Do Not Go Gentle
By Wendy Nikel
The shadow was coming.
When the settlers arrived in this valley, they calculated they’d have sixteen earth-years. Sixteen. Plenty of time, they’d thought, but years pass quickly in a place of continual sunlight, where the word “day” loses its meaning and there’s no night.
“We knew the time would come.” Papa set his calloused hand on Mama’s shoulder.
Mama ignored him, scrubbing dishes in the basin and staring out the window at the shades of golds and pinks that had filled the sky for the past year.
Dusk, the older folks had called it.
“We’ve all agreed,” Papa said. “We’ll pack our things and move west tomorrow. We must follow the light.”
Mama said nothing, just scrubbed harder.
Papa noticed me in the doorway and passed me a worried look.
At bedtime I asked him, and he reassured me, “She’ll come. No one can survive alone in the dark.”
I tried to sleep, the sunset’s brilliant hues slipping through the crack at the bottom of the window covering. I covered my eyes with my hand, trying to imagine what complete darkness must be like, but even that was a poor imitation. I could still make out ridges and shadows—the hills and valleys of my palms.
As Papa and Mama’s whispers fell silent and our pod-home settled into rest mode, a keening rose from far off in the east, where darkness had already claimed the land.
Raging, I called it, for that’s what it felt like in my bones.
The first time we heard it, Papa had insisted it must be some animal, that the rumors about the madness were nothing more than superstition. According to him, it’d take longer than mere hours or days for a man to lose himself in the dark.
Me, I’m not so sure.
See, there used to be another settlement east of here, past the spring and down the valley, close enough for occasional trade. Darkness came for them not too long ago. A weary group passed through, dragging their worldly possessions and squinting into the sun.
“Where will you go?” Papa had asked grimly.
“We’re heading to where the sun’s just rising,” one had said. “It’s a long journey, but we’ll have twenty-four full years before the darkness catches up.”
“This your whole group?” I piped up. It’d always seemed larger on trading days.
The man didn’t meet my eye. “No.”
Papa had squeezed Mama’s hand. She’d seemed not to notice.
Soon after they left, the raging began.
The blinds slid open at waking time, but the sunlight had diminished so much it seemed this new world of ours was fading, that the color and life was being leeched out. The flowers in the vase on the table, the illustrations in my history books, even the golden tresses of Mama’s hair all had washed out to ashy grays.
“On Earth, we’d have sunsets every night,” Papa whispered as we disassembled the pod. “It’d be dark all through our rest hours.”
“Would the folks go mad?” I turned the wrench, rending apart our home with reverent care, so as not to lose any of the tiny nuts or bolts among the growing shadows.
“No. No one knows why the darkness affects folks differently here than it did there. Maybe it’s because there, we had the moon and stars—lesser lights, but still enough to see by. Maybe it’s because there, we knew the sun would rise again soon, that the darkness would only last one night.”
“What does a sunrise look like?”
“Don’t you have pictures of it in those old books of yours?”
“It’s not the same.”
“True.” He smiled wistfully. “It’s a bit like sunset, only… different. Brighter. Full of hope.”
“You think there’s a chance someone could survive to see it… if they choose to stay?” I looked to Mama, who sat upon a nearby boulder, staring eastward.
Papa didn’t answer.
He tried carrying her, but she fought. Her nails—crusted with dirt from her toil in the greenhouses—bit crescents into his shoulder and arms. She screamed, already raging, though there was still enough light to walk by. She kicked and thrashed until he released her.
“You have to leave her,” the elders said. “It’s getting dark. You’ve got your child to think of. And the rest of the settlement. We need your strength. Your knowledge.”
I watched her shadow-like figure kneel beside the graves of my siblings, babes who perished in the first years here, before I was born. Before humanity learned how to thrive in this sun-soaked place.
No amount of pleading, no promises whispered in Mama’s ear would make her abandon this spot. It was my turn now to take Papa’s hand, to lead him out into the light. He muttered to himself as we turned away, words I pretended not to hear, for I knew they weren’t meant for my ears: “I never should’ve brought her to this place. We never should’ve come.”
Racing against the falling darkness, we hurried to the top of Signal Hill. There our view was divided: light before us, blackness behind. We might have kept going, kept rushing forward toward the day, but at that moment, Mama let out a sorrowful wail.
Papa hesitated at the top of that sad and lonely height. His eyes met mine, begging my forgiveness.
I dropped my bundles and rushed to him, but it was too late. His own burdens lay abandoned in the dust, and all I could see of him was a vague shadow within a shadow, fleeing down the hill into the dark.
The elders were upon me, but I shrugged them off.
“I’m fine,” I insisted, shouldering Papa’s burden in addition to my own.
They exchanged glances, as if uncertain whether they should trust my words.
I brushed past them. They wouldn’t understand. No one can survive alone in the dark, but maybe, just maybe, together they might.
As for me… I was going to see the sunrise.