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Fiction: The Death of the Sun by J. David Thayer

The Death of the Sun

David Thayer

He stands in the Sporting Goods section of the 24-hour megastore trying on parkas. This one is bright red. On his head a woolen trapper’s hat. His cart is filled with lanterns and lantern fuel and camping gear and canned provisions. Big canvas bag to carry all of it. Couldn’t buy a shotgun: lost his I.D. But he picked up two boxes of shells anyway. In a pinch, they have secondary uses.

If only he could think straight. That headache. This place would have aspirin somewhere. The other scattered customers pass by in summer attire and eyeball the spectacle with caution. It’s just after 2:30 AM.

He cannot understand why no one seems the least bit troubled by what has transpired. The streets should look like a spilled anthill. It doesn’t. Where is the throng? Why aren’t people scrambling in panic? Why aren’t they readying themselves like he is? He knows the pattern somehow. First comes the hoarding and then the looting. But instead everyone was merely shopping. Even he was shopping. However, he was shopping for his last stand at the end of it all while his peers were buying late-night munchies and cases of cheap beer. Wearing shorts, even. Madness.

Actually, booze was probably a good idea, come to think of it. With nothing to write on, he tries to focus on scribbling a mental list. He thinks he might be a lists person.

Still need:
Aspirin
Work gloves
Hiking boots
Hard liquor

Earlier he had found a stash of hundred dollar bills carefully wrapped around both feet and ankles and fully concealed beneath his cotton athletic socks. No idea why he was carrying his money this way. There must be a story there, if only he could remember it. Never mind, at least he has it. This was a lucky break. Soon paper currency would only be useful for matters of personal hygiene. But for now, merchants were still recognizing its imaginary value. From under the yet unpurchased trapper’s hat comes a trickle of blood rolling along a gulley between his ear and jawbone. Oh, yeah. He adds to the list.

Gauze and bandages|
Better yet: Full First Aid kit

He takes off the hat and inspects the wool interior. Messy. Might be a good idea to get a second hat to wear after the sutures. He thinks he knows how to field dress a wound. Another reason to buy booze. He takes a survey of the back of his head with his left hand and rediscovers three separate areas of injury and contusion. Fortunately, he is alone in the aisle at this particular moment. A bloody head raises questions, even in this place and at this hour. Questions he could not answer. Best to put the hat back on and leave the store as soon as possible. The Self Checkout accepts the cash and even spits out a jingle of odd coins. No use left for those at all. He leaves them in the register bowl.

A man in a vest on a stool by the exit asks to see his receipt. He eyes the wares and states the obvious as a question.

“Going camping or something, buddy? Up in the mountains, maybe?”

“Camping? Like on a vacation? Are you nuts, man! Look at the state of the world! What’s wrong with you? How can you just sit here at the end! Isn’t there somewhere you’d rather be?”

“Oh, I hear ya there, brother. Don’t get me started.”

The man in the vest on the stool scratches vaguely with a highlighter and hands back the receipt and then looks past him to the next customer.

He exits. In the parking lot he transfers his new supplies into his canvas bag and wears it as a backpack. The new boots are stiff but he is glad to have them. The parking lot is well lighted, but he plans to head out beyond where floodlights can help him, so he carries a red Maglite for a torch. The man in the vest on the stool mentioned mountains. Good enough. Up there he could likely find shelter and game and even fresh water. While they last. He walks eastward on the shoulder of the interstate towards the high peaks barely visible against the utter blackness. It almost felt like hope, heading towards the highest ground and loaded with provisions, but he knew better. This was like climbing the rigging to the crow’s nest on a sinking galleon. The last man to drown drowns all the same.

In the days to come the earth would freeze and never thaw. Another unremarkable dead ball of ice adrift in the bleak and empty universe. No amount of preparations could stave off the inevitable. These meager rations and protections are silly and he knows this. Still. The will to live is strong and one must fight to the end. Until his last breath freezes to match his gnarled and stony limbs.

Several hours earlier he had awakened in a concrete drainage ditch. Clearly someone had beaten him savagely and left him for dead. Took his wallet. Phone. But somehow he must’ve seen this coming, hence the cash stowed in his socks. Whatever had happened, the bludgeoning had destroyed his memory. But not all of his memory. Huge swaths were gone but in no sensical order. The most complicated tasks were still functioning, but yet he struggled to grasp the simplest ideas. His name? No clue. His profession? Same. Where he lived? Time? Days of the week? The concept of days, even? All gone. Yet somehow he understood what a man needs to survive in the wild. He also retained the rudiments of basic training without remembering how he acquired those skills. He sensed a battery of odd and deadly reflexes lay dormant and ready, should the need arise. And somehow he knew more than this. He knew what to expect, on a global scale, when society tips over. The stages are clear. It would all begin soon and he was glad to have his head start. But who was he?

Was he an accountant of some sort? He seemed to have an affinity for lists and calculations. Military somewhere in there too, but there was something else besides. A nasty hint of corruption seemed to thread its way through his scattered facts and he felt ugly in the soul. Agency, maybe? Working on something sensitive? And what of the money? That took foresight. An attack expected and indeed an attack suffered. But why? A launderer? He knew what that was. A launderer and then a double-cross? He hoped not but he did not know why. The complexities were all there but the broadest strokes were absent. He could look at five separate wiggling worms and never discover his own hand. Yet he could recite elegant algorithms whose uses were completely out of reach. The whole of it unsettled him greatly. Delving for further details became a fool’s errand. Besides: none of that past life mattered anymore. What lay in front of him was more than sufficient to occupy the vacant halls of his ruined mind. And however he came by his skillset, these tools gave him the advantage over the streams of passing vehicles on his left whose passengers were somehow yet oblivious of their imminent doom. But in the end, nothing would save him. Nothing would save any of them.

It began just after he regained consciousness. His life erased and yet all felt familiar. He sat on the concrete retaining wall for who knows how long, trying to sort out the origin of the hole in his head. In a stupor of pain and confusion, he fixed his vacuous gaze towards fiery orb to the west, neither focusing nor squinting, and took comfort in its permanence. This at least was unchanged to the last. Then he noticed it. At first his reason warred against his own eyesight, but eventually the truth could no longer be denied. The sun was falling from the heavens. Hour by passing hour, and by degrees, the sun sank lower and lower in the western sky. The radiant source of all heat and light and life was abandoning us to the frost of soundless space. It had become unmoored in the sky! The stakes pulled. The knot loosed. By the hand of what assailant the man could not imagine, but the outcome was obvious: the sun was now dead. He watched it die. Therefore we were dead. Everyone must have seen what he had seen, but denial is a powerful sedative. Who could blame the masses for indulging in extra doses just now? Go ahead: buy your pizza and beer while you can. Pour one out for life and for earth and for the sun itself. Pour one out for football. We had a good run.

5:42 AM and still he walks. The mountains lay untold miles ahead, but onward is his only course. But what is this new trickery plaguing his eyes and his mind? It is true! It cannot be but it is! To his amazement, the darkness is lifting! Just as it descended, the blackness of cancerous space seems to be in full retreat! As far as he can see, from his left to his right, the unmistakable glow of waxing light begins to push against the eastern horizon. It cannot be! He marvels but he remembers there are stages. Then he understands.

Oh, damn!” he says. “Now the fires have started.”

About the author

David Thayer is an educator living in Texas. His works have appeared in 24-Hour Short Story Contest (2nd Place), The First Line, The Last Line, Fantasy/Sci-Fi Film Festival, Flash Fiction Magazine, Bewildering Stories, 101 Word Stories, Tall Tale TV, Black Petals, Farther Stars Than These, Terror House Magazine, 50-Word Stories, The Drabble, 365 Tomorrows, 42 Stories Anthology, Scarlet Leaf Review, Sirens Call eZine, Teleport Magazine, Sci-Fi Lampoon, The Free Bundle, Piker Press, Ink & Sword Magazine, Bandit Fiction and Pilcrow & Dagger.

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