Everyone had a theory about why the sun stopped shining.
All of them, from junior research assistants to nobel prize winners flooded the internet with wild speculations and advanced hasty conjectures on what to do about it. NASA took the problem head on, scrapping a resupply launch in favor of perturbing our star with exotic materials and mechanisms.
They all failed.
The launches were beautiful though, long shadows cast from the brilliant flame at the end of the boosters. At one point high up in the sky, it was almost as if the sun hadn’t gone dark at all – it just wanted to take a quick look at another part of the solar system. Then the rocket would pierce the clouds, and the ascending light would blur into grey dimness. A trick of the eyes, as light-deprived rods and cones flooded my vision with blurry clones, blending into the stillness of the night.
I’d been shopping when the sun blinked out.
Cheap plastic cladding of the cart pressed against my palms, aimlessly pushing my purchases down the home supplies aisle. At first I thought it was the momentary passage of a plane, we were near an airport a few miles away. No sunlight returned. The seconds piled on, rising with my pulse. Then I heard cars crashing and the rumbling of explosions in the distance. Going 45 miles an hour is easy at high noon, but not so easy when you can’t see an inch past your own nose.
Then the store lights went out. I ducked down behind my cart, breathing quickly. I could hear some of the shoppers starting to panic, crashing over displays and shoving to get to the doors they couldn’t see. Tiny blue squares of light from smartphones filled the air, like an abstract art exhibit. I didn’t dare move, I was trying to keep my heart from leaping out of my chest and desperately trying to quell the fear gripping my mind.
Unclenching my hands from the cart, I slowly slumped down, sitting against the shelves. I was not going to die here, surrounded by mops and plungers. Shifting to all fours, I crawled to the opposite side. Feeling along the abstract shapes of plastic bubble-packaging, trying not to make too much noise. Some instinct in me pleading with me to be quiet, don’t let the others hear you. Screams in the distance firming my resolve. I grabbed the business end of a mop, feeling the floppy strands drape over my wrist.
Tying a few blind knots to contain its mass, I then resumed my groping for some cans of lighter fluid. I had just passed them hadn’t I? Sitting for a few minutes with my eyes closed, against the dark, trying to replay the images in my head. Right, there had been an end display of charcoal briquettes, so the fluid must be close by.
Rising up into a half-crouch, mop in one hand and feeling along with the other, I finally brushed against the cold square tin of lighter fluid, complete with built-in safety cap. A rush of relief flooded over me, and I would’ve cried out in triumph had my instincts not held me back.
Was that gunfire? I dropped down, scrambling in the direction of the cart.
Another loud report, and a gurgling scream down the aisle chilled my blood. Mind reeling, wishing desperately I could just blink out like the sun had, and reappear underneath my covers at home. Footsteps halted that fantasy, crunching on broken glass. Whoever it was, they were not far away.
I had to prepare.
Knuckles tight on the mop handle, I slowly uncapped the fluid, trying not to tip the container over. Dripping the fluid over the mop head, pattering softly on the floor. I reached into my pocket for my lighter, and positioned it at the base of the mop head. Both arms stretched out, half bent at the knees, ready to run.
Another step, this time much closer. How did he move without me noticing? Adrenaline flooded my veins as I sparked the mop, my crude defense against a maniac. For some reason I thought briefly about my dirty kitchen floor.
I had turned my head when the flame caught, guttering and violent. The gunman, startled by the billowing flame licking his face, he began to scream as the flames ignited his flannel shirt. I shoved forward, hard. Flailing and screaming, he ran down the aisle grabbing at both sides, each touch igniting price tags and plastic packaging. I raised my torch high, advancing slowly towards the gun lying on the floor. It was kill or be killed. I tried not to think about charred skin and burnt hair.
If that’s how its going to be, then I’m fixing to be a survivor. Picking up the gun, I walked back to my cart, heart thudding in my chest.
I had more shopping to do.