heavens. And Masolino might’ve danced in the puddles, instead of tiptoeing around them.
“You know,” said Alvin, “If you’re going to have a perfect memory you may as well cram it full of as many good memories as you can. We ought to jump in some puddles.”
The big dog said, “That’s not the real world.”
“Yes it is.”
“No. The real world’s full of thousands of conflicts, endless smell-tracks, paths that turn back in on themselves. And memories you can’t imagine and that’s the way it’s always been. You have no nose for such things.”
Alvin said, “Oh come off it. You better jump in some puddles like when you were a puppy. You could dance. You could frolic.”
“I never frolicked.”
Alvin kicked up his shoes and wriggled a little dance. He remembered how Masolino used to sleep in his arms. And so he mimed cuddling him and babying him and taking Maso for a walk and how he wagged his tail.
Buzzbeewulf chortled, and stomped. “Silly humans.” He hopped in place, playing, a little.
At home they all snuggled in next to the dog’s fireplace. Alvin said, “If you went in-dome, and sniffed around, you could remember my past for me, right?”
“No,” said Buzzbeewulf, “too many variables.”
The fire’s reflections flickered in their home’s newly repaired windows. In the distance, the dome flashed and a new Reset began.
“I should never have gone back there. I should’ve listened to both of you,” said Alvin. “I guess I had to live through it one more time to make my own choice to resist the Reset. But then Steve-O became the old me. It happened so fast. Whose memory is whose? How can I be Alvin?” He leaned up against the dog’s broad chest. “Who am I then?”
“Simple. You’re the guy sitting here with us,” said the big furrball.
Alvin held his hand to the great dog’s smooth coat. Wellington wrapped Buzzbeewulf’s giant tail over her neck. His fur reflected the fire’s golden-orange warmth. The dog’s broad ribs rose and fell in slow rhythm with everyone’s breathing.
Massachusetts author-artist Gregory Scheckler crafts visual art and science fiction. Recent books include Water Taxi in a River of Vampire Fish and Moon Dust Infinity. The novels StarFold and Biomimic will be available soon. He and his wife can often be found skiing, hiking and biking the Berkshires.