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Creative Sunday: The Solstice Engine by Jed Looker

By Apartment613 on January 24, 2021


Welcome to this month’s edition of Creative Sundays on Apt613: A monthly themed showcase for short fiction and creative nonfiction by local writers. This month’s theme is stories no one would believe. We hope you enjoy these stories, real and imagined.

By Jed Looker

“Have you heard the tale of the Solstice Monument?” the man asked from across the bar. His clothes looked modern in a way I had not seen before, like how science-fiction shows imagined future fashion.

“Hmm?” I replied.

“The large sundial in the park across from the embassy, some eight metres in diameter. Has two red, concentric circles linked by spokes and a single, dark line pointing northwest,” he said.

It was Sunday afternoon, my favourite time to grab a lager—well after brunch but before dinner. And quiet. It was a rainy day in June and I wanted to get out of the apartment, read the ByTowne Cinema Calendar, and perhaps catch an evening show.

I gave the man a dismissive nod and resumed reading my show times.

“It has two parts, you see—at one end of the park the sundial, and at the other the solstice runway.” He emptied his pint, dropped a few coins on the bar, and walked over to sit at the stool next to me. “On the 20th the dark line on the sundial will align perfectly with the runway and the sun.”

I did remember reading an article a while back about the mysterious nature of the monument.

“Something about Champlain’s statue holding a Knights Templar astrolabe?” I asked.

“No, that is misdirection. But the monument does have something to do with when and where the sun sets,” he said, reaching into his shirt pocket to extract a metallic disc the size of a coaster, “and this.”

Giving in to the inevitable conversation, and my own curiosity, I asked what it was.

“See for yourself,” he said, handing the object over. It looked like an intricate part of a clock or hard drive, and was heavy. A deep groove ran through the centre and engraved along the side were symbols that looked like a long math equation.

The man leaned in and said, “It’s a key.”

I gave the stranger a questioning glance, eyebrows raised.

“A key to—” he paused, as if weighing my skepticism “—someplace quite different than here.”

Even if I was being put on, I was having fun and decided to play along. I asked how the key worked.

“Place it at the centre of the sundial at sunset on the 20th. Align that groove with the dark line pointing northwest. When the sun dips halfway below the horizon, a door will open.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle as I handed the object back.

The man shrugged, as if to acknowledge the absurdity of his own story and said, “That’s what they say, anyway.” He stood from his stool and dismissed the key with a gesture. “Take it,” he said. “I have others.”

“You an astrologist?” I asked, as he walked toward the door.

“A kind of historian,” he replied.

Two weeks later I was strolling through Major’s Hill Park on a beautiful summer evening that seemed to last for years. It was Sunday, and close to sundown, the park simmering with the day’s activities, the air that fresh/sweet smell of cut grass and Beaver Tails. I moseyed around a pick-up game of ultimate and a group of kids drawing chalk rocket ships, toward the south end of the park.

I stepped onto the concrete sundial and looked northwest. The sun was starting to sink below the horizon, perfectly in line with the solstice runway. It was hard to think of this giant monument as anything else but a salute to the longest day of the year.

Again, the weight of the key in my hand as I inspected the mysterious engravings along its side. I was probably being silly, I thought, but it was a nice evening for a walk. No harm. I walked to the centre of the sundial and placed the metallic disc at my feet as instructed, and waited.


More nothing.

I laughed at the story I would have at my next dinner party—

—and then felt a light tingling in my fingers and toes.

And saw a shimmer of refracted light to my left.

That shimmer again, but this time brighter, and everywhere.

The air was suddenly dry and smelled like ozone. Then there were bursts of static charge as a sphere started to materialize around me. It was like being wrapped in an enormous witch ball, a bubble of swirling yellows and blues and purples—

—and then it shattered—no, popped—outward. Like a balloon, into tiny shards that evaporated into nothing.

What I saw next was incredible.

I was in the park, but it was different, older perhaps, and surrounded by tall buildings that reflected the orange sky. I stood at the centre of what looked like a glass hanger or laboratory. Around the sundial stood people wearing white and grey coveralls with protective goggles, face masks, and gloves, some writing on tablets—all staring at me in wonder.

“Welcome,” said a voice from the far side of the room. A man emerged through the crowd to greet me.

“Do not be alarmed,” he said. “Our scientists are excited to see you, is all. This is an historic day!”

It was the man from the pub.

I was awestruck as he made his way onto the sundial. He was wearing the same clothes as the other day, under a white lab coat. The stranger looked at me with a smile and grabbed me by both arms.

“Welcome to the future,” he said.

This story was inspired by a CBC News article featuring Andrew King and his investigation into the mystery of the Solstice Monument in Major’s Hill Park.

Jed Looker teaches design research at Algonquin College and spends much of his free time reading speculative fiction. He lives in Ottawa with his husband and two dogs.