The Once-in-a-Lifetime Event

Submitted into Contest #245 in response to: Set your story during a total eclipse — either natural, or man-made.... view prompt

2 comments

Fiction Sad

The elevator was out—great timing as usual. It wasn’t encouraging that I had ten flights of stairs to climb. I looked at my phone and saw that it was 3:18 pm, which meant that I had nine minutes to get to the roof. I left work, early for this, but it looked like I was still going to be late anyways. As I started running up the condo building’s metallic stairs, I remembered why I stopped playing basketball after high school: my knees were shot.

           I glanced at one of the stairwell doors on the way up, noting that I was on the fourth floor, which was still less than halfway up. My phone started to ring but I ignored it. It was probably Janice wondering where I was. She and the kids, as well as our guests, were already up on the roof. If I took the time to answer, I would definitely be late, so I continued my upward climb, uninterrupted.

           Fifth, six, seventh, and then eighth floor. With three more floors to climb, I was completely gassed, my knees were in excruciating pain, and I was sweating bullets. I gripped the railings as if my life depended on it. My heart was beating so hard that it hurt my chest. My breathing was hoarse as I slowed my ascent up the unforgiving stairs. I was painfully reminded that my years of smoking had done me a great disservice. Back in my prime, stair running would have been no problem. I was starting to feel the health consequences of working at a high-stress office, having poor nutrition, sleeping irregularly, living a sedentary lifestyle, drinking, and smoking.

           Finally, I arrived at the rooftop door. At this point, I was gasping for precious air as I pushed open the door. By now, the moon had already blocked most of the sun; as a result, it was getting dark despite the lack of cloud cover. There were at least a hundred (probably much more) of my neighbours scattered throughout the roof. Some of them were seated on lawn chairs, others were sprawled on makeshift picnic blankets, some were standing, and a few were walking around. Most of them were wearing solar eclipse glasses and were looking up at the eclipsing sun.

I spotted Janice and our boys, Jackson and Brady, who were seated on a picnic blanket, along with our friends, Trevor, Sam, Eddie, and Suzanne as well as their kids. “Come on, Dad,” Brady says. “You’re going to miss it.”

I walked over to them and Janice stood up to greet me. She noticed that I was drenched with sweat and breathing hard. “What happened to you?” she asked.

“Elevator’s out,” I replied. “Just ran up ten flights of stairs.” I kissed her and then put on my cardboard solar eclipse glasses. “Wow, just in time.” The sun was reduced to a thin crescent which was gradually being consumed by the moon until it completely disappeared.

“I can’t see anything anymore!” cried Jackson.

“You can take your glasses off, Jacky,” I told him. “The sun will be totally eclipsed for the next three minutes but you have to put them back on after right after so you don’t go blind.” I removed my glasses and noticed that everyone else was doing the same. Up in the sky, I saw the total eclipse. It looked like a dark circle in the sky, surrounded by a fiery edge. It also reminded me of a circular version of the eye of Sauron, from Lord of the Rings, or some sort of round-shaped portal to another dimension.

Almost as interesting as this once-in-a-lifetime celestial event was what was happening down here. Everyone on the roof looked up in awe as though they were worshipping a deity. There was a cacophony of oohing and aahing coming from the limited time, amateur astronomers—myself included. The bustling sound of traffic was muted. Even the birds stopped chirping. This surreal Tango between three cosmic bodies had literally brought our small part of the world to a standstill and had brought our typically fragmented society together, if only for an hour or two. We were united in our individuality as we all looked up, waiting for answers or for something incredible to happen. Our rooftop and the entire city were enveloped in darkness as the temperature dropped by a few degrees.

I pointed my phone at this cosmic phenomenon. Onscreen, it looked like the sun, only a little less bright. My primitive, human eyes were able to perceive a reality that my high-tech cell phone camera could not. I released Janice’s hand in an attempt to get as close to the eclipse as possible. I walked until I was right in front of the five-foot-high ledges.

All of our lives, we were told that we should not look at the sun or it would fry our retinas and make us go blind. The relationship between humanity and the sun was bizarre in the sense that we owed our existence to this giant ball of gas, yet we could never look at this provider of light, warmth, and life. This was the only time in our lives that we were allowed to stare directly at the sun. Even if it was only for 3 minutes and 27 seconds. I intended to indulge in every second of this rare experience.

A tiny speck of the sun started to emerge so I quickly put on my glasses. People started clapping and then talking amongst themselves. I didn’t participate in any of this social interaction, I simply kept watching the mesmerizing sun as it gradually made a reappearance. I noticed that it was getting quieter. I didn’t think much of it and just continued to watch the sun as it went from being a sliver, to a crescent, until its familiar, round fiery bright face was once again revealed.

“Amazing,” I said as I removed my solar eclipse glasses. I turned to look at Janice and the others but was stunned to realize that there was no one else on the rooftop. Janice, the kids, our friends, and neighbours—they were all gone. I speed-dialed Janice on my cellphone; her phone rang three time and then it went to voicemail. I tried again but it was the same result. I sent her a text that said, “Where are you?” but she did not reply.

I went down the stairs to the 10th floor and took a chance with the elevator. Miraculously, the elevator was working. I rode it down to the second floor. I got out of the elevator, walked down the corridor, and unlocked the door to our condo.

All the lights were off so I turned them on. None of my family’s shoes were in the entrance. I quickly walked to our bedroom and then the kids’ rooms—no one was home. I took out my phone and saw that I hadn’t received any texts even though I had full bars of mobile service and Wi-Fi. I called Janice again and like before, there was no response.

At this point, I was starting to get worried. I called Sam, Trevor, Suzanne, and Eddie—no one was picking up. That couldn’t be a coincidence. Were they pulling a prank on me? I went into the corridor and started knocking on my neighbours’ doors, like some desperate door-to-door salesmen. I kept expecting someone to answer the door or for someone to call or text me to tell me that I was punked, but that didn’t happen. Could all these people be in on this extremely elaborate prank, bordering on a psyop?

I approached the one door that I have never knocked on. The old man that lived there, never talked to anyone, never smiled, and rarely went outside. The old geezer was a recluse and would never participate in a coordinated prank like this. For sure, he would be home; to be fair, there was no guarantee that he would open the door even if he was home. I knocked on his door, repeatedly. After no response, I was completely dejected. I looked at the time: 5:03 pm.

I locked our condo door and took the elevator down to the first floor. I walked out of the building. It was rush hour so I was expecting to see crowds of pedestrians and traffic. There was neither. It was the end of the workday, yet downtown Montreal looked like it was abandoned. The silence was uncanny.

I walked down the street, block after block. There were cars the were parked in parking spots but there we no vehicles in the middle of the road, moving or otherwise. I walked into a bakery which was open for business but there were no employees or clients. I jumped the counter and helped myself to a chocolate chip muffin which was on display.

While I ate my muffin, I continued walking. I did not know what to make of what was happening. I looked up at the sky, not to see the eclipse which had already passed, but to see the sun which seemed to have gotten bigger and brighter.

Hours went by as I continued my trek across the island of Montreal. I eventually made my way onto the Champlain Bridge and looked in stunned awe at the Saint Lawrence River which was now a dried riverbed. I wiped the sweat from my brow and looked up at the sun which was now filling up the entire sky. I removed my sweaty shirt because of the excruciating heat. I sat down on the bridge and watched as the entire city started to burn. I took out my cellphone and opened my Photos app. I looked at one of my favourites: a selfie of Janice, Brady, Jackson, and me lying down on the beach, in a circle, while looking up at the sky. I kissed this picture on my screen.

The cellphone screen blacked out and it started to melt in my hand. I scraped the molten plastic from my hand and looked up at the sky.

There was no sky.

It was replaced by the sun.

The blindingly bright, scorchingly hot, sun.

                                       *                        *                           *

On the rooftop, Janice cries while she hugs Brady and Jackson. They watch as Eddie and Suzanne do CPR on Jordan, who’s lying unconscious on his back. Two paramedics run onto the roof and Eddie and Suzanne back away. One of the paramedics checks Jordan’s pulse and then starts doing chest compressions.

“Is Daddy going to be okay?” asks Brady.

Janice stares at Jordan, who remains unconscious as the paramedics continue doing CPR. “He’s going to be fine, Baby,” she replies.

Janice takes out her cardboard solar eclipse glasses, puts them on her face, and looks up at the final phase of the eclipse.

April 13, 2024 02:41

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

2 comments

Tanya Humphreys
01:45 Apr 23, 2024

This story has potential, it just gets a bit confusing, trying to figure out what's going on...there's a creepy weird feeling I love in stories. Work on being less elusive and more descriptive would be my advice.

Reply

12:02 Apr 23, 2024

Hi Tanya, Thanks for reading my story and for the constructive advice! Stan

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.