As a special treat for Father’s Day, I am sharing a story I wrote about a father’s sacrifice. Happy Father’s Day. I hope you enjoy the story.
Noah Didn’t Fight the Rain
By Ralph Walker
Little feet slapped against the bone white tiles. Vines of wet hair flung about, spraying drops in all directions. He reached out again, moving his arms in slow motion, trying to net the sprite in an oversized towel.
“Come here Sarabell.”
Her giggles accelerated, one tiny laugh cascading into another, filling up their shared bubble of air. He stalked towards the corner with exaggerated movements, making himself bigger, trying to catch her.
“One more time Daddy. Turn off the gravity one more time.” Her words staccato through gasps of laughter. Her miniature naked body shivered with uncontrollable joy.
“We have to get ready for bed Sarabell. Tonight is the long sleep. You need to get in your special pajamas.”
Her mouth folded into a pout, and her eyes opened out to saucers. “Please?” The word stretched out, wearing him down, as she elongated the sound.
He knelt, holding the towel out “Only if we dry off first. OK?”
The last American child on earth nodded frenetically and skipped into her father’s arms.
“How many pods are left?”
“We are down to the last twelve.”
“You should ready yourself.”
“I’ll go when you go Captain.”
“We don’t have a long window for this. The engines are programmed. We will escape the atmosphere soon. Your services are complete. Do not delay.”
The uniformed officer stood, and moved awkwardly into his superior’s personal space. The Captain rose, taking a quarter step back.
“It has been an honor working with you sir.” He put out an open palm.
The Captain took it. “And you Levitz. Your service has been impeccable.”
The younger man pulled the older into a full embrace. Tears started to well. “I don’t think we should say goodbye.”
Sarabell held the towel like a cape as she floated across the chamber. Malcom matched her path; starting a little behind, finishing a little ahead, making sure she didn’t knock into something that might damage her perfect little body. Even under these circumstances, he couldn’t help but get sucked into her vortex of joy. Her laughter was infectious, and soon he was smiling as wide as his face would allow.
“Super squirrel power!” She belted out, as her toes flexed against the ceiling.
Malcolm contorted his body preparing to receive the flying package. She gritted her teeth in flight, concentrating as if flexing her muscles would change her trajectory. That never worked on the surface either. If only their leaders had understood. Untethered they could only fly in the direction of their starting momentum.
The two collided, father wrapping daughter up in a bear hug, daughter extending bony little elbows and knees, readying for another takeoff.
“Again Daddy! Again!” she commanded.
The lights shifted to red and back to white, reminding Malcolm of the time. “This has to be the last flight Sarabell. I told you before.”
“I know.” The rare sour note in her sing-song voice betrayed an understanding beyond her age.
Her whole palms wrapped around Malcolm’s two smallest fingers He flew with his little girl across the chamber one last time. They collided into the surface and lowered down to the floor. Malcolm reengaged the gravity, sliding the control up slowly as his daughter hugged his neck. Her weight grew from less than a wisp of air to a small sack of potatoes. He let her hang for another moment, before taking her by the armpits and lowering her flailing giggles to the floor.
“We have to get ready Sarabell. Go get your special pajamas.”
She ran five steps and pushed the pressure release on the apparel drawer. Three vacuum sealed bags; two big, one small, lay inside.
“Here Daddy. I got yours too. I can open mine.” With a mighty little pull the bag bloomed. Sarabell dug in the opening and pulled out her pajamas. She held up the plain hemp nightgown to her father. It was bigger than her shadow. “These don’t look special. Nothing sparkles.”
Malcolm opened his own garment bag with a frown. He pulled out an oversized nightshirt, pants, skullcap, socks and gloves. He inspected the inside of the pants, finding the bag for his man-parts, the extra lining in the rear. His hand felt the inside of the nightshirt, finding the bits of metal sown into the hemp to measure his pulse, his breath, his life. This was happening too fast. They never should have left the surface. He wasn’t ready to leave her behind.
“Do you know why these are special Sarabell?”
“Why?” Her arms were folded and her chin stuck out.
“They are the warmest pajamas you will ever wear.”
“I don’t wanna be warm. Not like that.” She thrust an index finger at him like a lightning bolt. “You keep me warm. I want my rainbow pajamas.”
Captain Truedow paced watching the readouts. They had never transported so many refugees in a single run before. He had also never left so many behind. A single escort followed, silently guarding their rear. Alone at the helm the Captain was tempted to take one final pass at the surface to try to get more, but there was too far to go. He had done what he could, but he shouldn’t have left her behind.
There wasn’t anyone waiting for him out there. All he could do was make the run, and if he woke, turn around, and speed back. Returning seventy six years later, who would be left? Amy was young enough, and smart. She might survive, but would she remember? They would all be gone from her life: her father, her husband, her daughter.
He could have stayed behind with her, but to do what? Campaign? Protest? Fight? Noah didn’t fight the rain. All he could do was ride it out in the biggest ship he could build. Truedow’s repurposed cruise ship might be an ark, but he was no Captain. This ship was built to make the trip on its own. Fiddling with the controls, while they hurtled through space at 400 times the speed of sound would only cause catastrophe. He didn’t really want to sleep through the thirty eight year trip, but he couldn’t trust himself not to check the communication feeds. He wouldn’t be a witness to the genocide. He wouldn’t read his daughter’s obituary or hear the tales of her success. If he knew she was OK, he had no doubt the guilt would eat him inside and he would take the helm, overriding their safe passage.
The dormitory log showed nine beds yet to be claimed. So many already asleep, dreaming of a new planet, a new life, a new America. How many would never dream? How many would never wake?
He kept pacing.
Malcolm got Sarabell to smile again as he shook into his own sleeping gear. He played the game they played most every night, putting things on backwards or inside out again and again until they fit just right. The sweetness mellowed as they got closer to bedtime.
When the lift opened in the dormitory chamber Sarabell pulled at his waist.
“Pick me up Daddy.”
“No honey. I need you to walk.” He bit his lip, as he denied himself her weight.
Together they stepped into the long dormitory, walking between rows of capsule shaped pods, each slowly turning as if on a rotisserie. They passed five dozen on each side before they came to a still open pod. A man was next to it, protracted on the floor, praying. When he heard Malcolm and Sarabell he raised his head.
“I thought I was the last one.” His face had reddened from the position. He was unfamiliar in his stasis garments.
Sarabell clawed at her father’s waist again. Malcolm instinctually positioned her behind him. “The last one? I thought there were hours until –“
“I don’t think so. It will happen soon. You should get to your pods.”
The lump in Malcolm’s gut ballooned. “We have been looking for ours. Did you see two? Together?”
The man raised himself up. “The only ones left should be down there.” He pointed towards a far corner. “You should hurry.”
Malcolm scooped up Sarabell. Her hands and feet locked around his neck and waist. He crisscrossed the aisles, moving between sleeping passengers and crew. Sarabell’s eyes watched the man who was still awake. She watched him climb into his pod. She watched him close his own chamber. Her body squeezed tighter when the pod exhaled a breath of gas and started to rotate.
He found the last pair in the far corner of the dormitory. From this vantage, the slow roll of white metal pods looked like shallow waves rising and falling across a flat sea. It was less than the passage across the gulf and while his feet were on the ground he tried not to drown from the depth of the journey. This was the only way. Malcolm counted his own breaths rising and falling against his daughter’s and moved his hands to peel her away.
“No Daddy. Not yet.” She protested in his ear.
“It is bedtime Sarabell. We’ve had our bath. We are in our pajamas. It is time for the long sleep.” He smiled thinly. She couldn’t see his fear. He bent at the waist, lowering both of them into the pod.
“No Daddy!” Her words had more force, more anger. “I don’t want to go to bed.”
“You have to honey. We both have to. I am going to be right next to you, right here.” She craned up to see and let go with her feet just enough that Malcolm could pry them off. Her hands held firm around his neck.
“You are too far away.” She said in a little girl command. “You need to be here!”
“I can’t Sarabell. You are a big girl. There isn’t enough room for both of us. You have to sleep in your own bed.” He pulled her hands from his shoulders and pushed himself away.
The padded nest looked so empty with only her, but she would fill it as she grew. Sarabell would probably be tall like her mother. Angry and scared she already mirrored Amy’s expressions. He would never forget that face. Why had she pushed them away? She could have made it to the ship too. Her father, the Captain would have surely waited. Malcolm pushed back the thoughts. Amy still believed in the symbolism of martyrs. If not for Sarabell he would have stayed too.
He breathed through his mouth. “You have to go to sleep now Sarabell.”
“NO! Not without you!” Her arms were crossed. She stomped a foot against the padding.
“You have to.” His voice was softer. “I love you Sarabell.”
Malcolm leaned in to kiss her one last time, and her arms stayed folded, defiant, angry, scared.
“I am going to close your cover now Sarabell. I’ll see you when we both wake up.”
“NOOO!” Her wail echoed through the whole chamber. Fear burst through the anger in a red faced, full lunged explosion. “NO DADDY. DON’T LEAVE ME. NOT LIKE MOMMY!”
Malcolm stepped back. He looked past his daughter, across the chamber. Maybe there was time? Maybe they could go back? Maybe it didn’t have to just be the two of them. He didn’t see another soul moving about. He didn’t hear anything but the offbeat breaths of forced gasses, the mechanical turn of the pods, and his daughter sobbing.
The lights began to dim. His eyes turned back to his child. Sarabell desperately reached out from the pod, both arms, both hands grasping towards him. She looked so small, so alone. Neither one of them had slept alone since they’d made it onboard. If only he knew if this was a lifeboat or a casket. Instinctually he lifted a hand to his face, to cover his quivering chin.
The acceleration was gradual, but exponential, the speed doubling again and again as the drives engaged. The escort dropped away. Anyone awake would feel the slingshot, as they escaped gravity. The long night of space enveloped them.
Captain Truedow locked out the amenities, sucking gasses from the vacant spaces. He consolidated the life support systems, emptying the bowels of the ship into the orchid pool, pumping the flower’s exhaled oxygen into the dormitory. The temperature of the ship’s extremities dropped, its core remaining warm, in a state of self-imposed hypothermia.
He looked at the dormitory list. The life support systems would last, as long as all of the passengers were in their pods, docile, asleep, until the arrival year. A few would die, unknown to their destination, forgotten by their departure. Most would wake: stiff, uncomfortable, and alive; the last of their family bloodlines, the last of a nation, but only if they all went to bed. There were still empty pods, including his own.
A trim of lights marked the edge of the pod. One tiny hand pushed up against the glass, just reaching it.
“I don’t want to go to sleep.” Her words were muffled.
The lump in his gut was still there. “I know Sarabell, but you’ll dream.”
“Will I see Mommy in my dreams?”
“I hope so Sarabell.”
“But I won’t see you?”
“You might. I am always there. I see you in my dreams all the time.”
“Why won’t Mommy be there when we get there?”
The stasis pod, built for one, sealed shut, exhaled and dimmed. He shifted, gently pressing her head against his shoulder, avoiding his daughter’s gaze.
“Will she be there when I wake up?”
“Let’s see if we can find her in our dreams Sarabell. I’ll find you in mine.” His hand found the spool of tubing, blindly plugging it into his daughter’s IV port.
“And I’ll find you in mine.” She nestled in, wrapping her loose arm tight around his chest. His fingers stretched wide between her shoulder blades, keeping her close. He stared at the dormitory ceiling. The pod began to slowly move.
“Yes, Daddy?” Her mouth opened wide into a yawn.
“Will you wake me when we get there?”
“I will Daddy. I promise.”
There were no messages from the surface. The escort had been unnecessary. No one would stop their journey, but they could never come back.
Captain Truedow didn’t bother to change in his chambers. He brought his stasis clothes to the dormitory and strolled through the pods. This was the last of them. In his heart of hearts he knew no one else would escape. No one else would survive, not even his daughter. Here they all were, broken pieces of families, thrown out into the dark night to find a new home. His mind returned to Noah. Had he mourned the ones he left behind? Surrounded by the ones he saved the guilt was crushing.
Truedow found the open pod in a far corner of the dormitory. He saw the little girl, the last of his own bloodline, sleeping in her father’s arms. He watched them rotate for a cycle, fearful neither would wake, but jealous of their fate together.
There was nothing more he could do. Silently he disrobed, and donned his sleep clothes. He folded his uniform carefully, leaving it at the feet of his granddaughter. He laid down in the open pod and pulled it shut. Ever cold and riddled with guilt, his thoughts remained with Noah, riding out the storm.