Shania McPherson awoke from her 300-year slumber. She’d been one of the lucky ones. One of 2,000 Americans selected for cryopreservation in a bunker deep, deep beneath the Earth’s surface in a governmental nuclear fallout facility when humanity realized they couldn’t stop the massive meteor headed straight for Earth. All the experts predicted the near total annihilation of every living thing on the planet’s surface.
It took her awhile to remember how to open her cryopod. She stood, stretched, and looked around. She saw a few other open pods, but the people who’d occupied them were nowhere to be found. She knew the scientists had staggered the awakenings over 1,000 years – one every six months, but had hoped there would be other people around to greet her.
Even though she clearly understood it was September 29, 2557, it still felt like the fall of 2257 to her. She grieved for the family and friends she’d lost three centuries ago in the meteor strike.
In the weeks that followed, Shania adhered to the guidelines in her ‘CryoRecivilization of Earth’ handbook. She ate, used the gym to strengthen her body, and reread all the survival text books as she prepared herself for life above ground.
One month to the day after her reawakening, Shania steeled herself and entered the elevator that would take her to the planet’s surface. She’d determinedly packed all the provisions outlined in the handbook, which were specifically tailored to her experience and expertise as were everyone else’s. She double-checked the air quality indicator which showed the air above ground was breathable. Once she stepped out of the elevator and it retracted into the ground, there would be no going back. Shania rolled her shoulders and took a deep, steadying breath. She was ready to face life in the new world.
When the elevator doors opened, Shania staggered backwards in shock. She was in no way prepared for what she saw before her.
She’d been ready for total devastation, but never expected this.
She hesitantly stepped out of the elevator and inhaled a deep breath of fresh air. She stood in grass the color and texture of spun pink cotton candy and took in the myriad of beautiful flowers and tall blue-trunked trees with purple leaves beside a bright green river. A dirt pathway led away from the bunker, following the river, and it seemed like as good an option as any to follow it.
After about an hour, she stopped to test the river water. It was perfect and didn’t need to be treated before she drank it. The only concern she had was that there seemed to be no animals, birds or insects. She found patches of strawberries, shrubs full of hazelnuts, and many other fruits and vegetables. She tested each carefully, elated to find most were edible. She harvested enough food for a few days and continued on her way.
Two weeks later, Shania crested a hill and saw smoke coming from somewhere in a valley far off to the right. She debated if she should continue to follow the path or make a beeline for the smoke and the possibility of companionship. She decided to be cautious and stayed on the pathway.
As the path continued to follow the meandering river, it soon became clear it was heading for the valley where Shania had seen the smoke.
She went over and over the protocols for encountering people or whatever type of creature awaited her; they’d spent so much time on this in training because it meant the difference between life and death. She pulled the gun out of her leg holster, set it to full stun and double-checked that it was charged. After making sure the safety was off, she put it back in the holster.
Just after passing a waterfall with sunlight glinting off the green water as it fell majestically to the rocks below, she heard it. Singing. A man’s voice. She readied her weapon, hiding in the trees and shrubbery along the edge of the path as she slowly made her way toward the sound.
The path twisted behind the rock outcropping that created the waterfall and she saw the small, beautifully built log cabin. The singing seemed to be coming from behind it.
Shania carefully made her way around the building. She listened and watched for any sign of danger, but there was only the singing. As she peeked around the corner of the cabin, she saw him. Joseph! He’d been her closest friend during training and the one man among the 2,000 CryoRecivilizationites she could picture herself repopulating the Earth with.
Joseph Preston Alonso. She remembered his middle name because it had been her mother’s maiden name. He’d had those mesmerizing deep brown eyes, a slow Texas drawl that couldn’t mask his quick wit, and a smile that made her go weak in the knees.
He’d been slated for reawakening 180 years after the meteor strike which meant he’d been living in the new world for 120 years. Shania stared at him. It didn’t look like he’d aged at all. He looked exactly as she remembered him, but how was that possible?
She drew her gun, took a deep breath, and plucked up the courage to walk out into the open keeping her gun in her hand, but pointed toward the ground. Cautious, but not threatening.
He was splitting logs and it took him a minute to realize she was there. His singing stopped abruptly as he stared at her. He was dumbstruck as he took in her long blonde hair, hazel eyes, and hesitant smile. She was as beautiful as he remembered.
“Hello Joseph. It’s me Shania McPherson from the CRE training program. I can’t believe I found you,” she nervously tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear with her free hand. “You’re the first person I’ve run into. Have you been living here for the last 120 years?”
120 years? The words didn’t make sense to Joseph. He glanced around at the cabin, the river, the fire pit, and the outhouse. Had he built this place? Did she say 120 years? It seemed as if only a week or two had passed since he’d awakened.
“Hello Shania,” he said warily in that slow Texas drawl as his eyes darted to her gun. “You were scheduled for reawakening 300 years after, weren’t you?”
“Yes. I awoke six weeks ago. I’ve been on the surface for about two weeks. I can’t believe the plant life; it’s not what I expected at all. I’m so happy to see you,” she blushed and rushed on “I mean, it’s just so nice to see another person and we got along so well in training. It’s a relief that you’re the first one I ran into.” She clicked the safety back on and stowed the gun in her leg holster.
He leaned on his axe handle, flashing her that knee weakening smile. “You’re the only person I’ve seen since I awakened, but it sure doesn’t feel like I’ve been living here for 120 years. How could that be? Are you sure you awoke 300 years after?” He watched her closely.
“Yes. At least according to all the instrumentation in the fallout shelter. You - well you look exactly like I remember you. It’s as if you haven’t aged a day.” She gave him a perplexed look.
Joseph scratched his chin. “I’m beginning to think maybe time doesn’t work quite the way we remember it. Never occurred to me until now.” He was silent for a minute as he thought it over. “It feels like I’ve only been on the surface for a few weeks. Until you asked if I built this place, it was almost as if I wasn’t aware of it. Of course, I built it, and, by the look of things, I’d said I’ve been living here quite a while.”
She thought back to their training. Joseph had been an architect, a master woodworker and an EMT. He’d been selected for the program based on his skill set, just as she’d been selected for her experience on farms with animals and growing crops. The selection committee had been impressed with her undeniable green thumb, but the fact that she’d become a nurse a few years before the meteor appeared had also been key to her acceptance into the CRE program.
After a lengthy conversation about all that he’d seen and done since he began living on the surface and about her horticultural expertise and the wide variety of fruit and vegetable seeds that were part of her provisions, they agreed that Shania would stay with him.
She was glad for the shelter of the cabin after camping in the open for the last few weeks. She was impressed with his craftmanship; the cabin was simple, but lovely. Well-constructed and cozy, he’d furnished it with a table and two chairs, a bed, and cabinetry he’d built. The fireplace on one end of the main room was covered in colorful river rocks and the thick, wooden mantel held his gun and two books he must have brought with him as part of his small allotment of personal items. She read the titles; The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare and Masters Of The Short Story which made her laugh.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
She picked up Masters Of The Short Story. I read this when I was in school. I loved ‘Gimpel The Fool’ by I.B. Singer; it still makes me laugh every time I think about it.
He cocked his head, looking at her appraisingly. “It’s one of my favorite short stories too, along with Roald Dahl’s Lamb To The Slaughter. Sadly, it’s not included in that book.
“I love that story! My friend Patricia and I used to argue about it all the time,” she flashed him a smile as she set the book back on the mantel. “I brought two books with me too. The Complete Sherlock Holmes and Homer’s The Iliad And The Odyssey."
He grinned. “Great choices! Looks like I may have just doubled my library.”
Shania blushed and hoped he was right.