Auggie Vernon and the Eclipse

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Auggie Vernon and the Eclipse

He has everything he needs set up in the back
yard: two triangular UPS shipping tubes
held together by duct tape in the middle, with
a pin-pricked piece of foil on one end and a piece
of white paper on the other end of the box,

inside, near the viewing portal. Several pairs of
dark Ray-Ban sunglasses, each pair larger than the
last so Auggie can wear more than one pair at the
same time. A welder’s glass. The Bible. And cousin
Vern’s brand new, high-powered telescope, which

Auggie had to sneak into the basement while his
wife was at work because she’s a nurse and has been
scaring everyone with her warnings about light-
induced retinal injuries, which can occur
without any discomfort or pain since there are

no pain-receptors in the retina and which
don’t occur for at least several hours after
the damage is done. But nothing’s going to stop
Auggie from seeing the full solar eclipse, though
he’s not interested in the eclipse itself. No,

he’s not interested in the color of the sky
changed by the refraction of light. He doesn’t
care if birds or bats or other animals get
confused and prepare themselves for night. He ‘s simply
not concerned with the umbra, that vast shadow

of totality rapidly advancing like
a tidal wave across the landscape towards him. And
he doesn’t care about the photosphere shining
through lunar valleys and creating Baily’s Beads
— a familiar feature of total eclipses —

when the razor-thin solar crescent breaks into
a chain of bright beads as the moon covers the sun.
Or the Diamond Ring effect, when the sun’s inner
corona forms a wedding band around the moon
with a single diamond of blinding white light. Or

the solar corona which appears when the sun
is completely covered by the moon, though that’s the
only time the corona is visible to
the naked eye, and though the corona looks like
white streamers radiating outward. Auggie’s not

interested in the sun’s prominences either,
those gigantic, crimson, flame-like jets and loops of
gas around the edge of the sun. No, what Auggie
Vernon’s interested in is Hell. And though he can’t
find any biblical corroboration for

it, he’s pretty sure there’s only one place in the
whole universe that’s big enough and hot enough
and infernal enough to serve as Hell, and that
place is right in the middle of the sun. So that’s
what all these preparations are for — Hell. If he

times it correctly and aims the telescope right in
the center of it all, Auggie figures he’ll be
able to see all those damned souls, crammed so close and
tight together they look like urban tenement
dwellers, all of them squirming and shrieking like they’re

in a blast furnace, only with their skin growing
right back on the bones after it’s melted off so
they can suffer all over again, for the rest
of eternity. And Auggie thinks there’s a good
chance he’ll get to see plenty of demons, too. They

should be easy to distinguish from the rest of
the damned on account of the horns growing out of
their heads, the leathery wings on their backs, and their
cloven-hoofed feet. And then, if he’s really lucky
and his courage holds out, Auggie thinks he might get

a chance to see the Big Guy himself — the biggest,
baddest guy of them all — Satan. Lucifer. Prince of
Darkness. Beelzebub. Mephistopheles. Of
course, Auggie doesn’t know what the Big Guy looks like,
but he guesses he’ll recognize Satan when he

sees him. Only Auggie won’t have to shout, Get thee
behind me, ’cause he’ll be safe here on earth, about
a billion-trillion light-years away from the sun.
And according to Auggie’s calculations, the
best time to see Hell is right after the solar

eclipse, when the Devil thinks he’s still hidden by
the moon. After Auggie’s seen Hell and can describe
the Devil to everyone else, he won’t have to
worry that his unemployment benefits ran
out or that his wife is threatening to divorce

him unless he finds another job. Why, people
from all over the world will just throw money at
him — piles and piles of money — just for the privilege
of hearing Auggie Vernon talk about Hell. Oh,
yes, Auggie thinks as he puts down the taped shipping

tubes and takes off the welder’s glass, it’ll be worth
retinal damage, with or without pain. Oh, yes, he
thinks, as he aims the telescope toward the sun, it
would even be worth eclipse-blindness, despite the
fact that his cousin Vern tried to scare him, saying

that Satan’s face, as the last thing Auggie saw, would
be burned on Auggie’s retina and would be the
only thing he’d see for the rest of his life. Vern
was jealous ’cause he hadn’t thought of looking for
Hell himself. Yes, Auggie thinks, as he pulls off the

sunglasses, if only he’s brave enough to look
at the Devil’s face, he’ll be a bigger man than
anyone else in the history of the whole
human race. If he can look the Devil in the
eye without flinching, he’ll learn all the secrets

of the universe. Except for the ones that God
didn’t even tell the angels before they fell.
It’ll be the closest Auggie Vernon ever
gets to fame and immortality, he thinks as
he takes a deep breath, grabs his Bible, and raises

the telescope to the fierce light of the sun. It’s
the closest Auggie Vernon will ever get to
being somebody important, the closest he’ll
ever get to respect, the closest he’ll ever get to
beholding the ever-radiant face of God.

Excerpts from
Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

Field Trip to the Serpent Mound

The Lies Our Parents Tell Us

Should, Should Not

Portrait of the Poet as a Woman

Holiday

The Toast

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Love in the Time of Dinosaurs
© 1980-1986, 2000-2007, 2013 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman.
May not be reprinted or excerpted without written permission.
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