Artwork and photo by Baird Stiefel
Adele endured in her lime green bikini even though the sun was sinking fast into the ocean and a cool squall was racking through the stand of palms behind the coastline, raising the hair on the back of her neck as if she were a creature in dire peril.
The sun hovered over the horizon, red and fiercely dappled on its corona with black licking flames. She cast her forearm over her brow to shield her eyes. Her last view of the sun was its crescent lip, jagged like a bloody wound etched into the wispy clouds—and as the earth dizzily spun, it disappeared, leaving a thick dark smudge on the horizon. Adele ran home.
She slept late the following day, woke quickly, took a pill, and then pulled the covers over her head, creating the perception of inky darkness as if the sun had failed to rise. She fell into Xanax slumber, and when she woke, it was just as dim outside as hours ago. She checked the time and opened the shade. A dark, uniform cloud fringed with ribbons of white and gray speckles blocked the sky and sun. She stepped onto her balcony, and Mr. Randel next door was on his adjoining balcony, gazing at the spectacle, shaking his gray, shaggy head.
"Can you believe this?" he asked, more angry than inquisitive. "This is a massive storm coming off the Gulf, and not a single forecaster, not one stupid computer model predicted this."
"Is it raining?" Adele asked, holding her arm and upturning her palm beyond the overhang. She pulled up her hoodie with the other hand, as the air was unexpectedly frosty.
"No," the old man answered, testy. "It's just covering the sun and ruining a perfectly good day."
In two hours it was gone. The cloud peeled rapidly, like a bandage torn off sutures, revealing a crenulated copper sky. Adele scooped her lime green bikini from the kitchen floor and was at the beach by three.
She was reading a long beach novel. This one was 1,152 pages, all about an English sea captain who washes ashore in feudal Japan. The captain had just saved the Shogun, scooping him out of a freshly opened fault line. Adele placed the book upside down over her navel. She sealed her eyes, and when she woke, novel boy was next to her, indulging in his own less hefty saga of 692 pages about an Irish priest in Australia who fails to keep it in his pants.
Novel boy was not good in bed, but Adele discovered he gained some ground on his deficiencies by following directions studiously. She rolled a condom over his penis and verbally or physically illustrated the act desired. He did not last very long, but he was dutiful and energetic. His other virtue was that his member had a short refractory period; all Adele need do was kiss him with a hint of tongue and stroke him lightly at the tip of his member and he was ready for a condom once more.
Adele wanted to extend the second time around by straddling him, thinking if she controlled the tempo and pressure he would display staying power. But after a few sumptuous rolls of her hips, the boy shattered like a dropped glass, squeezing her right breast and left hip and crying in the agony of pleasure. So much for that. Despite it all, Adele found a tender beauty in his innocent lack of control and his whimpered orgasms.
When she woke up, he was gone, which was just as well, as black, frothing water was rising from the parking level toward her balcony.
The sun was mercilessly scorching. She was standing next to Mr. Randel on his balcony. He was angry at nature.
"Yesterday the damn cloud, and today a rogue tide. That's what they say. What the hell does that mean?"
"What should we do?" Adele asked, casting her gray eyes down to the churning, frothy water a few feet below.
"Stay put. The water hasn't risen in an hour. Let's see what happens."
Adele grilled Mr. Randel a gray hamburger with dripping ketchup on the barbeque. He ate it heartily and then fell asleep in the living room recliner. The water gradually receded, depositing a reeking berm of sand and mud, cars and sewage. The sun appeared to set very rapidly as Adele guided Mr. Randall to his bed. As she laid him down, she saw his member was a turgid stone, its tumescence apparent and lasting. Closing his door, she tiptoed to her apartment, took a Xanax, and fell instantly asleep.
The sun rose sluggishly. The dusky orb rested motionless, just above the horizon, and then rudely halted. The golden hour's amber light shone as a mockery of itself.
Adele donned converse sneakers and scaled the mud, sand, and high tide of sewage to reach a congregation of animated, worried people.
"What's happening?" she asked. The conclave answered her, as if reciting a catechism.
"The sun stopped moving in the sky..."
"But they say it's not real..."
"No one can really figure it out..."
"No one knows anything at all..."
"No one knows how to fix this..."
Adele broke from the group and sat on a bloated chunk of a stray dock. But soon the bright, mocking, immobile sun appeared to her like a creature from the bowels of the earth—malevolent, with intent to maim or kill her.
She quickly turned to flee—and realized there was no place to hide from a stillborn sun. She almost fell down from fear. She needed touch, motion, to lick the salt sweat from a living being. Then she spied novel boy standing against a pitted wall. She strode toward him, grasped his hand, and led him to her bed. Novel boy, as usual, would give her his body to use as a proxy for her fear and dread of a larger, vaster hole she failed to fill.
When she woke, the boy was tangled in her sheet. The room was categorically black. She slowly parted the curtain. The sea and sky were a uniform sheet of gloom. Only a few delusory stars twinkled dimly in the sky.
Adele tried to rouse the boy, but he slept in dim slumber, his slim chest rising and falling with a slender wheeze. She had a rule regarding boys staying the night—but as day and night were now mutable categories, she decided to leave him in her bed.
She stepped out of the balcony. A stony gust pressed her against the sliding glass door. Her bare legs and t-shirt were speckled by splinters of ice. She threw on a hoodie and checked on Mr. Randel. His windows were half-open, allowing drifting ice to form drumlins of ragged sleet. In the bed was Mr. Randel, sheets of blue and green ice layered on his chest and face like armor, with his member, amazingly, still at full mast—but he was dead.
Each day generated a peculiar constellation of random events: a darkened void without stars; a rising sun, immobile and blazing above the sea; a blood red moon waning and waxing in rapid motion; a gray cloud draped over the vault of the sky as if the heavens were a death shroud on the earth.
Adele watched the news with novel boy reclined beside her. He was still reading about the priest who was always sticking thorns in his heart and his member in Rachel. Adele had already abandoned Japan in the period of the Warring States.
The experts were confounded by the series of anomalies. Data was pouring in from all corners of the scientific community—but it was contradictory, and subject to multiple, cancelling interpretations. Psychologists and gurus suggested ways to cope. One woman with a mop of black hair like a lifeless mink on her head instructed viewers to keep their 24-hour schedule no matter the conditions in the sky, sea or land—no matter the form of earth, fire, air, or water.
An old man with a thin white beard, narrow wise eyes, and a round-brimmed black hat, promoted the opposite philosophy. Viewers should float with the flow of nature—even if nature did not appear to have regular patterns. After all, he explained, patterns are and always have been illusions. We always impose our own shapes onto nature, which does not care for regularity. Nature simply is.
This guru's teaching struck a deep and sonorous bell within Adele. So she read every word the man had written and bent her ear to innumerable podcasts. He was a master of Ecological Daoism—and his popularity grew in inverse proportion to the resistance of the sun to rise or its stubborn failure to set. He sold merch on the EcoDao app.
Adele bought it all: the broad-brimmed, round, black EcoDao hat, as well as the rough, knee-length patchwork cotton jacket, cut in the Chinese style. When she wore the gear around the apartment, stomping the EcoDao sandals as if to test the firmness of the earth, novel boy studied her silently for a few moments, and uttered a rare complete sentence: "You look like Father de Bricassart."
The next day she assembled her merch. A long bamboo pole, appropriately weathered. A faux battered leather bag with the EcoDao symbol, a yin yang composed of tiny black and white koi fish, minutely viewed, the black hat... and checked jacket. She stuffed the satchel with supplies: a half loaf of bread, a can of beans, and a bottle of water. She closed the door softly on the slumbering boy.
The sovereign ball of searing light was immovable by noon. She drove down the buckling road to the hills above town. At the Mountains of Visions, the appointed place for paying devotees of EcoDao, she abandoned the car and tramped into the woods along a winding trail. She was alone in an expanse of scorched forest. Her body revolted after a few miles—a clump of blisters on her heel, scalding sunburn on her neck, and a stabbing cramp in her side.
Then before her was a wide, black clearing, and around the expanse was cast off EcoDao merch: broad-brimmed black hats and bamboo poles, knee-length cotton jackets, and satchels, all scattered widely. A few paces forward, the bodies appeared, a vision of white, black, and brown—no matter what the color of the flesh, the blindingly iridescent light enabled each corpse to float on the waves of rising, merciless heat.
Adele pushed ahead, repeating the philosophy she had so diligently learned: I mustn't see a pattern where no pattern exists. I must follow the flow of nature. In nature it is hot and beings die.
Her bottle empty, she ignored her ragged thirst; the beans and bread consumed, she suppressed her plaintive hunger. She looped around a trail of splintered douglas firs. The sun was perched above her, illuminating her predicament—a being alone, with little worth, with a hole in the bullseye of her chest. Her feet crunched on the detritus of the parched forest. A single thorn, torn from a shrub and upright on the cracked trail, punctured her EcoDao sandals, driving a spindle of searing pain up her leg, through her pelvis, and to her spine, till it lodged in a knot between her eyes—but she did not cry out. She limped forward doggedly, like a priest of a new order.