5/21/2010

Because My Dad Called This Morning to Ask If I Was Writing Another Novel Today

The Fiction Friday Prompt: A boy and his father awaken early to watch the sunrise from their mountain campsite, but they begin to panic when the sky remains dark long into the afternoon.

Birds were just starting to rustle in the leaves, letting out the faintest sleepy chirps as the night sky lightened ever so slightly with the approaching dawn. Jarrod rolled over and grumbled as his dad shook his shoulder again.

"Rise and shine, champ. If you want to get that photography badge, we need sunrise shots."

Jarrod pried one eye open and looked around, "Aw dad, there's gotta be another hour before actual sunrise." He shrunk back into his sleeping bag and wiggled around a rock that had lodged in the middle of his back.

His dad tugged the fabric away from his face, laughing, "True. But I figured you'd want to eat and set up the tripod and so forth. And," he shrugged, glancing around at the wooded campsite, "we really should head closer to the lake shore if you want impressive shots. Too many trees blocking the horizon here."

Jarrod groaned but pushed into a sitting position, blinking owlishly. "Logic. Always logic with you."

His dad laughed and tossed a can of Coke at him, "You're breakfast, sir."

Jarrod snagged the can and popped the top to take a long drink, "Ahh." He lowered the can, "I might just make it after all. But there's food, too, right? You said something about cooking over a fire proving that we remembered our roots?"

Dad rolled his eyes at the hopeful tone and struggled to hide a smile as he prodded the fire back to life, "It'll happen faster if you get up and help."

They worked in relative silence after that to fry bacon in a skillet perched precariously on two of the blazing logs. Eggs were scrambled after the bacon finished and the combination was rolled into a tortilla. Dad sipped coffee from a chipped blue and white camping mug that matched the ancient percolator and Jarrod finished off a second Coke.

Looking up at the sky, Jarrod frowned, "I thought it was supposed to be clear this morning, shouldn't it be lighter by now?"

Dad glanced at his watch and arched his eyebrows, "Yeah. Maybe I got the time wrong though." He shrugged, "We can check the Internet we get back home, but there's no cell signal up here."

Grumbling about having woken up too early, Jarrod helped tidy up the campsite and collected his photography gear so they could set out to the lakeshore. Dad frowned up at the sky again and grabbed his flashlight to help on the path.

When the tri-pod was set up, Jarrod glanced at his dad's watch, "It's almost seven, dad."

Dad nodded and looked around. The pre-dawn mist still clung to the surface of the lake and the evening rustles of bugs and other nocturnal animals continued, mixing in with the sounds of the early rising birds. He slipped his phone out of his pocket and checked for signal, still no bars. "Let's wait here a little longer," he glanced up at the sky that was the same midnight blue of the early morning, though the stars had all slipped from view, "Maybe I read the time wrong, but," he furrowed his brow, "it's awfully late for the sun not to be at least half up for this time of year."

Jarrod settled his eye into the viewfinder of his camera and adjusted his aim slightly for where he thought he'd get the best shot of the sunrise. Minutes ticked by with no appreciable difference in the surrounding noises or the morning sky.

"Jarrod?" Dad swallowed and looked around apprehensively, "Something isn't right. It's nearly eight now - we've missed the sunrise...though I'm not sure where the sun is, to be honest. This," he gestured around, "is exactly what it looked like when I woke you at 5:30."

"What should we do?" Jarrod tapped his finger nervously on his knee.

"I think it's time to pack up and head home. I...I need to check on your mom and sister."

Jarrod studied his father's usually unflappable face, noting the lines of worry around his eyes and the corner of his mouth and nodded. He quickly detached his camera and collapsed his tri-pod and followed his father down the trail to their campsite.

They were packed and back in the car in fifteen minutes, having taken time only to ensure that their fire was completely out and that all they'd brought in with them had been shoved in one way or another back into the car. They crept down the rutted trail toward the main road, dad banging the steering wheel with frustration everytime they had to slow even more for turns, rocks, and deeper ruts. Jarrod kept his gaze fixed on the sky, looking for any sign of daylight.

By nine they had hit the main road and were navigating the switchbacks toward the tiny town that guarded the base of the range. "There's cell coverage there. We called when we arrived, remember?" Dad spoke more to himself than Jarrod, but there was comfort in the words, regardless.

Jarrod grabbed the phone from the dash when he saw the buildings in the distance. He rolled down the window and held the phone outside craning his neck to see the display. Dad looked over, concerned.

"Still no bars. Wh-" Dad slammed on the brakes and the car skidded to a stop inches away from a man lying prostrate in the street. Jarrod braced himself against the dash and swallowed, "What do we do, dad?"

His dad got out and checked the man's vitals. Shaking his head he got back in the car and wiped his hands with an antibacterial wipe before locking the door. Saying nothing, he steered around the body and increased his speed. As they sped through the town, Jarrod noticed other corpses draped on the buildings and streets, some human, others animal - all laying as though they simply dropped where they were at the same time.

"Check the cell again."

Jarrod looked at the display and shook his head, "Still nothing."

They pulled onto the Interstate and began racing for home. After a few minutes, Jarrod spoke, "Dad...we're the only car out here."

"I know, son, I know. Keep checking the cell." He glanced up at the sky and pressed his foot down harder on the accelerator.

At 10:30, they swerved off the highway onto their exit. The sky remained the same, though Jarrod imagined it had become somewhat more ominous. Dad slowed slightly at a light that was red before zipping through. There were still no other cars on the roads. He slammed the car into park in their driveway and was out the door and up the steps to the house with the engine still running. Jarrod turned the key and removed, taking care to lock the doors before following his house.

"Sylvia?" Dad hollered as he tore from room to room, "Sylvia!?"

Footsteps stomped up the basement stairs and the door creaked open. Jarrod's mom poked her head out, "Jarrod? Dan?" She hollered back then glanced at her son, "Why are you back so early? It's not even sunrise yet."

"Mom...it's after ten." Jarrod pointed at a clock and his mother frowned. His dad rushed toward her gathering her into a suffocating embrace, "Caite?"

Mom pulled away slightly, "She's sleeping, in the basement. We had a little camp out ourselves." She smiled and shrugged, "We both felt a little left out."

Dad ran his hand over mom's hair and kissed her forehead, "Sorry. Let's go get her. I think we need to leave. It's not...I don't know...I can't..." he stopped and shrugged. Mom simply nodded and hurried upstairs, calling over her shoulder, "Jarrod, pack what you can in the cooler."

Jarrod ran to the kitchen and began emptying the fridge and pantry. Caite came to help when she was dressed. By noon, they were on the Interstate again, heading East.

"Where are we going, Dan?" Jarrod's mother sat serenely in the front seat, barely noticing the dark scenery zipping by.

"All I know is that we've got to try and find the sunrise."

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