by Curtis Schweitzer
Light travels at 299,792,458 meters per second. The earth resides an average of 149,597,890 km from the sun. As such, it takes light nearly eight minutes to transverse the space between the sun and our terrestrial home. Four hundred eighty seconds to travel as fast as anything can travel. Eight minutes to make its way from the perpetual chaos of its burning edge through the vast reaches of space to the calculated mayhem of humanity crawling across the calm, green surface of our planet.
Eight eternal minutes.
The child-gods slumber in the effervescence of the dusty morning light cascading through the basement window, their forms strewn between mountains made of soft pillows, draped with spongy sleeping bags and fuzzy veils of knitted blankets. Valleys twist and sink amongst toes sprouting from young feet, the gentle rise of mountainsides dramatically increase upon the happenstance of child in the sudden grip of dreams, and earthquakes shatter quietly the stillness as they softly murmur, fidgeting and exhaling slowly. Limbs spilling like waterfalls, rebounding in the microcosm of the basement landscape, they then return to sleep, content to leave their humble domain at rest.
At their peaceful border, static churns from behind the glassy surface of the television's angry, hungry mouth—mute digital agony raging against its transparent prison wall. Light flickers from the box, illuminating a small plot of bare carpet at its base, shifting fluidly as it dances on the fine carpet fibers, weaving its way through the infinitesimally small landscape within a landscape. The slightest whisper of static issues forth from the old, worn speakers, a calming sound—like water pouring quickly over the myriad of folds and crevices of a mountain's tough skin.
All is still. All is silent. All is wrapped in the infinity of the moment, stretching time through peace, hanging precariously on the edge of eternity.
A child stirs softly. The fragile moment shatters and dissipates, each child waking in turn. The child-gods arise from the worlds of dream, breaking into the dull suburban atmosphere, surfacing into the dusty half-light of the morning, curiously peering at one another through blurry, tired eyes. Looking across the still landscape at one another, there is at first confusion coursing through their faces—a furrowed brow or blank stare. Comprehension, however, dawns quickly, and the realization of identity returns to each, as they awake in the way that only children can: naive, without cynical masks or the dead-tired depression so common to adults. They are happy to be awake, happy to be alive, happy to see one another and remember their laughter and joy. They are children—they see the world for what it could, not what it will, be.
Their names are Timothy, Matthew, and Alex.
The most delightful object in the room currently rages incomprehensibly. Timothy reaches to the television dial and presses a button, turning the set off. It cries softly before disappearing behind a flash and mute purple glow retreating into black.
"Hey!" Timothy turns around to see who’s protesting his simple action. Matt looks back at him. "I was watching that, butthead."
"It was static," Timothy says.
"That's 'cause that channel doesn't work."
"It's my house," Timothy says, "I know which channels work and which ones don't. 56 is always all static and stuff."
"Maybe we like static," Alex says, garnering confused looks from the other two.
"Maybe RoboDogs is on today," Matt says, excited. The other children look back, their eyes glinting in anticipation.
"Yeah!" Alex says. "It's Saturday. It's always on on Saturday."
Timothy smiles. "Okay." He turns the TV back on, and is instantly greeted by the same cool hush of static. He turns up the volume, and the electronic box roars like a waterfall as he begins turning the dial.
Grocery stores sometimes achieve a stunning beauty. There are moments when the fluorescent haze seems, for a moment, to freeze time—or at least slow it down—and the world snaps into startlingly clear focus. The humanity inside is laid bare:
A mother pushing a shopping cart full of hyperactive children screaming for candy…
A teen trying to decide if he can purchase a six-pack of beer with a newly acquired fake ID…
George, the manager, his paunch protruding as usual, moving grumpily from aisle to aisle in search of teenage miscreants, dressed in his brown smock with "Wyatt Grocery" emblazoned on it…
The quiet young man who enters every Saturday, buys a pack of cigarettes and leaves, too shy to say a word to anyone, much less talk to the pretty girl who always works the check-out aisle…
Sarah sighs as she watches him leave and returns to work. The large Hispanic woman glares at her silently. Clearly she is in a hurry, and Sarah's daydream has forced a small delay.
Sarah doesn't mind. She quickly and efficiently drags item after item over the gaping maw of the scanner, listening for the telltale beep to tell her that, yes, that packet of Wyatt Home-Grown™ sausages has been checked, registered, and will appear on the bill. It is a monotonous job that nevertheless passes quickly. Soon the Hispanic woman has swiped her multicolored credit card and shuffled away with four bags of groceries.
Another person pulls a cart up, shuffling goods onto the small conveyer. He looks to be in his later thirties. Much like George, he sports a figure in need of more exercise. Small, pointless items roll onto the scanner. Sarah checks a box of yogurt and a package of gum. There's a loaf of bread and a box of candy bars. Two heavy 12-packs of soda, and a bag of chips. The man turns slightly red when she drags the box of condoms across the electronic eye, and Sarah does her best not to break the steady rhythm of the electronic beeping. Inside, she thinks it’s kinda cute he isn't hitting on her like that scumbag last week, whose sole purpose for buying condoms was to suggest that she help him use them. Inwardly, she smiles, noting his wedding ring for the first time.
Sarah hates her job. But then again, Sarah hates doing anything but writing poetry. Her little brother always teases her about it—he hates poetry—and she always tells him the same thing: "Someday you'll fall in love, and then you won't hate poetry anymore". Being young, he usually snickers and returns to poking bugs or finding new ways of irritating her, usually by asking as often and as loudly as possible who she’s in love with.
The Condom Man walks away sheepishly, carrying his soda and two bags of meaningless junk food.
Looking to see if George is watching, Sarah grabs the receipt the Hispanic woman left, and scribbles down a line or two, tucking the paper into her pocket when she's done. She smiles—she always does when she writes something she's proud of. It makes her feel like someone waiting to be discovered. Someone with potential. Someone who won't have to work in grocery stores her whole life.
Steven, another grocery-drone like herself. He is a year younger than Sarah, and clearly has a crush on her. She thinks that’s cute as well, but doesn't let him know that. After all, Steven is Steven and he has more than a little bit of growing up to do, at least in Sarah's estimation. His creaky, adolescent voice betrays his social standing. Steven is the kind of kid who plays computer games a lot, but that doesn't matter much to her. What matters to Sarah is the fact that Steven doesn't like poetry enough to read it on his own. She's given him a few books—Rossetti, Keats, etc.—but she knows he only reads them because he wants her to like him. Which is, again, kind of cute. But Sarah is a serious young woman. She doesn't make decisions based on "cute."
"Hi, Steven," she replies. "You're late again. George is going to be mad."
"I know," Steven says. "My bike had a flat tire."
"Again?" Sarah asks. "You're gonna have to find yourself some new tires. Whatever you're using doesn’t seem to be working." She smiles. "But I'll watch out for George."
Steven grins, a little too widely. "Thanks." With that, he heads to his own register and begins to settle himself in.
A shout from across the store. It's George.
"Steven! You're late!"
Clutching the armrest lightly, Sherry looks out the window at the vast expanse of clouds veiling the ocean below. The dawn sky has evolved into a startling yellow, gradually coloring the clouds a soft golden hue, the sunlight streaming between the towers of crumpled white vapor in clean, straight lines. It is the moment before a moment, the time before a time, the transparent vanity of the morning perplexed at the flying machine transgressing the sanctity of space.
Turning from the scene, Sherry leans her head back and closes her eyes, returning to sleep.
The gentle ding the aircraft's announcement system nudges her awake, the crunchy voice of the pilot streaming through a faint hissing static.
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking," he says, his voice near deadpan. A short, abrupt click, and he continues, "We are about an hour and a half out. I've turned on the fasten seatbelt sign due to some turbulence we're expecting, so sit tight. We'll be in about 23 minutes early, if I've calculated correctly." Again, the slight click erupts from the tiny speaker overhead.
Sherry allows her mind to sink back into the hazy mist of unconsciousness.
"Aww, man. The same lame stuff's on every channel."
The children stare blankly at the newscaster jabbering into a microphone. The picture is far from clear, broken by the same loud bursts of static encountered earlier. The image grows fuzzy and fluctuates before snapping back into serene focus. Intermittent bursts of static proceed to interrupt randomly for a few moments, the perfectly straight jaw line of the anchor fluctuating like water in the breeze.
"I thought you had cable?" Matt says. "Doesn't it always look good?"
"Most of the time," Timothy says, perplexed. "Except Channel 56—it’s always like that, but it's all weird and stuff. My mom tells me not to watch it."
The talking head looks worried. Timothy turns the volume up slightly, listening through the wall of hissing static. "Something about sunspots or something," he says, turning back to the others. "Sounds boring to me."
The other two seem to agree, and begin searching for something more entertaining than sunspots on the news. The table behind them, still filled with junk food from the previous night, attracts the most attention, and as half-eaten candy bars are voraciously consumed, the basement grows once again quiet but for the sound of noisy chewing.
Alex looks at the TV again. "Last time it was like this my parents got all worried and stuff. Made us go out back into the shelter my dad built. It wasn't very fun."
Matt and Timothy look at him strangely. "This hasn't ever happened," Matt says.
Alex nods, swallowing an impressively large piece of chocolate. "Back at the millennium." He pronounces it mel-len-I-um.
"Oh." Matt says simply.
The endless search for the meaningless and heartless electronic guardian resumes, the channels flying by so quickly no one can tell that the same newscaster is appearing on every single one, again and again. Static still holds a strong grip on the television screen, its grey and ghostlike fingers wrapping the fuzzy images in a wooly, harsh embrace.
Suddenly, the room grows darker, as if a cloud has passed in front of the sun. Outside, the orange ball of fire heading west dims slightly. It is a perfectly clear day.
The children, of course, do not notice, and continue searching fruitlessly for RoboDogs.
Sherry feels the plane dip slightly, and as her stomach registers the tiny turbulent bump, her hands grip the armrests more firmly. The rays of golden light slicing through the window next to her let out a luminescent glow, weakening slightly.
The intercom system crackles, a few syllables from the cockpit struggle against the white noise like a desperate, drowning man.
The Boeing 777 shudders.
Above her, the seatbelt light flickers, shouting angry electronic eruptions. Two rows up, someone's reading light sparks slightly, prompting a quiet Oh! from Sherry and a scream from the occupant underneath.
The man next to Sherry coughs slightly.
The mayhem is quiet; no one wants to draw attention, no one wants to panic.
Unease races through the plane like rats through a sewer. A murmur storm erupts, and concerned faces glance around, looking for answers.
Sherry simply sits, hands clenching the seat firmly, her face frozen in a stoic, unreadable expression.
Sarah is checking out a man who has far too much love for green beans, incessantly trying to get her scanning gun to read one of the cans when the electricity in the store blacks out for a moment before flickering and returning. There is a brief, silent pause, after which the light above her suddenly explodes in an enormous shower of sparks and tiny fragments of white, frosty glass. The ceiling is close to twenty feet above her head, and as the long yellow-white lines of searing electrical discharge bloom from the girders, she ducks, covering her sandy hair with her hands. The man in front of her, still clutching two cans of beans, shouts and jumps back, falling onto the floor. Several people allow short grunts or squeals of surprise to leave their mouths, peering over the miniature skyscrapers of shelves at the fantastic, bright display. Sarah feels a few shards quickly and suddenly embed themselves in her arms, and winces, hearing more shatter around her. The socket emits a final burst of sparks, then fades to silent stillness. The serrated edge of sound dissipates between the aisles of cheese, meat, and vegetables.
There is a moment—one of those long moments, the sort that seem to last much longer than a moment—as people digest the event. The first to move is Green Beans man, who scuffles to his feet, popping his oddly round face over the small checkout counter.
"Are you all right?" he asks Sarah.
"Yeah," she replies, brushing glass out of her hair and taking stock of the long trails of blood on her arm. "Just a few nicks, really." She stands up. "Is everyone else okay?"
"DAMMIT!" It is, of course, George, who waddles (George does not run in his store) into view, staring not at the human beings on the ground, but rather at the large, empty gap left by the light. George says nothing more, but inside of his small, bald head, it is clear he is calculating the cost of the damage.
"I think we should call an ambulance," says Green Beans, helping Sarah to her feet. She wipes her hands on the "Wyatt Grocery" smock, leaving a small bloodstain on the fabric.
George's eyes get a little bit wider, partly because he know that if he doesn't call an ambulance, lawsuits might start, and partly because he knows he's going to have to have Sarah's smock cleaned of the blood. He storms off in a decidedly awkward huff.
"Thanks," Sarah says to Green Beans. There is an awkward pause as the people in the store shuffle towards the site of the accident. Someone walks over with cans and hands them to Green Beans. The soft sound of sirens filters in from the outside.
"That was quick," someone says.
"I just called. They said to not to expect anyone for a few minutes," an older woman said, emerging from behind one of the shelves.
"Huh." Everyone looks a bit perplexed for a moment, listening as the sirens grow louder and louder, closer and closer. Reaching a peak, the surreal whine weakens slightly, fading, before finally winking out.
"Guess that wasn't our ambulance," Sarah says, prodding the small touch screen she uses to check out customers. "That's odd," she says, poking the sticky plastic harder, "it's frozen or something." The screen is black and featureless, and remains so despite Sarah's efforts.
In the corner near the flower shop, one of the televisions suddenly flickers to life, static racing across the screen. Resolving out of the fuzzy mist, a news anchor, looking stern and official, speaks into a microphone.
"Turn that up," someone says. Sarah walks over and fiddles with the controls.
"...are concerned that these electromagnetic disturbances could be an indicator that something is causing major instability in the sun's chromosphere..."
"Chromosomasphere?" one of the shoppers loudly ejaculates. "I thought that had to do with genes or something."
"The chromosphere is one of the layers of the sun above the photosphere." Sarah hears herself saying. She feels instantly self-conscious. Genes ignores her. A few of the store's patrons stare at her with surreal, zombie-like looks spread across their faces, but turn quietly back to the newscast, which is now emblazoned with enormous red letters reading "BREAKING NEWS - SOLAR INSTABILITY."
"Turn it up," someone suggests quietly.
Sarah gingerly walks toward the television and, with her good hand, reaches up and presses the "Volume +" button, wondering vaguely why it is she, who's arm is soaked in blood, is the one doing this. It crosses her mind that her Wyatt Grocery smock lends her a sort of folk authority in feudalism of the grocery store, and so she returns to her register quietly, clutching her bloody arm against her chest.
"Scientists are at a loss to explain why this solar turbulence, which has already caused several aviation incidents, is happening so quickly. No abnormal solar activity was projected, and the sheer intensity of this solar storm—" an eruption of hissing, furious static and a long, low and jagged electrical hum burst over the face of the news anchor. "—ack to you, Jim."
By now, many of the customers have begun a pseudo-exodus from the store. Three or four carts sit, abandoned, in the middle of aisles. A few of the customers, including Green Beans and Genes, remain by Sarah as they quietly wait for an ambulance. Every screen at the numerous check-out counters is either blank or frozen, and for the first time in nearly five years, it is clear that Wyatt Grocery under the management of George Pinsley, is unable to do business.
Sherry closes her eyes. The cool interior of the jetliner's cabin is being rocked by the turbulent air surrounding it—bucked to and fro, forward and backward, up and down. The violent, sudden and unpredictable jerking throws Sherry's head back and forth, and her hands, now incredibly sore from clenching the seat's armrests in what can only be described as a death-grip, are beginning to wash slowly white. No longer is the cabin quietly tense. Screams punctuate the violent rocking of the aircraft's thin body.
The crackle of the pilot's intercom system explodes from the speakers above Sherry's head, a sudden, frenzied sonic splash. Words crumble in the rough turbulence of sound. Deep, resounding crashes echo, and the muffled screams of straining metal reverberate within the hollow shell. They are the cries of the artificial animal, the metal bird dependant on the goodwill of the sky, the final gasps of pain from within the breast of a dying miracle of man's haughty genius.
There is a tremendous wrenching sound, the sort of sound that cannot be told in words, the sort of sound that reaches to your heart and twists it carefully. Sherry's head rolls to the side, and, looking into the serenity of the white towers of stratospheric euphoria, watches dispassionately as the round body of the engine rips itself from the wing, disappearing out of sight.
Alex stares at the television, eyes straining to glean from the static the pattern of a face. Outside, the frightened boys hear sirens calling maniacally across the landscape. Near the wall, the tattered end of a power cord sits smoking beneath a brown burn mark splayed across an outlet.
The news anchor is back on the screen. The transmission, oddly enough, is clear.
"Scientists are saying that the sun is becoming more and more unstable by the minute. We're expecting a press conference..." the frightened man reaches to his ear and listens to the small wire protruding from it. "And we're getting word now that the conference is beginning early—"
Matt looks over at Alex. "Change the channel!" he demands, obviously terrified.
Timothy serenely responds, looking at Alex with cool eyes. "No," he says simply.
By now, the picture has resolved. A man in a white lab coat and horn-rimmed glasses nervously steps behind a large podium with the Los Alamos National laboratory symbol mounted hastily on the front.
Matt begins to sob quietly. Outside, the sound of two cars colliding echoes dimly in the distance.
"The recent solar disturbances have created mass havoc across the world," the scientist says.
"What's havoc?" Alex asks.
"Be quiet," says Timothy.
"We've never seen anything like this. From what we can tell, it is going to get worse."
In the waiting audience of reporters, one man raises his hand. "When do you expect it to be over?" he asks.
"Right now," the scientist stutters, "we don't expect it to end, at least for the foreseeable future."
In the grocery store, Sarah sits quietly, her arm still covered in blood. George paces nervously, keys dangling from his hands.
"I told you, I can't lock up until they all leave!" he yells, gesturing toward the remaining four customers—Green Beans, Jeans, and a pair of small, blonde women still browsing through the produce aisle, oblivious.
Another wave hits the grocery store, causing a sudden eruption of static, pouring from electrical devices. Screens, lights, and computer terminals crackle ominously about the small grocery store’s innards. Sparks pour from an outlet near the wall, leaving burnt, brown plastic.
Sarah sees Steven loping toward her, boxes of bandages in hand.
"Hi," he says, winded. "I got these from the drug store just down the street," he pauses and takes a few long breaths. "I thought they would help with your arm."
Sarah smiles back warmly. "Thanks, Steven."
A few minutes later, Sarah finds her arm a few sizes bigger, with white gauze wrapped around thickly. There is no more blood. "Thank you, Steven," she says quietly.
Steven looks back at her, eyes big and obviously a bit frightened.
The television display erupts to life, the news conference splayed across its wide face. Free of static now, the face of the scientist fills the whole of the oversized display, his nervousness palpable and evident in the drips of sweat forming at his brow.
"Right now," he says, "we don't expect it to end, at least for the foreseeable future."
Sarah gasps a quick "Oh, great," under her breath.
Moving away from the television screen, Sarah attempts to push her way toward a place to rest. Steven attempts to help, failing miserably, of course, but managing small, awkward pushes on her right shoulder. They hurt her, but she thanks him anyway.
Outside, the wailing of emergency vehicles continues, growing louder and louder. A few minutes pass before several medics burst into the store carrying a dizzying array of electronic devices and large orange cases. One, holding a stretcher, spots Sarah and her now crimson bandages.
"Over here!" he shouts, heading toward her.
Genes is surprised to see them, and rushes over to attempt to help. A paramedic gently guides him away.
"Where does it hurt?" the first medic asks.
Go figure, Sarah thinks to herself, before gesturing to the bandaged arm.
"Oh, right," the paramedic says.
"We need to get her out of here," a second paramedic says, fresh from diverting Genes away. The medic with the stretcher begins prepping the long orange board, the sound of Velcro echoing a tiny bit within the open skeleton of the store.
"I'd appreciate it if you could hurry up," says George, whose hair is in such disarray that he looks to have collected the whole of the building's static in his head. Glasses askew and eyes bulging, George gestures to the door.
"Sir, we're handling it," says one of the paramedics.
"I just need you to get her out of here!" George says.
"Be quiet!" someone yells. It is Green Beans, who is staring at the television screen. He reaches to the small button on the edge and turns up the volume.
"And we're expecting a major event at 9:21AM, Pacific Standard Time. We imagine this will cause mass disruption, much more than what we have now seen, and may result in significant fatalities. If our calculations are correct, sufficient solar instability may even cause complete collapse. Such an event, if it occurs, will no doubt create an enormous shockwave travelling at the speed of light toward the earth."
“We believe the probability of such an event to be…almost certain. All citizens should seek shelter immediately. We have no way of knowing how powerful such a shockwave will be, but a worse case scenario will involve…”
"Will involve what?" yells Genes.
Static rushes across the monitor. “…the complete vaporization of the earth.”
The shock of the announcement is surprisingly short-lived. All eyes search the interior of the store for a clock.
"There!" Sarah shouts, pointing.
The red numbers stare back, mute.
They read 9:20AM, PST.
Sherry is crying. She is not alone. Around her, it seems, are only wails of despair. Across the aisle, a young mother clutches her baby to her chest, sobbing quietly. All aboard the aircraft know they are not, in all likelihood, meant to survive to see the next day.
A sudden click slams into Sherry's eardrums, and her eyes suddenly explode into stares as a heavy, plastic object collides with her head, glancing sideways and landing in her lap. Searching through the disorientation of the chaos surrounding her, Sherry sees in her lap the surreal happenstance of a phone, anchored to the seat in front of her by a long, twisting cord.
Timothy, and Alex stare at the television, the screen bright blue, the emergency broadcast system on every channel. The inscrutable words scrolling maddeningly across the screen seem to have hypnotized them, their eyes glazed and mouths partially open. Tears are evident on their faces.
"Come on!" Matthew says. On the couch, the cushions have been arranged in a crude structure, leaning precariously on one another. A small doorway hides near the edge of the square structure.
Alex and Timothy struggle into the tiny opening, pushing at one another to crawl into the imaginary protection of the tiny child's fort.
Suddenly, a ringing pierces the cacophony of the children's shallow infighting.
"The phone!" Alex says. Timothy bursts from the frail armor of the couch and grasps the black handset.
"Hello?" Timothy says.
Steven is sitting next to Sarah, staring blankly into space.
"I read your Keats book," he says, his voice flat and dreamlike.
"Oh?" Sarah asks, attempting to feign interest.
"What was your favorite?"
Sarah looks over at him, her arm uncovered and free from the large bandages. In the corner, the Paramedics are attempting to coax Jeans into coming with them. Green Beans is at the defunct sliding glass door, looking at the chaos outside. Screams, muffled and distant, filter from the outside.
"Yeah?" It is the most expression Sarah has heard from him since the announcement.
"Do you…like me?"
There is a pause. "Yeah."
Sarah does not want to admit it, but she likes him back. Looking at the clock, she feels a deep sinking in her heart. It is 9:21AM, PST. The scientist on the news said that whatever happened, no one would know about it for eight minutes.
Sarah leans over and kisses Steven. It is an awkward kiss, messy, the sort of kiss that teenagers give. It is beautiful in its naive fumbling, a discovery in the simple, quiet moment. It is a defiant gesture to the disaster and chaos surrounding them. In the midst of impending death, it is simply good.
As Sarah leans back, wiping her lips with her good hand, she sees the smallest tear forming in Steven's eye.
"Bright Star, would I were steadfast as though art," he says in quiet whisper.
"Not in lone splendor, hung aloft the night," she replies.
Millions of miles away, the great light of the world, the star that has fascinated men since men have been, explodes violently, a giant, bursting light gushing into the empty space around it, a chrysanthemum of fire spreading in a huge ring into the deep void of space.
"Mom?" Timothy says, sobbing. "Are you there?"
Alex has made his way back between the couch cushions, huddling quietly beneath the layers of fabric and foam, crying softly. Matthew is upstairs, searching desperately for tin foil.
"IloveyouMom!" Timothy shouts. "I love you!"
" And watching, with eternal lids apart, like Nature's patient sleepless Eremite,"
"The moving waters at their priestlike task of pure ablution 'round earth's human shores..."
The plane dips forward, pitching Sherry into the chair in front of her, smearing her tears onto the harsh fabric of the chair.
"I know honey," she shouts, sobbing, "I love you to, my beautiful Timothy..."
"Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask of snow, fallen on the mountains and the moors..."
She is cut short as the plane begins to break apart, sucking the phone from her hands.
It is a quick death. Sherry feels nothing as the cold air of the atmosphere outside rushes into the plane, the fuel igniting and sending pieces of the plane in all directions in a blossom of orange flame that grows, throwing glinting metal in a thousand directions, disappearing into the sea of brilliant blue.
Sarah feels her phone vibrate and hears it ringing.
"No—yet still steadfast..." Steven looks toward the shelves with a blank stare, mindless repeating the lines of the poem, allowing them to spill from his mouth in a pleasant verbal waterfall.
"Hello?" She is greeted by static. "Hello?"
"Sarah?" The voice is tinny and empty, sounding as if from miles away. Sarah struggles, her face contorting as she focuses her concentration into the long gray field of electronic noise bubbling from the tiny device.
"Still unchangeable. Pillowed on my fair love's ripening breast..."
"Timothy?" Her voice is strained, broken by tears, coming in short, choking sobs.
"Mom..." Sarah hears, her hand clutching Steven's.
"To feel forever its fall and swell."
A light in the ceiling explodes, joining the rest of the empty, burned carcasses scattered across the ceiling of Wyatt's Grocery.
"I love you Timothy," Sarah says.
"...love you too..." is all she hears before the static overwhelms Timothy's small, fragile voice. Sarah does not see the small digital screen display the words "lost signal" because she has thrown the small cellular telephone into the shelf in front of her. Turning her head, she looks at the clock.
9:25. Four minutes.
Timothy, Matthew, and Alex are silent. Huddled in the couch cushions, cringing at every crash and siren's call, they seek shelter not behind money, not behind proud towers, but from each other. Capable only of building the humble house of fabric, even their quiet, naive minds know that protection from the coming monster is impossible.
Upstairs, a blind, angry monster of an automobile slams into the front window, sending glass pouring down the stairwell. Alex is the only one with the courage to look outside the felt cushions and watch the glittering diamond-like shards of glass fall in an enormous cascade through the opening. Light plays with them as they descend, tickling their prisms, causing light to flood the room in a chaotic, beautiful pattern of endless light, mimicking the edge of the sun in their flowing, darting movements.
It is perhaps the only peaceful moment in all the waking world. Between the mayhem outside and the fury of the sun's angry bursting, the quiet wonder of a child cuts silently and powerfully through the sickening madness, an unequalled triumph in the midst of blooming destruction.
"Awake for ever in a sweet unrest."
The metal carcass of Sherry's airplane slams into the blue waters of the Pacific, glinting in the bright sunlight. Sinking through the deep, cleansing sea, the fuselage disappears, leaving two hulking wings, both broken in two, to gently fade below the water's cool edge.
Sarah is staring at the clock. 9:28. Sixty seconds. Steven, beside her, has stopped his somber quotation, and resumed staring at the tile of the floor. Somewhere, she hears George gathering large objects to place in front of the door, muttering to himself endless complaints of how much it will cost to fix the damages inside the store.
Turning to Steven, she asks, "Do you remember the last lines?"
Steven somehow manages a smile of his own. "I do."
"Well what are you waiting for?"
Sarah feels something inside her lift, as if wings had sprouted from her heart.
"Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath," she begins again.
Steven looks at her, deeply fixing her eyes in his gaze. "And so live ever..."
The three boys are hugging one another, sobbing. The earth is shaking. The room is growing hot. A deadly silence has draped itself upon the whole world
"Guys?" It is Matthew.
"Yeah, Matt?" Alex asks.
"I wish we weren't alone," Matthew says.
It is Timothy who responds. "We aren't."
Sarah and Steven speak their last words together.
"Or else swoon to death."
The light floods the store much brighter than the feeble inventions of man have ever thought. Genes and Green Beans begin to scream, but are cut short as the entirety of the earth is rocked by a tremendous shockwave. Fire seeps in an instant from thin air- the glass of the front door melts. George disappears. Sarah feels a final squeeze from Steven's hand before her body evaporates into the fiery shockwave of the sun's heat.Sweeping across the earth from ocean to ocean, the fire consumes all in its path, leaving nothing, not even dust in its wake. At 9:29 in the morning, the earth sinks into the vast reaches of space, its inhabitants gone, and the life that made it the jewel of the universe swept away by the careless, cold, and merciless tide of flame.
© 2007 by Curtis Schweitzer
Original fiction debuting at Residential Aliens.
Curtis Schweitzer is a recent graduate of Biola University in La Mirada, California, where he studied Music Theory and Composition under John Browning and Christopher Wills. He lives in Colorado, and plans on pursuing a doctorate in Music Theory. He blogs at empty rhetoric and is a composer for WebSerials' Project X.