Darkness

"Honey? You need to get up." Damian shook me.

"Mm… just a little longer…"

"There's something wrong."

I sat up, groggy, feeling around for his hand. He was right; it was strangely silent. "What happened?" Without the music denoting the hours, it was impossible to tell what time it was. "Don't they have back up sources to prevent time from disappearing like this?" I'd heard about it in our history lessons, but like everyone else, never believed it could happen to us.

"I don't know? Even power outages shouldn't affect our day like this."

"Are the kids awake?"

Damian laughed a little. "They're actually excited and everything, can you believe it? I thought they'd be worried, but since there's no way of deciding what time it is, there's no school today. But even so," he became serious, "we should probably figure out what happened. I can check with Zane next door to see if it's the same for them."

I sighed. "I guess I'll get them breakfast, then. Up!"

His hand was warm, as usual, a sharp contrast to my oddly cool ones. Some days it felt like I was just a little too off-center, and my feet would miss my slippers, but today wasn't one of those days. In my head, I gave myself one hundred points for that perfect landing.

I waited until Damian had moved around the bed and stopped, and, as usual, I gave him a hug on the way out the door.

"You don't have to do that every time, you know."

"Do what?"

He coughed a laugh. "Hug me."

"Hug? Who's hugging? It's just convenient, is all," I teased.

We walked hand in hand, sliding along the wall, into the bathroom. His hand grazed against my back, trailed down my left arm, and his nails tapped against the counter. My fingers wrapped around the toothbrush, exactly a palm away from the edge of the sink, and the toothpaste right next to that. It may have been slightly OCD to be so precise, but it was better than having trouble finding stuff all the time.

"…not here, but it should be…" mumbled Damian from my side.

"Toothbrush is two hands to the left and one hand up from the bottom edge of the sink."

There was a moment's pause before a slight clattering- his hand bumping into his cup, before an Aha!. "One of these days, you're going to forget where you put something, and I'll know where it is."

"That's never going to happen." My fingers trailed over to where I knew his would be. It was a sweet gesture as much as it was safety. They interlocked with his, rough against smooth, a soothing feeling. His nails scraped gently against my fingers, and I returned the gesture.

For the few moments that we had to be separated to actually brush our teeth, wash our faces, was always frightening. Today, it was particularly so- to not know how long we were standing apart, and a cold emptiness settled in my stomach without the touch of another human. I tried to recall morning to time myself, but it somehow wasn't right. And what if I was too fast? or too slow?

Sometimes I would hear a slight knocking of his knees against the cabinet, and I knew he wasn't clumsy enough to actually do it on accident.

I knew it was for me.

There was a humming of morning, getting louder and louder, and then, "Mother!"

I knew it shouldn't have been so startling, but since our son Apollo's voice had dropped several octaves, every time I heard him call out for me it was almost as if Damian just called me "mother". If it weren't for the word "mother", and his trademark humming, it would've been nearly impossible to differentiate the two.

To my left, the almost-same person said, "I'll go down and help him. Be careful, okay?"

"Of course."

Squeezing the last of the lotion out of my bottle, I made a mental note to order some more. I knew some people who didn't bother to put on make-up at all, but it was always incredibly obvious when someone didn't even try to make themselves respectable. The coarse dryness of some people's hands-!

"Mom?" Claire walked into the bathroom, almost tripping on the carpet for the umpteenth time. "Can you comb my hair? It's all tangled and gross."

"Kneel." She knelt. "Have you already eaten?"

"Nah, I wasn't hungry."

"Claire!" I yanked on the brush on accident.

"Ow! Okay, I'll eat! You don't have to torture me!"

"Sorry, sorry." I tried to make sure that I didn't brush her forehead on accident too, making sure my fingers marked where her hairline began. "Why didn't you eat?"

"It's just that there were some girls gossiping about how Ash has gotten fat."

I chuckled. "I'm sure Ashley is fine."

"No! You know that ring that we all share? She couldn't wear it on her middle finger anymore!"

"How did you know she couldn't?"

"We were doing some poetry circle reading, and she was between Dem and Eb, and neither hand was wearing it, and they said she'd gotten fat! What if I do and they just stop talking to me?"

I pulled the brush through again. "Does this mean you'll finally lotion?"

"Ugh, that's gross. Nobody does that."

"I do!"

"That's because you're old."

Claire was in that stage, of refusing to change her feelance and saying that she only wanted someone who would love her for who she was beyond that, because beauty was only skin deep and when we got old, wouldn't she want someone who'd still love to take her in his arms and protect her forever?

I snapped a rubber band around her hair, tugging a little on purpose. "Now don't be mean to your old mother."

"It's just true." She bounced up, nearly knocking into me. "Thanks, Mom."

"Mhm, now go eat something."

She turned the doorknob to leave the bathroom, but then stopped and asked, "What happened to morning? It's so weird and… scary, a little bit. Exciting too, I think."

Leave it to the children to bring up the most obvious weirdness last, and to find it exciting of all things. "I'm not sure."

"Since earlier, strange things have been happening to me."

"Strange? How so?" I absentmindedly pulled out the hair in the comb, making sure to drop it in the same pile so it would be easy to clean up afterwards.

"There was some other… quality to me. It wasn't a new scent or anything, but it was… different, somehow. Is something wrong with me?"

My hands caressed her cheek. "Oh sweetie. There's nothing wrong with you. You're beautiful." My thumb traced her nose, lips, ears. "There's nothing wrong with you."

"But something was different… I think. "

A chill spread down my spine, and for some reason, I felt like she might've been telling the truth. "If it happens again, just tell me, okay?"

"Okay. And tomorrow, we'll have morning again, right?"

"Of course, darling."

The panic in the town was so strong one could almost smell it, although the kids just seemed happy to be given a day off of school. It was almost suffocating. There were more accidents than usual, with people not being careful and running, forgetting how dangerous it was to do that without guidance. Apparently no one's morning came, and some of the more sensitive felt the shakes again. Some swore that the aliens had finally descended. A few mentioned a strange phenomenon when they woke up, and their confused testimonies sounded a lot like Claire's. As if they had been able to feel something more than just feeling, or smell something more than smelling, or hear something more than hearing. Others scolded those for making things up to frighten the children, when in fact it was they who were frightened the most. It was chaos.

Childishly, I asked Damian, "What about afternoon? What about evening? What happens if those don't come either? Will it just be an endless night?"

"We'll be okay. I think today there was just some kind of freak of nature accident. It happens."

"It's never happened before."

He squeezed, reaffirming his presence. "It'll be okay."

The hours dragged on- or perhaps just minutes, it was hard to tell. Perhaps it was only just a few hours after I'd crawled into bed with Damian, perhaps it was many, many more. I'd never been one to wake on my own- none of us were- and without day, it was just an endless empty loop.

Damian made to speak with the neighbors, and the children went to play with the others. I reminded them to wear something to keep warm, but there was no way of telling whether or not they heard me. And, alone for the first time since I was born, probably, with only occasional whispers sneaking past presumably a crack in the doorway, or perhaps a window down the hall… Without the guidance and safety of another person, I was too afraid to find out which.

I slid slowly along the hallway, fingers running over every bump on the wall, trying to count explicitly in my head how many steps it took to the kitchen. Something struck my foot- without the morning, it didn't resonate and I couldn't decipher what it was without bending over.

Crouching and picking up the foreign object, I recognized it as one of my great-grandmother's books- one that she'd received as a memory of her ancestors. The lack of hills and valleys on the pages was so alien- she'd always told me it was given to her as a present, but never found out why it was just an empty book, devoid of words. For the most part, we didn't read all that much anymore; it was much quicker to just learn everything verbally, by rote, rather than spending time forming tedious words on pages that would just fade away to illegible flatness. There was something ancient about scent of the paper, the smell of glue, and strange soft oldness in the weathered creases.

Claire must have been digging through our attic, to find this artifact. As I ran my hand across it though, I noticed a bizarre change in texture. It wasn't bumpy, and it was so subtle that I could only tell if I scrolled very slowly across the page- but it was occasionally my finger would slide against it unnaturally. There was something smooth on the blank paper.

But what was it? A stain? It was too straight, too rhythmic to be a random unclean spill, and upon further inspection each page had that same strange feeling. Did our ancestors' generation use books that could barely be felt? No wonder ours were much more pronounced; it must've been incredibly difficult for them to read anything at all. It was a good improvement, then, for ours to be that much more legible. Keller was to be celebrated for his technological advancements.

"Mom?" Claire's voice rang out.

"I'm in the study." Knowing that she usually had trouble with direction, I gave up on the Marco-Polo outdoor approach and immediately switched to our indoor way of finding people- tapping the wall.

Disturbingly, she popped up behind me without so much as a return of a knock. "What are you doing on the ground?"

It was also strange that she stopped before she touched me, strange that she knew I was on the ground when I hadn't spoken and usually was not that assumption made.

"There's something on the empty books. Here, feel!"

Claire shifted uncomfortably, her new plastic jacket rustling against the handrail. "Actually, that book is really freaky. That's what I was talking about earlier…"

"It's smoother here, in the center, just a little. Or perhaps damper. It's hard to tell."

She suddenly sat up excitedly, her arm weaving into mine. "Mom! Can you feel it too?"

"Yeah, it's-"

She interrupted, "No, I mean, don't touch it, can't you feel there's something different?"

I was confused. In every way, it was just a poorly constructed book or novel. "No… what do you mean?" It could've been old too, perhaps. But if it was, it would've just been a long line of periods. No curve of C or O or reassuring straight edges of A or T. Or maybe for much, much smaller fingers, and…

She elbowed me, her cheek rubbing against my forearm. "That's what I was talking about earlier. There's something… different about it. Maybe it's not that it feels different. Maybe it's a new smell? Or a taste… or maybe it makes a sound that's brand new… but it's not any of those."

"Well, try to explain it as much as you can."

There was a clicking sound, and Claire gasped. She yanked the book out of hand without knowing where it was, and ripped out a page of the book. A part of me felt a change in the air, but I couldn't quite place it- it was different, as Claire kept insisting- but different in an unfamiliar way.

"What are you doing?"

"For some reason, this page makes me think of food. How to make a chocolate cake or something…"

"Can you read it?" I was astonished. "You have an impressive talent, to be able to read this. I can just barely even tell there's anything on the page!"

"Chocolate cake, cocoa, cream, and a bunch of numbers. A recipe…" Her voice was shaking. "But I'm not reading it," she whispered, as if she were saying something dangerous. "I'm not touching the page. But they're there."

A low laugh came from behind. It surprised us both; neither of us had noticed anyone walking up behind us. "Don't be silly, Claire." Damian- or Apollo- said.

His hand weaved into mine, and I knew it was my son. "Apollo, don't be mean to your younger sister," I scolded.

"Hmph. What does she think is, psychic?"

But Claire was fascinated by the idea. "Maybe! Maybe I am psychic! Maybe that's what's so different about it!"

"Claire, honey…"

She let go of me, continuing excitedly. "No, it's like those people in stories- those with the third ear or something on their forehead that tells them what's on the page?"

"Claire, those are-"

She hmphed at my tone of voice. "I can! I know, somehow, that this is a recipe book!"

Apollo coughed. "It's not like we would actually know either way. Hey Mom," he nudged me, "maybe we could send Claire to the circus. She could make money, and I could buy that new- ow!" I'd squeezed his hand tightly to make him behave.

"A circus?" My daughter's voice was filled with slight disgust.

"You know," Apollo mused, "if I could read books without touching them at all, test taking would be so easy. So the question here is, why are Claire's reading grades so low?" He snickered.

She stood up beside me. "You know what, Apollo? I can prove it. I can feel the entire room layout without having to move at all."

"Yeah? Mom always has everything in the exact same place- I could too."

"Bet you can't walk from the kitchen to the living room without sidling the wall!"

"Bet you can't either!"

Before I could stop her, Claire ran off. And it was dangerous to run anywhere, but especially in a small building, without holding the handrails. "Claire!"

"I'm fine!"

I waited for the inevitable crash, but there wasn't one. On a normal day, I could walk around without touching rails no problem, because I knew the long couch was against the right wall, the coffee table exactly two of my own feet away from that couch, the armchair precisely seven from the foyer. But even if Claire was remotely as careful as I was- which I knew she wasn't- if she were just trying to show off after having memorized all the steps, she still would've had trouble with the armchair because Damian had just moved it so it was only two steps from the foyer. In less than ten seconds- an insanely short amount of time- she had made a loop from the kitchen and back. And to prove it, she handed me an oven mitt, something I'd always kept in the drawer under the oven.

Apollo groaned when he realized what object she'd brought back. "How did you do that?"

"I'm psychic, that's what." Even without touching her, I knew Claire was smiling. She moved away from us, and as she stepped, I heard another loud click, followed by a thud and shrill scream from the little girl.

"Claire!"

"Ow…" She crawled back over to us, her knees scratching against the rough floor.

Even Apollo sounded worried. "What happened?"

At his question I noticed the strange sensation had disappeared. Claire wailed, "I'm not psychic anymore!" She curled up around my arm, shaking. "That perfect floor map that was in my head just two seconds ago is gone! And…" she fumbled for the book, crumpling the recipe, "…I don't know what it says anymore! It's not talking to me! I thought I was going to be different and cool for a change, and-"

Apollo hugged my other arm, rustling to hold his sister's hand. "You know, psychics are known to not be able to hear all the time. Only when the circumstances are right. Maybe that click was a signal for your psychic abilities."

Claire sniffed. "You think so?"

I wasn't much of a believer in clairaurance, but her brief ability to traverse the house without relying on either the reverberations of the day or handrails was proof that there might've been something more. "Apollo might be right- I felt it was different in the air during the time you knew more than you should. Maybe that was like… like a wave of psychic ability, and you were lucky enough to pick it up."

Just as the words left my mouth, morning came back, transitioning into the softer prelude of the afternoon. Relief was almost palpable at the sign of normality. Apollo whistled along with it, and Claire got up, mumbling about her latent abilities as a psychic. Linked hand in hand, we went to find Damian, the outdated book forgotten.