Eternal Vale
6 / 6 / 7531 Aeris Era

            “This is called the Eternal Vale,” Cari read, “because these trees have grown here, unencumbered by man’s progress, for centuries.  Just look at their immensity, each one as big as a house, and consider that each year, each tree grows wider by a ring that is only as big as your fingernail.  Consider that they have stood here, under the sun, and the moon, the rain and the storms, unbroken and undefeated, and think to yourself, this tree was old when my great, great, great grandparents were young; they have survived life in this chaotic world for that long.  Can you imagine it?  What a marvelous thing, that we have these treasures to look upon, to remind us of our own smallness, and of the majesty of things, the majesty of nature.”

            “You’re very eloquent,” Marc said, looking at her.  “I’m a little bit moved.”

            Cari slapped his arm and laughed.  “I’m reading the sign, idiot.”

            “Idiot?!  And here I thought our date was going so well; but then you tell me how you really feel.”

            “Well, don’t feel bad,” she said.  “You’re an idiot, but you’re a cute idiot.”

            She leaned over to kiss him.  He met her, and the sound of that first kiss, that familiar sucking sound, was almost lost admist the hum of the insects and the cawing of the birds.  It was warm—as warm as the thick air of the summer sunset.

            It lasted a moment; then he withdrew.

            “Thanks for taking me here,” he said.  “It’s gorgeous.  Just like you.”

            “Oh, please, I’ve heard that line before,” she said.  But she blushed and smiled nonetheless.  Thirty-two years old, divorced, and Marc was making her feel like she was just out of high school.

            “Let’s stay here a while,” Marc said.  “You want to?  Let’s sit down.”

            “Sit down?  Where?”

            “Here, on the grass.  Is that okay?”

            She nodded, and pulled up her skirt, to sit cross-legged on the ground.  Marc sat down beside her.

            “I wanted to take you here,” she said, “because this is one of my favorite places to go.  It makes me feel relaxed.  Makes me feel like I’m…a part of things.  If that makes sense.”

            She waited for him to reply.  The leaves of the huge trees in the valley below rattled in the breeze, dancing in the branches.

            Marc didn’t respond.  Frowning on the side of her face that he could not see, she turned to him.

            Staring straight, he pointed with his right hand.

            “Look,” he said.  “Is that…?”

            She followed his finger upwards.

The grass hissed as the wind painted her skin with cold.

            “No,” she said.  “Not now.  Not when everything’s going so well…”

Above them, arcing to the horizon, was a red star, trailing fire in the sky.

            Marc jumped to his feet, then leaned over to give her his hand.  “We’ve got to run!” he said.  When she didn’t reach up, he grabbed her hand himself, saying, “Come on!

            She pulled against him.

            “Stay here,” she said, “With me.”

            “No, Cari, what if it’s a nuke?  We’ve got to get to shelter—“

            “If it’s a nuke,” she said, “We’re done for, no matter where we run.  If these are my final moments, then I’d rather spend them here, holding your hand in peace; better than fleeing down the trail like an animal, with no thought of myself.”

            The missile disappeared behind the clouds.  It seemed too far away to hurt them, but she knew better.  She had served at the naval base as a comm officer, and she knew that the blast would cover that space in seconds.  She remembered the warnings on the news: Get on the ground, put your hands over your head—but knew that would not save them.

            Marc frowned, shook his head; but he fell back to the earth, still holding her hand.

He caressed the veins on her hand with his thumb, silent, as she thought of all this disappearing, of her life disappearing, everything she knew, her house, her high school, her mother’s house and her sisters’, the chapel where she had married Jamie and the old apartment where they had fought—everything and everyone she knew, burning with the city, burning with this eternal vale, this beautiful, ancient, peaceful, eternal vale.  Everything she knew, erased as if it had never been.

Why?  It was a terrible, painful waste, and for what reason?  What good?

But the reasons why not matter; they had nothing to do with her.  Two men she’d never met had disagreed, and the disagreement had come to this, destruction: complete, irreversible destruction.

            Marc, forgetting her, stopped rubbing her hand.  He stared at the trees beyond, swallowing his fear.

            She joined him, focusing her eyes upon the Eternal Vale.  She breathed; then the light flashed and blinded her forever.



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