The Sun — A Story About Survival
I’ve spent the last 4 months brainstorming and writing, deleting and re-editing a basic story line that focused on a family trying to survive a post apocalyptic world. It was a story about second end. I wanted to explore answering the question of if there really is just one end, one end to everything. In this initial short story, the earth has already gone through an “end of the world.” This boy and his family are the result of it. It’s about the consequence of action. It’s a study about human behavior. I have written the next four chapters of this story but I am left unsatisfied with them. I am truly convinced that part of the reason why I can not continue the story is because I’m in love with the first chapter. I’m not ready to move on just yet. Here is that story.
Amongst the brushing of desolate leaves and a calm wind blowing, a young, vulnerable mouse scurried across the pavement. A mouse no bigger than the palm of his hand, any man’s hand.
“How vulnerable this mouse must feel,” he thought. In a place so bare, this mouse must feel so mountainous in its gatherings, clumps of dirt treading in its path. It so small, but reassuring. So bite size in shape, so almost prehistoric. What had this mouse done to become so wealthy? So rich in oxygen. So luxurious in reality. For this small, pathetic mouse, what more was there beyond that of the opportunity to cultivate over time? Staring at it for so long, he imagined it being carried away by the wind. If the sun had been out, it surely would have dissolved it by now. Yet, there it was, tantalizing, the scratching of its paws, the twiddling of its whiskers, the flapping of its ears, the twirl of its tail, it all rang through the barriers, the young boy’s ears. It resonated with a palpable rhythm.
This window he stared through every evening was a mere painting to him, a still image of nothingness. A canvas to romanticize. He swore he could feel the rough textures scraping against his skin, holding his hand to the clouded glass. He could feel the desert winds burn his very soul. This, too surreal for the boy’s complexities, worried him. He wondered if, much like this painting, his meaning would also become lost. Never to be found. Never to be appreciated. Just another artifact lost in the hourglass.
Such narrations became overwhelming, difficult to comprehend, poison for thought. Lost in his own fog, his words held still. His lips went silent. He became ill by his own fixation. Gravity diluted, weightlessness overcame him. The boy fell. He did not rise for a very long time.
Words, thoughts, imagery snuck in through the boy’s sockets, rapidly without warning.
A moment of weakness was an eternity in purgatory for him. No memory was stapled to the sunken years of his childhood. This poor boy, born into a simple life, a life of complexities. The walls poured out characters of scrutiny and disease. There was no such thing as a simple life other than living one in complete isolation. So silent, so dead, the blood in his veins at equal frequency than that of the harshest winds. In a blink of an eye it disappeared, back into the shadows, back from the void from which it came. The boy was awakened by the sound of his mother’s voice.
“I have told your father, numerous times, about this window. It should be boarded up. Nothing good can come out of it.”
His mother was a woman with few words, carried with her precious actions. She held onto a small turquoise stone her own mother had given her before she turned to a life of divinity. She survived by the few words stolen from those around her.
His father, in the kitchen, held onto the idea that the sun would rise over the horizon again. He would sing to them calculations that were impossible to decode with logic. Needless to say these numbers fluctuated every morning.
A voice tied around him. “Your father has something to tell us during dinner. He said it’s important.” She rubbed her stone.
The boy, still on the floor, continued looking at the four corners of the ceiling.
“Stop fooling around. Get in the kitchen.” The boy procrastinated. He could feel his mother’s footsteps resonating through the wooden floor boards.
In the kitchen, his mother sat opposite of his father. In front of them, grey slabs of meat.
“Your father has some very important news for us.”
His father removed his spectacles from his crude face. “Son, we have only one hundred days to live.”
The boy wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead with his tattered shirt, his collared frilled.
“It’s getting hotter.”
“My dear boy it is.”
In front of his father was a notebook, a thick journal. Old clippings and articles from scientific journals sprouted from beneath the cover. Pages were filled with weird symbols, letters, numbers that spoke meaning into his father’s ears, a spark of meaning. Before they were locked in to what his mother called, sanctuary, his father had collected an encyclopedic amount of information about the world they wrongfully neglected through the ages.
“It’s how it starts,” he continued. “It begins with drought. It progressively will get warmer to the point of self-harm. Lastly, the sun will show its bare face, we will perish in the sight of its wicked wings.”
“Our fate is unraveling,” his mother added.
His father casually picked up his knife and fork. He cut through his thin piece of meat, carefully.
“We prepared you a nice piece of pork.”
The boy stood in the doorway unphased by the scraps of meat. Instead, his attention focused on the scraps of clippings underneath his father’s hand.
“Would you sit so your father can explain?”
Curious as to what his father would say tonight, he pulled out the chair next to his mother. He took a seat.
“This planet was and still is a sun planet. Much like the moon helped our oceans, the sun helped us. It has continued to help us, we just can not see it. That is until it kills us.”
“It’s there,” his mother assured. “We just cannot see it.”
“Atlas it will present itself within one hundred days. Starting tomorrow. The sands will be against us.”
The boy tightened his mouth. He patiently, quite fluidly, picked up his fork and stabbed at the slab of dry meat.
“Sweetie, we will not have to be in this house for very much longer. We will be freed.”
The boy chewed.
“Isn’t that wonderful?”
His mother leaned forward, her knife in one hand, the fork on the other. She waited for a response. A response the boy did not want to give.
The image of her reminded him of one her flanky dolls. Her lips a dull shade of wine red. Her ears penetrated by small beige pearls. She had dressed for the occasion, unlike him, who wore the same tattered shirt day after day. He looked over at his father who chewed his food very casually.
“I never met my family,” his father spitted. “I never had dinner with them like this. You’re a very lucky kid.”
“Very lucky. You are loved, sweetie. Are you blind to such a high state of living?”
The boy was not blind. He was not deaf. What he was, was a prisoner, a prisoner to his mother’s glare. A prisoner to his father’s chews. He was a prisoner to that chair in which he sat. He was pork. They were pork, sliding off silver forks.
The boy had been fighting off these feelings, he was nearing the end of them. The more he tried relating to his father’s grave obsession, the more his father seemed out of date. The sun hadn’t been seen, or heard of for years. They were the last of their kind in a biblical desert no being dared to step on.
“Who’s to say we’re not already dead?” The boy blurted.
His father’s chews stopped. His mother held in a gasp. The boy had committed a sin. To not only doubt the powerful image of the sun, but to go against his father’s word, verbally putting forth that his father was a delusional man.
His father bit his own tongue. His mother clasped tight to her own two hands. The air thickened by tension.
“How long have we been here? We’ll die before we ever get to see the sun again. We barely have any food, our water is dirt, we can’t even go outside without dehydrating, it’s so hot. We’re burning alive in here. Nobody can help us.”
No words could make the boy’s point quite sharp enough. Even these words he had been carefully scripting seemed to evaporate in thin air.
“You’re very unforgiving,” his father had spit out his last serving.
“Oh, don’t say that. He’s just famished, aren’t you dear?” His mother’s eyes pleaded for the boy’s agreement. No such contract was made in that moment. Instead, the boy clenched his mouth tighter.
A ball of fire was turning in the depths of his stomach. His father, collected, made another slit in his next slab of meat.
“I think it’s best if you eat the food that’s in front of you. It’ll be good for you.”
“I’m not hungry,” the boy got up.
“Sit down and shut up!” His father exploded, pointing his fork right at the boy’s heart.
“Now, now dear..”
“This boy is getting out of hand. An outburst today, then what? He’ll be walking out the front door tomorrow. Boy, if you want to perish then turn that knob. Don’t poison our dinner with your dishonesty.”
“It’s best if you just sit down, dear.” It wasn’t so much of an offer, as so a plea.
The boy sat.
“The sun is very forgiving,” his mother grinned.
“Very forgiving indeed,” his father continued. “Centuries ago, this whole planet was engulfed in human civilizations, of course this was before your time boy, this very civilization destroyed this planet. In a fit of rage, the sun exploded. Wiped out almost everything with a single fist. Yet, we’re still here.”
“Our ancestors were chosen to live.”
“Don’t get me wrong, boy, we aren’t here to continue the human race. It’d be damn impossible. We are here as a reminder of what was left. Since we don’t know of any other life than this, might as well survive.”
“Why must you bring up such bad mahoola? Let’s live by what we know.”
His father seemed just. His mother seemed hopeful. The boy, however, felt astute. They were mere marbles in a jar. Ants on a hill. Antiques on a shelf, the boy knew it.
“You know what I did today?” His father asked himself.
“What dear?” His mother replied.
“I fixed up the old suit, went out for five minutes to check on the cacti.”
“That’s good dear. I was starting to worry.”
“No need. They’re looking great.”
The boy looked through the brown frosted glass, past his mother’s head. He could see the shadow of a spying cactus not far from them. Hypnotized, the boy saw the shadow swaying back and forth, almost waving. He imagined a cool breeze touching his face. He imagined grass as tall as his knees blading through his legs. Cold mud in between his toes. Cold water falling on his head. He could hear the swing set seesawing, to and fro. Squeaking. Now an old played out tune on a beaten record. It began to push the boy, back and forth.
It was stiff, it was the most life he had seen in days. Falling in love with the way it swayed, the boy’s focus turned sharp. He pushed the chair from under him, leisurely walking toward the window. The shadow of the cactus, imprinted on his face. His eyes filled with a dark purple, a reflection from the sky.
“Why isn’t the cactus dead?” The boy whispered.
The mother and father sat back in their chairs, catching the wind of his breath.
Why wasn’t it? Such a question hadn’t been dared to ask before. His father scratched his forehead.
It just is, his mother answered, safely within the confines of her own thoughts. She looked over at her husband, who was now staring blankly at his chipped round plate. The dust was invading through the vulnerabilities of the home. It sprinkled everywhere, in every crevice, in every bend, on his plate, it coated his mustache.
The mother began to compulsively fold her haggard towel, carefully folding it into a perfect square, then into a rectangle. “Honey, you shouldn’t ask such disturbing questions.”
“Disturbing,” the boy thought, “was the perfect word.” No other word fit the criteria. This word filled his innermost self quickly. The anxiety was conquering him. The madness was unraveling. The bags under his eyes carried a weight heavier than any man could carry. There was no doubt that passed through the boy’s mind, as he looked at the cactus, he and his family were nearing the end.
The boy turned to his father. “Maybe you’re right.” His father looked up into the boy’s eyes. “Maybe we are nearing the end. I can feel it in my bones.”
The father ran his fingers through his hair feeling the small, thin streaks of remaining silver. His hand, wet with sweat. Globes of sweat bubbled from underneath his skin. He wiped the his hand on his red, checkered button-up.
“It just is,” his father finally answered.
His father’s reply lit a fuse. His hand retreated to a fist, as if by reflex. The boy instantly rejected this answer. He turned back to look at the outside once again, no answer. As much as he hated his father, the boy had no answers himself. Battling ancient questions, what more could he have expected from his father.
“I think you should sit back down. The heat of the night is thickening your blood, dear.”
Miles away the boy could see a black halo piercing through the mystical dark haze, stuck in a net of space, stuck in a net of time. He looked up expecting to see a glowing cloud, something life changing, something with all the answers. He saw none of that. Rather, he felt the appalling energy, the rays that radiated from the halo, despite the infinite distance between the both of them. He thought he could never touch it, yet there it was, its beams of dark hues combing his hair. Once protected by ideas that one feared, now dissipated by truth. The sun had killed off most of the human genes, he was assured that it would be returning to finish them off once and for all. It would be just a matter of time before it reached with one of its flares, wiping off all living, all age, all knowledge. He was stuck with this notion of impending doom. All of the sleepless nights were catching up with him.
His mother, now pink with worry, patted his empty chair.
Dehydrated by his immense thoughts, he returned to his mother’s side. Staring at her son, she managed to catch a glimpse of a small tear that evaporated before ever fully leaving the boy’s eye duct. She caressed his cheek with her hand. She lifted his chin, his eyes now a dark maroon. She could see the depths of his soul gradually dissolving with each day passing. This was what made dinner so difficult for her.It was not the reminder of scanty food in the cupboards or the long rants performed by her husband. It was her son, her infinite love for him. The nights stretched long for her, especially on the nights she would wash the dishes. The more she would try to ignore the burning image of the sun, the more relevant the awful halo became. Convinced by curiosity, she would often lay her eyes upon it through the patterned curtains. Questions of her own faith were made clear, often themed her dreams. She, too, had become a nightwalker, a sleepless body staggering through the halls while eyes pressed shut. At times, she questioned whether the sun had ever been good at all. Guilty by her own internal monologues, she felt obligated to shelter her own emotions of doubt, self-pity, despair. She knew that as strong as her faith was, her spirit, also, would be condemned to the intensity of the scorching sun. There was no escaping it. There was just prolonging it.
They all sat in silence. Each in their own worlds, not bothered by the discomfort of starvation.
On this night, the household was plagued by a fever. It had ended their dinner before it had ever begun.