I'm a little behind on my writing. We had a very busy weekend. Still, I couldn't resist trying my hand at [fiction friday]. Friday's topic was: 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.
Jack pulled back the sleeping bag and felt the rush of cold air on his face. He reached over to silence his cell phone, which had been playing Matchbox 20’s “Three AM.” It can’t be three already, Jack thought. He focused his eyes on the small screen. “5 o’clock,” he said aloud. Jack remembered that he had changed the alarm time before falling asleep last night. He usually woke at 3 to get to work each morning, but he knew that after a long day of hiking, he would need the extra rest. Waking at 5 would give him time to rouse Micah and still make it to the top of the mountain before 6 AM rolled around.
The light from his phone lit up the tent. In the eerie glow, he could see the mound of sleeping bag that was his 10-year-old son, Micah. Jack tried to stretch in the cramped tent and wondered how Micah could sleep so soundly. Jack had tossed and turned all night, feeling every bump, stone, and roll in the earth beneath their campsite. They had hiked the mountain all day before making camp a few hundred yards from the peak. In the dusk, the view was limited so Jack was eager to get to the top and see the amazing view.
“Wake up, sleepies,” Jack said.
He reached over to nudge Micah’s back. Micah’s response was a sort of mewing sound. Jack loved to hear that sleepy sound. It reminded him of the days when Micah was just a baby; a small thing that needed him constantly. Now Micah was growing up and rarely asked for Daddy’s help. Jack rubbed Micah’s back through the sleeping bag and Micah began to stir. Micah rolled onto his back, stretched his arms up over his head and pointed his toes, making two hard dots at the end of the sleeping bag. Micah’s fingers touched the tent wall and he suddenly realized where he was. Micah popped up.
“Are we going fishing, Dad?” Micah said.
“Sure we are.” Jack said.
“Get dressed, Dad. Come on, let’s go. Where’s my stuff?”
“Hold it, bud. I’ve gotta have some coffee.”
Micah grabbed his backpack and started pulling his jeans up over his long johns. Jack grabbed his pack, unzipped the tent, and crawled out into the windy pre-dawn.
“It’s still pretty dark out here, Micah. Grab the flashlight on your way out.” Jack said.
Jack fumbled through their camp searching for the glowing embers of last night’s fire. Micah bounded out of the tent and tossed the flashlight in Jack’s direction. It hit the ground and rolled.
“Sorry, Dad,” Micah said. He ran over to where the flashlight had landed. Picking it up, he quickly handed it to his Dad, “here you go. I’ll get your coffee cup.”
Finding the remains of their fire, Jack carefully placed a few limbs on top of the embers and waited for the flames to start licking the dry wood. Micah handed his dad the bag with their cooking supplies and then started flittering around the camp, eager to get going.
After just a few minutes, the fire was ready, Jack was dressed, and coffee was on its way. Micah ran up to Jack with his fishing pole in hand and his hat sitting sideways on his head.
“I’m ready, Dad,” Micah said.
“Just hold up,” Jack said, “We’re gonna go check out the summit first.”
“But, Dad, I’m ready to go fishin’.”
“We’ll get to it. Last night all you could talk about was seeing the top of the mountain. You’ll be stunned by the view, bud.”
“Okay,” Micah tossed his pole and hat next to the tent, “Let’s go then.”
Jack poured the fragrant coffee into his travel mug and the two began the short hike to the summit. The mountain air was chilly, and the early morning was alive with the sounds of waking birds. They made their way up the steep mountainside, holding on to saplings whenever the gravely dirt started to slide. As they reached the top, Micah took off in a run.
Calling back to his dad, Micah shouted, “I can’t see anything. It’s too dark.”
“The sun’ll be up any minute,” Jack said.
Jack took a swig of coffee and caught up to his son. They made their way over boulders to the east side of the summit. Jack found a nice flat rock to sit on, while Micah hopped from rock to rock in the dark dawn. Jack squinted his eyes and tried to get a better look at the view. Unsuccessful, he turned his attention to the myriad of stars above them. Jack lay back on the massive stone and started picking out constellations.
“Micah,” Jack called.
“Yep, Dad?” Micah was by his side in seconds.
“Can you find the big dipper?”
“Sure. Is that it?” Micah pointed.
“Yeah that’s it. Count the stars: one, two three in the handle and four make up the cup.”
“I see it. I see it.”
Micah leaned back and put his hands under his head. They stayed there, counting stars and listening to birdsongs for what seemed like a very long time.
Micah, getting a little anxious, picked himself up from the rock and peered over the edge of the cliff.
“Dad, when will the sun come up?” Micah said.
“6 o’clock. That’s what the weather channel said.”
Jack pulled his phone from his pocket and checked the time. The screen read 7:08. Jack sat up and looked out into the darkness. Jack brought up the weather channel app and checked the sunrise time again.
“Huh, it says 6 AM. That’s what I thought.”
“Where’s the sun, Dad?” Micah said.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s running late.” Jack let out a nervous laugh. “Maybe it’s the time zone.”
“But, Dad, we’re in the same time zone.”
“I know, bud. Let’s just give it a few more minutes.”
Jack scanned the horizon for any signs of light. Nothing. Gulping down the last of his coffee, he leaned back on the rock and tried to determine if any of the constellations had begun moving across the night sky. It was too hard to tell.
“Hey Dad?” Micah said.
“Are we gonna go fishing?”
“I said we were. Just as soon as the sun comes up.”
“When’s the sun coming up?”
“Any time now. Relax”
Micah continued his game of leapfrog with the boulders. Jack let his eyelids fall and took in a deep breath of the fresh mountain air.
“Dad . . . Dad?” Micah was kneeling behind his dad’s head, with his hands on Jack’s shoulders. Shaking him just a little, Micah peered down into Jack’s upside down face. Jack opened his eyes and started when he saw Micah’s face just inches from his own.
“Wake up, Dad,” Micah said.
“Okay, I’m up.” Jack pulled himself up off the rock and felt the kinks in his back that came from sleeping on such a hard surface.
“What time is it, Dad?”
Jack looked at his phone again.
“9:20. What? I was asleep for two hours?” Jack said. Micah nodded and looked out over the edge again. He tried to make out the silhouettes in the distance, desperately trying to form them into shapes he could recognize. It was still dark and it seemed like the night sky was frozen. Jack could tell now that none of the stars had followed their path across the sky. They seemed to be frozen in time.
“Dad, I’m hungry.” Micah said.
“Okay, bud, let’s hop back down to camp and I’ll make up our breakfast.”
They stumbled back down the summit, using the flashlight, but still stubbing a toe or missing a step here and there. When they made it to camp, Jack stoked the fire and readied the eggs. While he was waiting on the small iron skillet to heat, he pulled his star clock out of his pack. Jack found the North Star and located the date, November 4th, on the dial. He held the clock up at arm’s length, keeping today’s date at the top. Jack closed one eye and gazed above the clock, directly at Polaris. He lined up Polaris so it would pass through the center of the clock. He carefully rotated the inner dial until the stars in the sky lined up with the stars on the chart. Jack read the time: 22h. 22, which would be 10:00 PM, Jack thought, that can’t be right. Jack spun the dial in the center and decided to try again. He followed all the steps and ended up with the same reading.
Micah bounced up to Jack. “What’s that?” He said.
“Oh, it’s a star clock.”
“Cool, can I see?”
Jack handed Micah the star clock and started cracking eggs for their breakfast. Micah spun the dials around wildly, held it up in the air, and then noticed the constellations drawn on the inner dial.
“Look, Dad, it’s the big dipper. Here it is on the clock and there it is in the sky.” Micah said.
“How’s it work?”
“Well, you line it up and it tells you the time.” Jack nudged the eggs with the spatula.
“Why do you need this one, Dad?” Micah said, “Doesn’t your phone say the time.”
“It does, but I thought maybe it was wrong.”
“What time does the star clock tell you?”
“Is that right? I thought it was 9 when we were at the top,” said Micah, “Can I see your phone?”
Jack separated the eggs between their two plates and handed Micah his phone.
“This one says 9:24. Guess the star clock is wrong.” Jack traded Micah the plate of eggs for his phone.
“It’s not exact. It can be off by 15 minutes or so.”
“It’s off by more than that, Dad.”
“Tell me about it,” Jack said. Jack stuffed a fork loaded with scrambled eggs into his mouth.
“Hey Dad?” Micah said.
“Why’s it still so dark?”
“I don’t know, but the star clock reads 10 o’clock at night, not 10 in the morning.”
Micah set down his empty plate and looked up at the big dipper.
“How can it be 10 at night?” Micah said.
“I’m trying to figure that out, myself. We made camp at about 9 last night, ate a bite, and went straight to sleep.”
“Then you woke me up real early, Dad.”
“Yeah. My cell alarm went off at 5, just like I set it. I wanted to catch the sunrise from the top of the mountain. My Dad brought me up here when I was just a kid like you. I wanted to see the look in your eyes when you saw the red light breaking across the horizon. I wanted to hear the awe in your voice when the light turned the lake into a silvery mirror.”
“That sounds cool, Dad. Can we go back up and watch it?”
“Well, I’m not sure it’s going to happen.”
“What do you mean? The sun always comes up, doesn’t it?”
“Every day of my life until now, buddy. I’m a little worried, so let’s break camp and head down. Maybe we’ll see some folks on the trail and they can tell us we’re not crazy.”
“But you are crazy, Dad.” Micah laughed.
Packs full and fire out, Jack made one more sweep around the campsite with the flashlight. He wasn’t looking forward to making the hike back down in the dark. In the last hour, the look on Micah’s face had turned from pure excitement to a questioned fear.
“C’mon, Micah,” Jack said as he headed for the trail.
Micah came running up next to him.
“Hey Dad?” Micah said.
“Are we gonna go fishin’?”