The Candle Burns Lowly

[Fiction] Friday Challenge #156 for May 21st, 2010

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.

Narrowneck Peninsula struck out like a forefinger into the valley.  Sheer on both sides, the valley spread out, flat and thickly wooded until the peak of Mount Solitary rose up from the east.  Matt unzipped the flap of the tent and stood stretching in the dark moments before sunrise.  The residual heat of summer began to creep out from under the sandstone escarpment, even before the sun had poked its rosy fingers over the horizon.

“Come on, Rob or you’ll miss the sunrise.”

A low grunt sounded from the tent, followed by the rustle of a sleeping bag.  Rob dragged himself out of the tent and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.

“Stand over here and look towards Mount Solitary.  Watch the colours change with the light.  The cloud cover is quite thick this morning so it should be something spectacular.”

“What’s so interesting about the sunrise?  It’s just the refraction of light through the atmosphere.”

“Stop being so scientific.  You always look at the logic and science but never see the emotion and the beauty, but in time you will learn.”

Rob observed the light dim slightly, moving from dark blue to purple before a pinpoint of light broached the horizon.  The kaleidoscope of reds and oranges, purples and yellows shifted and played out before him.

“Come on, Rob.  You have to be impressed by that.”

“It’s still just science to me.”

The sun moved behind the bank of clouds but the light flickered like a candle wavering in a draught.  The clouds boiled across the line of the horizon in scarlet and orange.

“Dad, why is the day not getting any brighter?”

Matt raised a pair of binoculars to his eyes and looked towards the east.  “I’m not sure.  Let’s head towards Mount Solitary.”
Breaking camp they traversed down the peninsula and across the valley floor.  The canopy darkened the valley floor and the birds were silent, moving like shadows in the tree tops towards the west.  By late morning Matt and Rob had reached the base of Mount Solitary.  Matt scanned the sky but the canopy obscured his view.

“It’s still dark out there and it’s almost lunch.”

“What could be causing it?” asked Rob.

“I am not sure, but I have some suspicions.”

“Such as?”

“Not worth putting out there at the moment.”

The ascent to the peak was steep and the pair began after a short break.  They toiled up the trail, focused on their footsteps and glancing occasionally at the sky.  The sense of twilight sat heavy on Matt but he couldn’t pin his fears to anything secure.

At the peak of the mountain Matt and Rob had a panoramic view.  Away to the east lay the metropolis of Greater Sydney.  The darkness shifted under a heat haze.  A column of smoke rose up, adding to the blanket of clouds across the sky.

“Dad, what happened?”

“It seems like the humans have finally destroyed themselves.”

“But what will become of us robots?”


11 responses to “The Candle Burns Lowly

  1. This week there was so much in the kernel of the prompt that it was difficult to condense it down to something manageable. That being said, I also found this one difficult to write. Couldn’t find a flow to my writing this week. I try to find a different angle to the prompt and think that I found one. However, the ending is too abrupt, leaving too much unexplained and unanswered.
    My characters are Mat, short for automaton, and Rob, short for Robot, where Rob has to learn beyond the scientific algorithms of his programming and see the inherent beauty of nature and relationships.

  2. I think the “lack of flow” you worried about works to your advantage. It’s the proper pace and tone for a piece about robots. I like that you have a minimal amount of emotion in the piece, especially following the line about it being something that has to be “learned.” Good outcome for something you struggled with.

  3. The ending definitely left me wanting more, but I liked the whole robot idea.

  4. I was delightfully surprised by the ending. Didn’t see that coming. Your ability to create such descriptive stories amazes me. As I read your stories, I am constantly envious of the way you describe things so clearly; you paint a beautiful picture with words. Great job!

  5. I liked your story very much. Hitting us at the end with the sci-fi worked well. As Shelli said, the lack of emotion and instant fear of the sun not rising makes more sense when you hit the end.

    The only thing that threw me was they took a break and toiled up the mountain. Would robots need a break then toil? I don’t know, It didn’t take away from the story as a whole, just gave me pause my second time through.

    Nice work, this was a tough prompt.

    • My idea of robots are machines that learn, somewhat like a child. I have been a little influenced by Asimov in these ideas, where the intelligence is initially a program, but it is the outworking of that programming and its implications that interest me. I would also take some influence from “Blade Runner” and the replicants’ need for more life.

  6. I decided to avoid this prompt as I couldn’t work out how to possibly condense such a wide scope into a flash, but you’ve done so admirably. I did think it was odd that the youngster would be so avowedly scientific, but the last line makes it all fall into place! Beautifully written, as always.

  7. I loved your story and am definitely envious of your ability to write such vivid descriptions. Your surpise ending totally caught me by surprise, but I felt that it worked well for this story.

  8. Having recently read (and loved) a book in Asimov’s Robot series, I loved the twist that it took at the end. I don’t think you’re ending is to abrupt, I think everything that needs to be said has been, and anything else can be worked out in the reader’s imagination.

  9. I think this pieced flowed nicely. Like Icy, the child’s flare for science had me curious. I got the impression he would be about high school age.

    The twist was unexpected and brought everything together.

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