The Darkest Day
“…and here is Steve Hutchison with a Channel
Four science update. Steve?”
“Thank you, Connie. Scientists at Stanford
University have confirmed that there are hundreds of thousands fewer stars in
the night sky than there were only one week ago. They are unable to detect a
pattern or cause, as stars both relatively near and far have fallen victim.
Now, with such a large universe, that number is actually a very small
percentage of stars, and they do extinguish as a matter of course. Critics of
this finding point out that even the nearest ‘missing’ star is many light years
away, meaning that the light from that star took years to reach us. Therefore,
whatever we notice happening with
that star actually happened long before we became aware of it. With that understanding,
we realize that there may be no noticeable effect on our own planet Earth, but
it does shake the foundations of our perception of the universe, especially as
we wait to see the magnitude of this star extinction…”
watching that!” She turns toward Billy, her eyes drifting off and full of
thought. “What do you think is happening anyway? I mean yeah, stars burn out
all the time but not that many, at least not that close together. I don’t think
it is just a coincidence, do you?”
"Well, no, probably not. But you're the
space major here, not me. What happens up there is way beyond me. What do you
think? And sorry about turning it off. I just couldn't take listening to it
anymore. I don't know why I care. I can't see the stars. They all went out for
me a long time ago. I'm not even sure why I'm at the window with my face
pointed at the sky. Besides, the guy even said that it happened long ago,
right? And the Earth just keeps on turning. So it's not a big deal, I
“You care because the sky is our constant. It
has pretty much been the same forever, that is why people used to chart the
stars and use it like a map. It was always the same, year after year. I don’t
know what caused the sudden change, but whatever it was must have been pretty
significant to turn out that many lights so quickly! Think about it. Our Sun is
a star in our galaxy. It would take something huge to just have it go out one
day. Now have that happen hundreds of thousands of times in just the matter of
a week! There is more to this, I know it,” she says.
"Maybe, but it might not be a big deal
here on Earth, right? After all, it happened 'a long, long time ago, in a
universe far, far away'. That's the movie line, right? I don't know. I'm just
grasping at straws. To be honest, it feels lonelier now, with fewer
“Of course! I do believe everything is
connected and thus there is a ripple that maybe we didn’t even notice but other
than some solar flares, our star seems to be burning just fine so I doubt there
is anything to worry about here. Although It is kinda freaky to think that
there’s less chance of other life in the universe. I mean, if each of those
stars was a sun in a galaxy like ours, for a solar system like ours, that would
mean those planets and any life forms that may have lived on them are just gone
and we don’t even know how or why.”
"Exactly! Tina, my dear, you can say what
I feel better than I can." He wishes he could see her expression at his
term of endearment. He knows it's awkward, coming from him, but does she feel
the tension, or does she hear his tenderness toward her? He listens to her
response more closely than he's listened to anything in his whole life.
“It certainly is a lot to think about” Tina
says with a yawn. She stretches as she stands. “I need to get going to bed, it
is getting late.” She gives Billy a half hug then lightly shakes his shoulder.
“Just don’t stay up brooding about it too long, you know how you get if you
don’t get enough sleep. See you in the morning!”
The CLICK! of her bedroom door as it shuts
tells him that the mystery of the missing stars will remain unsolved tonight,
and that the enigma of Tina Willoughby will likely remain unsolved by him
“Come on, Echo.
Let’s empty you for the night.”
Billy takes the leash down from the hook on the door, and holds out his
left hand, waiting for Echo to softly nudge it.
Researchers at the University of Brisbane have confirmed that many
constellations found south of the Equator, including the Southern Cross,
Phoenix, and much of Eridanus have gone missing from the night sky. There is
still no conclusion as to the cause of the stellar disappearances.
“You’re reading Australian newspapers now?”
“Hmmm? Oh, yeah Ethan, this is serious. Did you
know that stars often make black holes when they go out? Now think about how
many stars have disappeared lately. Even you should be able to figure out that
this many black holes in the universe could have disastrous effects for all of
us! What if the whole universe just folded in on itself? We would be gone
too. It is too crazy to even think about!”
"Black holes, huh? That would suck." His
crooked grin always made him look like he had a plan, and was proud of himself
“Yeah, according to this,” she lays the paper
out in front of her and points. “Cassiopeia is only one straight line now.
Orion looks like he’s been ripped apart. The Big Dipper is just…gone. If even
half of them had created black holes we would be... I don’t know what we would
be but it wouldn’t be good.”
"Okay, calm down, Teens. We're obviously
just fine, so it must not be as catastrophic as you think. Hey, is Billy around?"
“How can you know that everything is just fine?
The professionals don’t even know that for sure. I know some say we would have
experienced something already but others think it is more like the domino
effect and it could be working its way this direction. They don’t know what’s
causing it, what the consequences will be, how extensive it is… nothing!
Ugggg.... Just forget it, you’re not even really listening. I haven’t seen
Billy yet today. He’s out with Echo somewhere. You’re welcome to wait if you
"He's out, is he? Well, let me sit there
with you, and you can tell me all about the stars. Hey, has he shown you his
Little Dipper, yet?"
“What? No! What is wrong with you? It’s like
you’re forever stuck at fourteen. When are you going to grow up?”
"Oh, I'm growing, all right. You know he
likes you, don't you? He's all about 'Tina's Venus'. I don't know how you two
can live together and him not be trying to send a probe to Uranus."
“Disgusting! You’re so juvenile. I don’t
know why Billy is friends with you! Hey! Watch your hands! I invited you to
wait and talk about the stars, not grope me!”
"Mmm... I wanna know more about your
'black hole', Teens. Here, I'll help you get comfortable. Just lay back."
“Are you serious? Does that ever really work
for you? You must hang out with some pretty stupid females!” Tina jumps back
swatting at Ethan’s hands. “ I said to keep your hands to yourself or you’ll be
sorry. Don’t you have homework to do or something?”
"I am studying! I'm studying those pretty
thighs of yours."
"Sounds like it's time for you to leave,
"Huh? Hey, Billy! We were just messing
around. I'll see you soon, Teens." The grin with a plan was back.
"Hiya, boy! Wanna play?"
"Leave the dog alone, Ethan. He's still
dressed for work. Get out!"
"Okay...yeah. I'll see ya around,
Billy." Billy flips the deadbolt into place as the door clicks shut.
"You all right, Tina?"
“Yeah, you know me, I grew up on a farm so I
know how to handle animals like him! Just wish I didn’t have to... Anyway, I’m
going to my room.” At her doorway Tina turns back. “Sorry you came home to that
mess. I would never let him wait for you if I knew he was going to get all
grabby.” With that, she closes the door.
Billy doesn't know what to do or say, but it
doesn't matter. Once again, he is left alone with nothing but Echo.
CLASSES CANCELLED DUE TO END OF THE WORLD
"You just going to stand there reading the
notice until after Armageddon, Tina?"
“Perhaps, I haven’t decided yet.”
"What's to decide? Your professor is
either having some fun, or is truly panicking. Either way, you don't have class
today. Let's decide what to eat for breakfast."
“I just don’t understand how a few simple
changes, that are not easily explained can have people automatically assume
that the world is ending! Change happens all the time; it’s the only thing that
is really constant! Just because this is a change that more people have
noticed, everyone is acting like it’s the end for the human race!” Tina turns
on her heel and sees Billy still listening to her rant. “And that we have the
Billies of the world who don’t care about Armageddon so long as they don’t have
to miss a meal. Come on!” she says with a ringing laugh.
"I just prefer to keep the black holes in
space, and out of my stomach!" Billy rejoins and hurries to keep up with
her. Over the Lumberjack Special at Ellie's Diner, Billy's curiosity returns.
"Are other people panicking, too? It's not just Professor Sawyer? I expect
it of him; he's always struck me as a bit superstitious."
“Haven’t you heard about that group of
‘activists’ that are going around destroying power grids? They call themselves
‘Keepers of the world’. They’re claiming that human use of electricity is
causing the star blackout, which is obviously stupid! They’re just using this
as an excuse to cause a lot of havoc and get a bit of attention.”
"How are they destroying power grids? I'm
sure there's at least minimal security around the...what... control panels?
Fuse boxes?" he asks.
“They have done a few different things. They
have hackers that are going in and shutting the grids down and leaving a virus
behind that is making it hard to get it up and going again. Their new thing
seems to be going for the sources. Like blowing up dams, and sabotaging wind
farms. What happens when they start messing around with nuclear reactors? They
are going to blow us all up!”
"You keep using plurals: 'grids', 'sources',
'reactors'. How many of these nuts are there? You make it sound like a
“It is! I am serious, it’s not just a small
group of idiots running around being stupid, It’s an actual movement. There are
groups of them on every continent, and they are leaving nothing but destruction
wherever they go!” Tina explains.
"People are so ridiculous. Maybe we should
stock up on some things? Water, food that's easy to prepare, but won't go bad
if the fridge goes on strike? Just in case, you know. Sawyer proved that we're
not immune to crazies around here."
“You know, that might actually be a good idea,
Billy. People are really losing their minds and it would be smart to be
prepared for the worst. Oh! I can use my mom’s Costco membership. I love that
"Great! We should go soon so we don't miss
out on the free samples! I'll drive."
“Ummmm.... and how does that work? Does Echo
steer while you work the pedals, or can he manage those too?”
"He steers. Just tell him they have his
food stacked to the ceiling, and he'll find the quickest route!"
“You might really have lost your mind this
time, but thank you for being here and making me laugh. I totally needed it
Billy’s grin lights up his face.
“…despite reports of power outages throughout
the United States and Canada. Europe reports widespread riots and panic as
people are seeing fewer and fewer stars in the sky as the evening wears on.
Fires are the only sources of light in numerous metropolitan areas across the
globe tonight, with government buildings being set on fire by panicked citiz-“
“Tina? Did you turn the TV off?”
“Nope, the power went out just like everywhere
else. It’s finally hit us, too!”
"Ok. It's a good thing we stocked up
earlier. It'll be all right. Just watch, I bet everyone in the building will band
together and help each other. It's time to take Echo out, anyway. I'll see if
anyone's out, and what's going on. You okay here for a few minutes?"
“Of course, you go ahead. I’m going to light
one of the candles we got so I can see.” Tina promptly runs into the end table.
“Ouch! I don’t know how you get around like this all the time. I am so
"Shins of steel, baby. Ok, back in a
Night falls thick and heavy.
The air feels thin, cold and brisk. But the darkness envelops the courtyard
a cozy blanket, ironically like a comforter.
But there is no comfort. Only hunger. A fierce, snarling hunger. The
eyes watch the courtyard, looking for
movement. A door opens at the southeast
corner. Sound erupts through the
opening. Meat on two legs talks quietly
to meat on four legs. The door clicks
loudly closed, and the noise drops away.
The two sources of meat walk together, moving west along the edge of the
courtyard. There is dark pavement to the
south of the meat, with the big, four-legged piles of metal that can constantly
be heard rumbling through the paved paths that wind through the city. These
metallic beasts seem to be dead,
though. The meat sources stop walking
midway along the edge of the grassy courtyard.
The two-legged meat holds on to the four-legged meat by means of a
plastic handle attached to its back. The
smaller, four-legged beast leads and pulls the two-legged thing to their
stopping point. When they get there, the
upright meat lets go of the handle and holds a leather strap, instead. The strap
is attached to the smaller beast’s
neck. They are a curious pair. The
smaller beast seems to be the more dangerous
threat. Even though it seems relaxed and
even playful, it obviously has the more dangerous claws and teeth. Yet, the
larger animal seems to be in
control, despite following the smaller one.
The upright meat makes a noise with a
commanding tone to it, and the smaller food walks forward, without the
two-legged meat, and discharges its waste fluid. The odor is powerful, even
distance. It’s a wonder these two
haven’t been eaten long ago. It’s as
though they’re calling for predators.
The smaller meat returns to the larger one,
which reaches for the handle again. The
pair retrace their earlier path, and the larger beast reaches forward and
releases the onslaught of noise again, and then the pair disappear into the
The watcher waits.
"Tina? You still here? There's a lot of
talk in the hallway. Tina?"
“What’s it like out there? Did you notice any
"The buildings all seem darker. Other than
that, the only difference is in how everyone talks. There's a lot of false
bravado covering up a lot of fear and uncertainty. I heard some talk about some
pretty vicious murders, too. Have you heard anything about that?" Billy
“Stuff like that always happens when people
panic and riot. It is sad but not surprising, really.”
"Sad when it happens in other places. More
than a little worrisome when it happens around the corner, and all the lights
“I totally get that! Makes me want to barricade
the door just in case!”
"We know everyone in the building. We
should be safe enough inside... but I heard Antonio say that the victims were
actually torn apart. Ripped apart and...chewed. Lunatics messing with power
supplies, I kind of expected on a college campus, but who does that?"
“You mean like an animal? The lights just went
out, wild animals wouldn’t have moved in that quickly, would they?”
"It's doubtful, and we don't have bears or
big cats around here. What else could do that? 'Roided up deer?"
“I don’t know, maybe dogs? Like coyotes
"No way. People are too big, and not on
the 'favorites' menu, anyway. "
“What about a human on those bath salts that
make them crazy? I have read stories of some of them going cannibal.” Tina
shivers at the thought. “You didn’t hear anything suspicious outside? Did Echo
seem nervous, or anything?”
"That's good! The Bath Salts Killer! No,
Echo didn't seem nervous, but the big lunk would probably just want to play
with whatever it is. You know, it's probably Antonio or someone just starting
scary rumors, taking advantage of the blackout and having some fun. Just
another thing to get worked up about with everything else going on. What does
it look like through the window? Any stars remaining?"
“It’s pretty dark out there, almost nothing
left. Even the moon looks darker which doesn’t make sense since its light is a
reflection from the sun. I can still see Venus, though, so whatever it is might
not have reached our solar system yet. Maybe it is leaving planets alone.”
"Maybe not. Like you said, it doesn't seem
to have reached our Sun, and Venus is pretty close to it. Ah, crap. I'm sorry,
Tina. You knew that, of course. You didn't need me making things darker."
“No, you’re right, I should have figured that
out for myself. I guess maybe I’m stupidly trying to hold on to a little piece
of false hope because reality just seems too damn scary.
Anyway, goodnight, Billy; I’ll catch you in the morning. At least it will
be light out then.” Tina walks in silence to her bedroom. Billy hears the door
click shut a moment later.
"Echo, your walking partner is an idiot.
No, stop trying to lick the stupid off of me. You've been with me for a year,
and it hasn't worked so far."
Tina shifts her weight onto her other elbow to
face Billy; she wants to see his face when she asks the question that has been
weighing heavily on her mind the past couple of hours. “Do you feel something
strange? Like we’re being watched or something?”
"Umm, no. The door's been locked the whole
time, if you're worried about that."
“I don’t mean in the apartment. I feel like
someone’s watching us from out there or... maybe not us specifically but like,
waiting for someone to walk out of the building. I don’t know how to explain
it. You don’t feel it?” she asks.
"I think those stories of murders really
have gotten to you! Power outages make everything creepy. Don't get all
paranoid on me."
“Hold on; You don’t believe those people are
dead? Alright then, tell me this. Where’s Scott? Or how about
Sarah? Hell, where did the two guys from two-twenty-six down the hall go?
You think with the world gone dark, everyone went on a vacation? Don’t get me
wrong. Some may have tried to go find family or whatever but you can’t believe
that is what all of them did! You just can’t!”
"Well, no, I guess not. I hadn't really
wanted to think about where everyone might have gone. I was trying to remain
optimist- What the hell is that? Someone's hurt! I gotta go see if they need
“Wait! Maybe you should take Echo, just
in case it is the murderer!”
"There's no time! I'll take my cane; it's
hanging on the door!"
"Holy crap! Billy wait! Somethings wrong!”
"What? What is it? Christ, it's hard to
think with that shrieking!"
“It’s darker, too dark. Something’s happened.
Maybe our sun is being attacked too?”
Billy looks at Tina, and realizes that he can't
see her at all. Her silhouette is no longer discernible. He can't make out the
shape of her curly hair, like a child's version of a corona around her head.
Suddenly, her petite frame, which somehow always filled what remains of his
field of vision, is hidden from him. She had disappeared into shadow.
"Tina, look outside. Can you see anything?"
“Yes, but just barely. It’s like dusk in
the middle of the day. Oh God Billy, it’s happening to us! To our sun! Billy if
it goes out we will die, we will freeze to death in no time at all!”
"Tina, there's residual heat, heat from
the Earth's core, shelters. They'll buy us a little time. Right now, we have to
help whoever's screaming their head off downstairs! Come with me, and bring a
“I have it.”
coming from by the door! Can you see anything?" he yells to her.
“No, I can’t tell where the screams are coming
from. The echo is throwing me off!”
"Shine the light over my shoulder! We're
here to help, whoever's down here! You can stop screaming for help! We're
“Look out, directly in front of you!
There’s something on the floor!”
"It's him! It's...oh, god. Tina! Turn the
light off! Turn it off, NOW!"
“It’s who? Billy move, I want to see what’s
"No! Back off! It's Ethan. He's in bad
“Ethan?” Tina flicks the flashlight off.
“What’s happened to him? Why is he screaming?”
"His legs...one of them is...gone. The
other...stripped of muscle... bone sticking out... I think he passed out,
“Are you sure he passed out? If it is that bad
he could... I mean, are you sure he’s alive?”
"Of course. He couldn't scream if he
“Well, he’s not screaming, not now anyway.”
"Oh, right. I'll check his pulse...oh.
Let's go, Tina. Back upstairs."
“We’re not just going to leave him here are
we?” she asks.
"Actually, yes, we are. He's...uh....in
really bad shape. There's nothing we can do for him right now. Let's go
“Really? Can I turn the light on now?”
"That's not a good idea."
"You may be a science major, but it's
astronomy, not forensic medicine or anatomy. Please, just trust me. Plus, I
don't want whoever did this to see a
light down here."
“Oh! I didn’t think of that.”
"I'll help you get to the stairs. We can
turn the light back on there." he assured her.
“Billy,” Tina whispers as they begin to ascend
the stairs. “Was it really that bad? What do you think happened?”
"I think someone tried to push Ethan into
a wood-chipper feet-first."
“What? Who would do something that hideous?”
"How would I know? I just know we need to
get behind yet another locked door, and make some plans."
Back in their apartment, Billy bolts the
deadlock as Tina paces the floor near the window. “Billy, there was no wood
chipper. Ethan wouldn’t have gotten away. Could it have been a wild animal? It
got darker all of a sudden, so maybe whatever has been hiding felt safe enough
to come out? It could have been an animal, right?”
"Not unless we suddenly have starving
polar bears roaming free, here in Texas! His legs...leg...was shredded down to
the bone. The other one was ripped off. I felt the knob of the thigh bone where
it meets the hip. It wasn't broken."
“Let’s not talk about him anymore, I feel sick.
It’s just... none of this makes sense! I’m scared!”
"You're right. We have supplies for a few
days, and after that, we can... borrow...from the empty apartments. Heat's
going to run out pretty fast, but we have time to calmly think of a plan. If we
“Okay, you’re right, we have some time.”
have to take Echo out."
“Hey Billy, when you take him out you don’t
really take him outside, right?
"I haven't since...you know... we found
Ethan. But I can't just keep having him go in the laundry room. Besides, he's
about due to drop the boys off, you know?"
“Ewwww! That’s gross! Anyway, I just keep
thinking that something did that to Ethan. Something that’s still out there. If
it sees you and decides to do the same to you, you won’t see it coming! I know
you have Echo but even you said the other day, Echo will probably just want to
play with it!”
"I know that. I'll just have to be extra
aware, I guess. Anyway, whatever did that has probably moved on. It's been
almost a full day since we found him."
“That’s not that long... forget it, I’m
with you.” she declares.
"What? No! If that animal is still out
there, there's no sense in you being in danger, too!"
“At least I could see if something were out
there. I’m coming.” Tina stands up and walks towards the door. “Let’s go. I’ll
be your eyes, you can be our ears, teamwork is always better.”
"Tina. Listen to yourself. It's dark out
there. I mean, really dark. No lights, no stars, no sun bouncing off the moon.
I'm not the only one who won't be able to see it coming. The thing could be
dressed in a hot pink evening gown, complete with sequins, and we wouldn't see
it." His words lack conviction, though, because her last sentence touched
something in him.
“Yeah well, I don’t care. I’m coming
you. I am sure I will be able to see at least a little more than you will!
Besides, it’s better to stick together.” Tina stalks out of the apartment.
Billy has a few reasons why he can't argue with
that. He and Echo follow her.
"Here we are. I'll be just outside and to
the left of the door."
“I’m not comfortable with that. How will I be
able to see you? You have to leave the door open at least a crack.
Otherwise, I won’t even hear anything.”
An aggravated sigh escapes him. "That
makes sense. But just a crack!"
The food is exiting the structure. This is the
time. The other hunters departed this world hours ago, their food sources
depleted. The opening is remaining open. Both meals are here. Creeping down the
wall from the top of the structure causes scales to rustle softly, like damp,
dead leaves in a wind. The first kill must be silent so that the second will
not retreat. Black teeth are bared. Muscles beneath the black scales coil and
Billy listens to the darkness with all of his
attention. It’s cold out here, but there’s still some residual heat left in the
planet. Enough to survive a little while, he guesses. How long will it last?
Listen. Don’t let the mind wander. Echo is sniffing the ground, searching for
the perfect spot to defile. He’s pulling on the leash, wanting to explore just
a few feet further. Billy allows this. Nothing has happened, and his sense of
security is growing. Age-old habits of chiding one’s own fear of the dark
re-establish themselves. Billy hears leaves rustle for just a moment, then
nothing but Tina’s shallow breathing. She’s frightened out of her mind, he
thinks. The leash tightens and trembles. Echo has found his target and is
discharging his bombs.
Tina’s ears strain against the silence. The
sounds she would normally hear are gone and the silence is deafening. So
deafening that she struggles to hear Billy and Echo on the other side of the
door so she pushes it open a bit more. “Billy!” she whispers into the darkness.
“I don’t hear you guys. Where are you?”
“Right here. Echo’s found his spot. Done in a
The four-legged meat is disposing its waste.
The odor is powerful. An ebon claw to its throat will eliminate its threat. One
such claw extends itself…
“I don’t hear him, how far did you let him go?
Hold out your hand so I can find you.”
The second meal is approaching the first. It
still clings to the opening, though. The four-legged meat can wait. The female
will now become the first kill.
“Tina, we’re right here.” She should go
inside, but he reaches for her hand. He’s felt her cool, soft touch seldom
enough, and maybe they can communicate through their hands what their voices
cannot. Maybe she’ll squeeze his hand. Maybe she’ll resist letting go. Maybe he
can pull her into an embrace.
set of claws punctures and tears out her throat, while another penetrates her
back to hold her still. A third set punches through her chest to stop her
breathing and her blood flow. The fourth set of claws remains ready to defend.
Scaly hide presses into her mouth to stifle any noise.
Tina dropped her keys. Why did she have her
keys out? Oh god, were they that far from the door that she had to let it
close? “We’re done, Tina. I guess it’s not important to pick it up and dispose
of it, is it? Doesn’t seem like anyone’s going to step in it.” He turns toward
the sound of her fallen keys. “Echo, heel!”
The other meats turn. The four-legged meat
circles around the upright meat and starts speaking. The sound is
incomprehensible, but the larger meat can probably understand it. Red-tipped
black claws slash towards the smaller beast, while the long, sticky tail whips
toward it from the opposite side. The claw feint works, and the tail encircles
the smaller meat and immobilizes it.
“Echo! Calm down! What are you doing?” The truth of the
situation hits Billy even as he asks the question. Tina hasn’t spoken, nor has
she found his hand. Echo started to make some noise, then stopped, as his leash
began making some unusual movements. Echo was … laying down? “Echo! Let’s go!”
He wasn’t moving. Not good. The attacker was between Billy and the door. Had to
be, if it had gotten Tina. Billy drops to his knees to search for Tina’s keys.
His groping fingers find Tina, instead. She’s wet, and sticky. Her hair is damp
with sweat. Her cheeks are wet with tears. Her mouth is shaped in an O of
surprise. Her neck is…savaged. Billy traces her arm with his hand and finds her
own, clammy hand. It is cool, just as he remembers, but unresponsive. She doesn’t
squeeze his hand. For just an instant, Billy feels dark breath and dark teeth
pressing into the back of his neck. Then he is lying on the ground, staring
toward Tina’s invisible, inert face. He can’t feel his legs being ripped from
his hips, but he can hear the crunching of the bones. He supposes he will hear
his own disembowelment, too. Echo is dead. Tina is dead. The lights have truly
died out, now.
Richard Brown is a multi-genre
author who has contributed to Black Petals twice before (issues #91 and 96),
and is currently working on two novels – a dark psychological thriller, and a
young adult fantasy/adventure. He and his Guide Dog haunt the Pacific
Northwest, rain or…well, rain.