Friday, May 23, 2014

Son of Noah by David Pring-Mill

A young boy on an interminable flight from a ruined Earth asks his companions about giraffes; by David Pring-Mill.

Japheth ran down the corridor, reaching out with his left hand and letting his fingers slide against the door of the archives room as he blew past it. The small boy had an eagerness of spirit, in spite of the monotonous atmosphere. In his right hand, he clutched onto a pencil and a notebook with a marbled black-and-white cover. Japheth whisked past a middle-aged woman named Naomi. She sighed deeply and with annoyance.

Japheth excitedly knocked on the door to Bernie's room. Bernie took a few tired steps over to the door. He opened it, and smiled at the kid - his skin folding along the deep creases of a smile he once wore more often. Japheth took a seat and Bernie sat on the edge of his bed, staring out the window at the vast deepness of space.

"Where were we?" asked Bernie, in his husky, grating voice. It had been eight years since he'd boarded the ship, and eight years since he'd last had a smoke. "I miss tobacco. I've told you about tobacco, right?"

"Many times," said Japheth. He flipped through the pages of his notebook until he landed upon the section that was headed "Earth's Oral Histories: Bernie."

"We were talking about Africa, right?" recounted Bernie, running his hand over his shiny bald head, and the few remaining hairs.

"Yes, it was one of the seven continents! We were talking about the wildlife, specifically," said Japheth, in a chipper voice. "You said that some wildlife was even taken out of the wild and caged within zoos, just so that people could marvel at the animals."

"It makes me sad..." said Bernie.

"What does?"

"You've never even seen an animal. And when my pops took me to the zoo one summer, when I was your age, I was so restless. I just wanted to be near an air conditioner in our little Bronx apartment, with a damn popsicle. The red, white, and blue ones. I liked those things."

"Wasn't that the color of your country's flag? Red, white, and blue?" asked the boy, trying to draw mental connections between the pieces of information he was acquiring.

"Hmm? Nah, it had nothing to do with that, it was just a popsicle."

"Were giraffes really as tall as you described? With necks long enough to take leaves straight from the trees?" asked Japheth.

Again, Bernie turned towards the infinity of space. "I'm too tired today, Japheth. Try me again tomorrow. I'm sorry, kid." He lifted his feet up off the floor and lay back in his bed and shifted his body away from Japheth, towards the window. He stared out as luminous spheres speckled the eternal void.



Noah sat in the control room. He was not always referred to as Noah. On Earth, he had been a billionaire named Grant. On the ship, he was a captain - with his respect derived not from the value of the dollars he had accrued (for there were no dollars anywhere anymore), but from his remarkable foresight. Still, most onboard his so-called "ark" had grown weary from the perpetual journey. Many wished they hadn't run aboard his ship as flames engulfed the cities and waves of rolling smoke gradually conquered the wilderness. Many felt as if they had been unnaturally prolonged, in a strange state of existence - without their loved ones.

Noah reflected on these events as he made notes on a computer. His blue eyes had lost a little glimmer. His hair was now all white, and his beard was long and coarse.

Sukeji entered the control room, with two cups of herbal tea. "Any new readings?" he asked.

Noah gravely shook his head as he accepted a cup from his friend. Sukeji was one of the chosen ones. When Noah had "seen the writing on the wall," he was determined to save Earth's brightest minds. He reached out to accomplished people across multiple disciplines. However, when it was time to launch, travel across Earth had become impractical - and so Noah boarded the ship with his infant son, many of his corporate executives, and whoever was nearest at the time, including the janitor, Bernie. Out of his extensive, vetted, and elite list, only Sukeji, an astrophysicist, was able to make it. And in hindsight, Noah thought there was something appropriate about that. There was no exclusivity to survival, no prerequisite for the value of a life and for the importance of allowing life to endure.

"You've picked this planet so randomly... and in all likelihood, Noah, when the ship arrives, there will be nothing there. Show some mercy, and fly this ship into the nearest sun."

"That's not my call," said Noah. "That's his." Noah tapped on one of the monitors.

"Does he know?"

"Not yet."



Japheth pounded on the door to Naomi's room. After awhile, she answered it, with no effort made to conceal her annoyance. "What do you want, Japheth?" she asked sharply.

"I'm continuing my oral histories of Ear-"

"Yes, I know you are, but there is no Earth, Japheth."

"I want to learn more about giraffes," pleaded the boy.

Naomi didn't invite him in - but she stood idly by as he brushed past her. Japheth sat down, and Naomi sat in front of a mirror. She combed her hair with a brush. "I told you, they have long necks and horns in their heads..." she muttered.

"Ossicones," said Japheth. "That's what Bernie says they're called."

"What difference does it make? They don't exist. For all you know, we made giraffes up."

"But you didn't," objected Japheth. "They were there! They existed!"

"And now they don't exist," said Naomi. "If you feel compelled to document what may as well have been imagined, just ask your dad for an encyclopedia."

"You know I can't. He says the file got corrupted when the ship's computer was damaged," said Japheth.

"And you believe that?" snapped Naomi. Japheth became silent. Then he stood up and put the notebook down in front of her. He flipped through the pages. As he did, Naomi took in glimpses of various drawings that the boy had sketched out - including a variety of animals, and many increasingly accurate attempts at a giraffe, and then he landed on one page that made Naomi gasp. Her eyes became damp with tears. "How did you manage to draw that, Japheth?"

"You described it to me..." A tear rolled down Naomi's face as she studied the design sketch of her wedding dress.



Noah and Sukeji sat in the control room as they sipped their tea. Sukeji shook his head. "You should tell him. He needs to know that he will be alone by the time the ship reaches the planet." Sukeji then looked grim. "He will be surrounded by our skeletons. Including yours."

Noah touched his fingertips together, forming the shape of a steeple. He stared at the monitor and watched as Japheth exited Naomi's room and scampered down the corridor, with his notebook in his right hand, and his left hand feeling the wall.

"What do you expect him to gain from doing all this?" asked Sukeji.

"Hope," said Noah simply. He leaned back in his chair. He looked over at Sukeji, who was wordlessly examining his tea leaves. Noah then went over to the computer and checked the data. On a large sheet of paper, he began to chart out the most direct course from the destination planet to a nearby sun - to a bright sun, a spectacular sun, one that could incinerate the ark with merciful, godlike finality. When he was finished, he folded up the paper, and deliberated upon where to put it.

5 comments:

  1. first class Story! nicely written and inviting. liked the idea and the conclusion!

    Michael McCarthy

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  2. Well done. I completely agree with Michael - this story is inviting. Each character is brought to life, and I liked the giraffe touch! Hope springs eternal - or does it?

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  3. I like the contast between the enthusiastic little boy who is excited about life and the adults who have seen their worlds destroyed. Theres also something irresistably ominous about knowing that such a happy child will someday have to choose between solitary isolation and suicide, based on the fact that his future is so bleak as to be hopeless.

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  4. I love the subtlety in these types of descriptions: "his skin folding along the deep creases of a smile he once wore more often" -- nice!

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  5. Nice, sad but hopeful story. Nothing extraneous, and great details, like the steeple shaped fingertips. Well done.

    Maui Holcomb

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