under the light of a dying star

nested worlds #1

Nested Worlds was going to be a series of short vignettes about people, places, and things, discovered in the universe simulator Nested created by Orteil.

This is the only one I ever wrote.

Content warning: grief

Under the light of a dying star, Aaron McBarnes sits in front of his television. The show he’s watching is hilarious, sending him into fits of laughter, reminding him of his grandmother. They would sit together most evening, in this very room, watching reruns of old serials from her youth, as she commented on the unfolding events with her sharp tongued wit, making him giggle. He remembers the day he became a doctor, a dream he’d had ever since he watched her die in that hospital, unable to do anything but stand by and watch her chest rise and fall, pumped by the machine sitting next to him, by her bed. Grief is a strange emotion. It arrives with an intensity that dulls and fades, but can return at the slightest trigger, stabbing into your heart and stomach, making you relive it all over again. He misses her.

In the house next door, Linda Hunt and Dennis Ford sit together in silence as they eat their dinner. Neither of them is happy with their marriage. Linda remembers that first unforgettable kiss, under the red light of the setting sun. Dennis had taken her to the modern art museum that day, and told her all about the methods and motivations of the various artists. She didn’t follow everything, but she loved to hear him speak with such passion. She remembers the day their daughter was born, the sight of her screaming face, and joy she felt to hold her close. But now, as she sits in silence, picking at the greens on her plate, she thinks about the boredom, stagnant life she now lives. “This relationship isn’t working,” she thinks. “This isn’t why I got married.”

Dennis, watched his wife move the leaves around her plate, lost in thought. Watching her hands move around the plate, he remembers the soft hands of his first love caressing his face. She had held him as they lay on his bed, gazing into his eyes, moving her finger ever so slightly against his cheek. It has been years since he’d felt that feeling of connection and care. Being honest with himself, he has been pretty low these past few years. “I regret getting married,” he thinks, scratching his forehead, before rising from his seat, taking his empty plate into the kitchen without comment. Perhaps he could lose himself in that old dog-eared copy of his favourite book that he could never quite let go of. That had helped in the past.

On the other side of the city, in the house known by the neighbourhood kids as the “creepy green house”, Alan Ford and Charles Johnson laze about in bed, reminiscing about their childhoods. Charles talks about flying a kite with his cousin, under the red light of the dying star, feeling the tug of the string and the firmness of the older boy’s guiding hands. Then he remembers what came next. “I won’t make the same mistake twice,” he thinks as he listens to Alan talk about the party that shaped his life.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the study, beneath an old painting of a rancid magician dancing with an evil-looking mirror in a castle inherited with the strange old house, Jose Hernandez sits in front of his computer, waiting for Grindows to boot. He had already given up on watching television on the old black and white set in the living room, and has decided to update his existentialist blog instead. While he waits he falls into the memory of the trip that first inspired him to start it. He remembers sitting beneath the stars in the mountains, alone but for the wind. He had looked out into that endless sky and wondered what existed out there. Were any of those faint dots worlds like this one, inhabited by thinking feeling creatures? Do they too grow old and die? Do they believe in an afterlife? “What will happen when I die?” he thinks, as the computer makes the familiar rising sound of the boot completing. “Oh, that’s going on my blog.”