Nobody expected such a drastic change in the appearance of the sun. It was abrupt to say the least. It came out of nowhere. Surprisingly, the people of the earth were pretty blasé about it. One might have expected global panic, riots, wars and a resurgence of childhood insecurities. But no, that was not the case. What little panic surfaced was isolated and mild.
The sun was swollen at first. It burned and ballooned. Big time. It looked set to burst like a big warm pimple. It had also turned a sickly new color. It looked like a rotten egg-yolk suspended in the sky. Most people thought the change was ugly, like something from the disco era. It was not a sun you’d want to bathe under or worship. It was in bad taste.
Some people said the sun was sick. That it had some kind of celestial flu. Nobody could remember a past occurrence of the phenomenon. There was nothing in the historical record. This was a brand-new, baffling situation. Some people were squeamish about the new “sick” sun. They feared its rays. Scientists came up with nonsensical theories to explain the change but they were met with derision and/or incomprehension. Nobody knew what was happening. A slow-boiling dread began to percolate around the world. People suddenly wished they’d built bomb shelters. Those that DID have bomb shelters hid like moles, gloating over their cans of Dinty Moore and packages of ramen.
Some curious people stared at the sun which was something you’re not supposed to do. Anyone will tell you that. But the sun had turned mild. It didn’t hurt your eyes anymore, which was good because lots of people kept looking at it. It was irresistible.
The strange, diseased sun wasn’t putting out much warmth that late January day when Jacob Pike, after years of drunken bar-talk finally gathered up his courage and disappeared. Unhooked himself from the grid and escaped to the mountains. He gave most of his belongings to Goodwill. Now everything he owned was strapped to his back. Why he decided to make his move in the middle of winter was something that only Jacob could explain. And he wasn’t talking. Everyone in the Geronimo Pub thought Jacob Pike was really strange. He was not ill-tempered, he was not dangerous. He was just. Strange. And a little sad. But he was not stupid either and could philosophize with the best minds the Geronimo Pub had to offer (we’re not talking Mensa here; the regulars were not the most educated or erudite of barflies).
Sam Willoughby puffed on an empty pipe he’d carved from an oak knot and said, “Jacob won’t last one night. Those mountains are fucking cold, man. And he’s gonna live in a tent? No way. He’s dead.”
Kimberly was working behind the bar. She said, “Jacob knows what he’s doing. He’s been cramming survival techniques for months and he bought a bunch of gear. He’s prepared. Like a boy scout.”
“Or Ted Kaczynski,” said Tom, just back from the men’s room.
“Nah nah,” said Sam. “He’s probably frozen stiff already. Animals will eat him when he thaws out in the spring. You mark my words. Oh and gimme another beer willya Kimmy....”
Kimberly slid Sam another Bud draft. “Don’t underestimate Jacob Pike, Sam. He’s tough.”
“What the hell are you talking about? The guy’s soft as a marshmallow. In more ways than one. He’s 47 years old and he’s gonna trudge through twenty miles of deep snow and climb a mountain? And then live there? Face it; Jacob Pike has a death wish. He’ll get a mile through the snow and his heart will explode. Mark my words.”
The door flew open and Dave and Yuko came in out of the cold where they’d been smoking cigarettes. They returned to their seats at the bar. Kimberly slid them each a fresh rum and coke.
“That weird sun is really starting to freak me out,” said Yuko.
“IT’S ARMAGEDDON!!” said Dave in a deep, menacing voice. Then he broke into choppy laughter. It was a show of bravado but everyone knew he was worried about the situation too.
“I’m being serious,” said Yuko. “What if it collapses and sucks the earth into a black hole?”
“So what if it did?” said Sam.
“If that happens, everything on earth would turn into spaghetti.”
They all pondered this for several long moments.
Kimberly leaned on the bar and asked Yuko and Dave if they’d heard about Jacob Pike taking off into the wilderness.
“You’re kidding,” said Yuko.
“I think maybe he’s smart to get the fuck outta Dodge with that wonky sun hanging over our heads. We might all be doomed,” said Kimberly.
“No,” said Sam. “Jacob’s been planning this for years. The weird sun has nothing to do with it.”
“Besides,” said Dave. “If the sun explodes or fizzles out or whatever, there’s no place on earth to hide. Jacob would be just as doomed as we are.”
Yuko said, “Will you please stop saying we’re all doomed. It’s probably nothing. The sun is fluctuating, that’s all. Maybe it’s going through something. Like a growth spurt.”
“It’s never spurted before,” said Dave.
“How do you know? Maybe it’s something that happens once every million years or something...”
Big Joel came into the bar. “The sun is melting,” he announced.
‘What?” said Dave. “That’s impossible.”
“Go and look for yourself if you don’t believe me,” said Big Joel, shambling to the bar. Everyone but Big Joel went outside
The sun in fact did seem to be melting.
“Oh shit what the fuck,” said Dave.
The sun had changed color again. It had turned deep ochre, almost brown, giving everything a dusky, granular quality.
And it was dripping. The fiery drips were as large as planets and slid away from the sun in tear-shaped rivulets. It looked like the sun was crying.
“This is some scary shit,” said Yuko. “I’m going back inside where it’s safe and sane.”
Once everyone was settled back at the bar, Yuko said, “Is there something we should be doing? Turn on the TV. We need information.”
Kimberly turned the TV on but it emitted nothing but static. She flipped through the channels. None of them worked.
“I bet the bad reception has something to do with the fucked-up sun,” said Big Joel. “Interference caused by cosmic rays. The universe is going haywire.”
Sam pretended to puff his pipe and said, “Did you hear about Jacob Pike?”
Big Joel said, “No. What kinda stupid shit he get into this time?”
“He’s a survivalist now. He moved to the mountains to live in a tent in the woods.”
“Swear to god.”
“Maybe he’s smart. Hiding from the fucked-up sun.”
Sam repeated, “No, he was planning this for a long time. The two have nothing to do with each other.”
Sam said, “Maybe he deciphered some kind of old Nostradamus prediction. Maybe he knew this would happen. Of course, I don’t know how living on a mountain helps the situation...”
“Who knows...” said Yuko. “I’m tired of speculation. If the sun’s going to destroy us I wish it would get on with it.”
“That’s my girl,” said Dave and he gave her a quick, one-armed hug.
She laughed and said, “I’m serious. This waiting around sucks.”
“I wonder if it’s affecting other shit. I bet the tides are acting crazy too,” said Dave.
“I think the tides are a moon thing, honey, not a sun thing.”
“So? It’s gotta be affecting the moon too. And don't call me honey..."
“Dave’s right. This shit is gonna disrupt the entire Milky Way galaxy. If the sun melts away all the planets turn to ice. Darkness and ice forever and ever,” said Big Joel.
Dave snickered and said, “And on that note I believe I’ll have a shot of bourbon. Make it a double. Thanks Kim.”
“Yeah,” said Big Joel. “Let’s get fucked up. We’ll toast the end of the world! Every species on earth will soon be extinct. Even Homo sapiens will perish and I say good riddance.”
“Hear hear,” said Sam. “I’ll take one of those shots when you have a second, Kim.”
Kimberly poured a shot for Sam and one for herself.
Meanwhile, Jacob Pike stood at the base of Mount Winthrop and looked up at the brown, sweating sun. Fear was a clenched fist in his chest. He would die on this mountain. He was born to die on a mountain. He already missed the gang at Geronimo’s Pub but his mission was too important to let sentimentality distract him. He’d show those guys. He decided to make base camp and climb the mountain in the morning.
The sun continued to shed giant droplets of fire. It was shrinking and brown. It was only a matter of time before it was completely extinguished, bringing a new Dark Age to the planet. Jacob would gleefully dance on the icy grave of humanity.
He started to set up his tent and then realized he hadn’t packed any food. How could he have been so stupid?
Some survivalist he turned out to be. Jesus. He folded up the tent and started back the way he’d come, away from the mountain.
The sun continued to melt until it looked like a tarnished dime in the sky.
And the clientele of the Geronimo Pub drank with desperation, Trying to dissolve the fear and nervous dread they felt.
Kimberly suddenly decided that all the alcohol was now free.
‘All drinks are on the house due to, you know, the apocalypse and all.”
The sun shrank to about the size of the moon. Earth was darkeng, growing cold.