The Dawn Must Come
A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I was pretty heavily involved in fictional creative writing. Mostly, I wrote short stories, although I actually started a novel and discarded it when I realized that my writing skills were better honed for short fiction. I participated in a professional writers group for about a year when I was in medical school. I probably wrote about a dozen short stories to completion. I wrote by hand at the time, ink and paper. The only time I typed them was when I presented one to the writers group. Unfortunately, just before I left Peoria at the end of my residency, my basement flooded and I lost everything I had written that had not been typed (and thus saved on my computer). Now, this is not the same as losing the Library of Alexandria and no tears need be shed for this loss, but I think about those stories from time to time and wish I had them back.
The story below was written in 1993, shortly after I started my medical residency program. I hope you enjoy it!
The Dawn Must Come
The Lights made a wondrous glow in the night sky.
The People watched in childlike awe at the radiance. The intense, multicolored light rippled at the edges of the skyline in all directions, playing along the treetops and moving amongst the stars.
Sunset appeared in all directions, at all times, and lit the sky up like a night with two full moons. Rainbow colors filled the horizon in all compass bearings, waxing and waning, swirling about the firmament like a child with a new toy.
The people wandered the streets with joy in their hearts. Hoodlums and old women alike came out together to see the glorious spectacle, the older brother of the most glorious Aurora the planet had yet surrendered. The people did not fight, steal or hurt. They simply basked in the glow of the miracle; hugging strangers and kissing loved ones. Emotions ran high and goodwill overflowed, even amongst the most famous Scrooges.
This great gift bestowed to the human race was relished throughout the night. The drinks were on the house in every bar in every city across the country, but it did not require strong drink to become gloriously drunk on this night. To deeply breathe the night air was itself enough to become intoxicated. The wonder was enjoyed by all adults and children old enough to appreciate it; but even infants seemed less fussy this night, satisfied to nuzzle against warm skin.
But not everyone celebrated this night.
Barnaby was one of the gifted eccentrics who did not smile. He sat in a small pub instead and drank heavily, pulling stray threads out of his well-worn brown sweater with his manicured hands. Hands which were more comfortable working a slide-rule than clutching a shot glass. He had a great urge to travel west at high speed. He sat, calculating the speed he would need to satisfy this urge and decided that drinking was a better means to fulfill it. Barnaby was good with numbers. His depressing calculation resulted in the number 1000, or thereabouts.
1000 miles per hour. He would have to travel 1000 miles per hour to satisfy his analytical urge. For how long? Even Barnaby didn’t know the answer. Of course, 1000 was at the equator but the difference didn’t matter, it would all be nonsense in a few hours anyway.
It wasn’t that Barnaby didn’t feel the uplifting quality that permeated all things this night, it was just that it was ruined by its source. For the first time, Barnaby cursed the benefits of advanced education. He would rather be amongst the people outside, in the orgy of love and adoration; staring at the skylight with innocence. Instead, he was plagued with knowledge.
The source of the goodwill and splendid illumination was negative ions. The same phenomenon which occurs after a warm spring rain. The comforting fresh feeling after the rain has stopped falling, but the leaves are still dripping with dew.
Negative Ions, only a thousand times more powerful. A million times more powerful. Quantum Physics and Zen-like rapture brought together like an arranged marriage between powerful families; uncomfortable partners that form a potent union. Capulets and Montegues in league.
Barnaby took another swallow of his double vodka. It reminded him of the concoctions they used to brew in the chemistry labs at Princeton, using 100% pure laboratory-grade ethanol. Palatable with Hawaiian Punch. Barnaby took a bigger swallow, but it didn’t drown out the joyous cries from the street. A couple was making love in the corner of the bar but no one seemed to care. Barnaby didn’t either.
“Have another one Doc!” The bartender dropped another double vodka in front of him and went back to the shapely coed at the end of the bar. The Bartender was large and friendly. The Coed was young and pretty. Barnaby noticed little else in his self-consuming analysis.
Barnaby stared at the fluid. He could swear he saw the face of Rod Serling staring at him from the surface of the mixture. A night to remember, Submitted For Your Approval. He downed the vodka. It stung his throat.
“Hey Doc!” It was the bartender again. “What makes these crazy lights? It’s like those Northern Lights I saw when I was a kid in Canada!”
“Hey yeah! I saw them once too in Minnesota,” the coed chimed in, “but they weren’t this bright.” Several other people turned his way and others moved closer to him. Each mumbled about their experiences with the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.
“You don’t want to know.” Barnaby retaliated through a drunken drawl, though the people came closer like insects drawn to a light. But the people did want to know, or so they said to him over and over again. “Go out and enjoy the night, forget the Why’s and How’s. It won’t matter in the morning.” Barnaby didn’t really hear their queries and the people wandered off as Barnaby became unintelligible, the alcohol twisting his tongue in strange directions, his head slowly falling to the bar counter…
Elsewhere across the country were a smattering of people like Barnaby; physicists, astronomers and gifted science teachers. People who could not enjoy this night. Some tried to explain their terror to those around them, though it always fell on deaf ears. Some went home and made frantic love to their mates; an intense desire for procreation on this night of ultimate destruction…
Most spent this night like Barnaby. They understood that the Northern Lights are caused by solar flares which cause stellar radiation to strike the magnetic field of the Earth, ionizing the atmosphere. A few, the geniuses like Barnaby, realized that the radiation required to produce tonight’s sort of intense ionization of the atmosphere was immeasurable.
Intense enough to produce euphoria in human adults, intense enough to make them scream out in joy in Times Square.
Intense enough to make strangers surrender themselves to each other in the dark corner of a local pub.
Intense enough to make criminals and deputies admire the reds and blues of the sky in pleasant companionship.
Intense enough to make the Lion lie down with the Lamb.
The amount of radiation, Barnaby and the few others realized, was a sum that could only be imagined by those who study solar physics or hydrogen bombs. The folks on the street were gleefully ignorant of such things and carried on with happiness and exultation.
The sum total was lethal.
Lethal to Plant Life.
Lethal to Animals.
Lethal to Humans.
The glorious lights and profound euphoria were a prequel to the morning light. A morning light which would do to this country what was already occurring to Moscow, Baghdad and Hong Kong. The Earth would be a wasteland after one complete turn of the globe, as each surface of the planet was exposed to the devastating radiation of the Sun. The only possible hope would be to travel with the rotating Earth, staying on the nightside until the solar flares died away, traveling at 1000 miles per hour only to finally arrive on a planet with no life of any sort, to starve to death over a number of months instead of dying quickly and suddenly without suffering.
Perhaps the orgasmic happiness was anesthesia, provided by a benevolent divine source before the end. Perhaps not. Barnaby saw it as pure science. Science as certain as it was lethal. The numbers could not lie.
Barnaby dribbled another vodka through his tingling lips. He wanted to be numb before morning, before the solar flares licked at the Earth and rubbed it raw.
Dawn was coming.
Authored, Michael Unger, 1993