Chapter 1: Shadow over the Sun
-From the start, I was calling the voids “Drains,” because of their function. It frustrates me others insist on ignoring or even suppressing my terminology for the phenomenon. It is to be much more descriptive than “void.” Journal of Origon Cyrysi, Kirian majus of the Houses of Communication and Power
Sam was reading when the sun dimmed.
He looked up from his book in time to see the overhead light blink off, then on. The music playing on his laptop—Beethoven’s 7th—croaked a discordant jumble of notes before the screen went black. His bedside clock flashed, the red numbers fading away as a breath of air left goosebumps on his arms.
“What the—” Sam pushed up from the chair as the overhead light faded again. His breath caught in his throat, like he had swallowed a lump of ice. His room was not large, made smaller by the piles of boxes, and now shadows rose between stacks of waist-high containers. He wormed through them in the dim light, heart racing. Was this really happening, or was he having an attack? Why now? It took two tries to pick up his grandfather’s pocket watch from where it rested on an end table beside his bed. His hands were shaking, and thump of his heartbeat nearly overpowered the rhythmic ticking transmitted through his palm. He tried to listen to only the mechanical beat—let it inform his body with the regular beat of time.
Calm down. Stillness evaded him, left him unsteady. Which is perfectly reasonable. Everything is going dark in the middle of the day. At least the watch was working. He made sure to keep it wound, here in the safety of his room.
Sam watched the sky outside the window shade into twilight. His other hand fingered the lid of a small shoebox. His collection contained grass clippings, shells, sand, and other things, bought by friends and customers of his aunt. They reminded him of favorite sights and smells. The shoebox, though, contained things more precious than the rest: half a belt, stiff from water damage, and the heel of a woman’s left shoe, sheared off cleanly.
No. Can’t think of them now. They’re gone, and I can’t change it. He shivered at another gust of cold air. His room felt like late January instead of August. He eyed the window. The thought of opening it—of going somewhere he didn’t know—made his hands sweat, but he had to find out what was happening. His hand left the box, moving to the windowpane. He hissed and shook his fingers. The window was colder than the house—no need to open it. He breathed out and raised his watch to his ear, hearing the steady beat.
Is this all in my head? He hadn’t heard a transformer blow, and there was no storm. It was so quiet his rough breathing was like a train. He rubbed his arms, and a quick touch on the laptop’s case nearly numbed his finger. His cellphone was powered down and wouldn’t restart.
Aunt Martha will know what to do. Get to safety. Sam weaved through the precise stacks of boxes, trembling. She would be in her sewing shop. Sam wiped sweaty hands on his shorts before pulling a coat from the closet and socks from a drawer. He dropped his watch in a pocket of the coat, but kept one hand on it. If the power outage kept up, he couldn’t log in for his shift in technical support. What will they think? Will they fire me?
The chill air in the hall made him regret the shorts, but he shrugged his coat on, then leaned against the wall, pulling his socks on carefully. They’d just distract him, if the seams were going the wrong way, and there was too much going on already. He closed his eyes. Don’t shut down. Keep moving.
The dark wood-paneled hallway was cold even through his socks, and Sam made a detour to the front door to get his sneakers, adjusting his feet in them, making sure the laces were the same length. It took two tries with his shaking hands. The dark was deepening outside, and by the time he got to the other end of the house, he was using his sense of touch more than sight to navigate.
He met Aunt Martha coming from the small one-room addition that served as her workshop. She held a flickering beeswax candle in her hand. It’s not just in my head.
“What happened?” he asked. His aunt—or great aunt, she had never told him, and he never asked—only shook her head at him. Her posture was precise as always, like the romantic ideal of a noblewoman. He didn’t know exactly how old she was, except that her once graying hair was now almost totally white. She moved slower than when he first came to live with her, but the clothes she made for shops on Market Street in Charleston, and his job, would let him afford college. His aunt wanted him to go to a real college instead of online, but it was so much easier to learn at home. Since he had started taking classes, he didn’t have to deal with the crowds at high school, or worry if he forgot his homework.
“Do you think the power plant has a problem?” Sam tried again. If his aunt had something to say, she would, but nothing could get her to talk when she didn’t want to.
“If it were, all the lights in the house would go out at once,” she replied. The rounded syllables of “house” and “out” served as a reminder of her Charlestonian heritage. “Haven’t you looked outside?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” He swallowed. Something was trying to catch in his throat, and Sam put out a hand to steady himself on a wall. His other hand snaked into his pocket to stroke the comforting curve of his watch. He couldn’t feel the ticking over the pulse of his heartbeat and his panting breaths.