The Last Lily (short fiction) Part 5.
Hobi and Peter have one last encounter with the echoes upon Briny Beach. As the human race evacuates their dying planet will they find a way to escape or be left behind?
Start from the beginning: https://medium.com/@daniellenolan/the-last-lily-short-fiction-part-1-1db66642cc49
The Last Lily (Part5.)
Three hours was all that they had. It was because of this deadline that Hobi had protested against his father’s suggestion to rest his eyes for a minute.
“The only thing that there is to do upon the Phoenix is sleep”, Hobi objected. “We need to get off the beach now and you know it”.
Peter sighed and then told his son the truth. The bus that they needed to catch had left the departure point 10 minutes ago. While their escape shuttle, the Phoenix, had not taken flight yet, by the time they got Hobi moving, scaled the cliff, battled the uphill walk home and then drove all the way to ground zero they would have missed the take off for sure. Once Peter could have used his mobile phone to alert his colleges in the Sustainability Corp that they had missed the pick up however they could no longer rely upon the cell towers to relay the call. The acid rain had seen to that. With no way to alert anybody to their dilemma and no feasible way to get there in time, the two of them were essentially stranded and alone.
“Do you think that we should make a run for it anyway, Hobes?”
Feeling as thin and weak as a piece of tissue paper, Hobi moaned and shook his head. He did not know where he was going to find the energy to make the climb, let alone run all of the way home. If their time was doubled, if they had two spare hours instead of one, Hobi still doubted that they would make it to the launch site in time.
“I should have never left the house”, he sighed under his breath. “I am glad that I could give Mum her lily but in doing so I have killed us both. What was it that you told me, Dad? That the Earth was going to become so inhabitable that all life is expected to be wiped out within the next five years? I hate that I am the reason why you did not escape”.
Strangely, Peter shot his son a confident smile.
“Do I really need to escape when I don’t feel trapped?”, he asked. “Even if we had made it all of the way to Eden, it was never going to become my home. My home is here, on this beach. My home is with you. I’d thought that I had lost you, Hobi. Every day that we have together now is a gift. I would choose being left behind again and again if the alternative meant boarding the Phoenix without you and Jessie. She’s here with us now, you know? Everything and everyone that I will ever need is right here. Please don’t be sad for me, my miracle child. It is enough that you came back to me”.
Though Hobi knew that he would never be able to let go of his guilt, he smiled back. He wondered if his father somehow knew about the echoes, the childhood memories that still haunted this beach even now.
I won’t forget.
Hobi vowed to keep the memory of his time jump close to him always. The happiness of Peter’s childhood and the beauty of their planet deserved to live on, even if it was just in their own hearts. He stared up and the sky and pretended that it was blue. Watching the clouds he was lulled into a much needed sleep.
Hobi was awoken by Peter several hours later. He opened his eyes and looked up at the stars. By now the Phoenix would well and truly be on its way towards Eden.
Goodbye, humanity. Travel safe.
“You need to get to your feet now, Hobi. The tide is almost upon us”.
Hobi tilted his head and looked at the incoming waves. Swimming in the sludgy water was not the best way to stay alive. He picked up the portable respirator that had been detoxifying his lungs for the last several hours and then got to his feet. Hopefully it had done enough to negate the poison in his system and give him back the energy he needed to make the journey home. Peter placed the device inside of Hobi’s rappelling bag so that he could continue to breathe in the fresh oxygen as he walked. Then, hand in hand, Peter led Hobi over to the foot of the cliff.
“I am thinking that we can do this one of two ways. Either I can attach you to my line and we can make the climb together, or I can head up to the top by myself and throw you the rope”.
Hobi could just make out the frown inside of his father’s helmet.
“Perhaps we would be better off if I pulled you up from the top. No offence but you still look like death warmed up”.
“I feel like death warmed up”, Hobi agreed. He was about to agree to the second option when he spotted a light out of the corner of his eye. As clear as a bell he heard the sound of laughter. Then, a little red haired girl came running past him.
“Did you just see that?”
Peter turned. All that he could see was the incoming tide.
Hobi looked behind him as he heard another set of footsteps. In pursuit of the young girl was a very familiar boy.
“Must you bring that name up again?” he sighed. Surely he was old enough now to shed that juvenile nickname once and for all.
Hobi, with his eyes fixed upon the shore, did not reply. He continued to watch the ghostly pair. Just before they vanished they had almost reached the entrance of a very special cave. His jaw dropped.
“Hobi, are you alright?”, Peter asked. Suddenly his son was as still as a statue.
When Hobi looked at him, he was wearing a curious grin.
“Can I suggest a third option? Would it be possible for us to take a detour”.
Peter followed Hobi’s outstretched arm towards the caves. While it would be wonderful to return via the dome and chimney, he had his doubts that Hobi was up to it.
“I’ll take it really slowly”, Hobi promised. He pointed out that there was no need to rush back anymore so they could always stop to rest if he needed a break.
“If I really get stuck you could always carry me”
Peter raised an eyebrow. His son was so tall for his age that they were just about the same size.
“Come on”, exclaimed Hobi, his face filled with disappointment and mischief. “I thought that I could count on you to help me out. You started it, by the way. If Bertie’s hadn’t of stepped up and offered you a ride upon his back I would have carried you all of the way to the top of the chimney for sure. You owe me”.
Peter laughed. His son made a very good point.
“Just remember kiddo, if it comes to that point and you break my back, you are going to wait upon me hand and foot”.
Instead of fixing his eyes upon the stalactites and crystals, Hobi watched the boy and girl flicker in and out of existence, racing each other up the incline. He smiled. Little Teddy had once had such an cute laugh.
“Who was she, Dad?”
Peter looked at Hobi, lost.
“Who was who?”
“The girl with red hair. She is running with your echo just in front of us. She is wearing overalls covered in daisies and she is wearing plaits tied up with purple ribbons”.
It was Peter’s turn to freeze.
“How did you…? Hobi, please tell me that haven’t started seeing ghosts?”
Ghosts? Hobi started to regret opening his mouth.
“Did.. did she die then?”
Peter shook his head for it wasn’t what Hobi thought.
“Beth was our next door neighbour”, he explained with a fond smile. “We were in the same class at school. I thought the world of her even though I thought that she did not know who I was. When Jessie and Bertie started spending more and more time together as a couple Jessie suggested that I invite a friend of my own to help us out in the dome. I summoned up the courage to ask Beth and I was over the moon when she said yes. The two of us played here for the next three summers. She was kind enough to stay friends with me, even when I surprised her with a kiss that she had never expected or wanted. She moved away to go to a different high school but I wrote to her often and made sure that we never lost touch. You’ve met her, though you were probably too young to remember. Beth died in a car accident when you were seven years old”.
Peter examined his son.
“How on Earth are you able to describe her unless you are seeing ghosts? Do you feel alright? You aren’t feeling faint are you?”
You aren’t going anywhere, are you? I couldn’t bear it if you slipped away from me again.
Hobi could read the fear behind his father’s eyes. He assured him that he was grounded. He had every intention of leaving this cave alive and by his side.
He tried his best to explain that there were spirits here and that they were the reason why he had fallen through time. As they approached the lip of the dome, Hobi pointed toward an upper shelf.
“I can see Jessie and Bertie now. Jessie is sitting among the lilies. Bertie has his hands around her shoulders and is smiling at her. They are older then when I last saw them; they are maybe fifteen or sixteen years old. They look so happy”.
Peter looked to the shelf and only saw rock. The only signs that there had been life here were the shrivelled petals and stems of the garden. A causality to the poison within the soil, the last remaining lilies were very sick.
“I’m sorry, Hobi. Maybe it’s because I have never been a spirit. I cannot see a thing”.
Hobi remembered Jessie trying to explain to him in the inbetween how the echoes were created.
“Mum thinks that the echoes grew stronger every time the two of you spoke about the past within the dome. Why don’t you try telling me a story?”
Hobi suddenly broke into a very cheeky grin. He knew the perfect one.
“I know. Why don’t you tell me why you are called Teddy, Teddy?”
When Peter glared at him, Hobi chuckled. After all of these years, the annoyed expression upon his face hadn’t changed one bit.
“Only if you promise..
“Never to call you Teddy again”, Hobi chimed in at the same time as his father. Peter rolled his eyes.
Reluctantly Peter revealed his embarrassing tale. Bertie had caught him still sleeping with a teddy bear when he was seven years old. If only Peter hadn’t have made such a fuss about Bertie’s teasing, the matter would have probably been forgotten. Instead, Peter had made a big fuss about how unfair it was to be picked on. Bertie had found his reaction hilarious. Before long, the nickname had stuck. Peter had thought to tell his friends that it was because his middle name was Theodore. Though Bertie wasn’t so cruel as to correct him and embarrass Peter further, he kept on teasing him for many years afterwards.
“That’s horrible”, Hobi exclaimed, wondering why he had ever wished for a brother.
Peter shook his head.
“Bertie was just being Bertie that’s all. Until he met Jessie, he had been quite useless when it came to expressing how he really felt. It took a lily and worshipping her for over a year until he had mustered up the courage to say ‘I love you’. Jessie confessed to me later that Bertie did not know what to make of me for the longest time. I was growing up in front of his eyes, becoming my own complicated person. He was so scared of letting me down that he was too nervous to try to get to know me. His teasing was his funny way of engaging. There was affection behind the name, though I didn’t realise it at the time. I tolerated it until I was eleven years old. Then I showed him exactly how I felt by taking a swing at him”.
Suddenly, Hobi saw their echoes within the dome. He gasped as Teddy succeeded in knocking his big brother to the ground. Jessie started running towards them, but instead of helping Bertie up, she started yelling at him. Then she ran to pursue a crying Peter. The adult Peter watched his eleven year self run past him, followed by his future wife. He was able to see the echoes at last.
Peter looked back over at Bertie and started to walk towards the echo. The Bertie stunned on the floor flickered out of existence. A second later he was replaced by a young man. Bertie was waiting upon the shelf on his own, absently playing with the red velvet box in his hands. Hearing footsteps, he suddenly looked up. Bertie met Peter’s eyes, even though he was really looking at his twelve year old brother behind him.
“Long time, no see, Peter”.
The Peter from the past stepped in front of his future self.
“Am I not, Teddy today, then? How long was basic training again? Six months? I would have thought you would be jumping at the chance to annoy me”.
“Oh, you’ll always be Teddy to me, but I know that you don’t like me calling you that so I won’t. I have missed you so much, Peter. I’ve been dying to talk to you about something”.
Bertie held out the box and revealed his intentions about proposing to Jessie. Before he popped the question he was desperate to hear if his brother thought he was doing the right thing. Peter had responded with a beaming smile.
“Oh course you should”, he had exclaimed. He reassured his brother that Jessie would be thrilled and then gave him an excited hug.
“That means that the three of us will become family. I am so glad”.
Present day Peter reached out to touch the echoes upon the shoulder. They disappeared in the blink of an eye.
“Come on, Dad. We should probably go”.
Hobi grabbed onto his father’s hand. Even through his gloves he could feel his fingers trembling.
“I got the last laugh, you know”, Peter absently remarked. “I had thought after everything that it would be funny to pack my old teddy bear inside of Bertie’s case just before he went on tour. The members of his bunk quickly spotted it and started calling him Teddy. According to Joey, his best friend in the service, he wore the name like a badge”.
It would have been so easy to remain in the dome and continue watching the echoes flicker in and out. At last, Peter found the motivation he needed when he saw Hobi shiver from the chilly evening breeze. The poor kid wasn’t even close to better yet. He needed warmth, bed rest and, if at all possible medical attention if he was going to completely bounce back from being exposed to so much poisonous air. He attached a rappelling clip around Hobi’s waist and threaded it through some rope. Peter carried the rope with him all of the way up to the top of the chimney tunnel, and attached it firmly to the rocks.
As Hobi was being lifted upward, he was suddenly compelled to reach into his dangling rappelling bag. The lily was pulsating with a very strange energy. Hobi lifted it out and then turned to witness the dome fill up with light. Though the garden was only a shadow of its former self, it started to glow, The snow lily echoes were overflowing with the love of the three children that had brought them to life.
Hobi held off asking for help until they were half way up the old road.
“I’m so sorry, Dad”, he finally surrendered. “I promise that you will never have a more devoted slave in return if I break you. Can you please help me out? I feel like I am going to keel over”.
Hobi would have been happy with just a shoulder of support. Instead, Peter knelt down without hesitation.
“Don’t apologise, just climb on. We’re almost there, Hobi. You have done so well to make it this far on your own”.
Hobi kissed his father on the cheek and then gently draped himself around his shoulders. Despite having spent most of the day asleep he could not wait for another nap.
Hobi must have slept, for the next thing he knew was the flash of red and blue lights in his eyes. He opened them and was amazed to see two police cars in their driveway, as well as a sleek black car. His turned his head as a man in a dapper navy uniform ran out to greet them.
“Please tell me that you are Teddy Grey”.
Hobi snickered. Peter sighed.
“I sometimes go by that name. Who is asking?”
The man held out a gloved hand.
“Joe Starling”, he introduced himself. It’s okay if you don’t remember me, Peter. I did not recognise you at first, either. It’s not surprising. We haven’t spoken since you were a kid after all”.
“At Bertie funeral”, Peter remembered. Now his memory was coming back. This was the same Joey he had been telling Hobi about in the dome.
“I’m sorry, Joey. I didn’t recognise you. Why are you here, for goodness sake, and why are there police cars? I thought that everybody would be leaving on the Phoenix this afternoon. There wasn’t supposed to be any second chances”.
“There is always a second chance when you are friends with the pilot. By the way, you should really be addressing me as Captain Starling”.
Joey explained that he had pursued the registry before boarding and noticed that Peter and Jessie’s name had not been checked off. By rights he should have moved on but he hadn’t been able to get Bertie out of his head. He had spoken so often and fondly of Peter and Jessie that Joey felt like he knew them both so well.
“In the end I decided to dig in my heels and delay the flight. Technically we are undergoing a precautionary inspection of the shuttle, though that was just an excuse to buy us some time. I couldn’t in good conscience leave here without knowing what had happened to you. My sister Kate is a police officer so I asked her to send a couple of cars to help me find out what happened to you. Your brother gave his life for me, Peter. The very least I can do is look out for his family”.
“Can you let me down, please”, Hobi interrupted. Knowing how exhausted he was, Peter obliged. His son thanked Joey for coming and them disappeared into the house with a surprising amount of urgency.
Peter thanked Joey again and asked whether they should get ready to leave right away. Joey shook his head. Since they were delayed he welcomed the chance to return home and spend one last night in his own bed.
“I’ll pick you up myself at 10am”, Joey offered. “Please be ready to go this time around. As much as I want you upon her I cannot ground the Phoenix forever”.
Peter promised that they would be ready, and then walked towards the cars to shake the hands of the police and thank them for coming out. After they had driven away, Peter returned to the house.
The first place that he checked for Hobi was his room. When he did not find him there, Peter walked up to his own bedroom. He opened the door and saw Hobi kneeling by Jessie’s bedside. His head was resting upon the bed and he was sobbing softly. Peter crept up behind him and then sat beside his son, draping an arm around his shoulder.
“I hate that we are leaving her behind”, Hobi sniffled, falling into his father’s arms.
“It’s bad enough that she is gone but we cannot even visit her in this house or in a cemetery. This isn’t fair”.
Hobi sighed. Then he looked at his father as he suddenly had a wonderful idea.
“Dad, would it be possible to?”
“If we get up early enough we will have time to take her to the dome”, Peter replied, having the same thought himself. While they would be leaving her body behind no matter what, returning Jessie to her childhood sanctuary was the best that they could do for her.
“Are you sure that you will be up for going back?”, Peter asked, still worried about his son’s health. By far the best news about the passage upon the Phoenix was that Hobi would have access to the onboard medical care.
Hobi’s gaze was steely. If he didn’t have the strength by the morning he was determined to go anyway.
“Just you try and stop me”.
Hobi had spent the first three days upon the Phoenix in the infirmary. He spent most of that time asleep attached to a respirator. According to the onboard doctors he owed his life to his father. If Peter hadn’t gotten to him so quickly and revived him with purified oxygen, the best that he could have hoped for was a long recovery of his strength and the dependence of a respirator for the rest of his life. Death would have been the most likely outcome. Instead, he had just been given the all clear to take off his mask and return to his cabin. While he remained weak and sleepy, Hobi had been assured that he would feel like his old self again in no time.
Now Hobi spent his days sitting quietly in their cabin, staring out of the window. Soon the Earth was going to become so far away that it would disappear from view. Until that happened Hobi was determined to watch and remember.
“It is hard to believe that everything went so wrong”, Peter remarked, coming up behind his son.
“It is still so beautiful”.
“It always will be”, agreed Hobi, wistfully wishing that he had never left. Perhaps his father had been right after all. Just ten years was such a short time to make a life but they would have been a good ten years. While the photographs of the newly colonised planet Eden were beautiful and vibrant, Hobi doubted that it would ever feel like home. He continued to watch the fading Earth, losing himself in homesickness and despair.
“Do you know what else is beautiful?”, Peter piped up. He handed Hobi back his lily and held out the rectangular pot of soil for him to inspect. Hobi didn’t look impressed.
“Are you showing me dirt? I know that horticulture is your thing but you are asking a bit much if you would like me to call it beautiful”
Peter shook his head.
“I’m showing you hope. I managed to successfully extract some seeds. Your gift isn’t going to be the last lily for much longer. By the time that we land this pot is going to be overflowing with snow lilies.
Peter smiled and then tussled Hobi’s hair.
“With your lilies and Jessie’s roses we are going to make Eden so beautiful. I hope that you know how proud I am of you. As for your mother, you have just saved her favourite flower. You are her hero too, kiddo. I am certain of it”.
Hobi smiled weakly. He was happy to have made a difference but deep down he was still bitter. It should never have come to this in the first place. Why had the human race been so stupid as the ruin the beautiful paradise that had been their home?
“Hobi”, his father sang. “Do you want to play with me?”
Hobi looked up and raised an eyebrow. Peter had actually drawn a tic tac toe board in the soil.
“Are you not going to challenge me?”, Peter persisted. “I suppose that it isn’t that surprising, really. I had a great teacher once and he was amazing. I was taught by the very best so there really isn’t any chance that you could ever beat me”.
Hobi raised his other eyebrow. Then he burst into a fit of hysterical laughter.
“I’ll show that Julian a thing or two”, he declared, placing an O next to Peter’s X in the corner. As they continued to play Hobi started to relax and have some fun. Maybe his Dad had been right in a way that Hobi had never considered. His home was with his father and every day that they spent together was a gift. The past would keep living in echoes, memory and within the lily that meant more to Hobi then he could ever express in words. Now it was time to let the past go and make the best of their future together.
Thank you so much for everybody who has come through this journey with me. This is the longest piece of fiction that I have ever shared with an audience so I have been so appreciative of your readership and feedback. Home is where the heart is. Keep your heart close to you and create your own happy echoes that shine on brightly.
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