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"Outlast the Earth," short story excerpt

Saturday 7/30/22

"I definitely think I can outlast the earth," the child said to her protector.

"Definitely, huh?"

"Yep. Definitely."

The sat on the bridge over the river as the fireball advanced in the distance. It was still some ways off but would get there today, because this was the final day.

"Is it going to hurt?" the child asked.

"You won't even know it."

They'd only had a day to prepare because the knowledge that the final day had come had itself only been known for an afternoon, an evening, a morning, and another afternoon that was now nearly over as the final, and closing, night came on.

She was still unsure. "Will you know it?"

"No more than you."

A trout jumped in the water below. The trout didn't know it. Did what it had always done. Spotted a fly and made a leap for its dinner. The bridge was just for walking. No cars had driven over it for years, if ever. Gorse grew in the cracks, filling them in with strips of yellow and green. Breathing, contented sutures. It was the most beautiful spot the child knew. Many days, as night approached, there would be men fishing from way up here above, who always said hello to her. She wanted to ask them if they had caught anything, but she wouldn't because it seemed rude. There was never any evidence of fish having been brought up from the river. She couldn't remember ever seeing one with a hook in its mouth. Maybe the fish were very hard to catch at this spot, like they were foxy fishes.

She thought they'd see at least one of those men on the bridge fishing today, the one she'd seen the most, who might have been the oldest. She pictured him pulling in fish after fish, a whole pile of glistening brook trout. The sun in the sky had split in two, and the pieces were moving across the horizon like separate halves of a boat.

"And just when my luck had turned," he'd say, now that he couldn't go more than two casts before feeling that tug of another living being on the line. Then the child could say something without being rude and let him know she'd known and cared all along.

"You were due," she'd observe, because it'd be okay then. She'd be happy for the man, and it wouldn't be as though she were holding futility against him, if that was something that was possible.

"Damn right I was," the man would laugh, then raise his head and apologize for his language, if the child was not alone. Perhaps he'd ask her if she wished to try and she could show that she had some luck as well. Luck enough for one strike.

“Say, that’s not bad,” he’d tell her. “Not bad at all.”

She thought about the bridge as she never had before. Found herself tangled in all of the aspects of its beauty. The country simplicity. The humble, but proud, poetry of the design. The firmness underfoot. Or under the cheeks of her bottom, because they were sitting. The scent of pine in the timbers. The black streaks of tar, or something sticky, be it binding agent or spillage of sap from however long ago it was, that made her wish she could taste a gum ball again. The bridge was right here. Anyone could come. Anyone who had come before. But they had it to themselves. They'd be the last to see it. She tried to pull the bridge into her eyes so that it'd stay there as a part of her.

"I think you can outlast this earth, too," she said to her protector, realizing that she'd left her out. "I think we can be a great team again moving forward." Her voice sounded mature in her own ears, like what it was to grow up.

One of the halves of the sun had begun to fall. They both knew it wouldn't strike the earth. It'd just keep falling. Maybe it'd fall forever, seeing and traveling, illuminating.

"Look," the child said, though they were both already looking.

"Mmmmm," her protector replied.

Another trout jumped from the water.

"Do you ever think sometimes the fish are showing off?" the child asked.

"I bet sometimes."

"Me too. But it's okay."


"I bet other times they're stretching."


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