Monday, July 26, 2010


-dedicated to Isaac Asimov

John had plenty of trouble with Eric. He himself, of course, had never had any problem rising at that hour. It was just something he was always able to do since he was a kid, rising early with his own dad to help with the landscape business.

All he had ever had to do was set in his mind what time he wanted to rise. He would set his alarm clock dutifully, winding the hands on the face until they lined up just so, and then would settle himself in for a long rest. The time of his rising settled in his mind as a small point of thought fixed in his head,, but shrinking with his consciousness as he fell off to sleep. The next morning he would find he had awakened himself, sometimes seconds before the alarm. It was a trick of concentration he had come to rely on, and he hadn't owned an alarm clock since college.

The work he woke up for had been brutally difficult, but character-building. Still, to this day he had nightmares about shoveling snow or melting under the summer sun while manicuring the lawns of the Ann Arbor aristocracy.

He was tempted to congratulate himself for giving Eric an easier time than that. Sure, it was early enough to still be dark, but it would be worth it, he was sure. The sunrise over the monuments would make them feel as new and magical as when they had first approached them on highway US 6, having passed over the long emptiness that came after Price.

"Come on, let's go."

After a good jostling, he managed to coax a low grumble out of his son.

"Sunrise, remember? Come on, or we'll miss it. I know the perfect place."

The boy's lips shifted and he half-mumbled, half-breathed the word "tomorrow."

"No, come on. We won't be here tomorrow. Let's go."

Reluctantly, the boy seemed to surrender, not willing to fight it. He pushed himself up, his hair a disjointed pile of straw in the light of the electric lantern.


John passed his son another granola bar from his pocket, and tried not to let the dazzling display of stars overhead distract him from making his way.

"Hurry or we'll miss it."

Eric was a good hiker, but at this hour he still managed to drag his feet plenty. He tried to comply, his wiry limbs fumbling with his day pack and maneuvering his feet around rocks and brush.

"How much further?" he asked. John grinned with pride: there was barely a hint of whine in the boy’s voice now, a characteristic that had been much more prominent the previous year when he was still only eleven. His voice had only recently turned. That helped a lot, he was sure, but he liked to think the boy was beginning to get tougher.


They settled in at the selected lookout and John broke out his last pair of granola bars. They had made excellent time. The sun hadn't even begun to rise. In fact, there wasn't even a hint of pale blue or gray in the sky, not even the slightest fading in the spilled-sugar ceiling of stars overhead.


An hour later, Eric was wishing he had snuck his new sports watch into his day pack.

"No electronics," Dad had insisted. "We're looking to get away from the things of man."

All Eric wanted was the time; the video game he had begged his dad to let him bring last year might have been diverting, but all he wanted now was to know the time. Such a simple thing.

The sky was still dark.

"No wonder I'm so tired," Eric said. "Must be the middle of the night."

"This isn't right," his father said, evenly.

"Why didn't you bring an alarm?"

"You know I don't need one. I've done fine without it. I've been up right when I wanted to be every day so far. Remember when we went fishing on Monday?"

Now that Dad mentioned it, Eric realized it was something he hadn't even considered. He still took it for granted that the adults in his life knew better than he did what was next and when it was time to go. He was just in the habit of doing what he was told.

There was something about Dad's voice that he didn't like at all.

"We better head back to camp. This can't be right."

It concerned Eric that Dad seemed so serious, and about such a simple mistake. Lighten up, Dad. You're not a human alarm clock, just a human. We'll get back to camp and it'll be three in the morning. You'll see.

"I'm sure it's just not as late as you think it is," Eric offered out loud.

"Yeah," Dad said absently.


Eric's dad powered up the GPS; something they swore they would only do in an emergency.

Dad was fidgety, impatient to get it powered up. Eric was just glad to be back near his sleeping bag. He figured it wouldn't take long to get it nice and warm again.

He had just settled his head down on his travel pillow and shut off his light, giving himself over to the cocoon of darkness in the tent.

"What?" he heard his father mutter to himself. The man's voice dripped with disbelief. "Eric, please come here."

Eric groaned inwardly and reluctantly left the warmth and darkness behind.

"What's wrong?"

In the light of the lantern Eric's dad looked half way to dead under his ginger beard, his cheeks colorless, his expression haunted.

"These things aren't wrong. Do you understand why? The time can't be wrong. Can you tell me why that is?"

"Um, I don't know. I guess it uh . . . you don't set the time on it, do you? It finds the satellites, and then satellites tell the computer where it is. The computer then comes up with the time based on where we are. Something like that."

"Then why do you suppose, even though it's pitch black out here, that this clock says it's 8:27 AM Mountain Time?"

Eric had no more answers than his father did. They resolved to go back to bed, to forget all this. That would have been Eric's first suggestion if Dad hadn't said it first.

Somehow, the darkness in his tent didn't seem half as inviting, and he found that he had trouble quieting his mind enough to sleep.


Some time later, Eric woke up. Dad's panic was contagious.

"Eric, you see those stars up there, right?"

Poking his head out of the tent, he nodded.

"And this display says it's 10:17 AM. Mountain Time, right?"

Eric looked at the display. There was no mistaking it. The sun was late.


As the pair made their way back to the lookout John had picked out, neither dared to say anything. Eric felt he'd give just about anything to see sunlight. The light of his flashlight now seemed so feeble, even pointless. Neither of them questioned the need for the hike. They just moved, as if somehow they could find the sun if they just moved fast enough and waited at the lookout long enough.

They sat on their rocks once again, looking up at the stars that now seemed menacing and strange.

Light filled the sky. The sun appeared as though in fast-forward.

Together they sucked in their breath, and both felt the unmistakable sensation of falling. The sun grew smaller, smaller. In the smallest moment, a massive noise of rushing air filled the open space of the desert.

The stars tumbled away, the sun joining it as a speck of insignificant light, and were lost.

No comments:

Post a Comment