HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.
Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…
The Exploding Sun
Jonas awoke to a popping sound in his skull. It was The Bends. He had swum up too quickly from the swampy depths of a dream unremembered and now he was painfully awake, an inhabitant of a cool goosefleshed body etched into a twisted sheet. He often slept naked, and would awake comfortably. Today, however, he was unusually cold.
The studio apartment was awash in an asphalt-tempered gloom, manufactured by Jonas for his day sleeping. Cautious slivers of daylight crept through cracks in the knotted floor-length curtains and these barest strokes bloomed like interplanetary flowers across the ceilings edges, fused curdling petals, alien sunflowers, cocoons of a violent, silently roaring light, screaming into itself. For the most part, the room was quite dark.
Jonas massaged his eyes through the lids with both fists, pressing a primed knuckle deep into each gelatinous orb. Thusly, his headache drained away with an almost mechanical efficiency. The popping noise that woke him still echoed sonically from the walls, and this was some cause for concern. It was his imagination Jonas understood, an auditory hallucination, a vestige of sleep.
‘Ugh,’ he said, and struck by the unexpected sound of his own voice, Jonas was suddenly and inexplicably frightened.
An ambiguous urgency captured him like a hand and he climbed from bed, quickly dressing himself in the dimly lit rectangular room.
‘It’s too cold,’ he thought. ‘It’s too cold for June. And today is…’ He calculated today’s date in his mind by running cycles of time forward from his last concretely remembered day. ‘…June twenty first. Today is the summer solstice! That’s not right. Why am I so damned cold? And why am I feeling so, what? Anxious.’
There was something urgent in the air. That was the way to put it. There was the matter of something at hand, but, what? Jonas ruminated for a while, stretched out beneath the sheet. Something was coming, that was it. Something was approaching. Jonas could feel it in that way that some people can feel that something quite dreadful is on the horizon line. The antennae knew. Remember September 11th 2001? How many people, after the fact, remembered feeling something that morning? Like something bad was going to happen? Jonas was one of them. He felt it that day, that ominous intangible thing. But this was worse. This was very unsettling. In retrospect, it’s been building up for quite some time, hasn’t it? For some months now, intermittently, there has been that haunted knowing that something was coming. You could ignore it for periods of time by practicing routines of refuge in a dreamless, shaded room with strangers’ televisions chattering through the walls, voices blurred indecipherably passing through plaster. But that time was over, the waiting game. Today was a different day. Whatever psychic instrument it was that informed Jonas, call it The Antennae – today that singular insect nerve was menthol cold, raw and seeking the air with an autonomous will of its own. It had come, at last, broken free from his skull. Metaphysical fear flooded through him like a grim running tide, threatening to dissolve the outlines of his body, as if he himself were made of fine particles of sand. It was nerve-wracking. There was something heavy in the air.
But what was the significance of all this?
Jonas lit a cigarette and sat at the foot of the bed smoking. An amorphous shell-coloured cloud gently filled the room. The drags he took were long ones and he could hear the tobacco softly burning as he smoked. When he had finished he crushed the butt into an ashtray upon the floor and gathered himself to stand. Carefully, tentatively, he stood.
‘Open the curtains, Jonas.’
Jonas unknotted the heavy curtains and slowly drew them apart, an inch, two inches. Sunlight came rushing into the room. The sunlight was bright, bloody and cold as space. It was almost blinding Jonas, and a sharp pain bloomed somewhere in the depths of his eyes.
‘How many days now since I’ve seen the sun?’ Jonas thought. He shook the curtains in his fists, in an effort to diffuse the intensity of light; still, his throbbing head felt wreathed in tightening silver bands. Jonas waited, hands perched motionless at the window frame. He breathed deeply, once, twice, and gradually his vision adapted to the sun’s assault. The striking light softened and the window ceased reflecting his own image back towards him, becoming in the process of its transformation, translucent, and Jonas could suddenly now see through the window outside and down upon the city.
It was three days since he’d last seen the sun. He had remembered.
As if magnetised, his eyes were drawn up to the sun. There it was. A screaming dervish high in the noon sky, a grand violent disk, a churning choir of orgiastic angels tangled in a yoga of billion years’ long screams. That mad pinwheel thing, the sun. Jonas could feel the blood vessels gorging in his eyes as fireflies of light took speeding suicidal turns inside the cavernous spaces of his skull. His lips, bathed in light, felt like foreign objects upon his face, soft blistering balloons. Without his notice, tears had spilled quick to his chin, quivering there like twin dew drops in his five o’clock shadow.
Outside the window, Jonas could hear the familiar muted and mechanistic sounds of the city at business. Pedestrians and automobiles passed below him in comfort, but something was very wrong. Something heinous was coming.
‘My God,’ Jonas thought. ‘What is it?’
Jonas then saw it happen with his own eyes.
The sun, that feral totem of a system of planets in an apex of sky, it had just now…exploded.
Jonas watched the silent explosion in awe.
This is what he’d been waiting for.
He stood there at the window, frozen in abject horror, looking up. ‘The sun has exploded. We have eight minutes to live. That’s how long it takes sunlight to reach the earth. After the last light reaches us, we, everything on earth, will become ice. We will all die frozen ice-solid. We have eight minutes left to live. Eight minutes’. Jonas sat with this enlightenment for a moment, and then: ‘I must see Elizabeth. I must tell Elizabeth about what’s just happened to the sun, and tell Elizabeth…everything. Sweet Elizabeth.’
Jonas forced himself out of shock and into action, last action. There was hardly any time, eight minutes and counting. He sprinted naked from his room and dashed down five flights of stairs to the ground floor of his apartment complex, pushing through the glass doors and leaping out into the busy city streets.
Elizabeth worked three blocks north, at Luizi’s Deli. Jonas had maybe seven minutes now to reach her. He had seven minutes remaining, to find Elizabeth and tell her about the sun. Perhaps time enough also, Jonas hoped, to tell her everything else he needed to. It wouldn’t take long. Jonas ran fantastically, looking up to the sky. It was filled with fractures and fractals of light like shattered glass, pieces of sun, and in the center of this chaos, a blooming rose, a diaspora of red magma. Jonas ran on, naked and burning with purpose. He ran oblivious to the pain broken glass caused to his feet. With no time to waste, he leapt from the sidewalk and ran down the center of Broadway, moving quick and purposeful as a jaguar through the brush. Six minutes to go, maybe less than that now. Perhaps there was only five and a half minutes left remaining to all the life on earth. Elizabeth!
The delivery van that crashed into Jonas was behind schedule, speeding and travelling fast enough to kill Jonas on impact. Indeed, it did. His body was thrown skyward, up and over the length of the racing truck, and landed sprawled blood wet and broken in the street behind.
The van driver braked suddenly after impact, in a haze of reeking tyre smoke. He exited his truck in a distressed flurry and jogged to where Jonas’ lifeless body lay. Presently, the van driver dropped to both knees and vomited quietly into his hands.
Mere minutes later, police arrived and began taping off the scene of the accident as an approaching ambulance siren wailed in the distance.
An officer stoically approached the shaken and distraught van driver who was standing now several yards from Jonas’ disfigured body. The driver’s eyes were anguished and unblinking and he was shaking his head from side to side like a metronome.
‘What happened here, my friend?’ the officer inquired.
‘He just ran out in front of me, across the intersection. I didn’t see him.’
‘You didn’t see him?’
‘No! The sun was in my eyes.’
‘The sun was in your eyes?’ asked the officer.
‘The sun was in my eyes. The sun was in my eyes.’ The driver pointed to the sky, looking up now, and the officer looked up, and several pedestrians as well.
‘The sun was in my eyes. The sun was…’
TODD ZACK is a delivery driver, writer and musician presently living in southwest Florida. His band, Tape Recorder 3, composes soundtracks for independent films and documentaries – most recently, the skateboard documentary ‘No Hope Kids’ (2016). He has been previously published in such diverse print venues as Thrasher Magazine, Play Magazine, Santa Cruz Sentinel Newspaper, Capitola Times, The Bad Times Newsletter and New Haven Advocate paper. Todd writes speculative fiction, drama, detective and horror fiction.