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Things Remembered At Thirty Thousand Feet Above Sea Level

Lauren Ring (she/her) is a perpetually tired Jewish lesbian who writes about possible futures, for better or for worse. Her short fiction can be found in Pseudopod, Nature: Futures, and Glitter + Ashes. When she isn't writing speculative fiction, she is pursuing her career in UX design or attending to the many needs of her cat Moomin.

1. A pair of hand-knit red gloves.
2. My mother's face.
3. Posing for a commemorative photo on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, with windburned cheeks and a smile that was already wearing thin with grief. Saving the photo and printing what felt like a thousand copies.
4. A half-heard news broadcast about unusual seismic activity, grainy and out of sync on the care home's television. Charts and pretty reporters seen through a blurry veil of tears as I spoke to the intake nurse, avoiding eye contact. An annotated diagram of a cartoon beast juxtaposed with a skyscraper.
5. The gentle scrape of a cotton swab against the inside of my cheek. The way my hands shook as I pulled it away. Sanitized packaging materials, comforting instructions, and a prepaid shipping label.
6. My bank account balance, before and after purchasing a one-way plane ticket to Nepal.
7. The texture of the small picture frame at my mother's bedside, the one she makes me hold up to her every time I visit. Wood grain and snow-white varnish.
The fading photo on the front, the one that barely looks like me with all the layers of climbing gear and frost.
8. How it feels to be remembered: warm and sweet, like summer in childhood, or the taste of my usual coffee order on a weekday morning. Comforting in its ubiquity.
9. How it feels to be forgotten.
10. The number of spines on a kaiju's back, and how everyone else screamed when they saw it mid-flight, and the way I sat there in my little seat and ate my pre-packaged peanuts and did not make a sound.
11. An almost-empty base camp, with taloned footprints sunken like craters all around the tents. The desperate, hungry eyes of the climbers who remained despite every risk. Our silent understanding.
12. How the rest of the Himalayas looked from the summit of Mount Everest, not long ago, coated in rubble, with half their peaks shorn off by the great beast's scything tail.
13. The warning signs of altitude sickness, from a checklist I tossed out while packing my gear. The bold print notice never to climb alone--also tossed.
14. How small I am compared to Everest. How small Everest is compared to the kaiju. How small a single chromosome is compared to me.
15. Feeling icy scales beneath my gloves and crampon-equipped boots, and hearing my ax find purchase between their dull edges. That final step between the earth and the beast.
16. What it felt like to have a mountain move while I climbed it, the subtle undulations of tendons that set limbs in motion on an impossible scale, like riding a constant avalanche.
17. A yellow eye the size of a hospital bed.
18. How the helicopters looked from the summit of the kaiju's head, just now, with their rotors spinning madly on. The whole world spinning madly on.
19. When my test results arrived in the mail last year, a single neatly folded sheet.
20. A camera flash. Then another, and another.
21. The whispered words "I'm so proud of you," in a voice I can't quite recall.
22. A pair of gloves.
23. A face.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 10th, 2021

Author Comments

I've always been fascinated by Everest climbers, and what drives people to seek out greater and greater challenges even at great physical risk. What could be more impressive than summiting Everest except climbing a kaiju taller than the tallest mountain?

On a more personal note, Alzheimer's Disease runs in my family, so this story was born out of my own fears for the future. I wanted to combine several types of memory: the structure of a list of things remembered, a memorable climb, Alzheimer's, and memory loss due to HACE (one of the scariest results of high altitude climbs). I hope the resulting story is one you will remember.

- Lauren Ring
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