Nodding into Solitude
This was the first story of mine that actually won one of the monthly contests at SFF World. The theme was darkness, which I chose to take both literally and figuratively. This was also one of those times where, although I had a thousand words at my disposal, I got to the end with words to spare, but didn’t feel like anything needed to be added. It was exactly as long as it needed to be. The readers obviously agreed with me.
“Would have been right about now.”
“Hmm?” Clark said.
Timmons waved it off. “Nothing. Nostalgia, I suppose. Had my watch set to it,” he said, looking at the dim backlight of his wristwatch.
“Ah. Not much need for it now, wouldn’t you say?”
“No harm in remembering,” Timmons sighed. He turned, eyes straining to find Clark in the star-lit dark. “Somebody has to, I suppose.”
“I’d rather we remember someplace out of the cold,” Clark said, blowing on his hands.
“You go,” Timmons said, looking back to the horizon. “I still need a few minutes.” Clark’s footsteps on the metal steps rang out in reply. Timmons didn’t feel the cold any less than Clark did. He just wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
Somewhere, a few hundred miles to the west, the old oak with the tire swing would have lost the last of its leaves by now. He’d spun on that tire until he was ready to puke, then watched his children do the same years later. He wished Peter could have taken a turn.
He pushed that thought away. No sense ripping open that wound. No sense reminding himself of all the things his grandson would never get to do.
But the thoughts came unbidden. He remembered the phone call, the news that came with it, the chill that rivaled what he felt now. How does one prepare oneself for such tidings? What possible steeling can the soul be given?
He’d done all he could to help his family and those close to them. He worried if it had been enough, despite their gratitude. Worried if any of it mattered. He’d called in favors, broken more than a few rules. But what else would he have done?
Overhead, the stars twinkled, brighter than he remembered. At least something still shone in his world.
The voice came tentatively, punctuated by a gasp at the cold. Timmons turned and saw his grandson standing on the top step, a thick blanket bundled about him. “Peter!” echoed a concerned shout from below, followed by feet pounding up the stairs. His father emerged, grabbing the boy and holding him tight. “What did your mother and I tell you about coming up here?”
“I just wanted to see what Grandpa was doing.”
Timmons smiled. “I’m just waiting for the sunrise,” he said softly.
His son gave him a stricken look, then turned to Peter. “Go back down. Grandpa will be in soon. Okay?”
“Okay,” Peter said, and scampered away.
His father watched him go, then stepped up onto the deck. “They need you to come down. They say the ice is getting thicker. If we don’t… “
“I know,” Timmons said. “That’s fine. I’ve said my goodbyes.” He still didn’t move.
“I’ll be below,” his son said after a moment.
Timmons nodded, not that his son would see it. It was too dark. He stared at the horizon. Only night looked back.
He calmly took the watch from his wrist and dropped it in the shrinking patch of water surrounding the submarine. The ship groaned beneath him as it prepared to submerge. Six months? A year, perhaps? The sub couldn’t sustain them forever.
Well, it would be forever, as far as they were concerned.
He climbed down the steps, but not before taking one last look to the east, to the dark hole in the sky where the dead sun rose.