by Mark Allan Gunnells
February 29th. A rare day, one that only existed once every four years. Kirk didn’t know if that was significant or not, but he thought it was at least noteworthy.
David walked up behind the chair and placed a hand on Kirk’s shoulder. “Hey, wanna go outside?”
“What for?” Kirk asked, eyes glued to the iPad balanced on his thighs.
“To look at the stars. You know, while we still can.”
Kirk finally tore his gaze from the screen and looked up at his husband. “I don’t know if I want to.”
“You’re watching it online. What’s the difference?”
“The difference is huge. Watching it on the tablet doesn’t seem quite real. Like I’m watching a movie or something, and eventually the credits will roll and I can get up and return to normal life. If I go outside and see it for myself then there’s no filter, no pretending. It will be really real, and I don’t know if I can handle that.”
Walking around the chair, David squatted down next to him and gently turned the iPad over on his lap. “I know you’re scared. I’m scared too, but I would feel a lot better if we were scared together. I don’t want to go through this alone.”
Tucking the tablet aside, Kirk leaned forward and kissed David then two of them remained still with their foreheads pressed together for a moment, clasping hands like two children lost in a fairytale forest.
“What do you think is happening?” Kirk asked, his voice trembling.
David pushed up and pulled Kirk to his feet as well. “Come on, let’s go do a little star-gazing. It’ll be romantic.”
They put on coats though the night was mild and left by the backdoor, stepping out onto the small open patio. Kirk remembered when they’d first bought the house two years ago, they had talked about how nice it would be to sit out on the patio at night and look at the stars. They’d never done it, however. It was one of those things you said because it sounded good but never quite found the time for. Like volunteering at a soup kitchen or watching Downton Abbey.
But if they were ever going to do it, now was the best time. Now was the only time.
David took a seat on one of the white deck chairs, head tilted back. “There’s something kind of beautiful about it.”
Kirk sat in the chair next to him, but he kept his head down, looking at his own hands. He couldn’t quite bring himself to lift his eyes to the expansive night sky. “I don’t know how you can say anything about this is beautiful.”
Reaching across and taking Kirk’s hand, David smiled at him. “The mysterious is always a bit beautiful. It’s like love. No one can really explain it, no one knows exactly how it starts or ends, and that’s why they write so many songs about it. The mystery of it adds to its beauty.”
Kirk found himself returning his husband’s smile, despite what was going on around them. Or more to the point, above them. “Suddenly you’re a poet.”
“I’ve always been a poet. Remember when I used to recite that ‘beans are good for the heart’ ditty?”
Kirk laughed, kissed David again, and finally felt strong enough to turn his gaze heavenward.
Something was definitely wrong, that was noticeable almost instantly, but he mused that if you didn’t know what you were looking for, it may take a few minutes to pinpoint the problem. Kirk had never been into astronomy so his knowledge of constellations was a layman’s minimum. He did recognize the Big Dipper, or maybe it was the Little Dipper. It was a Dipper nonetheless. However, some of the other constellations were obviously missing. A lot of them actually. Even as he watched, two of the stars on the Dipper’s handle flared and then sputtered out, like dead bulbs.
The phenomenon had first been noticed three hours ago, stars simply winking out of existence in the sky. Scientists were baffled, and actual astronomers using their most high-powered telescopes could not figure out what had happened to these stars. Almost as if they had simply ceased to exist.
Talking heads filled the TV and internet, all offering theories and speculations, but the raw truth was that no one knew what this meant. The stars had started to disappear in more rapid succession, like a bomb’s timer where the countdown sped up the closer it got to detonation. Many, even some of the talking heads, proposed that this was a precursor of the end of the world. It had been pointed out time and again that each disappearing star was the end of some world, and the earth itself was one such light in the darkness of space, and it was likely only a matter of time before we were extinguished as well. Of course, the loony fringe floated ideas of extraterrestrials and intergalactic space ships, dredging up stories of Area 51 and the foo fighter phenomenon from World War II.
David pointed up. “Look, I think that’s Sirius blazing right there.” Even before he finished the sentence, the star in question blinked out. “Or it was.”
From the other side of the seven-foot high privacy fence, Kirk heard the sound of children’s laughter and he could smell the earthy smoke of the Peterson’s fire pit. Mike and Sheila must be out there, letting their kids stay up late. From the sound of the children’s high-pitched giggling, it seemed they didn’t know anything was wrong, lost in the simple joy of getting to be up past their bedtime.
Kirk envied them.
“This isn’t like the movies led me to believe it would be,” he said.
David titled his head. “How do you mean?”
“In the movies, when people know the world is about to end there are riots and panic and chaos. But it’s like everybody’s just hunkering down and waiting.”
“Well,” David said, “do you feel like rioting or do you just want to be with the one you love for as long as you can?”
Kirk squeezed his hand, the only answer required.
As he stared up at the rapidly emptying sky, David said. “To answer your earlier question, I think God is closing up shop.”
“Inside you asked what I thought was happening, and that’s what I think. God’s had the universe open for business for a few billion years, and now he’s tired, getting ready to flip the sign from OPEN to CLOSED. And what do you do on your way out? You turn off all the lights as you go.”
“More of your poetry?”
“That was more of an allegory, I think.”
Above them, the remaining stars began to wink out one after the other. A chain reaction, a domino effect, leaving the black sky as void as a bottomless pit.
Kirk squeezed his husband’s hand again. “You were right, there’s no one I would rather be here with than you.”
David leaned toward him, placing a hand against Kirk’s cheek. “Listen, there’s something I want to tell you while there’s still time. You have been – ”
Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.