“Mommy. My brain is, is, is buzzing.”
“Brains don’t buzz, babygirl.”
Doctor Mylania Wong stole a glance at her five-year-old daughter anyway, making sure the straight faced, bob cut child—who still resembled Mylania’s mother enough to trigger unwanted flashbacks if she wasn’t ready—was actually okay. She was. Skin color normal, pupils undilated, breathing steady. Her child was fine, ailed only by chronic boredom if anything. Doctor Mylania Wong slipped her gaze back to the screen in front of her, a glittering display showing a hypothetical interaction between the chemical she and her team had developed reacting with the outside atmosphere.
“Not now Summer.”
She held her breath as red and yellow dots swirled around one another like hormonally charged adolescents circling for honey at what her generation once knew as high school prom. Then her face abruptly dropped as the red dots coalesced, before mercilessly mushrooming outward, dominating the whole screen. The glowing monitor blinked rapidly for five seconds, before going dark.
Doctor Mylania Wong’s fist pounded another groove into her desktop.
Earth destroyed. Again.
The young girl wrapped her arm around her mother’s legs, mirroring the way her mother’s hands encompassed her own face.
“I want to go outside.”
“Summer. You know we don’t go outside. We never go outside.”
Summer’s arms dropped to her sides. Big feelings she didn’t know how to name flickered across her chest like a percussionist warming up for a city parade. She had never ever been outside. Ever. But sometimes her mom let her watch recordings from her childhood, and lots of kids played outside. It looked so fun! Kids climbed trees, splashed around in these things called swimming pools, and even played together at colorful places that her mom told her were parks!
Summer longed, more than anything, to be able to play at a park with friends. She was so amazed at all the games people used to play with balls. Kicking it, throwing it, bouncing it, swatting it—every interaction with the balls made it into a different game! Summer couldn’t believe it. How come she couldn’t live like that?
Her gaze drifted towards the one window in the room calibrated to reveal the outside world.
That’s all Summer had ever known. Sometimes it was sheer, other times it drifted about like flakes of ash condemned, but it was always present. Always threatening to sweep in and steal away what little lives they had etched out for themselves.
A distant siren interrupted their time together.
Doctor Mylania Wong stood.
“Time to go, Summer. Gather your things.”
The lab, no bigger than most bedrooms, began powering down automatically- a slow descending hum spreading across the room like the sound of falling stars in reverse, until only silence, and light, remained.
Summer had her items, the same five items she brought every day, already packed into her travel bag.
1 LifeBar: A scientific creation providing the body with all necessary nutrients, that one could unwrap and chew on for 100,000 hours in the event of there being no food.
1 Thermal Cover: Once donned, it either lowered or raised the temperature in accordance with what the body required. It was spun from the organic silks of a rare dessert flower and lasts up to three years once opened.
1 HallComm: A communication device which could communicate with anybody in a ten mile radius, five if obscured by the Darkness, as well as reveal your geographic location. It runs off the heat generated by living bodies.
1 Hydration Capsule: Keeps the body fully hydrated for up to one year after consumption.
1 Shield Torch: Self sustaining flame with three foot radius of light, that also protects against the Darkness. Heat and light last for a month; shield lasts 24 hours.
Each of these essential items were sealed inside impact-absorbent spheres, which also made them ideal play things for children like Summer, who frequently accompanied her mother to the lab during the waking cycle of each day.
Summer stumbled slightly as she reached her mother, who was already facing the exit doors a few feet away. Her vision swam for a moment, head humming loudly. She opened her mouth to say something, but fearing another parental chiding, chose silence instead. The buzzing faded and her eyesight returned, albeit not quite right, and she hurried over.
Doctor Mylania Wong powered down the lights and they whisked through the retracting doors.
“Any luck today, Doctor?”
Kento. One of the Hall Colony’s black and yellow garbed security force agents. The one who guarded her door every day during the waking cycle.
“Not today Kento.”
“I’ll keep praying for you then.”
“Don’t pray for me, Kento. Pray for light.”
“Yes ma’am. And what about you, Summer? What do you want me to pray for?”
Summer looked up, peculiar brown specks swimming in her green ocean eyes.
“Prayer is like playing with my spheres. You can do whatever you want with it.”
Kento looked at Doctor Mylania Wong, dumbfounded.
“Her father died fighting The Darkness before she was born, and her mother is the top scientist for the entire Hall Colony Network. What did you think her answer would be?”
Summer swung her legs on the meal table bench, spooning the nutrient rich fluff into her mouth, while her mom studied the readouts from her latest experiment on a palm screen in front of her. Summer was having a hard time eating tonight—the food was more tasteless than usual. She could scarcely decipher when one bite ended and another began.
“My brain is buzzing.”
Doctor Mylania Wong turned to her daughter in annoyance.
“Summer, for Darkness’ sake, brains don’t buzz! Can’t you see me here trying to solve life for everybody? Trying to SAVE everyone?!”
Summer wilted, and guilt racked Doctor Mylania Wong’s body. Staring into a face so familiar for the pain it caused her; yet being the mirror for the very same. She collapsed her palm screen and shoved it into her pocket, half turning her body, arms semi extended.
“I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Summer’s eyes wavered in the air, not entirely trusting the apology. Doctor Mylania Wong met those curious, examining, beautiful eyes without flinching. Words from her therapist flowed back into her brain from what felt like a lifetime ago, when she was heavily debating whether or not she wanted to have a child.
“Parenting is less a science and more a mutating art that changes categories right when you finally understand what in the world is going on. Being present solves more problems than worrying ever will.”
Summer could no longer feel the spoon in her hand as she squinted into her mother’s eyes. For once there seemed to be no rush. Only waiting. Waiting for Summer.
She dove into the embrace, burying her face in the swampy thickness of her mother’s clinical scent. Summer burrowed even deeper into the hug, nestling beyond the reach of that cloying lab coat, squeezing herself into her mother’s side until a distinctly human smell wafted into her nostrils. This was the smell she was accustomed to when they were confined to their dormitory during the sleeping cycle. This was the smell she wrestled with during the moments when her mom was busy bathing her body in the bathroom, unable to keep guard over her blankets and pillows. This was the smell that always told Summer she was home, despite the relentless Darkness pressing in on the Hall Colony’s walls from the outside.
“Er— Doctor Wong?”
Summer’s mother looked up.
“Do you have a moment to discuss your findings today?”
Doctor Mylania Wong looked down at Summer. Torn. Summer felt the skip of her mother’s heartbeat and began to extract herself from the embrace. She looked over at the speaker, not quite being able to make out who it was, but from the sound of the voice, it was their Hall Colony’s Prime Director. Summer squinted up into her mother’s hazy face.
“It’s okay, mommy.”
Doctor Mylania Wong hesitated.
“I love you, Summer.”
Doctor Mylania Wong stood to confer with the Prime Director. Their voices blurred in Summer’s ears and her head began buzzing again. This time, she couldn’t taste the food at all.
Soft music played throughout their personal dormitor;: beautifully blending piano strokes, occasionally dizzying in the complexity of their steps across the ornate sonic floor. Hazel, recalls Summer. Her mom had told her that Hazel had been her father’s favorite pianist.
“What did she want, mom?”
“The Prime Director.”
“Oh. You didn’t overhear us talking? We weren’t too far from you.”
“I wasn’t paying attention.”
Doctor Mylania Wong playfully ran her fingers through her daughter’s hair.
“Well… she wanted to know if I’d had any success with our project to reignite the sun.”
“They think the sun is off?”
“That’s the leading theory. The Darkness has surrounded the entire world all at once. The only logical conclusion is something happened to the sun.”
“What if The Darkness is something else?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like a big shadow.”
“Shadows need light in order to exist, baby.”
Another hair ruffle.
“Don’t you worry yourself about this. That’s what they pay me to do. You just focus on being a kid- as much as you can anyway.”
Sadness crept into her mother’s eyes.
Summer hated seeing her mother sad.
“Onnnne dayyy, onnne dayyy…”
Summer began singing the song she and her mom had made up when she was two years old. No response from her mom. Summer wasn’t sure whether she was singing too softly or too loudly, so she took a chance and began again.
“Onnnne dayyy, onnne dayyy…”
“Sun will be water…”
Her mom smiled.
Summer was so happy. She couldn’t feel her cheeks, but she still smiled back.
“We’ll be stronger than fire…”
“Onnne dayyy, onnne dayyy…”
“Outside will be our friend again…”
They joined in the last line together.
“Cuz The Darkness is a poopyhead!”
Mother and daughter laughed in each other’s arms. Hazel played hypnotically in the background, luring them both to sleep in descending tandem with the dimming lights. Summer curled close, content with knowing her mother’s arms were wrapped around her. Purely happy. For once unconcerned with the buzzing in her head, almost not noticing she hadn’t smelled her mother’s scent once since they returned to the room.
Blaring alarms ransacked the entirety of the Hall Colony. A confusing concerto of up-down notes with occasional jazz frills peppered the ears of its denizens, beating them into cautiously realized submission of understanding.
These bells had never been rung before.
Summer slept on.
“Doctor Wong, what is it?!”
The Prime Director came sprinting into the lab.
“And you should have spoken with me first, before—“
“I figured it out!”
Doctor Mylania Wong’s voice was almost gleeful.
“Something my daughter said to me last night.”
“Where is your daughter anyway? Children aren’t supposed to be left alone in—“
“Kento is bringing her, because I woke up early.”
The Prime Director saw her attempted scoldings were getting her nowhere.
“Okay. What did you figure out?”
“Last night, my daughter asked if there was perhaps something that was blocking the sun, rather than the sun just being off.”
“Right. That was the first thing we investigated. To no avail.”
“True,” Doctor Mylania Wong conceded. “But we weren’t looking at it properly.”
“We assumed, if there was blockage, it was from some as-of-yet-unknown inorganic mass.”
“Inorga- wait. No.”
Doctor Mylania Wong clapped in delight and pointed to her screen.
“The Darkness is organic. Not only that, after preliminary cross references with all organic life forms on earth, it bears closest resemblance to unmatured human bio-sequence!”
“So… The Darkness… is… a child?”
“Yes and no. Remember— it’s not a person. Simply organic. Living. Adjusting to always keep us shrouded away from the sun. It’s not an actual child. It just has the most in common with the bio-sequencing of children.”
The Prime Director scratched her head as Doctor Mylania Wong eagerly plunged on.
“More tests need to be done to understand the details about it, but on a whim, I put one of our capsuled supplies of the Darkness through a series of tests…”
“You need my clearance for that!”
“… and discovered that, of all the stimuli, it is susceptible to sound waves.”
This stopped the Prime Director in her tracks.
The same joyful light emanating from Doctor Mylania Wong’s face began to emanate from her own.
“This means… this means we have a way to finally fight it.”
“Yes!” Doctor Mylania Wong squealed. “It vibrates on a very particular frequency, almost like a buzzing-“
She abruptly stopped speaking.
All colour drained from her face.
Fear seized the Prime Director.
“What is it?”
Without another word, Doctor Mylania Wong tore out of the room, down the hall, and towards her dormitory.
Far away shrieks.
There was no music.
Summer awoke in a daze, unable to comprehend her surroundings. Light pierced her eyes, but she was unable to blink. To see. There was only a fastly fading glare. The violent shaking had disappeared also. At least she thought so. She couldn’t feel any of her limbs. There was no smell. But something in her sensed the presence of her mother. Sensed the panic of not being able to see what her mom saw.
Braced at the doorway, between Kento and the frame against a viciously whipping wind, Summer’s mom saw her daughter levitating in the air. But, as she took a firm look at her only child, realizing with a start that she hadn’t taken more than a passing glance at her in months, she was startled by the story her eyes were telling her. Summer floated in the air, surrounded by gusts of wind, but she was not there.
Her mom rubbed her own eyes again. Fighting to comprehend. Her daughter… was there… but her eyes had faded from her face. As had her nose and lips. Horrified, she watched in real time as Summer’s ears also vanished. It was only once her limbs began yielding to the same fate, that her mom saw the truth for it was.
Her daughter wasn’t disappearing. She was becoming.
“I hope mom isn’t mad at me.”
Summer’s last conscious thought, before disappearing into The Darkness, streaking down the hallways, escaping through the cracks and crevices in the Hall Colony, catapulting up into the sky—was identical to the masses she instantly congealed with. The buzzing, organic, childlike Darkness cradling the planet.
“What… what just happened?”
Misery laced Mylania’s voice as she slid down the wall; scenes of how she had ignored her daughter and the incessant buzzing in her daughter’s head that had affected her for nearly a year, rampaged through her mind. How could she, Summer’s mother, have been so blind?
What just happened?
All Mylania had in response were the four emptiest words she would ever say.
“We cracked the case.”
About the Author
Josh Evans- known as Mr. Josh by many- is a poet, storyteller, voice actor, and educator from Pasadena, California. He is a creative powerhouse bringing cinematic scope to audio theatre with his children’s show “Primarosaurus Tales” and multiple sci-fi/fantasy productions. In the spirit of Octavia E. Butler, Josh “writes himself in,” along with his entire community, never ceasing to push storytelling into provocative and interesting arenas.