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 a trillion years ago, 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
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
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 orbits have both
slowed down since their discovery. He also showed him that the Earth
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
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
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 slowing orbit. 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 orbits 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 orbits 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 orbit,
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
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
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
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
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
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 that would fine if they were right, 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
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.
© 2020 John Darling
Bio: 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.
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