Third from the Sun | Richard Matheson (1950)

His eyes were open several seconds before the alarm was supposed to go off. Beside him, his wife touched his arm. He knew what she was going to say.

“Are we still going?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said and he felt her fingers grip his arm even more tightly.

“You’re certain we can get on the spaceship without anyone noticing?” she asked.

“They’ll think it’s just another test flight. Nobody will be checking.”

“I’m afraid,” she said.

“So am I,” he replied, “but we’ll be safe.”

“You’re sure we don’t need anything else with us?” she asked.

“No, I put all the supplies we’ll need on the spaceship. Anyway, we can’t carry anything past the guard. He has to think that you and the children are just coming to see me take off.”

“But won’t the guard think it’s funny that the family next door is coming to see you off, too?”

“We’ll just have to take that chance,” he replied.

In the next room, he heard the children’s voices. At least they don’t know what’s happening, he thought. They think they’re going to take me down to the field. They don’t know they’re never coming back.

It seemed so difficult, but there was no other way. In a few years, there would be another terrible war, and the entire planet would be destroyed. If they escaped now, they could begin all over again on a new planet. He sighed and went down the ramp to join his family for breakfast.

“Pretty soon, dad?” the son asked.

“Yes,” he answered, “very soon.”

A dish shattered on the floor. His wife bent to pick it up.

“What’s the matter?” asked her daughter.

“Nothing, dear,” she said. “Drink your juice. Our friends will be here soon.”

Outside the bell sounded, and he saw the other family waiting for them by the ground car.

He turned to his wife. “Should we lock the house?”

“Does it matter?” she replied, turning away.

The two families rode in silence through the deserted streets. At the entrance to the field he warned, “Remember, not a word from any of you.”

The guard recognized him as the chief test pilot for the new spaceship. “My family and some friends are coming down to watch me take off,” he told the guard.

“That’s fine,” the guard replied and waved them through.

As they hurried to the spaceship, he stopped a moment to look back.

Then he leaned down and picked up some dirt. “Goodbye,” he whispered, putting it in his pocket.

The elevator rose and then came to a stop. The doors opened and they all scrambled into the spaceship. The children gasped when they saw how high up they were.

“Shouldn’t we tell them now?” asked his wife. “Shouldn’t we let them know it’s their last look?”

“Yes,” he said, “go ahead and tell them.”

As he touched a switch, deep in the spaceship a spark ignited the rockets. He reached his trembling hand toward the control button and saw that they were all staring at him. He pressed it. The ship quivered for a second, and then they felt it rush up into the air, faster and faster.

He watched the children turn to the windows. “Goodbye,” they said, “goodbye.”

He sank down wearily at the controls. “You know where we’re headed?” his friend asked him.

“He leaned over the chart and pointed to a planet far away in another part of space. “Yes,” he replied, “that small one over there, the one near that moon.”

“This one, third from the sun?”

“That’s right,” he said, “the one third from the sun. I call it Earth.”

Richard Matheson (1926-2013) was an American author and screenwriter who wrote primarily in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres of literature and film, and is perhaps best known as the author of “I Am Legend”. His short story “Third from the Sun” was first published in the October 1950 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.

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