Claudius was going to be the first man to walk on another planet. Things didn't work out the way he planned.Â This is part 2, so click here to go read Part 1 first.
Punishment was never easy. It was unpredictable in how it would come, when it would come, and why it would come. But Punishment always came.
It was also unpredictable, how long he would stay in Punishment. Sometimes it was minutes, seconds, even, if Punishment was swift and physical, a punch in the stomach. Sometimes it was longer, when Punishment had him standing in a corner holding a cinder block over his head and looking over his shoulder to see if his quivering arms would be noticed and cause for more Punishment. Sometimes Punishment seemed like it lasted a lifetime.
In the future, as he drifted, Claudius would look at the speck-grown-to-dot and think itâ€¦ ironic? â€¦ that he had begun this by seeing the stars, but would end it without seeing them at all. With the sun behind him, its light blotted out the stars and ahead of him was nothing but blackness, so uniform and implacable that it might have been two dimensional. What would keep it from seeming two dimensional to Claudius, of course, was that he would, years from now, be hurtling through it like a particle of light, not nearly as fast, but faster than any man had ever traveled before and faster than any man would travel again. Claudius would not know that his speed through the cosmos would be very nearly the same as the speed of an electrical impulse along a neuron.
Punishment came the first time after he threw up just before They went out for Dinner.
The Babysitter was there. Mom and Dad were Dressed Up. They were Meeting Friends. And Claudius was sitting at the top of the stairs watching the comings and goings, the Babysitter getting her Note with Important Phone Numbers, Mom and Dad telling her what was in the Refrigerator and when Bedtime for him was.
Mom came up to him and kissed the top of his head. She picked him up and brought him downstairs, a load to carry because he was five years old.
â€œYou remember Jenna, right?â€ she asked him.
He threw up, leaning over and vomiting on Dadâ€™s Shoes. He straightened back up, throat hot and sticky and burning and feeling raw. His stomach turned over and over and he felt sweat form on his forehead.
Punishment was swift. The left side of his head flared with pain and he was knocked dizzy, falling from Momâ€™s arms and onto his hands and knees which themselves flared with pain and he started crying before he knew what he was crying about. He stared at Dadâ€™s Shoes in front of him, covered with what was left of his afternoon snack, cookies and juice. His stomach heaved. He choked, gasping for air. His head, still burning with pain and aching, was hit again in the back and his eyes squeezed shut and for the first time he saw the Stars behind his eyelids, a calm black area with twinkling lights that beckoned him and called to him and seemed peaceful. He kept his eyes closed, tears leaking from them, as his pounding skull was pressed down and his face rubbed into the vomit on the Shoes until he inhaled some of it. He kept his eyes closed and cried and looked at the Stars.
Mom and Dad went out for the Evening. They left while he was still on his hands and knees on the floor. Just before He closed the Door, Dad turned to Jenna and said â€œDonâ€™t let him wash his face.â€ Jenna just nodded.
When Mom and Dad had gone Out, Claudius sat up. He was not sure what had Just Happened but he did not Like It. He looked at Jenna. He blinked and each time he did, he saw the Stars again. He liked that. He liked that a lot better than what had Just Happened. He blinked slower.
Â â€œIâ€™ve got an idea,â€ said Jenna. â€œSit there for a minute.â€ She walked into the kitchen. He sat there, in the puddle of his vomit. He heard Water Running. She came back with a washcloth. She wiped it carefully over his face. Then his hands. She gave him a glass of water. â€œDrink this,â€ she said. He did. â€œFeel better?â€ He nodded. She looked at the Floor. â€œWeâ€™ll just leave that there for now. Your dad doesnâ€™t have to know.â€
She picked him up and he said â€œWhat are Stars?â€
She looked him. â€œI donâ€™t know. Big balls of light in space, I guess. I donâ€™t know much about them. Why?â€
â€œI see Them.â€
â€œSure. At night.â€
â€œIâ€™d rather see Them,â€ Claudius said. He still felt woozy. He meant I'd rather see Them Than See What Daddy Did but he could not think how to phrase that.
â€œYou would?â€ Jenna considered. She looked at him. â€œItâ€™s a little chilly outside.â€
Â â€œI guess you canâ€™t get any sicker,â€ she said. Wanting to humor him. Wanting to put some distance between them and how the night had begun. She carried him Outside, leaving the Big Door open and carefully shutting the Screen Door behind her. She carried him out to the backyard, where he could see among the Trees.
â€œThere they are,â€ she said. He looked Up. The Night Sky, bordered by dark shadowy leafy Shapes, was filled with twinkling Stars. He stared up at Them All, head tilted back ninety degrees.
Jenna watched him. As she did, he closed his eyes slowly. Head still tilted back, he sat there, motionless, eyes closed, and he smiled.Eclipse appears first on Under The Eyes Of God, the web's best site for horror.