This novella I’m working on started in such an innocent place – one of my son’s board books. He has this one about a little owl flying through the night forest and talking about all the beautiful things he sees. It’s a very sweet book. At the end, the little owl comes home to his tree to sleep and says to his mother, “Tell me how the night ends, Mama.” And mother owl gives this beautiful description of dawn (she’s far more poetic than Clara), and by the time she’s done describing the dawn, the little owl is asleep. But that one line sent a shiver up my spine…
Tell me how the night ends, Mama.
What if there were an endless night? What would life be like? And how, really, would you end it? That is the story I am telling here. I’ve been inspired to write a dark and morbid tale by a sweet and gentle children’s book.
Clara bowed her head and sighed. “Just before the sun comes up the whole world seems to hush, like there’s something important about to happen and even the air knows it.”
Clara tilted back her head and closed her eyes and thought about the last dawn she’d seen eight years ago standing on the roof of the hospital where she worked, sneaking the last cigarette she’d ever smoke, just before she found out she was pregnant with Sophie and the world fell into endless night.
“The horizon gets an little lighter, but you’re not really sure, so you wait and hold your breath.”
Sophie snuggled down a little deeper in her blankets with a smile one her face.
“But then there’s this strip of paler dark, and you take a breath and it turns purple, then blue, and then the sun breaks over the horizon and and it’s so bright you can’t look at it. So you look away, but everywhere the light paints the sky and the clouds with gold and red and pink and…”
Clara let her chin drop to her chest and pressed her lips together.
“Then what, Mommy?” Sophie’s voice was sleepy and Clara knew it wouldn’t be too much longer before she dropped off.
“Then the birds start singing and the colors are so pretty that you feel like you could never be sad again.”
What she didn’t say is that when you’re 22 and about to find out you’re pregnant right after your boyfriend dumped you the dawn feels like a party you’ll never be invited to and you don’t take the time to enjoy it like you should, not realizing that it is the last one you will see for years, maybe ever.
“I hope the night ends someday,” Sophie said as she yawned. “I’d like to see dawn for myself.”
“Me too, baby, me too.” Clara leaned down and kissed her daughter’s forehead again. “Sweet dreams.”
“You too.” Sophie’s voice came out in a soft murmur as she rolled to the side and her eyelids started to flutter lower. Clara smiled and blew out the candle on Sophie’s bedside table and crept from the room.
In her own bed, staring at the ceiling all alone, Clara could not find the comfort of sleep. Her mind kept tracing over that last day with daylight, once again trying to tease out what had happened. The day was completely normal, she left the roof after she stamped out her cigarette and got to work, administering medication, checking vitals, all the things she did now, except for a direct deposit check instead of food, or lantern oil, or candles like she did now. But the next morning the sun never rose, and the world panicked.
It started on the east coast of the Americas and rolled around the world. Within 24 hours the sun didn’t shine anywhere in the world. The crew on the International Space Station confirmed that the sun was still there and the rays were still headed to the Earth, but once they hit the upper atmosphere they just dissipated. It confounded every scientist on the planet, no one could explain it. Even the world’s spiritual leaders were confused. For all the sects and variations that had ever trumpeted the end of the world, no one had picked that day.
But the real horror of what had happened did become apparent until three days later when zombies and ghouls rose from the grave, and vampires and werewolves stepped out of the shadows to hunt human being like prey animals. Ghosts were suddenly common place, and every night dwelling being from every fairy tale and horror movie proved itself to be very, very real.
The world spun into chaos, and the world population took a huge hit in the early years. But eventually humankind had to organize itself back into some semblance of civilization. Most people hunkered down in cities and tried to rebuild as best they could. Clara heard that the lights were back on in Boston, but it was a long way from Washington, DC. There was a lot of open ground between here and there. The Nightkind owned the open areas. To go out into the suburbs or farther was to take your life into your hands. Clara heard that most people who ventured out got killed, but sometimes the Nightkind kept them, as livestock or bait. There were a few people who traveled between the cities to move goods and information, like Stacey’s husband Joe, but they were a special breed, most of them former military.
Clara sat up in bed and punched her pillow as she muttered “shut up, brain!” She threw herself back down on her bed with a huff and clenched her eyes shut. She started breathing like she’d been taught in those yoga classes long ago, to slow her heart, to slow her mind. She slept.
In her dreams Joshua, Sophie’s father, was back. He had sought her out in the early days of night, after he’d heard through the grapevine that she was pregnant. Something about what seemed like the end of the world triggered the caveman protective instinct in him. Clara’s brow furrowed and she whimpered in her sleep. In her dreams she relived Joshua’s gruesome death all over again. How he was bitten by a zombie and turned into one himself. How he keyed into Clara’s scent and twisted the protective instinct to follow her and try to bite her. How Clara had to shoot him in the head but she couldn’t do it until he was on top of her, teeth gnashing in her face, so when she pulled the trigger she was covered in his rotting flesh. And then she relived it in her next dream. And the next. And the next.
That’s 971 words for today. Tomorrow, I think Joe is coming home, and the plot thickens.