– PROLOGUE –
Night had drawn down over the city hours ago, though most of those underneath the now darkened sky would never realize this. All around them the artificial, sterile lights of the city beamed with blinding ignorance.
Ignorance was wonderful. Blissful.
The city pulsed with energy… sounds… lights. Cars honked as traffic slunk along the narrow streets at a snail crawl. Pedestrians roamed the concrete walks to either side of the congestion, walking… talking… laughing. Parents pulled children, their bedtimes past. Lovers huddled close seeking comfort, sharing secret whispers and kisses. The youngster surfed through the mass of bodies, some daring to fight against the tide while others gawked. Their eyes, drunk on youth, on naivety, drifted high above to the billboards and signage of the city blinking loudly with colors bright enough to cause their eyes to blink, to water. Electric blue. Hot pink. Juicy orange. Ripe green. Each advertisement enticed and welcomed, promising good times for all.
Come in here!
Buy this… Buy that…
Phones buzzed, rang, sang, all the devices playing together to attract yet distracting. Everyone was distracted with the city’s never sleeping allure. One man answered his phone, but not before telling his wife “excuse me” as if she were of lesser importance compared to the other person on the incoming call. The teenagers fighting the wave pressing against their independence, inside their pockets their own phones buzzed and immediately their eyes went down and their thumbs whizzed across touch screens and keyboards. Those teenagers crashed against the wave, pumping, elbowing, and shouting. Other danced to their own tone, listening buds wedged in their ears.
“Watch where you’re going, man!” Ty told a passing sixteen-year-old boy paying more attention to his phone than his feet. A minute ago, the boy had taken a picture of someone’s beagle; the animal had been wearing a tutu and had gotten into a bad scrape with a pair of clippers. The clippers won. The youth now wanted to send the picture to every friend in his social network.
Ty eyed the boy but the boy kept walking past, paying no mind.
A tug on his elbow kept Ty from wheeling after the picture-texting-punk.
“Leave him be,” his girlfriend Lil urged sweetly.
“He bumped into you,” Ty reminded Lil, indignant enough for the both of them. “Lil, you nearly tripped.”
“So did he.”
“Least he could do is apologize to you. Like his friends, let alone anybody needs another picture of an ugly mutt pinned to their Facebook walls!”
Ty turned back and craned his neck so he could spot the texting-punk amongst the hundreds of heads bobbing up and down the crowded sidewalk.
Lil reached up and with two fingers on his cheek turned Ty’s face to meet her gaze. “Now, tell me… whose more important tonight, me or the boy with the phone? Hmm?”
Playful amusement danced in Lil’s eyes, eyes brighter than any star in the sky masked by the city’s ugliness. Her smile ever so crooked. Lil shone through the dredge of the city. Ty melted and released a breath. All he wanted right now was to escape the honking, the passersby bumps trying to bring him out of this moment with this beautiful woman of his.
He shrugged the world away and he met those waiting lips without further hesitation.
“Good answer, Tyson Danvers,” Lil said.
The couple resumed walking, toward their favorite restaurant, Galliano’s Pasta Plate.
Lil once more hooked one of her arms inside Ty’s and held on loosely, taking his hand in her other. Unlike the other people crowding the sidewalk, they strolled, letting anyone in a hurry flow around them. Lil had that effect.
From inside Ty’s pocket a familiar and rather annoying ping went off.
Ty reached inside his jacket’s breast pocket but Lil’s raised eyebrows and a stare that would tolerate no arguments halted him.
“You said no interruptions tonight,” Lil reminded her boyfriend.
Ty flashed a reassuring smile. “What if the world is ending? This could be the call that saves the world.”
“As if. What? A terrorist is about to detonate synchronized bombs set under every world leader’s desk unless you can answer one question correctly?”
The phone pinged again insistently.
His fingers wagged near his pocket without permission, ready to snatch the phone and take the call that would save the world, all while Ty considered Lil’s question.
“If the villain wanted to know who won the 1975 World Series, I could very well stop the bombs. Yes.” Ty said this with the most deadly of seriousness.
She swatted him on the shoulder, snorting, rolling her eyes.
The phone let go a final ping then went silent. Ty shoved his hand casually inside his coat’s side pocket instead of retrieving the phone. Lil nodded with approval.
The couple traveled maybe half a block in silence before Ty leaned in close, licked his lips, and said, “The Reds.”
Lil shook herself, the comment abrupt and off-putting. “What?”
“They won the 1975 World Series,” Ty said. “Four games to three.”
Ty and Lil rounded a corner where a man, preparing for his shop’s nightly closing, was clearing a table of used books for sale.
“Does that matter?” she asked.
Shrugging, Ty responded with, “Depends on who was calling, doesn’t it?”
Smiles were exchanged the only way lovers can when they know intimately the good nature of their narcissisms.
Ahead of the couple a large video screen, fixed in the belly of a building dividing the street in two, was playing a music video. The songstress belted a tune about lost love and second chances. The foot traffic on the sidewalk slowed to a distracted inching so people could gawk while still moving. On the music charts, the song was near to number one. Lil commented that she couldn’t remember how close but the song was getting a lot of airplay on the radio and the artist was performing on every morning show across the country. Sweet girl. She was nineteen but every time she made an appearance she wore little enough to make a hooker in a heat wave gasp with scandal. Lil preferred a little mystery and tease to her wardrobe, Ty had no complaints when playful teasing was involved.
Less than a block from the restaurant, Ty’s phone pinged again.
He sighed and consulted his girlfriend with a simple look. Lil rolled a reluctant shoulder. Sure. Make it quick.
Reaching into his pocket Ty pulled out a phone that could do just about everything but wash his cloths.
Lil swooped in and snatched the phone away.
“Hey now! Seriously, Lil. It could be Sean about the Titan project. Give the phone here, please.”
“If Mr. Terrorist asks me about MVPs and batting averages I will use you as my lifeline, Ty. Now, shh, this girl will save the world.”
Lil giggled. She didn’t bother looking at the screen to see whose name popped up on the caller ID. Instead, she pressed the SEND button, tossed her loose dark hair over one shoulder and held the phone up to her ear.
“Hello? Super Camilla speaking, how may I save the day?”
Ty groaned and put his face in his hands, mortified, hoping this was not his boss and if so, Sean had a good sense of humor.
The phone screeched at Lil, forcing her to hold it away from her ear less the sharp cracking of static puncture her eardrum. “Ouch!”
“Lil, what’s wrong?”
Phone held at arm’s length, Ty and Lil stared dumbfounded at the dark screen.
“I charged the thing before leaving the office,” Ty assured her, jabbing the screen with a finger and receiving no response.
“It was working.” Lil put a finger in her ear and wiggled it around to try digging out the shards of the static that were attempting to stab her eardrum. “Just a minute ago it tried to stab me with an ice pick app!”
Ty took the phone back. He held down the power button. Nothing. He slapped its side against his open palm. Nothing.
“Hun, that won’t work,” Lil said tentatively. Ty ignored her and kept fussing with his phone. What if Sean had tried to call him about Project Titan? What if his boss was redialing right now?
At the point Ty began to curse the stupid thing, specifically the battery, the worry in Lil’s persistence finally drew his attention. Panic shook his girlfriend’s star-bright eyes.
And Lil was not looking at the phone or him.
Her gaze was drifting all around.
Everyone on the sidewalk was stopped, each person with a cell phone staring at blank screens. Some were changing their phone’s battery but to no effect. Others pulled out spare phones. Those too were dead. Everyone was talking. They were worried about the disconnection with the world while at the same time rubbing elbows with their commuting neighbors.
Slowly curiosity expanded Ty and Lil’s perceptions. The couple looked at each other, eyes widening, both picking up on a larger problem. They could hear the crowd, not just as a mash of chattering smothered by the ambient noise of the louder technology crammed world that forced you to lean in to listen to the person next to you.
The world had gone quiet.
Worse, the world had stilled.
No cars honked. Traffic had slowed to a halt as certainly as the pedestrians using the sidewalks had. Music ceased to play. The large screen inside the belly of the building had gone off.
Car doors opened and drivers and passengers began to step out and gaze up with everyone else as the high-rise buildings blinked out. Streetlights too lost their illumination. Headlamps faded away, like a draining of all the power in the city.
When the lights went out is when people started to scream. But not because of the loss of power… no.
Ty pulled Camilla roughly to the pavement, shielding her with his body. Others too sought cover behind bus shelters, benches, trashcans, and in allies.
An airplane, a 747-passenger jet fell from the night’s sky and into the building with the large video screen.
“The power went off that day. It since, has not turned back on,” Grandma Danvers said with reverence.
Clara noted the far-off look in her elder’s eyes as she finished the tale, the same expression she always had when speaking of days gone by, when speaking of the Electricity Age. All the Lighted spoke with fondness and longing for the world long gone three generations ago. Clara didn’t understand why. If the old world was so great, why did it crumble to dust and never rise up again? When Clara presented this attitude to her grandmother, Grandma Danvers simply reminded her that “you’re too young to understand, child” and after that the argument ended. Well, if the eight year old Clara was too “young” than her grandmother was too old.
Live in the now but remember then, Clara reminded herself, though being a conduit made that philosophy hard to follow. Still, her father was fond of saying such things.
They three sat in the Danvers family home, a small apartment made homey by shared love and the natural enthusiasm of two children. Stories were told in front of the apartment’s only heat source, a potbellied stove that also allowed for hot meals. The dark iron housing of the stove glowed with heat as it cooled down after that night’s meal preparation. Both Clara and her brother huddled close, leaning in to listen to their grandmother sitting next to the stove and to allow the stove to take away some of spring chill. Light flickered from candles set about the room, the orange flames spotlighted some areas and dusted others spots with shadow.
“What happened to all the people, Grammy?” Clara’s younger brother Leo asked. He possessed the curiosity of a five-year-old. Fitting since he was that age. Tell Leo any story—any story—and he would believe every word uttered, and he would want to hear the story three more times besides.
“You’ve heard this story before, stupid,” Clara said with an over exaggerated sigh.
Leo stuck out his tongue. “I forgot some of the details.”
Rolling her eyes, Clara responded with, “Oh, I believe that. Grammy only tells the story every Tuesday night!”
Grandma Danvers raised her hands in a harmonious gesture. However, she was not upset, nor would she raise her voice to demand order. She radiated a calming aura that could attract and gentle wild beasts. Also, her eyes sparkled like a storyteller’s, someone willing to press on if the audience still hung there with him or her.
“So, Leo… you want to know what happened to those people on the plane do you?”
Like he hasn’t heard this part before…
“They didn’t survive,” she said flatly. “Many people traveling that day did not. Only the most talented pilots managed to land their planes and see their passengers safely to the ground, and that’s if they had enough open space to guarantee safety. Crashing in the city meant dodging buildings, a difficult feat when in cities the buildings are packed together so closely. People on the planes tended to die on impact or from the fires that started from fuel leaks after the crash. Bystanders, people on the streets close to the crash sites, became unfortunate causalities too. Bloody messes. Your grandfather and I were lucky to have lived. That plane’s wing came within feet of us.”
The gory details amazed Leo, Clara could see as much on his face. The boy’s imagination was not squeamish. Adventure and danger excited her brother. If he had way, Leo would venture out to the ruins on salvage trips with their father and Uncle Marty.
“Those of us who survived came together in communities,” their grandma continued. “We cobbled together long lost knowledge to create a new world without the lights. Those struggles are entirely different stories…”
Stories for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays… not Tuesdays, Tuesdays were for the old world. Clara rose from where she sat in front of her grandma’s knee and stretched like a cat waking from a long nap.
“But the lights didn’t go out,” Leo protested. “Not really.”
Clara sighed, dropping her arms limply. “Duh! You ever try to turn on a light bulb, doof? Doesn’t work.”
Finger pointed up at his sister, Leo challenged her remark. “You can! So can dad!”
Before Clara could utter something snarky and sarcastic, her grandmother butted in gently. “Not everyone can do what your sister and father can, Leo. But they are not from the old world… Their type is something new. Something rare. Something special leftover from Black Out Thursday.”
“So special we keep it a secret,” Clara mumbled.
“Even before Black Out Thursday, Clara,” Grandma Danvers said seriously, “people feared special. Special is often misunderstood.”
“Which makes people hate us,” Clara finished harshly. “I hate this story, I’m going to bed.”
“Don’t let the Junkers bite,” Leo called after his sister in all seriousness.
Easy if you don’t have to worry about being “special”. If you are, you have to worry about getting dragged into grandma’s stories of conduit kids abducted in the middle of the night by road riding boogiemen. No one wants to be part of those stories, or the nightmares that come along.
It was hard being “special”—as her grandma liked reminding her in good spirit—especially when special means you’re a conduit.
Clara stomped off to the bedroom she shared with her brother, hoping for sleep, hoping against nightmares of boogiemen.
Wanna keep reading?! Turn the page to Chapter One.
© 2015 Clinton D. Harding, All Rights Reserved