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500 Seconds

Brent Smith lives in Portland, Maine where he develops software while dreaming of haunted lobster traps and black bear zombies. This is his third story at Daily Science Fiction and he also has a story soon to appear in Alex Shvartsman's Unidentified Funny Objects 4 anthology. He's a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and can be found online at brentcsmith.net and on Twitter @SpecFic_Brent.
The sun disappeared just now, like a light bulb popping in an empty basement, leaving darkness so complete a brain invents color to compensate. There, then gone, in the space between seconds.
Did you feel it?
I did because I see the plan. I know the same way I knew that mugger on Park would be tackled by a cop at the next corner. The way I knew Emily would step in front of that SUV with the luggage rack. Here one moment, gone the next. Just like the sun.
Five hundred seconds. That's how long it takes sunlight and gravity to reach Earth. Five hundred seconds of normality, and then poof! go the lights and we hurtle into space on a freezing tangent to nowhere. Rocketing along a new path. Or maybe the one we were supposed to travel all along.
A reasonable man would do something useful with the time left. Something memorable. He would tell somebody he loves them and kiss them goodbye. He would tell Emily. But Emily is gone. Gone and gone. I didn't get five hundred seconds. It wouldn't have made any difference if I had. Predestination it's called.
"I've outgrown you," she said.
I pretended like I didn't know what she meant. But I did. She was being pushed in a different direction. She held her gaze forward, searching for the next step on her path to inevitability. I don't let myself be pushed. What's the point?
"It's over." The engagement ring wound a dying spiral on the restaurant table as she walked out. I watched her go, hoping she'd turn around, hating her more with every step, until I found myself wishing her dead. I watched her through the rain-blurred window and imagined her death until the image was so clear in my head that I knew it would happen. A blur of light and sound and water and pale skin and dark blood.
You wobble along like wind-up dolls, jerking from one point to the next, oblivious to the winding hand that pushes you down your path. You're blind, but I see the map.
It's a curse.
At first I imagined I was one of those comic book heroes. I thought I'd improve the world, or at least my life. But life doesn't work like comics where the heroes and the villains are all fit and beautiful and have nothing better to do than prevent people from doing stupid things. Foresight doesn't change me from a slightly overweight, balding, asthmatic with barely enough energy to collapse in front of the tube.
Besides, knowing something is different than doing something.
The mugger would've kicked my ass just as hard if I'd tried to stop him. That idiot, Eller, would've still reamed me out for not finishing his reports on time even if I'd told him he would fall down the stairs the next day. The moron who cut me off would've still blown a tire and slammed into the guardrail like a child's windup toy. Predestination.
Now, the world will turn into a frozen ball of dirt no matter whether I see it coming. No matter whether I care. No matter whether Emily walks on it, or lies buried in it. No matter if I'd been wishing the sun would blink out, or that only I would.
Maybe I think these things because they're already true, part of somebody else's plan. Or maybe I'm thinking things true, making it up as I go. Maybe I'm a superhero after all. A reasonable man would wish himself a million bucks and a mansion at the beach. He'd dream up a promotion, or at least a cheesesteak and a beer.
Instead, I'm staring at oblivion barreling down on us. I suppose I could try to want the sun to blink back into existence badly enough to make it happen. Give myself a second chance. Give you and the seven billion other automatons on this planet more time to wobble along your path. But, not one of you is Emily. She's not part of the plan any more, and there's no plan that brings her back.
Still, I've got sixty seconds. Anything could happen.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 6th, 2015


It's funny how story seeds grow from delicate little sprouts into eight foot tall Little Shop of Horrors monsters. This one began with romantic notions of "How would I spend the last 8 minutes if I knew the sun had just disappeared? Who would I reach out to?" And along the way, it took on a life of its own and turned into this dark little version of Audrey II. I still like to think that he might turn the lights back on before the end, though, so maybe I'm a romantic after all.

- Brent C. Smith

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