Endless Summer

Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Make a race an important element of your story.... view prompt

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Adventure Fiction Science Fiction



Don McCann

“So, you think you’ll make it this time?”

Frankie gave Curtis a serious look. “Yeah. I do.”

“No, you won’t,” scoffed Louise. “You say the same thing every time, but you haven’t yet.”

“Sure, he can make it,” Bill butted in, smirking, “if he takes a skidder.”

“I can make it,” Frankie replied evenly. “I’ve been practicing.”

“Practice all you want,” Louise told him. “There’s just no way. The farthest you’ve ever gotten was the pier.”

“Yeah,” Curtis added. “And that was two years ago. Before that, you didn’t even make it to the beach.” This year would be Frankie’s sixth Race.

“I told you, I tripped.” He frowned. “I would’ve at least got to the end of the pier.” He looked down, trying to disguise his uncertainty. “I’ve been practicing.” He spat the words through gritted teeth.

Bill shook his head doubtfully. “I don’t know, dude. You remember Stacy, right?” Everyone’s faces turned solemn. They were all there when the Netters pulled her body from the lake. “She practiced, too,” he finished quietly.

“I remember Stacy, all right?” He was getting annoyed. It’s not like no one ever made it. “Stacy made great time practicing inside,” he went on. “Her mistake was she only took two gallons of water.”

True, there were people who had won. But no one who even considered running The Race could forget Stacy. The bare minimum needed to finish was three gallons of water. Making the attempt with only two, Stacy dove off the pier a jaw-dropping ten minutes ahead of the long-standing record. She swam to the buoy, rang the bell and started the swim back. People were already recalculating preparations for The Race. Winning with just two gallons of water would change everything. Breathless, everyone waited for Stacy to surface . . .

. . . until The Lake froze over.

When the Netters pulled Stacy from The Lake that next year, the autopsy revealed she was almost fatally dehydrated well before she dove into the water. The docs determined she had simply blacked out underwater and drowned.

“You really think you can run thirty miles through the forest, in 130-degree heat, carrying four gallons of water? Even three?” Curtis asked. “Practice or not, you know there’s no way you’ll have enough juice left to make that final swim.” He shook his head. “Not after carrying all that water.”

Frankie favored the group with a sly look. “Who said I’ll be carrying it?”

The planet’s filename was EC-237, being Earth’s 237th Colony. Its official name was Endless Summer, which of course was a joke. Owing to the distance from its home star and a unique solar and rotation cycle, the average temperature of the planet was 150 degrees below zero.

Even so, Endless Summer (colonists just called it Summer) still managed to have the four terrestrial seasons; they just all occurred in one day and in only one place: a small, thriving community they dubbed Equinox. Race Day only came once a year, and they worked hard to make the most of that one day.


Race Day.

As soon as the sun crests Mount Donna, signaling the beginning of spring, temperatures rise and the ice starts to melt. The runoff is quickly absorbed into the rocky, arid soil. Soon after, the landscape virtually explodes. In less than an hour, barren meadows sprout into lush vegetation. The wild colors and rich scents of this enchanting instant paradise are among the most beautiful sights on the planet—unless you’re a Racer. To a Racer, the various flowers, shrubs and vines are nothing more than ever-changing obstacles to be avoided.

Summer in Equinox starts two hours after sunrise and lasts until two hours before sunset. When the temperature starts to drop, signaling fall’s arrival, everyone knows only two hours remain until winter descends once more. Don’t be caught outside without a Coldsuit because the change from fall to winter takes less than sixty seconds. But, from spring to fall, it’s party time.

At sunrise, 150-below quickly warms to 40-above and, once the Netter Truck leaves, sun-starved colonists burst forth from the ‘gloos, their skidders loaded up with picnic baskets, lawn chairs and blankets, headed to The Lake. No one has ever given The Lake a name. As far back as anyone can remember, it’s always been The Lake, and that’s where all the action is.

The Lake is thirty miles from the main compound and is bordered by five miles of beach, which in turn is bordered by an abundant tropical forest. There are several roads and paths from the compound to The Lake and most of these are used by the colonists. Only one path, however, is reserved for The Race.

No one knew when it started, but every year one lucky (some would say cursed) teen attempted to run from the compound to The Lake, dive off the end of the pier and scramble back to shore. In and of itself, this sounds simple, but several factors make this thirty-mile run anything but.

Temperatures rising from 40 to 130 degrees in the first four hours as the Racer runs threaten to shock the body into exhaustion. Running with three gallons of water, or less, keeps them at the edge of dehydration almost the whole way. A tropical forest literally growing beneath their feet constantly creates new obstacles all along the route. Sprains and broken bones are the most common reasons for not finishing The Race.

As bad as all that is, the hazard that seems the easiest is actually the worst: the 400-yard swim from the pier to the buoy, then back to shore. Making this swim after the punishing thirty-mile run, a Racer’s body teeters on the brink of collapse. Diving into water that was frozen solid just a few hours earlier is not the welcome relief one would think. The water may not be frozen, but an overheated body won’t know that. The shock from the temperature difference jolts the heart into overdrive. Lungs try to gasp out of reflex, but this is impossible because the Racer has just dived underwater. Muscles start to seize from the shock, but there’s no choice but to keep going, or risk cramping. If a Racer cramps, there’s no place to go but thirty feet straight down. Swimming slow to let the body adjust is not an option either because, at this point, the Winter Siren has usually sounded, meaning winter will arrive in ten minutes. Once winter hits, anything out in the open—including The Lake and anyone in it—will flash-freeze.

If a Racer isn’t in the water by the time that Siren sounds, they know better than to continue. Or they should, anyway.


37 degrees.

Frankie and the others stood at the door, willing it to open.

“Come on, come on,” Frankie grunted.

“Relax,” Louise told him. “You know nothing happens until it hits 40.” She looked over. “Why don’t you take another drink? You’ve got a few minutes.”

He shook his head, eyes still on the door. “I had two quarts already this morning. I’m at my limit.”

“Yeah, but didn’t you pee like ten minutes ago?” Bill asked. “You’ve got a little room, right?”

Everyone laughed except Frankie.


“What’s taking so—”


The lock clicked, the door slid up, and Frankie was through before it even reached the top.

Curtis smirked. “Somebody was ready.”

The Netter Truck was already away, and they all watched as Frankie trotted after it. When it crested the hill and disappeared, Frankie peeled off to the right, into the already-sprouting forest.

“Come on.” Louise shouldered her backpack. “I told the Netters we’d help bring Susan in.” Susan was their friend, and last year’s Racer. She’d reached the pier two minutes before the Winter Siren, so still had a good chance. Unfortunately, she stumbled at the end of the pier and, instead of a clean dive, gaining her an essential five to six yards, she fell straight down into the water. Everyone shouted for her to return to the beach, but she pushed off the base of the pier and took off for the buoy. She’d just made the turn when the water turned gray and, with a loud CRRAAAK, it was over. They didn’t see Susan again.

They would see her now, though.


When they arrived at the beach, the Netters were already unloading, and they hurried over. They were called Netters because every year, the first official act of spring was to bring in the body of the previous year’s Racer. When they got to the beach, they hooked a winch to a huge net lying on the bottom of The Lake. Once the Racer was brought in, the net was reset at the bottom for the next Racer. Everyone hoped, of course, it wouldn’t be needed, but, more often than not, it was.

Once the net was hooked up, The Netters stepped back and waited for one of the group to pull the switch. It was customary for one of the Racer’s family or friends to bring in the net, and this year it was Bill. He and Susan had started dating before last year’s Race.

Bill looked out at The Lake a few moments, then pulled the switch. He toughed it out at first, but had to turn away, red-faced, when Susan’s body broke the surface. Curtis walked him away, while Louise helped The Netters wrap Susan’s body.

After a few minutes, Louise came to join the boys, dragging her chair over. “You okay, Bill?”

“Yeah.” He wiped his nose. After a moment, he looked back to the forest. “I guess, ummm . . . this is as good a time as any to tell you . . .” His voice trailed off and he couldn’t meet their eyes. “Frankie and I . . . well, we’re kind of . . . well, you know, umm . . . we’re . . .” He stopped talking. “I really hope he makes it. I don’t wanna do this again.”

Curtis gave Louise a shocked look, and they both gaped at Bill, who was still staring into the forest. After a moment, he turned to them, a mocking smirk on his face.

“You ass!” Louise tossed her cup of soda in his face as Bill tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle his giggling.

“Jerk!” Curtis threw his bag of chips, and they all collapsed in gales of laughter.

“Haaa! You should see your faces!” he shouted, ducking slaps from Louise and fistfuls of sand from Curtis. The group fell out of their chairs, peals of laughter punctuating their hysterical brawling.

Finally, after that welcome release, they all dropped to the sand, panting and staring into the hot, blue sky.

“So, you’re not really . . .?” Louise asked.

Bill chuckled. “No, we’re not really.”

“That was pretty funny, though.” Curtis gave a short laugh. “Jerk.”

They sat up and looked over at everyone enjoying themselves on the beach. Kids running and shouting; volleyball games, the smell of meat over charcoal, oiled flesh soaking up real radiation. Hard to believe, in a few short hours, everyone would be gone, and it would all be frozen over again.

"So, do you think he's gonna make it?" Bill asked, breaking the silence.

“I don’t know. He seemed pretty certain,” Louise said. “Do you think he knows something we don’t?”

Curtis shook his head. “Hard to tell. He spent almost as much time with his map as he did practicing.”

“Really? What’s there to look at? There’s only one path.”

“I don’t know.” Louise dug into her backpack. “I’ve got his map. Let’s take a look.” She spread it onto the sand. “I don’t see anything different.” Her finger traced the route. “Same path . . . he’s got little checkmarks here, but yeah, same path.”

“Are those checkpoints? Why would anybody need those? You just run and drink your water.”

“Yeah . . .” Louise’s voice dropped as she peered closer. “Wait.” She pointed. “That’s not a checkmark. It’s a letter . . . V . . . no . . . no, it’s a W.” She looked again, “They’re all W’s.”

Curtis looked closer. “Yeah. What’s that about?”

“‘You just run and drink your water,’ you said.” Louise frowned. “Was he actually carrying any water?”

Bill thought for a moment. “I thought so. But now that I—”

Curtis sat back and whispered, “Who said I’ll be carrying it?

Louise looked at him, wide-eyed. “No way!”

He looked at the map again, then smiled up at her. “Way.”

“Damn. Why didn’t I ever think of that?” she asked.

“Why didn’t anybody ever think of it?” Curtis asked.

“What?” Bill wasn’t getting it.

“Bill. Those aren’t checkmarks. They’re W’s. For water.”

He looked at the map. “What are you talking about? You have to carry the water with you.”

“Who says?” Louise peered at him.

No one spoke.

Bill still wasn’t getting it. “Well . . . that’s crazy. You can’t put water out before The Race. It’ll be frozen! And, when you get to it . . .”

Curtis and Louise laughed, seeing it finally dawn on him.

Bill sat back on his heels. “Huh. Why didn’t I think of that?”

They all looked to the forest. Louise whispered, “He’s gonna make it.”

Enjoying the final hour of Summer, they ate some more, swam some more, played some more, and discussed how Frankie was going to win The Race this year.

“He’ll probably set a record.”

“Well, of course he’ll set a record. Heck, he’ll probably even have time to eat some barbecue!”

“Is this really legal, though?”

“Legal? Like there are rules?”

“Well, you know—you can’t have any help, you have to run the same path, you can only take water, your clothes and . . .”

“Yeah, and . . .?”

“Hmmm, well, I guess there aren’t a lot of rules.” Bill laughed. “But do you think it’ll be allowed from now on?”

“Hellz yeah!” Louise exclaimed. “I’m doing it next year!”

Curtis grinned, “If you’re the Racer.”

“Ha! Who’s gonna be my competition, you?”

“Why not? We both know the secret, so we both have an equal shot.”

“You wish!”


Soon enough, the last hour of fall arrived, but still no sign of Frankie. They’d been speculating, but were now getting worried. Everyone already had on their Coldsuits.

“If he really had water on the path, he should have been here by now.”

“What if he’s stuck and needs help?” Bill asked.

“He would have sent the signal,” Curtis said.

The Winter Siren blasted just as Frankie cleared the forest.

“There! There he is!” Louise shouted. “What is that? What happened to his leg?”

“Oh no . . .” Curtis whispered.

As Frankie burst out of the forest, they saw him stumbling and heard his labored gasps, but the most prominent thing was the bloody rag wrapped around his left thigh.

He was still fifty yards from the pier, and the pier itself was fifty yards long.

Nine minutes.

“He’s not going make it limping like that,” Bill said. “We’ve got to stop him.”

As he started towards the pier, Curtis grabbed him. “Wait.”

“Wait? The Siren already sounded! He’s not gonna make it! We have to—”

“Look at him, Bill.”

They were close enough to see Frankie’s ashen face, with its determined expression, and what they saw shocked them.

He knew.

“He knows, Bill,” Louise told him. She ran. “Come on!” When she got close, she shouted, “Go, Frankie, go!” Frankie didn’t stop his shambling run, but he turned. “Come on! You can make it! Go, go!”

Face drenched with sweat, but pale from the pain, he gave a weak smile and pushed on.

Seven minutes.

Catching on, Bill and Curtis joined her. “Go, Frankie, go!”

“You can do it, Frankie! Go, go!”

Anyone still on the beach also had Coldsuits on. As they saw Frankie make the pier, they joined in the shouting. Still trying to run, he gave a half wave. Putting on a last burst of speed, he leapt off the edge of the pier.

Heart in her throat, Louise heard his grunt of pain over the shouting. He did not get a good dive.

But ten seconds later, he broke the surface and started stroking hard for the buoy. Amazingly, he was starting to make up some time. Everyone was still yelling and screaming, caught up in the excitement, even though it was obvious he could no longer hear them. Frankie’s friends led the shouting, tears streaming down their faces as he kicked off the buoy, setting its bell clanging.

Four minutes.

By this time, the temperature had already dropped to 35 and everyone was supposed to be in their skidders, headed back to the compound. Instead, they were all standing on the sand, shouting at the top of their lungs.

“Hurry up, Frankie, we’re freezing out here!” Curtis shouted.

“Yeah, come on! I’ve got your ’suit right here!” She shook it above her head.

They all kept screaming, watching him splash closer and closer.

One minute.

Suddenly, he disappeared from view and a hush fell.

Louise gasped “There he is! Right there! There! He’s gonna make it!”

“Come on, Frankie! Pull! Pull!”

“Come on! You can do it!”

Everyone was shouting now, certain he had enough time.

Frankie’s hand broke the surface just as the water turned gray . . .


“That was a neat trick with the water, huh?” Bill spoke first, voice subdued.

“Yeah,” answered Louise. “I really do wish I’d thought of it.”

“Now I think I might be able to make it,” Curtis said.

“Yeah. Me, too.”

Louise stared at them both for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah.” She turned to look once more out the skidder’s plexscreen. Frankie’s outstretched arm was frozen above the glittering surface of the lake, beckoning—almost challenging.

“See you next year, Frankie,” she whispered.

January 26, 2024 23:09

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1 comment

Hannah Anderson
03:56 Feb 09, 2024

Great story Don! I really liked how the setting of the story played such a large role. Thank you!


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