I wrote the following short story as an assignment in English class when I was 14 years old. I present it verbatim, and will comment afterwards.
And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man, and beast, and creepy thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them
But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
Suthen shut the Bible, and lay deep in thought, “Do I believe this stuff?” she asked herself. “Do I believe all this about Adam and Eve?”
She roused herself and stood up. She had been trying to decide her convictions since the comment Noel had made this afternoon over the PA system, “We have come up with something startling on our last visit to Jupiter’s 22nd natural satellite. We are about to have an immediate lift off to that moon, Ararath. All personal luggage is to be packed and ready at terminal 3606 by 0800 hours.
You will be briefed on your mission upon arrival. Bring your Bibles. Yes you heard me. Message Ends.”
Looks of astonishment had crossed the office. They were not created by the fact of the early take-off, but by the reference to the Bible. Noel was not a religious man but then only the obstinate were religious since the proof that creation was impossible by the philosopher Derthen.
When Suthen arrived to her quarters she searched through an old chest. Suthen could have sworn that her Great-Aunt, Siuk, had given her the bible that she had purchased for a fancy dress ball from an antique store.
The next morning Suthen arrived early at the terminal at 0790 hours in the hope that being the only person there that she might persuade Noel to explain his cryptic command. Noel however did not arrive until 0802 hours.
“Sorry I’m late” he called to the impatient crew who had been waiting for almost a full four minutes, “I would have got here earlier, but I woke up with my first sore throat in four years and my transporter took a while to adjust to my voice.”
The crew climbed aboard and spaced themselves apart on the lower floor. Standing two metres apart on a bare floor they instantly fell asleep as the three second count-down began.
Feeling refreshed, Suthen woke to find herself staring with the rest of the crew into a screen showing the surface of Ararath, the 22nd moon of Jupiter. It appeared much as she expected except for a large green hemisphere sitting flat on the surface.
Noel explained, “We noticed the hemisphere only on a recent transmission from an orbitting satellite. We landed and had a look around. You will never believe what we found. In that green hemisphere are two of every type of animal on earth in suspended animation. Even as we speak, our instruments are detecting a large radioactive cloud issuing forth from thousands of volcanoes on the earth’s surface.”
He continued, “Everyone interpreted the bible incorrectly, it was not not telling us of a past happening, it was predicting a future one. Noel and the ark saving mankind from the flood of radiation and radioactivity. Soon I will send a probe to the surface to test whether the Mountain, Ararath is ready to land on. Don’t you see? The probe is the dove. The tale of Noah was off by thousands, even millions of years!”
There was silence abord as the crew sorted the jumbles of feelings
“Do you mean that we are the only survivors of mankind, that we are cutoff from earth for forty days and forty nights?” asked Suthen.
“I can only hope that the bible was right when it told of the length of the flood. It may have meant forty years. We have enough supplies to remain suspended for close to 1000 years, so I am confident that the Lord will keep us. That is, if we really are the chosen few.”
“Look”, someone shouted
They all turned to see the entire earth consumed in all the colours of the spectrum, the largest rainbow ever seen by mankind.
And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died.
I’ve tried to remain faithful to the original punctuation, capitalisation, etc. in the manuscript, even when I desperately wanted to edit it. The blog post title is even the title of the page.
I must admit to making one substitution. Where this copy has “quarters”, the original had “commode”. I don’t think that word means what I thought it meant, and the gaffe was a little distracting.
When it comes to the time of 0790, I like to think I originally meant that as a deliberate jarring reminder that the setting was different – an homage, perhaps, to the opening sentence of 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
I was going through an old box today, and remembered that I have been meaning to hunt this manuscript down and re-read it since about 1990.
You see, back in May 1985, my English teacher handed out the marked essay. All that was written on it was a tiny, handwritten mark: 18/20. That was a much higher mark than my average in that class, and a very good mark for an English short story.
Then she called me to her desk and explained that she had marked it the previous day, but had been thinking about it since then, and decided it was even better after mulling over. She wanted to award it an extra mark – 19/20.
The problem was when she had written 18/20 in her tiny handwriting, she hadn’t been very legible. The bottom loop on the 8 was so thin as to be non-existent. I had already misread it as 19/20! So when she made this grand gesture to change it to 19/20, it was rather anticlimactic for both of us.
Being a snotty and cynical 14 year old, I wasn’t terribly impressed with an outlier high mark. I didn’t think the quality of this submission was particularly better than my normal fare. Frankly, I thought the only reason it had done so well was because of its religious overtones. I had accidentally pandered to the teacher’s prejudices, and hit the mark jackpot.
Hence my plan in 1990 to dig it up and re-read it with an older eye; to see if it really had any merit.
Alas, I now see the problem with this idea. I don’t have a standard to measure it against. I must look to see if I have another essay written contemporaneously… sometime in the next 23 years…