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THE LIGHT BEING
by Ann Carol Ulrich


Chapter 8

Sudden Darkness

After spending the night in a motel in central Nebraska, Blake was eager for his family to reach their destination. Everything they had discussed the day before in the car kept coming back to him. The fact that he had an aunt living on a different planet intrigued him, but that her husband was an extraterrestrial was totally mind-blowing. He couldn’t get them out of his thoughts.

Manley was cruising west on the interstate and Dorothy sat in front this time. Blake sat in the back seat with Kelly, who watched out her window from her car seat and was busy babbling to all of them about everything she was seeing. Every time Blake caught his mother staring at him, she smiled and turned away. He guessed she was thinking about all that had been disclosed and he knew she was pleased that he had been able to accept all of it.

His mother had always been intuitive. He knew she was a healer. He remembered how, throughout his childhood, his mother had been closest to him the times he had been ill. He fondly recalled massages she had given him and the soothing touch of her hot hands. She had done wonders with his sister. At least that’s what Dr. Barbara Wetzel had said with regard to Kelly’s handicap.

Outside his window Blake watched the fields and fences. He had never seen Colorado. He hoped the scenery was better there, like everybody promised. He noticed off to the northwest the sky was rosy. It was a blue-skied morning with some wispy white clouds, just what you’d expect for early June. So why was it getting red around the horizon? He shrugged it off as some kind of strange weather pattern and leaned back and shut his eyes.

A few minutes later he opened them because Dad and Mom were talking excitedly.

“Manley, it’s only ten forty-nine,” his mother insisted. “Look at the car clock.”

“I see,” his father replied. “I don’t get it.”

Blake was surprised to see that it was actually getting dark outside. The redness around the horizon was in every direction and the light outside was growing dimmer.

“Do you suppose it could be a solar eclipse?” Dorothy asked.

Manley craned his neck to gaze at the sun as he drove, since the sun was on his side of the car. “I sure haven’t heard about any solar eclipses happening lately,” he replied.

Blake leaned forward. “What’s going on? Why is it getting so dark?”

“And why is the sky such a strange color?” asked Dorothy.

“Did we experience missing time?” Manley wasn’t joking. He appeared to be worried.

“Time fo’ bed!” Kelly announced from her car seat.

“No, it’s not,” Blake reassured his sister. “Maybe we’re going through some kind of a fog.”

“Manley, let’s turn on the radio.” Dorothy reached over and pushed the power button.

“Good idea,” he said. “Maybe we’ll get some kind of explanation.”

Static came from the radio. Outside the daylight was giving in to dusk and a dark red band of sky seemed to hang over the horizon.

“Manley, I think we should stop,” Dorothy advised. She turned the dial in an attempt to find a station that they could listen to. “I really think we should turn off at the next exit. This is too weird!”

Blake didn’t understand what was happening. It was growing darker and cars turned on their headlights. Some of the traffic had stopped along the side of the interstate, but Manley kept driving.

“I’ll get off at the next exit,” he said.

A staticky voice came through the radio just then. An announcer said, “The governor has issued a statement for everyone to stay in their homes. Martial law is in effect. I repeat, martial law is in effect. If you are listening to this broadcast, I urge you to stay where you are. If there is...” The static took over.

Dorothy fumbled with the dial to find another station.

“What in God’s name is going on?” cried Manley. Ahead of him the traffic had slowed and both lanes were clogged with vehicles.

“Mom, what do they mean about martial law?” Blake felt a lump in his throat. Fear was beginning to take hold of him.

People in other cars on the interstate appeared agitated. The flow of traffic moved slowly. Passing wasn’t possible with both lanes practically bumper to bumper.

Dorothy continued to try to find a radio station, but all they received was static.

“Dad, what are we gonna do?” asked Blake.

“There’s not much we can do,” said Manley. “Just keep driving.”

Kelly began to cry. She seemed to understand that something unusual was happening and it frightened her. Dorothy turned her attention toward the six-year-old. Outside the window Blake watched people in other cars. They all seemed to be scared. Behind them a sports car was approaching on the shoulder, weaving its way past several vehicles. Cars began honking as if in protest, but soon others were following suit.

“Somebody’s going to get themselves killed!” Manley rolled down his window. It was almost completely dark out now. The sky was black except for that mysterious red glow around the horizon. It was now fading as well.

“I think the exit is just ahead,” Manley said. “That’s why all the traffic is backed up.”

“Everyone wants to get off at the exit,” said Blake. His body felt tense and his heart was racing.

Kelly was still crying. Dorothy fussed over her, but couldn’t get the little girl to stop. The wailing was getting on their nerves.

“Manley, get us out of this nightmare,” cried Dorothy. “Can’t you do something?”

“I’m trying, I’m trying!”

“This can’t be happening!” Dorothy suddenly burst into tears, which made Kelly scream even harder.

Blake leaned forward to touch his mother’s shoulder. “Mom, calm down,” he said. “It’s going to be all right.”

“How do you know?” Dorothy sobbed. “I think it’s a pole shift! Oh Manley, drive faster!”

“I can’t!”

“Mom, don’t panic,” said Blake. “It’ll just make things worse.”

“I know it’s a pole shift,” gasped Dorothy. “It’s been predicted for years! Oh, we’re all going to die!”

“Mom...” Blake pleaded.

Manley’s voice rose. “You’re losing it, Dorothy! We’re not having a pole shift! How can it be a pole shift, for God’s sake?”

“Then what happened to the sun?” Dorothy continued to sob. “We’ll all die without the sun! Oh no, what if China exploded an atomic bomb? Maybe we’re experiencing a nuclear winter!”

Her words chilled Blake’s heart, but something inside of him urged him to speak. “Mom, stop it,” he said. “You’re getting worked up and for no reason. Believe me, we’re not having a pole shift and there is no nuclear winter!”

To his surprise, she turned around and pulled him close, hugging him tight. “Thank you, Blake,” she whispered as her sniffing subsided. “Of course you are both right.” She let go and found a tissue in her purse. “There has to be some logical explanation.”

Kelly’s crying dwindled to a whimper as Manley reached the exit and they began to work their way down the exit lane. They hadn’t gotten very far when suddenly the car died and the dash lights went out. Around them everything was pitch black.

The other vehicles on the road had quit running and all their lights had gone out as well.

“Oh, God!” Dorothy began to whine.

“Shh,” said Manley, “don’t start.”

Strangely enough, Kelly was silent for a minute. For a few seconds there was no sound. Blake was frightened now and couldn’t speak. Then he heard the faint cries from people outside. Terror began to set in and it was contagious.

“Manley...” Dorothy’s voice wavered.

“Let’s all just remain calm,” said Manley. “Blake, can you see anything?”

“It’s too dark,” said Blake.

“What happened to the lights?” asked Dorothy. She was fighting to control her fear.

“I don’t know.” Manley tried starting the car, but it wouldn’t turn over.

“Dad, there’s a flashlight in the glove compartment, isn’t there?” Blake heard his mother fumbling around in the dark, trying to open the compartment.

“I’ve got it,” she said. She clicked the flashlight several times. “It doesn’t work! The battery must be dead.”

“No, I just put new batteries in before we left Illinois,” said Manley. “It can’t be dead.”

“Well, it’s not working,” said Dorothy.

“Mama...” Kelly began to cry again. “Scared... Mama!”

Blake put his arm around his sister. “It’s okay, Kelly Belly.”

“Dark,” the little girl sobbed. “Dark!”

“I know.”

Manley opened the car door.

“Where are you going?” Dorothy cried.

“The light doesn’t even come on when I open the door,” said Manley. From outside came cries from the people whose vehicles had stopped near theirs. Hysterical voices rose in the pitch black around them.

“Who’s got a light?” a man called out.

“Flashlights don’t work!” someone else shouted.

“Manley,” Dorothy called nervously, “maybe you’d better stay in the car.”

Blake remembered the lighter he carried in his pocket. He reached into his jeans and pulled out the disposable bit of plastic. After a couple of clicks he had a small flame lit that illuminated his face, Kelly’s and their mother’s.

Manley climbed back into the car. “Good idea, Blake.”

The light went out. “I can’t hold it open too long,” said Blake and clicked it again.

“If only we had a candle,” said Dorothy.

“Or a lantern,” added Manley.

“Dad, are we carrying any flares?” asked Blake.

“Excellent.” Manley got out of the car and groped his way to the back door to open the hatch. They began to notice little specks of light here and there as people found matches and lighters to quell the total blackness.

“It’s starting to get cold,” Dorothy said.

“The temperature must be dropping,” said Blake.

“All we brought were sweaters,” said Dorothy. “I hope it doesn’t get too cold.”

Manley scrambled around in the back of the car and then returned to the driver’s seat with the flare sticks. “Blake, let me see that lighter.” Stepping outside, Manley lit a flare and the immediate area was filled with the blaze. He set the flare on the road beside their car and almost immediately other people began to gather, like moths drawn to a flame.

“You were certainly prepared,” a woman remarked, wrapping a blanket around herself. Two small boys stood beside her, shivering in jackets.

“Somebody ought to start a bonfire,” a man suggested.

“Hey, you got any more of those things?” A husky figure of a man moved into the fringe of the light. He wore coveralls and had a black, frizzy beard.

“Only three,” said Manley.

“Give ’em here,” the man said gruffly.

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” Manley replied. “I’m sure it’s not wise to burn more than one at a time. We have no idea how long...”

“I said give ’em here!” The husky man lurched toward Manley, who held the three remaining sticks behind his back.

Blake got out of the car and instinctively grabbed the flares away from his father. Then he moved away from the men.

“Hey, kid, give me those flares!” the man commanded.

“Now let’s be reasonable about this,” Manley began. “Blake, get back in the car.”

Keeping his voice calm, Manley closed the car door on the driver’s side.

Without hesitation Blake swung around the front of the car and hopped into the back seat with the flares.

“No, you don’t! Give me those sticks!” The husky man with the beard pushed Manley against the car and tried to open Kelly’s door, but it was locked.

“Manley!” Dorothy cried in terror.

“Mom, lock the door!” shouted Blake.

Kelly began screaming.

“What about your father?”

“Just do it!” Blake locked his own door.

The man moved quickly and managed to get Manley’s door open before Dorothy could lock it. Then Manley grabbed the big man and pulled him away from the car. The man swung at Manley, who anticipated the reaction and ducked as the man’s fist punched through the car window, causing chunks of broken glass to fall inward.

Dorothy screamed and Blake jumped into action. He dove into the front seat and crawled out the driver’s side, where the husky man slammed his fists into his father, who slumped to the ground and was covering his face. People in the small crowd were backing away from the scene. Blake leaped onto the man’s back and tightened his hands around the man’s neck.

“Stop hurting my dad!” he yelled.

“Blake! No! Somebody help us!” he heard his mother yell from inside the car.

Blake was tall and strong for his age, but soon discovered he was no match for this heavy brute. The man grabbed Blake’s fingers and pried them painfully off himself, then hurled Blake onto the hard ground beside his writhing father. The next thing Blake knew, he was being kicked by the man. Sharp blows erupted on his hips and sides. Then he felt something rock hard hit him in the jaw, and everything went dark and cold.

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