MONDAY: The Year Before the Comet

BY FRANK T. SIKORA

Copyright is held by the author.

“WE’RE LUCKY MEN,” Ethan’s grandfather said with only a trace of irony. “We’re going to be part of the greatest show on Earth since Dino and his gang caught it in the short hairs.”

Ethan sat at the edge of the pier and kicked at the water. The last show on Earth, he thought. You’re 86, Grandfather. You’ve lived your life. You’ve made and lost your fortunes. You’ve had your share of women. You’ve published a book. Myself? I haven’t done shit in my 19 years. Sixteenth place at the state cross-country meet has been my highlight. Oh, let’s not forget a couple of sloppy kisses with Miss Emily de Havilland, Mercer High Prom Queen runner-up to the runner-up. Oh boy.

Ethan dropped a pebble into the water, scattering a school of minnows. I suspect, he thought, there will be a few more opportunities with the girls, given we’re all going perish in a reign of fire and ice in 363 days. Still, what’s the value of desperate love? Does it mean anything?

His grandfather cast out his line. The lure landed with a plop. Ethan’s grandparents had decided to spend the year before the comet struck at their cabin, a three-bedroom log home that stood at the end of a seven-mile, washed-out dirt road. Surrounded by hundreds of square miles of birch and pine, Miles recalled how as a kid he felt they had come to the ends of the Earth.

“I’m not sure I share your enthusiasm,” Ethan said. “I’m getting robbed of a good 60 – 70 years.”

The old man laughed and slowly reeled in his line. A half dozen loons dived toward the water, skimming the surface like fighter jets. “Hell, I may be missing out on a few years, too. I still got my spark where it counts if you get my drift.”

“Jesus, please. I get it,” Ethan said. “I know it’s not true, but I feel as if I am personally getting screwed by the universe or God or by chance…”

His grandfather shrugged. “I understand. I felt the same way during the war. Despite all the death and suffering around me, I believed God had devised the war for my ‘personal enrichment.’ I’m sure most felt the same.”

“You survived, and you lived a good life. Eighty-six years ain’t bad,” Ethan said.

“Hey, boys.”

Ethan turned toward his grandmother, who approached from the cabin.

She smiled. “Are you boys solving all the world’s problems?”

“There’s only one worth solving, and we’re getting nowhere,” Ethan said and tossed in another pebble. “I’m also thinking of heading to the Twin Cities for the year. Desmond invited me to stay at his place. He’s says he’s built himself a party hatch, whatever that means.”

“The cities are going to be dangerous,” his grandmother said while taking a seat next to her husband. “Even now, fewer and fewer people are going to work. If they’re not looting, they’re just sitting around complaining or smoking dope or doing God knows what.”

“I imagine they’re doing a great deal of ‘God knows what,’” his grandfather said. “That’s not the worst plan in the world.”

“Please,” Ethan said. “If that’s your plan, I’m definitely heading for the cities.”

“Stay with us,” his grandmother said. “Your cousins may come up and if I’m not mistaken, Emily’s still in town. She works at her father’s store.”

“I don’t know,” Ethan said.

“Your parents would have wanted you to stay with us,” she said. “Family matters, now more than ever.”

Ethan wondered how his grandparents could have forgotten the tension among his grandparents, parents and cousins — the petty squabbles, the constant bickering, and the jealousies. I imagine it’s our nature to think only good of those who have passed, he thought. Not that it will matter; in 363 days all will be forgotten if not forgiven. Earth will reboot.

Ethan looked out at the lake. More loons had gathered. They honked at each other as if they were settling a dispute.

“Hey!” his grandfather chirped. “I have something on the line. Big, too.”

“You always think it’s a big one,” Ethan said.

“And they always seem to get away,” his grandmother added.

“This is big,” his grandfather insisted. He pointed toward the end of his rod. “Look at the damn line.”

The rod was bent in a half-moon arc; its tip touched the water. The old man grunted as he alternated between pulling hard on the reel and teasing out a bit of line.

“You might be right, Grandpa. Need help?”

“Only if I fall in,” his grandfather replied.

For the next few minutes, Ethan watched the battle. His grandmother offered soft encouragement until the line suddenly snapped and the rod went limp.

“Whoa,” the old man said and exhaled. He shot a grin at Ethan. “It had to be huge. It had to be a Muskie. Trophy size.”

“And it got away,” Ethan said.

Both his grandparents laughed.

Ethan stood and stripped off his T-shirt. He removed his wallet, phone, and car keys from his shorts and placed them on the dock. He brought his hands together. “I’m going for a swim. Do me a favour and try not to snare me in your lure.”

“I’ll do my best,” his grandfather said. “Better watch out. There’s something big and nasty down there, and probably in a bad mood.”

“There’s something big and nasty coming our way,” Ethan said, “and it doesn’t give a shit about you, Grandma, me, or anyone.”

“Try not to think about it,” his grandmother said.

“It’s all I think about,” Ethan replied.

His grandmother kissed her husband. “This should bring us closer. It’s a time for family, for prayer.”

Prayer? Ethan thought. Any prayer I offer now would be hollow, self-serving, dishonest, and just plain desperate.

His grandmother looked up at Ethan. “Ethan, stay. You don’t need the cities or Desmond’s hatch. Look around. It’s so peaceful here. It’s like we’re insulated — safe from all the sins this world offers.”

“You may be right about the cities,” Ethan said. “Still, eventually everything will go to shit, even out here.” He looked out over the lake. The loons had settled down. They lounged on the surface, riding the lake’s current.

His grandfather examined his broken line. “You know, I read there are scientists who plan to continue their research; writers and artists working until the end. Last week while I was in town I stopped in at Grant’s Supper Club. Grant says he’s going to stay open as long as supplies last. Even the schools will supposedly remain open.”

“I imagine the class sizes will finally be manageable,” his grandmother said. “Only the smart kids will show.”

“I get what you’re saying,” Ethan said and dived in. He swam about 30 feet and stopped. He easily treaded water and turned back to face his grandparents. “I guess I better figure out what to do with my life.”

“I didn’t want to press it,” his grandfather said, “but, yeah.”

“Maybe after my swim,” Ethan said, “I’ll go into Mercer and look up Miss Emily. We have unfinished business.”

“That’s the spirit,” his grandfather said, “and a damn fine start to the year.”

3 comments

  1. Pingback: RERUN FRIDAY: The Year Before the Comet |
  2. Susan Laliberte

    I get Ethan’s position at the start and I feel his resistance to change but I’m not clear on what it is that changes his mind. Heroes need to grow so I’d like to see how Ethan grows. Loved your use of dialogue.

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