Into another darker night

When the wind blew the walls shook and flattened the earth.

A narrow band of hills stood high upon the horizon, casting shadows on the dry plain. Thick grass, tan and crumbling underfoot, stretched far into the neighboring distance. Long strides covered the grasslands slowly. Sweat dripped from his forehead meandering down weathered eyes making trails down wrinkled cheeks. A faint upturned mouth met sallow skin, bleeding into tight vicious eyes. A hollow animal intensity gripped his face as he walked, ran, drove through the sharp prairie grass. Shadows lengthened and the warmth of the sun turned dull. A cut of the moon rose behind him as the sun plummeted behind the thin hills. The night brought wind, cold, rain, and thunderclouds which broke heavily over the range. A long night passed, the clouds swallowed by a cruelly beating sun. A long trail of broken stalks marked a path once traveled. Leading to a man whose feet passed a stand of trees, a mill whose giant fans turned slowly in the breeze, a farmhouse with smoke billowing from a cook-fire. Leading to a man whose nails shone with dirt and dried blood. Whose sightless eyes yearned beyond hope for what lay beyond the fields of grass and wheat. To a man who passed by shelter, food, fires and home intent to reach the end. Whose hand stretched out grasping the first stone of a long hill and passed into another darker night.

The Decision

The steps stretched to eternity. Jason pondered them, willing his feet to walk up the winding steel steps which circled ever higher into the blinding sun. It was safe beneath the earth, at least that’s what he had always been told. In all honesty, the underground metropolis where he lived seemed anything but safe. Down below was too comfortable; it was what mankind had always dreamed of. Robots patrolled the streets in white uniforms deterring crime and maintaining peace, providing for and maintaining the city. Yet something was missing, some freedom to do what you wanted without being watched, or guided to the appropriate choice. He shook his head this was his chance he couldn’t lose it. He took a small step forward, squared himself, and began to ascend the stairs.

The Stair-way creaked, groaning as he wound his way along. He didn’t look up anymore because flakes of rust seemed to shower him with every step, finding their way into his eyes. Instead he stared down at his feet, trying not to let fear overtake him, as the ground disappeared further beneath him, until it sank into pitch blackness. He wished he could look up, but the relentless shower of debris falling on his head and shoulders prevented him. Instead he imagined himself getting closer to his goal, the sun almost touching him, as he immerged from the ventilation shaft. Suddenly he stopped, something, a sound. He listened, straining his ears against the silence, but was met with only the sound of the wind. He turned looking behind him, but there was only blackness. Shielding his eyes he looked up, light streamed down even stronger now, but he was still only halfway to the top. Then he heard it again, a strange whistling sound, almost like what he had heard on the old VICast movies his father had kept hidden. They had shown him brief glimpses of the outside, and some type of flying creature. He thought for a moment, birds, that’s what they had been called. He smiled hopefully; maybe he would see one, flying high in the distance, a mere speck in the sky.

The higher he went the darker it seemed to grow now. He wondered where the light had gone, thinking back he remembered his caretaker telling him that the earth circled something called a star, which lit the earth for only a small part of every cycle. He hurried now, only a soft orange glow was still visible at the very top of the stairs. It seemed like an eternity, but when he finally looked up again the last ring of stairway had opened up into a crimson sky. He felt a rush of emotion over-take him, this felt like a mad thing to do, coming to the surface. Reaching for the railing with a shaking hand he scrambled to the top of the stairs, bursting out onto a concrete platform.

He trembled with the exhaustion and thrill that assailed him. The sky was changing to deep purple now, but he could still see just a tiny glimpse of the sun disappearing in the far distance. Warm air whipped against his skin, and a sweet, salty, scent crowded his senses. Nervously he approached the edge of the platform, looking down he saw a vast body of water, which crashed into the jagged cliffs beneath him. Above him, strange winged creatures circled over-head. To all sides sheer rock walls surrounded him. There was nowhere to go. Slowly he walked to the back of the platform, put his back to the wall, and sank down. He watched as the sun slowly disappeared, and darkness began to steal across the horizon. It was tantalizing, to be out in the open, but there was no way off the platform. Heavy, tears swelled in his eyes, spilling onto his cheeks. It would be okay he thought, to die here, in the open, outside where humanity had first walked, under the sunlit sky.

The night passed swiftly, and when morning came, the platform was deserted. A heavy steel plate covered the stairway entrance, and blood was visible on the concrete. The wind still bore the same smells, gulls passed overhead, and the ocean waves bore hard upon the rocks. There was no sign of the man who had passed the night listening to the sea, and birds. Maybe he had been taken back, deep below the earth, or had rushed past his adversaries, and thrown him-self over the cliff, and into the water below. Off in the distance a sailboat could be seen anchored in the bay, its white sails stark against the bright blue of the ocean and sky. Perhaps he had, in the first glimpse of daylight seen that beacon, and made the choice, to live.

A short story

by

Keith King

When morning came.

The wind whistled savagely through the pine trees. It was a dark night, no stars or moon shone through the gloomy sky. The only light in the forest came from a small campfire, hidden underneath an outcropped rock. Two figures huddled in the night, their tired, hungry, features masked by a thick layer of dirt and grime. In the dim light of the fire it would have been impossible to tell that one was a man and the other a women. They both shivered in the cold winter air, their arms and hands clenched around each other.

I smiled sadly; I knew who they were, and where they were going. I had seen this occur a million times, but each time it struck a chord in my heart. I waited among the tree limbs, a mere shadow, spindly and tall. The fire would last another couple of hours; it would peak, and then slowly dwindle into embers. The air felt heavy, even the smell of the pine trees was barely noticeable. I’m always near when death is close, I’m compelled to observe.

Watching them I wished I could give them food and shelter from the driving wind, to ease their suffering. They moved less and less with every moment that passed, and the light grew dimmer. I wondered why I only watched them. Why couldn’t I take them under my arms, and guide them to a place where they could be fed and warmed. Slowly I came closer, silently padding through the branches until I stood above them. The fire was almost out.

There was an ache that filled me, a need which drove me to stand beside them, an invisible comfort in their plight. I touched the lady’s cheek, and felt its coldness.  Gently I took their hands, clenched tightly together and I felt their pulses thrumming slowly. Throughout the night I held them, I gave them warmth. At dawn I saw a flicker of a smile pass along their faces, the night had ended. Crying softly I rose and took their hands again in mine.  I took them by an easy trail out of the forest and into the light.

Beyond Horizons.

The door cracked open, shedding a warm yellow light on the darkness outside the house.  Jonathan walked out, stepping into the warm night air, shutting the door behind him.  The sky was clear, and lit with stars, stretching into the horizon.  All that could be heard was the sound of crickets, and the bull frogs from the lake.  A comet blazed across the sky, brilliantly, and passed into the darkness of space. He walked down to the water, and stepped onto the dock, the water rippled, and lapped nervously at the shore.  The whole earth seemed to be quivering with expectation, reacting to the slightest disturbance.  He sat down quietly and watched the stars twinkling darker and lighter. It was past midnight, but sleep seemed to slip past him, like a fox, weaving through the long grass along the path leading down from the cabin.

The air was cooler down by the water, but it felt good against his skin.  He stripped, laying his clothes in a pile, and slid quietly off the wooden pier and into the lake.  It felt good to relax, to lie on his back, and let the waves lap over his body.  It was the most free he could feel back on earth, almost as if gravity was looser in the water.  It reminded him of space, or at least the idea of it.  Artificial gravity had been discovered almost 50 years ago, making spaceflight a more comfortable, and enjoyable experience.  The water here felt like a cocoon, protecting him, empowering him, but ultimately restraining him. He sighed, shore leave was almost over, and soon he would have to rejoin his crew.  The call had gone out just that morning, a new habitable world had been found in the Milky Way Galaxy, deep in the Carina-Sagittarius Arm. It was a new frontier of space, unexplored, and unknown.  This was to be the furthest human space colonization attempt, and now that the  United Earth Space Association (U.E.S.A), had opened the door to private space exploration last year, a mad rush to the stars had begun.  A group of settlers and scientists were probably already being prepped for the voyage, preparing for the hardships that awaited them.

Jonathan sighed; this was his 7th voyage in the last 12 years.  The first had been to small rocky planet within Perseus arm on the edge of the  Galaxy.  It had been an emergency evacuation of a scientific expedition sent out at the beginning of The Great Exodus.  They had been bombarded by a massive meteor storm, which had disrupted their satellites, and TransSpace equipment.  After two months passed without contact, the U.E.S.A had ordered the immediate retrieval of the scientists. It had been a debacle, his team had barely escaped the planet before a super volcano ripped the entire southern hemisphere into molten lava and ash. The entire expedition had been lost before they had arrived, killed by a mechanical failure in the H2O electrolysis generator. Since the communication and data system was down planetside as well as in the ionosphere, most of the data, and scientific work was unrecoverable. Everything except for a few MicroDrive towers were lost in the rush to escape back to the shuttle.

Nowadays, everyone wanted to head into space, leave the old earth behind, and start a new life.  Jon breathed out slowly, relaxing in the water. He looked up at the stars and saw danger, adventure, and the desire for exploration. Those were the reasons he kept leaving, this was a new age, one that beckoned humanity outward. Earth was no longer large enough for the billions of people who called it their home. Starvation, war, genocide, they had all played their part in restraining humanities growth. But now the only limits were the ones which they had placed on themselves. He swam silently through the water, diving, and resurfacing at random. Tomorrow he would leave on yet another voyage, but the night was still his.