Fanfic: “All the Time in the World”

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.

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It’s a major award!

Or at least it feels like it, even though there are no aesthetically questionable lighting fixtures involved…

Near the end of March, I had hit something of a creative low. I’d finally completed a new story for an anthology’s deadline, was pretty happy with how it turned out, felt confident about it getting in — and, of course, it didn’t. As much as I’ve learned to bounce back from rejection (at least after a day or so), it’s always a letdown to feel like your work is perfect for something, and have such good feelings about it, and then find out you were completely wrong. I knew I had to send it back out again (always the best balm for any rejection letter), but because of a lot of other things going on at the time, I felt too tired and disheartened to figure out where.

And then I ran across a link on Twitter to a writing contest.

Whose theme just happened to suit the story perfectly.

With only two days left to submit.

So I shrugged, and sent the story in, and waited, and hoped, while at the same time trying desperately not to get my hopes up (because it’s been that kind of year), all the time thinking, “wouldn’t it be funny if…”

And now I can say that my story “The Frog Who Swallowed the Moon” won the fiction grand prize in the latest Spark contest:

http://sparkanthology.org/contests/five/

It’s my first writing contest win — for fiction, anyway, not counting things like essay contests in high school, so it’s pretty exciting.

This sort of thing has happened before — story gets rejected only to wind up getting published someplace that’s somehow better in the end — but not quite this dramatically, so in addition to being a nice ego and confidence boost, it’s also a nice boost to the kind of faith you have to have to keep writing and revising and sending stuff out time after time.

Although I have to admit, I always feel weird about writing these sorts of announcements. There’s such a fine line, to me, between announcing one’s accomplishments and sounding like you’re bragging about them. I’m taken back to that feeling of elementary school, sitting at my desk with a completed test, waiting for somebody else to finish and hand theirs in before I get up, so everyone won’t know I’m the first one to finish. And on the flip side, I know what it’s like to feel that everybody else’s success always happens during your own driest spells, and to write congratulatory comments with your teeth gritted.

In the end, though, I come back to this, a passage that’s been quoted so much it should feel like a threadbare cliché, but one that still rings true to me:

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

-Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

And besides, I got a particularly snarky rejection letter a couple days later. So the universe is still in balance. 🙂