By Brian Yansky

One day it wasn’t there. I woke to the dark, the same dark that had blanketed my room when I’d gone to bed. The clock said eleven. I opened the blinds and looked out over my black back yard, and it was, as in the late night, formless, the trees at the far edge hulking, indistinct shapes. Eleven? I put my fingers to my pulse and listened. I half expected silence. I half expected I was dead.

I stepped out the back door onto my stone porch and saw stars in the sky. The Big Dipper. The Little Dipper.  All I could think then was that I’d lost a day. It didn’t feel like it, but the truth was I didn’t trust myself much anymore.

Back in the bedroom, I flipped on the TV. The heads were talking. Every channel. No one could explain it but the sun seemed to have disappeared. I listened to scientists babble about the impossibility of an explosion. One talking head asked if it could have simply burned itself out like a light bulb. No. No.

The world was dark and soon it would begin to cool. That’s all anyone knew for sure. No sun. No light. No heat. Eventually no life.

I sat in my living room in the dark, listening to the cars out on Fourth Avenue making their way down the dark street. I had nowhere I had to be. Not since I quit my job a year ago, beating getting fired by a few days probably. Not since the death of my wife and child in a car wreck six months before that. Mostly I stayed home and drank though occasionally I’d go out and drink. I’d run through my savings and was contemplating selling the house. I knew I had to. I put it off because this where they’d been when they’d been. Sometimes I felt them or caught glimpses of the past. My wife hurriedly dressing in the morning. Nathan stretched out on his bed reading a graphic novel.

I’d grown up with abusive junkie parents and an assortment of criminal aunts and uncles

The phone rang. A friend who I hadn’t spoken to in months spoke excitedly about the lack of light. I spoke back  but had little to say.

“I want you to come to dinner tonight,” he said. “Jesus, does that even mean anything anymore? Tonight. Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow.”

“Thanks but — ”

“Come on Kevin. Just dinner. You have to eat.”

He still had a wife and two children so he didn’t know.

“Well,” I said.

“Come on. Don’t make me put Julie on the phone. Anyway, with this sun thing we’ve got to circle the wagons. We’re old friends. It’s frightening. We should be together.”

Frightening? It was the world and I knew I should care. I regretted that I didn’t but that was the best I could do. I had only loved two people in my life, my wife and my son. I’d grown up with abusive junkie parents, absent grandparents and an assortment of criminal aunts and uncles. I’d survived my family, neighborhood, and childhood, but my only two friends were gone, lost in drugs and alcohol and prison. I got lucky once in my life when I met Annie and then a second time when we had Nathan. Luck was something you could build on. I had. And then it was gone forever.

“Fine,” I said. I knew I should care.

Usually I’d spend the day watching numbing TV and drinking. I’d walk up to the grocery store and buy beer and walk back at some point. My workout. The TV only had no-news about the sun going out. Talk and talk and talk without any conclusion. Of course there were religious leaders who thought it was the end of the world. But there were plenty of other thoughts about it. One illusionist claimed that the sun was still there. It was just hidden from us by a grand illusion or some kind of mass hypnosis. A psychologist claimed that it was an illusion of another kind, a psychological pathology that prevented us from seeing and feeling the sun. Some medical men and women speculated that the condition could by physical, a virus perhaps. On and on and on. A poet called it God’s joke.

That night I went to dinner. I was half-drunk, a place where I spent most of my life now. I could feel the fear as I stepped into my friend’s house, see it in the posture of his wife and children at the dinner table. I’d been seeing it all day on TV and now here were real people and they had it to.

“Wine should be ready,” Jeff said. “I’ll get it.”

Julie and I made small talk. She said she was trying to go on as if the sun was still there.

“But it’s not,” I couldn’t help saying. I guess I thought I had experience with this kind of thing. I had tried to pretend my wife and child were still in the house. I’d set places at the dinner table, made their favorite dishes. I’d rented movies Annie or Nathan liked and watched them laughing in the places they would have laughed.

“What are we going to do?” She looked at our faces with disappointment, seeing no answers I guess.

“I’m sure there are people making plans right now. Government people.”

“They’ve done so well in the past.” She sounded like her old self then.

The odd and completely inappropriate feeling I had was that things were slightly better for me in the dark than they’d been in the light. I knew it was wrong, but somehow all the pain and fear made me feel a part of something. Or maybe it was that I had already been lost in the dark and everyone joining me made me feel less alone.

John poured the wine, even for the kids. We raised our glasses. Julie said, “To solutions.”

I drank. We all did. The family had converged on a single desire. It was heartwarming to see. Dinner went about like you’d expect under the circumstances. We tried to speak of other things, but the dark never left the table.

After dinner, after the kids were put to bed, Julie spoke frankly. “How long can we last?”

Hadn’t I asked myself this same question after my wife and son were killed? At first people were sympathetic, but after awhile they told me I had to leave my grief behind. Julie had lectured me herself. I had life. I had to move on.

I spoke cruelly there in her house and at her table. “Maybe we can just move on. Maybe we can pretend the sun is still out.”

Time passed. Businesses began to sell clocks that simply marked time since the darkness began. It became the only point of reference that made sense.

The temperature did not drop as quickly as predicted. In fact, the slight drop each week was not significant in the short term (though in the long run, of course, it would be catastrophic), another fact to perplex scientists and everyone else. Still the demand for power far outweighed the supply. In a world gone dark so much was needed to keep the memory of day. At first the government mandated rolling blackouts, neighborhood to neighborhood. These became difficult to control so they shut down whole cities and then sections of states. The times of total darkness increased each week.

A strange thing happened in my little house. In the great long darkness, I began to hear sounds of the past. My wife’s voice drifted into my sleep and even into my waking hours. My son’s laughter. I felt closer to them. So while the world grew ever more desperate, I grew less.

Eventually power was rationed house to house. TVs, computers, all non-essential items could not be used if you wanted light. And we all wanted light. Even I, who could hear my wife and son in the dark, craved it at times as if it were food or water, as if I couldn’t go on breathing without it.

There were riots, of course, and violence and thefts and murder. The government did its best to maintain order but its resources were stretched. Of course we kept hearing about promising solutions, but nothing came of any of them.

When my wife and son were killed by a drunk driver, I couldn’t stop thinking I should have been there. I should have been driving. I should have died. This thought haunted me day and night. I couldn’t escape an endless loop that linked the car accident and Annie’s and Nathan’s deaths to my survival: I lived because they died and they died because I lived. I began to think that the loss of the sun and the onset of the dark might be part of this endless loop. It made no sense in the same way the accident made no sense. God’s joke.

They came in the middle of the night or maybe it was day. I’d lost track. You had to be watchful to keep up with the idea of day and night. I heard the door crash and the heavy pounding of their boots on my floor. I didn’t make it off the bed before I felt the cold of metal to my head. The current blasted through my body. The last thing I remembered was the smell of burning hair.

I woke up in a cell and soon after I was taken to a small room and interrogated by large men in gray uniforms. They asked me a lot of questions about my past. Eventually, they asked about my wife and son, about my grief.

“This can’t be right,” I said more than once. “We have laws.”

“Desperate times,” my interrogators said.

The law had been narrowed to the singular purpose of survival and no longer even pretended to struggle for justice. Decisions had been made. Desperate measures for desperate times. Eventually,  I was marched into a large room with about a hundred other men. We were made to form lines of ten.

All around us soldiers with machine guns backed us up so the last row of ten was against a cement wall. We were forced into a very tight square, my heel touching the toes of the man behind me and the heel of the man in front touching my toes.

An officer walked into the room. He had the attention of the men. He was the first officer I’d seen since I’d been arrested. He stepped up onto what I now saw was a small raised platform. He ordered us to sit. A few of us needed to be nudged by the guards but most of us sat, hoping that we were about to hear an apology and be released.

He had a sheet of paper and he read from it. “The government offers you its apologies. America understands that your crime was not willful.  However, in the end the greater good must be served. Our world cannot go on without the sun. Our leaders have been persuaded that the sun does still exist. There only remains the question of why it has ceased to exist for us. We now believe grief keeps it away, the grief of you here today and people like you.

“All around the world  steps are being taken to stop the unfortunate consequences of sorrow. You have the gratitude of your nation for the sacrifice you are about to make. May God have mercy on your souls.”

The shooting began. We struggled to our feet. There were cries of panic, pain, and yes, joy. Could grief truly block out the sun? We knew, even if no one else did, that grief could do anything. But as to whether our deaths lifted the darkness that is beyond my story. Also beyond it is what we would become: heroes, martyrs, victims, villains? All that is another story for another time.

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About Brian Yansky

Brian Yansky has had stories in The Nebraska Review, Crescent Review, and other literary journals.  He has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College and has also had two award winning YA novels published: Wonders of the World and My Road Trip To The Pretty Girl Capital of the World.

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