Dark Spin

by Stuart Airey

Three days without sun and the cities were all on fire. We watched the distant glow on the horizon. Official news lasted just a few hours. One last expiring solar flare before the light died and the cold began. Power grids overloaded and burnt out. There was no signal past the first day. No dawn or birdsong. A howling wind and hail on the second day as the atmosphere shifted then a thick, dense quiet. After the third day we stopping marking time.

We had diesel, wood, and food that we expected would outlast us. Shifts with the axe to the frozen stream. Spare mattresses nailed to the walls. A fruitless hour every so often scanning shortwave radio. We mostly sat and huddled. We all suffered from headache and could see our eyes shaking in the half-light of the fire. Just the four of us.

We thought Josie was crumbling first. Strangely animated, she told us she could feel the starlight. She held out her hands, gloves off and palms up. We all looked closely again and again. There was no denying a pale green luminescence. Outside and suited up the starlight loomed closer than ever. It took some persuasion to remove our layers of gloves. Our hands merely turned white and numb. Something like fireflies hovered and flickered around Josie’s fingers. The limbus of her eyes glowed.

Inside we felt an inexplicable distance between us. We sensed her disappointment. While we huddled by the fire, she would sometimes drift over to the misted window, her head on a quizzical angle as if listening. When we exchanged hushed reminiscences, she would look at us with a sense of bafflement. She said we were talking slower and it was hard to follow, and then she would hurriedly look away.

Josie thought I was asleep like the others when I saw her put her hand in the fire. She took her hand out slowly and a trailing shower of sparks lingered in the air. She moved gracefully around the room in a dance that weaved arms and flame in a flowing mosaic. She stopped, finally, by the door, transfixed with concentration. She removed her outer clothes till her arms and legs were bare, and then slipped noiselessly into the night.

I remembered how Josie and I had once spent the summer on a volunteer wildlife program to cull the chicks of black-backed gulls on Some’s Island. We had approached at dusk treading softly over the chicken bones that littered the nesting sites. We both discovered that it was Josie and not me who possessed the resolve to hold her hand steady and pierce the eggs with our poisonous dye. I would mark the culled eggs with burgundy nail polish and we would creep quietly away in the hope that by killing a few we were preserving a future for others.

Weirdly, we didn’t speak much about Josie’s absence. Our thinking seemed to have slowed generally and we were reduced to occasional mumbling. Trips outside for wood and ice were increasingly difficult in the permafrost. We had given up on the shortwave. The silence was punctuated increasingly by the shudder of deep rumbling. We expected any moment to be swept away in a glacial turbulence.

Josie came back to wake me up. Her clothes seemed to swirl around her waiflike form. She emanated light from deep within her. She put a warm hand to my forehead and whispered that the others had turned to stone and we had to go. My last view of our friends was of their marbled faces and a spidery tracing around their closed eyes. As we left, I felt her say beautiful things sometimes grow in foul places.

It was a relief to surrender to the darkness. Josie shimmered in front of me and I was able to trail in her wake. For a while, there was only her and the light of her, but gradually I was aware of large shapes moving, of differing qualities in the darkness. There was something very misaligned about the world. It had no interest in learning our names. I had a sudden yearning for a familiar wildness, the pinpoint flash of eyes from a wolf or a bear. The pain in my fingers was at least reassuring.

Longhaired and electric gossamer Josie was becoming transparent. She had shrugged off the world like brushing a fly. She projected a fernlike canopy around us as we rushed purposely on. Around us, the truant black on black continued its vast awakening. Done with the immensity of upheaval, it was now playing an inky and tenebrous finetuning.

At last we halted, and Josie turned to face me. There was a deep river of elemental difference between us. She pushed through me gently. In a long whisper of time someone will come for you.

I only sensed her words for there was no rightful place for breath.

Just the blink of the monitor.

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