The Alphabet Challenge: “D” Story No. 1 of 3 — “Departure”

This is the third round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For these submissions, it’s the letter “D”.

Readers have until the publication of the next story (about two weeks) to vote for their favorite story in each round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on the voting rank.

For each letter, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.

Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.

Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “D” as submitted by its author.

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WARNING: some of the stories deal with adult themes and events (somewhere between PG and R rating). Plus, one might encounter the occasional use of the more colloquial word for fornicate.
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Departure

Copyright 2020 — E. J. D’Alise

(1,284 words – approx. reading time: about 5 minutes based on 265 WPM)

Reaching the end of the trail, Ed sat on the bench he had carved out of a fallen tree nearly seven decades ago. Dash hopped on the bench and laid down, his head resting on Ed’s leg. By coincidence, they were the same age, if one counted each dog year as seven years.

Ed remembered reading that was an approximation, but it pleased him to think it so.

Dash let out a soft growl as he raised his head and focused back along the trail.

“I know, boy,” Ed said, patting the dog’s head, “I saw him earlier.”

Dash put his head back down, but his ears still pointed to the trail. Ed didn’t bother looking. He knew who was coming.

A few minutes passed before he heard footsteps approaching.

“Pops,” the person said as they sat on the opposite side of Dash.

“Jim. Had a nice walk up?” Ed asked.

“Great walk. Snapped a few photos to remember the place.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, looking to the valley below. Smoke in the distance marred the otherwise expansive view.

“I suppose Beth sent you,” Ed asked without looking at Jim.

“Yup.”

Another minute passed before Ed looked at Jim and smiled.

“She wanted you to come sit with me for a spell?” he asked.

“Nope,” Jim replied, indicating the same with a shake of his head.

With a sigh, Ed turned and pointed at the mountains to the West.

“I remember when those used to have snow almost year-round. Sometimes, Eddie and I would go up there just so we could snowshoe in the middle of summer.”

“Remember the time Beth and I came up so you could meet me?” Jim asked.

“Yes. I wasn’t all that keen on anyone marrying my daughter, and I remember asking you all sorts of questions trying to find something not to like.”

“I don’t remember that,” Jim said. “What I remember most is how much I liked it up here. Right then and there I decided I’d eventually live in Alaska. Never thought it would be like this.

“I hope I did OK,” Jim continued.

“You did fine,” Ed said.

“I love it up here,” Jim said. “I’m going to miss it.”

Another minute passed, and again it was Ed who broke the silence.

“You’re supposed to talk me into leaving with you guys, right?” he asked.

“I’m not even going to try,” Jim answered. “I’m pretty sure I’d do the same in your place, but she worries. Plus, she and the girls are still coming to grips with never seeing you again.”

“That weighs heavy on my mind as well but, realistically, I don’t have that many years left,” Ed said. “As for the rest, this isn’t seventy years ago, when the only doctor was two hours away. Or the only store closed for the winter. We got us civilization here now,” Ed said as he pointed to the town below and the right.

“The AIs take care of everything. God knows we’re not lacking for energy to keep them running, and the food production and delivery are also automated.”

“They can’t say how long those systems will keep running,” Jim said softly.

“You know I can live off the land if need be,” Ed said as he swept his hand to encompass the lake and mountains. “They’re lifting the bans. I can hunt and fish again.”

“Even if they don’t lift the bans,” Jim said, “who’d be here to enforce them?”

“I read on the Cortex that in this area,” Ed said, “five people are scheduled to remain, down from twelve last week. Unlike me, some may yet decide to leave. Even if they don’t, I don’t plan to go looking for them.”

Ed turned to look at Jim.

“If it weren’t for Beth and the girls, would you stay?” he asked.

“Honestly? I don’t know. It’s both scary and exciting to contemplate. There are a few pockets like this here and there, but not many.”

Jim looked around and continued.

“I like the idea of it; I think it’s ingrained in all of us, probably a tribal memory of sorts, but it’s been too long. I mean, I’d like to think I could do it, but the reality of it is that I’m used to all that modern life has to offer. As romantic as it might sound, as great a movie as it might make, I’m not the actor for it.”

Jim looked back at Ed. “You, on the other hand, are a natural for it.”

“A fossil, you mean,” Ed replied.

Jim changed subjects.

“Are you coming to see us off?”

“Yeah; the self-driving shuttles will keep running. It’ll be nice not having them crowded. Plus, now I can bring Dash with me,” Ed said, giving the old dog a good scratch behind the ears.

It was Jim’s turn to ask a question.

“Would you leave if you didn’t have Dash?”

Ed sat quietly for a spell before answering. Would he consider leaving the place he had come to love? The place where he and Eddie raised their kids? The place where her ashes were scattered?

“No,” he finally answered. “Dash won’t last much longer, and I don’t know how long I have, but there’s a part of this place in me. I know Beth feels a sense of betrayal, especially for the girls who won’t have their grandfather around, but this is where I belong. They are fine young ladies and I’ll miss them too, but they’ll do just fine.”

Jim got up. “I need to get back; we’re meeting with the processing agent tonight for last-minute instructions and finalizing our arrangements. We leave Tuesday for embarkation. You should come by a day early; we’re having dinner with a few fellow travelers on Monday evening. Beth would like that.”

“I’ll be there,” Ed said. “Enjoy the walk back.”

“I will, Pops,” Jim replied and headed back down the path.

Ed turned back to the view, the smoke now drifting to the northeast. Scratching Dash’s ear, Ed could almost imagine the unchecked fires covering most of Washington, Oregon, and parts of British Columbia. The jet stream would keep the smoke to the south, at least for now.

The central states were already empty, no more than dustbowls with frequent sandstorms. The eastern seaboard had seen its mass migration and massive casualties as rising seas and strong storm wiped most of the coastal communities off the map. Not that they had anywhere to go. Disease, famine, crime . . . it had not been pretty.

Jim was right. Not many places left like this place; a few in northern Europe and probably a few in Asia and Africa where modern-day nomads still eked out a life on barren lands.

Earth was heading toward being uninhabitable to humans, if not now, soon. Hopefully, not before the end of his days.

Dash hopped off the bench as Ed got up.  They took their time on the trail down to Ed’s berm home. In another week, on Departure Day, Ed would travel to the spaceport and see his daughter’s family off as they boarded one of the remaining shuttles taking most of what was left of humanity up to the last of the generation ships. Beth and Jim would not set foot on another planet in their lifetime, and maybe neither would their girls.

The fleet of ships was heading toward the promise of a new home for humans. Ed hoped that looking back at the pale blue dot they were leaving, humanity might learn to treat their next pale blue dot better than they had treated Earth.

The End

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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