By John Darling
Carl Righetti sat tethered to his window seat and looked at the world outside. There was little to see, just like yesterday, the day before, and all the days before that after the last bump occurred. There were no people, no animals, no cars, no bicycles; even the decorative rocks in his yard were gone. His large dead Mexican Poppy bushes stood straight up as if they were reaching for the sky.
They looked like they wanted to go up with everything else.
As he slid back the stopper from his lidded cup and let the last of his coffee drift into his mouth, he thought once again at how disappointed he felt when the Earth proved that his theories were correct. He didn’t want it to be this way. He wanted the planet to be as it was even if that meant going through the rest of his life being branded a charlatan and a fool after he was once considered to be the most intelligent and trusted astrophysicist on Earth.
He could have kept his mouth shut. He could have abstained from giving interviews, publishing articles, creating websites, FaceBook pages, Twitter sites, and Instagram accounts about the pending doom of the planet. He could have just sat by as it happened since there was nothing he nor anyone else could do to stop it from taking place. The demise of the Earth, and most likely the rest of the Solar System, started with a Big Bang countless centuries in the past, and stopping it was as impossible as trying to stop yourself from aging.
Naively, Carl thought that maybe he would be lauded as a hero of some sort. Now people would get to work on their Bucket Lists right away and not wait until the end of their lives. Perhaps with the knowledge that everything would soon be gone forever, people would come together as one and peace on Earth would finally be achieved. Now he knows he was a fool to think so, now he had lost everything including his precious Terry.
Now for all he knew, he was the last man on Earth.
Carl met Terry at a NASA sponsored Astrophysics Demonstration held at the San Mateo County Event Center. She was a Mathematics major at Berkley and he was an Astrophysics major at the University of California – Santa Cruz. She didn’t need to attend the event but she wanted to be acquainted with all aspects of mathematics and this allowed her to learn the computations of a spacecraft orbital rendezvous. She had an incredible mind.
While it was not love at first sight, they both knew they would end up together from the first bit of idle conversation that passed between them while standing outside the lecture hall waiting for the doors to open.
Their respective schools were only 75 miles apart so dating was easy and often until they both graduated and married. Carl accepted a teaching position at Berkley after Terry landed a high paying job at a tech firm located in Walnut Creek. For twenty years their life could not have been better even after Carl’s great friend, teacher, and mentor, Dr. Hieronymus Attler committed suicide one year after being the Best Man at their wedding.
After ten years of earning and saving, they built the house of their dreams on a three-acre plot outside of Lafayette, CA, virtually halfway between their places of business. During the preparation of the plans, Carl asked to have a workshop built for him that would be set away from the house in a thicket of trees on the land. What work Carl did there, Terry never asked nor did she ever enter his private space since her love for him was so great she trusted him to do the right thing all of the time irrespective of the situation. She also didn’t question the few odd requests he made of their architect. Carl wanted the attic of their two-story house raised to ten feet with a load-bearing floor and a door that opened onto the house’s second-story roof.
After the house was completed, Carl hired workmen to install two stout cables just over the attic door and connect them to a spot just over his workshop’s door. Between the cables, another workman installed a chair like the ones used in ski lifts. It had an electric motor that could ferry Carl from one building to the other. Carl told Terry that he’d use it go from his workshop to the attic on nights that he worked late so he would not disturb her.
In the time they were together, she never saw it in use.
Dr. Hieronymus (Harry) Attler headed the Astrophysics Department at the University of California – Santa Cruz while Carl was a student there. He was also Carl’s best friend and mentor whose education and tome of written work made all others in his field look pitiful by comparison. Yet Dr. Attler was consigned to be the Dean of a relatively small college because some of his professed theories did not fall in line with conventional wisdom.
Harry, through minor calculations, historical records, and the law of physics, proved to Carl that Mercury and Venus’s rotations have both slowed down since their discovery. He also showed him that the Earth followed suit.
As long as this was known only to Carl and his friend, everything was fine but Harry thought there would be more consequences from this phenomenon than just the slowing of the rotation of planets; he just had not yet discovered what the ramifications may be. So, he published several articles revealing his findings in hopes that others might be able to extrapolate on them to determine what he was missing. Instead of collaboration, though, his ideas were met with ridicule. So much so, that UC Santa Cruz dismissed him and he was unable to find work anywhere else.
Terry knew of his theory and did not believe in its conclusions but she loved Harry no matter what since he had been such an influence on Carl’s life. He had challenged his top student to look at every single aspect of everything he studied even if he came to conclusions which seemed radical to others. By thinking this way, Carl made numerous discoveries that made him one of the best known and best-paid Astrophysicists on the planet. With his good looks and smooth presentations, Carl also became a media darling.
Naturally, Terry was very distraught when Harry killed himself but she knew what kind of hell he had been put through for just stating his beliefs and she understood why he took this way out of life.
What she didn’t know is that Carl held these same beliefs.
Additionally, while secluded in his workshop, often working throughout the night, Carl crunched numbers, studied charts of the solar system, and read every theory of gravity he could find. It was on one of these nights that he discovered what Harry missed.
Exactly what causes gravity is a subject that has been kicked around, argued about, and even fought over ever since an apple fell from a tree and almost hit Sir Isaac Newton on the head. The most accepted theory is the one proposed by Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. It states that gravity is not exactly a force, but the result of the curvature of space and time caused by the uneven distribution of masses. Most likely, Einstein was correct but his theory and all those to follow assumed that nothing would change. They did not take into account the slowing rotation of the planets that would stretch time because that was impossible.
Seemingly, only Harry and Carl knew that is was not only possible it was occurring daily.
No one expected any changes that would affect Einstein’s theory because the science would never change, the science, the math, both were inviolable. Questioning their sanctity was blasphemy. That is until the clockmakers came under attack.
It seemed sudden, but it took 20 years to get to the point where clocks could not accurately measure 24 hours. Days were on the verge of becoming 25 hours in length and no matter how much clockmakers tinkered with their designs they could not make them right without adding another hour, something that would force people to use 25-hour clocks. Everyone balked at this since it would mean making enormous schedule changes to virtually every industry on the planet. So humanity lived in denial, but that did not stop the process.
Industries that sold their product by weight were under attack as well.
Dry good providers were forced to put more of their product into their containers to meet the weight listed on the outside of them or risk being sued by people who concerned themselves with things like that. Liquid producers were not as concerned since 12 liquid ounces never changed. Still, there were complaints about their products feeling lighter.
People had an idea what was happening as far as clocks were concerned but no wanted to admit that Dr. Attler may have been right about the Earth’s rotations slowing. Another thing no one wanted to admit was that everything was getting lighter.
Carl was the only one who knew the truth behind these matters; he knew that the two phenomena were related and he debated with himself nightly trying to decide if he should make the truth known. These were the times he missed his friend Harry the most.
Terry and the rest of the world knew what Harry claimed he’d discovered. The rotations of the planets were slowing, she also knew that his math stretched the boundary of that which was known. This didn’t bother her, she knew that mathematics often changed despite its cold hard reasoning. What most others in the field of astrophysics found most unsettling was the fact that Harry didn’t come to his conclusions by looking forward, instead, he looked backward.
Humans have only been on Earth for approximately 7 million years. In that time, their brains had evolved enough to understand complex equations for at best, 10,000 years. Since the Earth has been around in some form for about 5 billion years, this meant that in the grand scheme of things, the collected knowledge possessed by humans was accumulated in less time than it takes to blink an eye. Even so, this amassed knowledge, when viewed correctly, proved that the rotations of the planets in the Solar System were slowing though some only microscopely.
Harry took his calculated rate of slowing in the past and applied it to the future. Doing this proved that Earth’s rotation would continue to slow over the years and someday stop altogether.
First, Carl decided to tell Terry what their friend missed. She was open-minded to Carl’s theory that due to the slowing of Earth’s rotation, its gravitational field was disappearing. Even though she didn’t believe it, she respected her husband and as long as he kept his ideas to himself she was fine with that. The last thing she wanted is for Carl to have to go through the hell Harry went through. When he told her that he wanted to tell the world what he discovered, she objected.
When he did it anyway, she told him that she would leave him rather than watch him end up like Harry.
Carl, the scientist with a number of astrophysical discoveries, could not think of an Earthly scenario where Terry would leave so he went forward with his plans for the house. He knew that a bump was coming, the first of what may be many more and they needed to be prepared.
After he told her about his discovery, she had to know that everything he did for the rest of their lives he did for her.
By way of his mass media connections and the launching of his Internet sites, Carl told the world what was happening to it and how it would affect everyone and everything on Earth.
He informed them that Harry was right about everything and that slowing rotation of the planet has caused gravity to diminish by weakening one of the elements in Einstein’s theory, the element of time, and in turn time dilation. In theory, time dilation could let a man briefly jump ahead in time if he went fast enough. If this same man merely sat down he would still be moving through the time, but what would happen if time, as it has been measured by man for centuries, slowed down?
It was this time factor that eventually brought Carl to his own discovery.
Obviously Harry’s conclusions were true, which is evidenced by the issues with our clocks. Since Einstein based his conclusions on what was known in his lifetime he, and all others after him, assumed that everything would stay as is. In his day, however, Einstein didn’t know that the Earth was slowing down. This slowing stretched the time factor in his theory.
As time stretched it thinned and as it thinned so did the planet’s gravity.
It is a well-known fact that the moon affects Earth’s gravity in a way that humans can measure by observing the ebb and flow of the tides. By Carl’s calculations, eventually, Earth’s gravity would be so weak that the moon would take greater control of it and act like a break on the Earth’s rotation which in turn would cause gravity to dissipate faster.
This cycle would repeat itself until the Earth stood still but before that, everything would go up.
Harry tried to show the world that the planet was slowing because it had no choice but to do so. When the Solar System came to be billions of years past, a massive ball of fiery gas spun off parts of it sending them twisting out into space eternal. He explained that this action was like a man with nine tops who spun the first one then the other eight followed. Eventually, all the tops would begin to slow down because there was nothing to keep them going; ultimately they would all fall with the first top falling first to be followed by the rest in order as they wound down. Based on the slowing of the Venus, Mercury, and Earth Harry deduced that the planets were created in the order they are now relative to the Sun so Mercury and Venus would slow first, then Earth. What Harry didn’t take into account was the effects of the moon on Earth’s gravity. Since Mercury and Venus have no moons the Earth is slowing measurably faster due to the effect of the moon. If Harry had not killed himself 20 years earlier, he would realize this, know the truth, and the world might know he was right.
He would also know that the slowing would only be gradual until the first bump occurred.
The bump, as Carl called it, would come when the Earth’s gravity weakened to the point that the moon’s gravity would overcome it. On that day, most likely during a King Tide event, the Earth’s gravity would drop rapidly and cause lighter objects to fly off the face of the Earth. Carl didn’t know how bad it would be because math and science can only predict what might happen and since the dissipation of gravity was something thought impossible, no one studied this likelihood.
When Carl began revealing his theory to the world, Terry nearly left him. She stayed on, though, hoping that Carl would come to his senses.
When Carl proceeded to install ¾-inch eyebolts waist-high every three feet or so along each wall in the house then laced hundreds of yards of ½-inch nylon rope through the bolts, which made their home look like a primate enclosure in a zoo, she became very concerned about his mental health
When Carl showed her the heavy leather belts with spring clips on each side and told her that they would have to wear them to move about the house by clipping the belts to the ropes he had installed, she called his doctor who recommended a psychiatrist to her.
When Carl had an electrified fence installed around the border of their property, that was too much for Terry. As much as she loved him, she had to get out.
After she drove through the gate in the new fence, Carl never saw her again.
As near as Carl could figure, that was seven years ago. Since the power companies went offline and the fuel for his generator ran dry, he had lost track of time. Not that it mattered, one day was like all the rest.
In the first year after she left, he tried to find his beloved Terry, he tried to reach her every way he could, but she never responded and never came home. As news of his theory spread throughout the world, she must have changed her name or started using an alias so she would not be associated with him since half the world thought he was insane and the other half thought he was a Messiah.
There were wars waged because of this difference of opinion. Lawsuits were filed against various companies alleging fraud. People fought on the streets, in homes, and grocery stores as they took sides. Humanity degraded into tribalism as all attempts at civility vanished.
As a scientist, Carl could not understand why this was happening since his calculations would either be right or wrong. If they were wrong, then everything would be fine. If they were right, then there was nothing anyone could do to stop the inevitable. Before the Internet died, he spent most of his time in his workshop trying to convince both sides to not to fight about it. This proved to be a useless effort.
When the first bump came, he wondered if Terry would try to contact him since it verified that his calculations were right but she made no attempts or so it seemed.
Not everything went up in the first wave. Near as anyone left could tell, only objects that weighed around 100 pounds or less flew off the Earth, and maybe her cell phone or other means of contacting him were now on the edge of space along with everything and everyone else. Sadly, children, pets, and the unsecured frail were up there too.
The second bump, about a year later, took the rest. Carl figured that one more might cause the Earth to go out in a spectacular supernova or just stop spinning altogether and become a big brother to the moon.
Using a custom-made andiron bolted to the bottom of his fireplace, Carl could cook after a fashion and even boil water. The device looked like a small cage with a door on it which allowed him to put flammable material into the space. A 12 x 12-inch plate was welded to the top of the cage with clamps on it that held his modified cookware in place. The water from the tap had stopped long ago but he had stored plenty of it in his oversized attic along with dried foods, canned meat, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and everything else he thought he and Terry might need until the end. He estimated that he had enough for three years but with Terry gone, that time had doubled.
Using his improvised trolley, he had slowly ferried wood and paper from his now useless workshop back to the house until now it was little more than a cement pad. His computer, still connected to the cable that was hooked to a dead Internet Provider somewhere, hung eerily in the air because Carl chopped up his desk before he started taking the walls and ceiling apart.
He vowed to not take an ax to their treasured house even if it meant being cold and eating cold rations but now that he was running out of everything it made his pledge a moot point. Now he needed to decide how to end it all, but first, he had to go flying one last time.
Flying was something he started doing more of lately. After the second bump, he wanted to see if there was anything or anyone still moving around in the outside world. His SUV was in the stratosphere somewhere which made him doubt if any cars were still on the ground. So, he devised a way to see the world around him without leaving his property.
Making sure that his anchor rope was still tightly secured to a rafter in the attic and his leather belt, he opened the attic door and stepped out. He played the 200 feet of line out slowly so he would not shoot straight up to a jolting halt like he did the first time he flew. Like a kite lifting in the air, he drifted upwards but unlike a kite, there was no need for wind. When he reached the end of his tether he spun slowly like John the Savage in Brave New World, only in Carl’s case, it was the world that was dead and not him.
Something else Carl had been doing more of lately was bringing his sheath knife with him when he flew.
At the end of their lives, Carl planned that he and Terry would climb into their bed, secure their tie-down ropes, take a massive dose of barbiturates, then go to sleep in each other’s arms since he didn’t want them to starve to death or die of thirst.
But Terry wasn’t down there anymore. Nothing was down there anymore which really left him with only one option.
As he cut the rope that secured him to the house, he understood that now he had nowhere in the world to go to but up.
About the Author: Since May of 1976, John Darling has written and published numerous stories, poems, and articles. His lone play, Stage Directions, has been produced in the United States, Canada, and most recently at the Soho Theater in London, England.
Most of his publications have been short works of fiction and non-fiction though he has had some poetry published.
Author’s website: http://johndarlingauthor.com/
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