La Fino de la Homar' by Kenneth Burke (1913)

"La Fino de la Homar"
By Kenneth D. Burke, 10-B-1
The Peabody
(high school literary magazine)
January, 1913

Midnight! And the heavens! Some stars still twinkled brightly, defying the influence of the calm June night, others blinked drowsily, as if determined to last until sunrise, long past their time for retiring, while the rest slowly drifted from sleep to wakening, then with a start seemed to realize their weakening forces, and leapt into brightness, but only to return to their former lethargy. The moon, the night’s sentinel of vigilance, had just departed, taking with her every single cloud which might have marred the even beauty of the scene.

Astronomer Lowell saw this as he gazed dreamily upward. The peaceful scene seemed to recall something to his sleepy mind, for he slowly rose and walked over to his telescope, beside which lay three photographs, taken during the same number of preceding evenings. They were, to the human eye, exactly alike. Each had, besides a myriad of stars, a small streak upon it, which seemed to be in a position similar to that of the others. Nevertheless, on each plate the streak had move a little farther East, and had become somewhat longer than on the previous one. This proved that a planet, or a comet, or something else comparatively near the earth, had been discovered, and that it was gaining in speed. It could not be a star, because a star is so far away that its motion would remain unnoticed. Therefore it was something probably having a distance of not more than a billion miles, if even that.

With this in mind, the astronomer returned to the window, and, sitting down, tried to figure out what his discovery could be. Mechanically the restless eyes turned in the direction of their master’s interest, thus falling again upon the peaceful scene of the heavens. The effect was magical. Gradually the noble head, full of those high thoughts which only he who lives with the stars can feel, sank to the sill, and soon the winged fantastics were once again set free.

+ + + + +

Suddenly he jumped up. He was excited! And why should he not be? Possibly that little glowing speck of sky which he had found, and which he now called his own, was a sun! Not a sun like ours, but dead, as ours will be in years to come, a sun shining only by reflection, as the sphere on which we live, but maybe a hundred times larger than it, a sun which, cold and barren, had for thousands of years plunged through the terrible blackness of space, and was now fast approaching our finely-governed little kingdom with the possible intention of carrying off with it, away form the warms of our solar protector, some of his subjects, and maybe, even the earth!

Lowell ran to his telescope, and was soon examining through that enormous instrument, every detail of his “sun.” He was quickly satisfied that it was not a comet; a comet would have been hazy. In like manner he eliminated asteroid, and nebula, until the first theory was the only one remaining. Then, rapidly, white sheets of paper became black with figures. It was now very late, or rather, early, but he was no longer tired. Fervently he rushed through the calculations, nodding in approval, or shaking his head in disappointment. Finally, he turned quietly, and, opening a book, ran his eyes along the columns until they rested upon something which seemed to be satisfactory. Beside that lay the date, September 1.

Gravely the astronomer closed the book and returned to the window, not looking upward for a time, but slowly gazing around at the peaceful scene of landscape stretched before him. Then as he reverently raised his head to Heaven, the need of words was felt, and softly they were murmured.

“O mysterious Power above, O Worker of the heavenly miracles which I so love to watch, The Book which deals of Thee and Thine has told us that our earth should in such manner perish, but yet it seems so terrible. Still I am thankful, Ruler of our world, that I have lived to see this last miracle, the most wonderful of them all!”

+ + + + +

Two months had passed. The great dead sun had now approached so near, that he, with his borrowed brightness, outshone even the splendid Jupiter. Already the inhabitants of the earth had become alarmed, and while most of them did not know just why, experienced a strange sensation whenever they looked upon this destroyer.

The astronomers, although they had given out the information that the end of the world was approaching, were too busily engaged in preparing for their last observation to take the time for explaining the causes of the coming disaster. They knew them, and believed them, and that was all that was necessary.

Another month passed. The messenger of death was hastening onward at the rate of fifty miles a second!

“Will this terrible monster hit us?” cried the people in alarm.

“No,” answered the astronomers, “a death of agony awaits us, we are not to be blessed by such a sudden death as you propose.”

Another month! The people laughed to scorn the faithful students of the sky.

“Has not that ‘messenger of death’, as you call it, already lost its brightness? Do you not yourselves acknowledge that it is going away?”

“Yes,” the astronomers admitted, “it has passed our system, and returned into space’s awful blackness, possibly to do to other worlds what it has done to us. Wait, and in two more weeks, you, too, shall realize what this great body has accomplished.”

The last day of the two weeks arrived, and with it an ever-growing sense of stifling! The air was hot and damp. The sun could seldom be seen through the thick clouds which constantly hung over the sky, but when a glimpse of it could be obtained, the brightness was almost blinding. The suffering race on earth clamored for an explanation. The astronomers answered that they were now trying to prepare one, simple enough to be understood by all.

A week! The heat was almost unbearable, and already hundreds had died. The astronomers issued their proclamation, in which not one single word had been wasted.

The people seized it eagerly and read, “In another week we shall all be dead, owing to the influence of ‘the great messenger of death.’ That body approached just near enough to our planet to temporarily stop the motion of the earth around the sun, then it departed. This was on the first of September. But it had accomplished a great deal in that short time. Our own sun was able to hold us on account of the greater gravitation which it could exert over us, since it was closer. Otherwise we should now be plunging through the darkness with the ‘messenger’, to die of cold, instead of heat. But when our earth was deprived of its ability to revolve, the only means which had previously prevented it from falling into the sun was gone. It is the same principle as when one ties a stone to a string and swings it around his head. When the stone stops going around, it falls. So with the earth.

“As we are now nearing the sun, its intense heat has evaporated all our waters, making this oppressive dampness, which is, nevertheless, the only thing that has preserved our life until now. But soon this very dampness must become so great as to kill us, if heat does not, and therefore none will live to see the last terrible second, when the earth falls into the burning sun, united again with its parent!

“So must be the end of mankind!”

The last week! All had died but Lowell. Was he, the man who had discovered this “great messenger,” to live to see its heartless plans fulfilled? No,– he, too, would soon be with his friends again. As he lay looking upward into those heavy clouds, he became aware of a bright light shining through them.

“It is the sun,” he murmured weakly, “His rays are piercing the clouds. The end is not far off!”

The light became unbearable. The dying astronomer strove to keep it from his eyes, but was now too weak to move. Then suddenly it shone splendidly, and–

+ + + + +

The morning sun was shining full in Lowell’s face. He arose, and looking over the beautiful plane below, asked warmly, “But could such beauty perish?”