New Millennium

It was the turn of the millennium. Harold woke to the sound of his son Eric crying. He looked over to his wife, lying in the bed beside him, but she was fast asleep, and he knew she had stayed awake with their kid. He moved carefully, pulling the covers off only his part of the bed, trying not to disturb her. She had been through a lot recently and she needed some sleep. Once he was up, he moved as fast as he could to the rocker where Eric lay, picking up the little boy, and swaying him back and forth, hoping to calm the noise. He heard his wife turn over and mutter something, and he quietly shushed the little kid. Eric seemed to have become fascinated with his finger that he had put up when making the motion, so Harold began moving the finger this way and that, watching the baby turn its eyes to follow it. As he distracted the child, he began creeping out of the house, wanting to get the child away from his sleeping wife in case it started crying again. He took a little stool with him as he stepped out into the cool air, and sat outside his front door, rocking his baby.

“Ivan thinks tomorrow is doomsday,” came a soft, wispy voice from behind Harold. Harold had not heard anyone moving around, so the voice startled him, and he turned sharply, only to see that it was just his neighbor, Ian, an elderly man with white hair just as wispy as his voice. The old man had apparently been sitting down outside as well, and Harold had simply failed to notice him.

“Ivan’s mad. He’s been seeing doomsdays every week for most of his life. Him predicting tomorrow would be a wonderful day would scare me more at this point.” As he said this, he worked to get the baby distracted again. When he had startled, he had moved his hand out of Eric’s field of view, and now the baby seemed uninterested in the finger, its face screwing up into the makings of a howl.

“More than Ivan have been calling this one doomsday.” This was a new voice, Rand Smith, who had just walked out of his own house, rubbing his hands and watching his breath fog up in front of him. “Half the preachers in this county have been screaming about the end times from their pulpit for the last month. I heard there is a cult who are climbing up Mt. Knot and waiting for god to take them way on the turn of the century.” Harold managed to turn the scrunched up face of his son into a more relaxed expression by rubbing the babies head, massaging it carefully.

“You know, tomorrow actually isn’t the turn of the century,” whispered Ian, with a thoughtful look. “The new century will actually start the year after. Since the first year of our lord was year one, and not year zero, each new century starts at one as well. Don’t know about millenniums though, not much precedent there.” Harold shook his head. He knew none of the crackpots were going to be thinking about the next year. Hell, most of them didn’t believe their would be a next year. It was all those zeroes in a row that got them scared somehow. Everyone had grown up with nines in all their years, ever since anyone could remember, and now it was changing, that comfort no longer their. The nines were replaced by nothing, just zeros, which were hardly even real numbers.

“You should tell that to my old woman,” said Rand, “She has been talking my ear off about this whole thing for the last week. Scared to death of it she is. She made me promise not to drink or smoke till after we are sure the world isn’t ending, thinks it will help get me into heaven.”

“Probably don’t want him telling her then,” said Harold, happily watching his child drifting into sleep as he continued to move his hands gently through the kids hair. “If she learns that the apocalypse might happen next year, she might hold you to that promise for longer than you thought.”

“You might be right at that. Never mind Ian, don’t be tellin’ my wife nothin’, unless its calm and reassuring words. I had been all excited about this, but all the worrying and the fussin’ about just make me want it over and done with. I’ll be happy when every starts feeling OK with the zeros.”

“Well, one way or the other, we’ll find out tomorrow I suppose,” mused Ian. “If Ivan’s right, he won’t get a chance to be smug about it, but if he’s full of hot air, then we do. Not that that ever slowed him down before. The man’s a force of nature, a font of incredible claims and exaggerated suppositions.” Harold and Rand laughed, thinking back on some of Ivan’s more absurd doomsday predictions.

Harold started to say something, to tell an anecdote about Ivan, but something made him stop. This time it did feel different. Even though it was just a trick of the number system that made this year special, it being nothing all that different in a world of twelve fingered people, it still felt ominous. He could make light of Ivan, but he could not quite bring himself to compare this time with all the others. He continued to rock his child, even though it had already returned to slumber. Something of this melancholy thought must have struck the other two, because they were silent as well, the early morning air seeming to mute everything but the sound of breathing. The three all looked at nothing in particular, gazing not at each other, and not really at anything at all. Then, they heard a rooster crow, and the spell was broken.

“Well, I’d better stoke up my stove,” said Harold, standing carefully, not wanting to wake his son. “People are going to be hungry, new century or old. Bread is bread.”

Rand walked over and clapped him on the back. “Right you are Harold. And metal is metal. My horseshoes aren’t going to be bending themselves.” Rand moved off, heading around back to bring in a new bag of coal. Harold started to turn back towards his house, but stopped for a moment.

“What are you going to do Ian? I heard you had finished up the last of your work and were going to wait till next year before you started up again.” The old man smiled a wicked little smile.

“Thought I might join the cult that’s climbing Mt. Knot. If they are right, then I might get to shake hands with Christ. If not, I can tell them to try again next year.” The pair smiled at each other, and Ian stood up too, then began walking in the direction of the mountain.

“Stay safe,” Harold said in a muffled voice, wanting Ian to hear him, but not too wake the baby. The old man waved his hand as if to say “No worries”, then turned behind another house. Harold stared after the man for a bit, drifting off into thought again, but then shook his head and turned back inside. He put the sleeping child back down in its cradle, and moved over to the stove. When the year changed, sometimes people liked to buy bread shaped like the new number. He thought about how he was going to do it this year. He had never had to get four numbers to stick together before.


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One Response to “New Millennium”

  1. hippolar Says:

    Intriguing tale! I like your smooth, casual storytelling style. Again, your characters really come alive and feel so natural and realistic, even in the relative shortness of your piece. Fun. Would love to see where this story goes from here.

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