Darren Goodwater, an underemployed actor who specialized in re-enactment TV programs, never slept much at all and even less after he began to doubt night had an ending. In despair, he threw away his clocks.
“Time management,” was how Darren described the choice he’d made.
No one wanted to talk about the apparent bloat of the sun, or how it set a few minutes earlier each day, or how dawn was delayed until the afternoon. Our new solar reality meant sunrise heralded lunch, not breakfast. We could be forgiven for not noticing at first; the change had happened so slowly — a minute hand on one of Darren’s discarded clocks, or flowers ripening into nuts, or dinosaur carcasses mortifying into coal. Never forget that kidney stones grow in darkness.
Despite the swelling ball of hell above our heads, pundits blamed hotter weather on the global warming everyone had blathered about for years. Dissension percolated while the sun doubled in diameter each week. Record high temperatures boosted social interaction at least:
“Hot enough for you?”
“Why, yes, I expect it is.”
Evenings were longer now. A person couldn’t ease into slumber without wondering if there was enough traction to climb out the other side. What if you got stuck, couldn’t find the momentum, the ramp that launched you back up to a nice shower and talk shows and double espressos? The extended sleep cycle left ample opportunity for two, three, as many as seven dreams in one go. Pure seduction. For many of us, a week’s worth of false things we’d probably never see or do.
“No way I’m falling for that,” Darren Goodwater said in a background noise kind of voice. “I mean, if I don’t wake up, and someone gains an advantage from it…”
A scant four hours of light pressed down on us daily. Instead of sheltering from the routine broil, we staggered from Point A to Point B and took care of day-business while we could. Darren, on his way to the bodega for sundries, finally decided to, well, declare. His internal organs felt especially tingly just then.
He scrambled atop a black & white police car in front of the precinct headquarters. Wilted cops lounging outside on the steps glared at Darren but made no move to stop him. They mopped their brows and waited for better crimes. Due to present circumstances it was preferable to allow citizens to let off a little steam, within reason.
“I’ve devoted my life to the pursuit of art,” Darren told scattered passersby, whose numbers and expectations multiplied as he spoke. “Even if you don’t watch cable TV crime shows, or historical dramas, or local commercials, I was there for you. Or maybe it was for me. All I know for certain is that I was there.”
Wobbly with heatstroke, fatigue, and passion, Darren gleamed atop the car. Too much exposed, sweaty skin; hair and beard curls tight as trampoline springs; bare feet like suction cups. Darren’s muscle spasms animated his tattoos. Stripped down to almost nothing, all of us. Modesty was one of the first casualties when afternoon temperatures started averaging one hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit.
“We mustn’t allow the day’s heat to drive us into night’s cold headlock!” Darren said. His voice increased in volume and pitch, not that it helped. “What good is our world, our own humble lives, this multi-part episode if you will, if we sleep through the post-climax resolution that explains everything?”
An older gentleman fainted. Speeches and thermal extremes are tough on elders, make no mistake. The crowd that encircled Darren’s police car reflowed itself around the collapsed oldster.
“He’s trying to speak!” someone cried. “Give him room!” shouted another.
Darren jumped down onto the melty asphalt and squirmed through the mob. He bent to the victim, whose mouth opened and closed silently as if in prayer.
“What is it, old fellow?” asked Darren. “Rest easy, you’re with friends.”
A woman took off her wide-brimmed hat and fanned sweltering air toward the victim.
“So damned hot all the time,” gasped the man. “Are we moving closer to the sun, or is it just getting bigger?”
“Why can’t it be both?” said Darren. He was a Civil War soldier waiting stoically for the signal to charge; the murder suspect’s friend and neighbor, ignorant of the accused’s bad intentions.
“Oh, goddamn you,” the man said. His eyes closed and he appeared what is called beatific: all peaceful and dead-like. Then he began to snore.
Darren looked up at the sky; he had read somewhere that dumb beasts rarely did so, only humans. The rising red sun’s ever-expanding perimeter would have matched a rainbow’s arc, except fire filled the curve’s belly. Darren sniffed seared atmosphere and caught the scent of radiation and brimstone. To smell a star — now, that was the stuff of overabundant dreams.
MICHAEL GRANT SMITH wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared in elimae, Ghost Parachute, Longshot Island, The Airgonaut, formercactus, Riggwelter, and others. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit http://www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.