This week, I added my 500th book to my Goodreads “to-read” shelf. Which doesn’t count the several hundred books on my Kindle I haven’t read, or the stacks of physical books waiting on my real shelves, or even the handwritten to-read lists that wind up in my journal…
…all of which made me think of the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last,” my favorite, in which a mild-mannered bookworm finally has time to read… because he’s apparently the last one left alive on Earth.
So, to celebrate my nuclear-holocaust-worthy reading list, here’s a bit of fanfic I wrote a few years back, when I’d watched the episode yet again, could no longer bear to leave Henry Bemis standing helplessly amid those stacks of books, and so decided to imagine a more hopeful future for him. (And yeah, it’s kind of sentimental, so if you’re allergic to that sort of thing, you’ve been warned…)
“All the Time in the World”
by Renee Carter Hall
inspired by the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last”
(teleplay by Rod Serling, based on a short story by Lynn Venable)
The problem, now, wasn’t what he couldn’t see. It was what he thought he saw, the wavering forms that washed around him as he made his way through what was left of the world. Every morning, the sun rose on a nightmare version of an Impressionist painting, a palette of grays and browns with occasional splashes of sparks arcing from power lines that had not, yet, gone dead.
The first three days, afterward, he spent searching for the gun. Or for another one–it didn’t matter. Anything that could fire a bullet would do. In those first anguished hours, if despair could have killed him, if one could truly die of a broken heart, that would have been his fate. But that merciful endless slumber passed him by, left him breathing and somehow sane — too sane, he reflected — and so he began the search, picking up anything that seemed to be the right size and shape, feeling for a barrel, feeling for a trigger, then dropping the piece of wood or twisted metal and moving on.
He resented his body for feeling hungry. Every day he vowed not to eat, to die in the only way easily available to him. And every evening the descending sun saw him sitting amid the wreckage of humanity, dutifully cranking open another can. Now that he could no longer read the labels, it became a demented kind of game to see if he could guess the can’s contents by the label’s color, or perhaps by a fuzzy image he could make out. He became best at guessing tomatoes, but different varieties of beans proved almost impossible to distinguish.
The fourth day, after he gave up on the gun, he threw the can opener as far as he could and heard it land, somewhere ahead of him, with a rattling clank.
The fifth day, weeping, he searched for the can opener until he found it.