Free Fiction Thursday – One Sun, No Waiting

Happy Thursday from snowy Roseburg, Oregon! I’m on the road to a workshop and did not expect to wake up to big, fat, fluffy snowflakes this morning.

In honor of the cold weather, this week’s free story is about a world where the sun is dimming a little more every day, and one old motel owner’s struggle for normalcy in a world that’s anything but.

One Sun, No Waiting

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 Annie Reed

An old motel man like me, I appreciate good tenants. The ones who don’t steal my towels, don’t bust up the television or spill beer on the bed, who don’t burn holes in the carpet and don’t forget to turn the lights off when they leave — they’re welcome at The Forty Winks any time. I always have room for ’em.

Better make it soon, though. I’m hoping differently, but I don’t expect I’ll be around much longer. I don’t expect many of us will be around.

See, as it turns out, celestial bodies have tenants too. Who would have thought the sun was hollow and something lived inside? Sounds like a bunch of hooey, don’t it? I might have said the same thing just a couple months ago, but these days it’s pretty damn real.

Scientists concocted a fancy-pants name for it, but as far as I’m concerned all it means is that the sun turned out to be just temporary living space for folks on their way to someplace else, just like my motel. The last tenants in our neck of the universe pulled a damn good trick on us. Turned out the lights when they left. Just switched the sun off, like it was the Lord’s own light bulb.

The good news — if there is any — is that the sun’s on a dimmer switch. Scientists have a fancy-pants explanation for that, too, but I don’t care much about scientific stuff. All it means to me is that the sun loses a little more light every day until pretty soon I guess there won’t be any light left at all.

Right now my watch says it’s eleven in the morning, but outside it looks like it’s twilight. I used to think twilight was the prettiest time of day here in the Nevada desert. Everything painted a cool lavender-blue, the heat of the day just starting to bleed off into the night air, the sharp tang of sagebrush and the dry dirt smell of dusty sand tickling my nose.

It’s not so pretty when it’s twilight all the time, not when you know pretty soon the night won’t ever go away.

“The damnedest thing, Jimmy,” Maude tells me every day. “Ain’t it just the damnedest thing.”

I suppose I should be grateful Maude’s still here, still cleaning rooms and changing beds. A lot of people just took off, figured it was the end of the world and nothing much mattered anymore. Not Maude. She’s worked for me for nearly twenty years. She’s a good woman — not a looker, but she’s sturdy and strong-bodied with gentle, faded-blue eyes and a quick smile. She puts up with my cigar smoke with only an occasional sour expression, and she has never once teased me about my receding hairline or my increasing waistline.

Folks used to say one day I’d marry Maude. Maybe I should have, but I guess I turned out not to be the marrying kind. Don’t seem to me it matters much. We’ve been together longer than most people who walk down the aisle, and that should count for something.

“Ever wonder what we’re still doing here?” I ask her.

Maude’s hanging laundry out to dry. I rigged a clothesline for her in the little patch of fenced-in backyard out behind the motel office. We still have electricity, but brownouts are more frequent these days, so Maude decided to dry sheets the old-fashioned way, like her Momma did.

I grab one end of a clean sheet and tack it up on the line with a clothespin. Maude fastens the other end, then adds a couple of clothespins in the middle.

“Where else should we be?” She nods her head toward the motel, a U-shaped building with twelve units, half of them full. “Like these fools? Running when there ain’t no place to run to?” She snorts as she picks up another sheet.

“I heard a couple people say they were headed out to Yucca Mountain. Another one’s going to the Lehman Caves. Going underground might not be such a bad idea.”

It’s already getting colder, even out here in the desert. When the sun goes out for good, I imagine it’s gonna get seriously cold real fast. Being underground might be a little bit warmer.

“Like the government’s going to let just anybody into Yucca Mountain. I don’t hear anything about the President going to Yucca Mountain. That guy who ran against him — he’s probably going to Yucca Mountain.” Maude makes rude noise and takes a clothespin out of her jeans pocket. “You really want to live down there where they want to put all that nuclear waste?”

No, I don’t. I never did trust the government’s plan to bury the nation’s nuclear garbage practically in my back yard. Seemed rude somehow, considering no one ever asked me how I felt about it.

“I heard the Lehman Caves have bats,” Maude says. Maude don’t like bats, calls ’em rats with wings.

Together Maude and I pin another sheet on the line.

“You don’t seem altogether too upset about this,” I say after a minute.

“Wouldn’t do me any good if I was. Can’t do anything about it.” Maude shoots me a look. “You getting maudlin on me, Jimmy?”

Maybe I am, just a little bit, but I tell her no anyway.

Our conversation’s interrupted by the sound of a car pulling off the highway. The Forty Winks sits seventy-five miles northeast of Las Vegas on a lonely stretch of State Route 93, a two-lane highway that don’t see much traffic these days. The post office calls our stretch of road Greenville, Nevada, but the town’s no more than a couple of double-wide trailers, a combination gas station/mini-mart, my motel, and a diner, the old-fashioned soda jerk kind with an eight-stool counter and three tables crowded against the front windows. Even with Las Vegas just an hour away, Greenville’s businesses manage to make just enough money to stay open. People always seem to need someplace to stop, gas up, eat, or get a few hours sleep.

My new tenant’s a thirty-something man, looks like a business executive, maybe a banker. Thin without being skinny, just a little shorter than my five foot ten. High forehead. Brown hair, thin on top; wire-rimmed glasses, not too thick. He’s dressed in khaki pants, a nice golf shirt, and the gold watch on his wrist looks like it cost more than I made in the last six months.

Probably not a good idea to flash that watch around. It’d be a powerful temptation to some. So far most of the end of the world lawlessness has been confined to the cities. I keep my daddy’s shotgun loaded and behind the counter, though, just in case. I expect that sooner or later I’m going to have to use it.

“I need a room,” the man says. His eyes meet mine briefly, then slide away.

“Just you?”

“Myself and my son. He’s five. He’s out in the car.”

The car parked in front of the office is an Audi, maybe a couple of years old. Could be silver, could be light blue. In this new twilight, it’s hard to tell. The car’s windows are tinted. I can’t see inside.

“Okay,” I say.

His eyes do the sliding away thing again. He’s looking everywhere around the office. Everywhere but at me.

Read the rest of the story here.

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