INSIDE THE LIGHT, OUTSIDE OF TIME
It began with flickering lights. No one was truly bothered until the lights grew weak and sickly. Then the air itself changed. A haze of yellow and rust began as fog and grew until it eclipsed the sky. Noon became dusk, and dusk became moonlit night, and night itself became abyss. No more healing sun. No more mystery-filled moon.
Soon, there were puddles everywhere. Moisture was held in by the haze. The ground soaked and soaked it down until the earth could bear no more. Instead, it gave birth to millions of tiny lakes and seas – all still and solemn, resisting tides and currents of any kind.
And then time stopped. All the clocks died. It was as if, on that precipice of looming consequence, the world was put in a sealed vacuum while time spun its unendingly complex threads just outside those translucent glass walls. Breath was held, dreams were paused. Life… waited.
One day, the quiet settled in. There were already no ticking clocks, but worse, suddenly there were no singing birds or swarms of buzzing insects. No calls of cicadas or brushes of butterfly wings. No passing ladybugs for luck or bees sticky with honey from their hives. Not even any cries of lost kittens or whimpers of hungry dogs. Perhaps they were cowering under covers and chairs, hiding behind feet and tucked into trembling arms, seeking comfort in familiar scents that still, somehow, said make no sound. Silence ruled, uncontested. As fear filtered out, it crowded out joy, leaving only hollow, relentless, deceptive hope.
When noise returned, it held the tones of the acrid grumble of the earth, testing the endless layers of atmosphere above, changing position without warning. It shifted and broke, ignoring the chaos it caused, pushed by movement deep below that only it could feel. It shifted, seeking to settle down into itself, trying to adjust to the strangeness deep in its belly.
But no one spoke to the earth. Instead, people poured out of their homes and storm shelters, heedless of the harsh air and flashes of light. Out was better than in, up was preferred over down, go was better than stay. They streamed out by the thousands, eerily silent save for gasps that fought the heavy, humid air and faint cries of hastily shushed children. They headed for the hills and mountains, hoping they’d pick one that was dead because all the sleeping ones were waking up, just like the layers of earth beneath the cities. But surely – surely – there was at least one stretch of ground still safe enough.
Life turned into a surreal survivor’s camp as everyone waited to hear something from someone, anyone. Someone had to know. The government, the media, the lawmakers, the hackers – they had to have answers. Why was the earth erupting? Why did the machines stop? From where had the haze come? Why had the lights flickered and nearly died? What day was it? What season? When would time resume?
But when news finally arrived, they learned to regret that last question.