Phoenix’s front door was unlocked. He crept inside the apartment and shut it softly. It had taken far longer than he and Alex had expected to get out of the blue light, but some consequences couldn’t go unexpected by the time Phoenix got home. It must have been well past midnight at that stage, and his parents were probably worried sick.
“Home,” Phoenix whispered. Shit! They’re gonna kill me!
He gibbered a little, then stuffed his hand into the deep pockets of his coat and retrieved his phone. It was almost one in the morning, and there were five unread texts from Mom.
His face lit up brightly, and he could see the sharp outline of his kitchen furniture. There in the back was a small dining table that could maybe accommodate three people. Against a built-in extension cable on the right stood a smooth counter with a kettle, a mug stand with some old cups on it (one such cup had a flower printed on it; that was his favourite), and a fridge that separated one edge of the counter from the other.
There was no sound but the gentle tapping of water dripping into the sink.
He glanced over at the window on the other side of the kitchen, surprised: there was only shadow. Phoenix spent some time looking at the pane, scanning it. Then he noticed that a chair had been flipped over near his bedroom door. The door was open, too.
Why aren’t they home? he thought. Well, are they?
“Mom!” he said. “Dad!”
No response. Not even from his little dog, Fluffy. The little Bichon Frise that usually greeted Phoenix whenever he came home from whatever he was doing. Not this morning. Not this night.
He checked the texts:
Mom: Where the hell are you.
Mom: Your father went out looking for you.
1 Missed Call
Mom: GET HOME NOW.
Mom: RIGHT NOW.
He grimaced and closed the messenger app. He flicked the light switch on. It wouldn’t work, so he used the flash on his phone.
“Great,” he said. “The power really be out at this time.”
Phoenix sneaked into his bedroom. The place was a mess. His bedsheet was torn halfway across his mattress as if there was a dangerous animal that somehow got into the apartment. Piles of cotton were ripped out of his pillows, and they attached themselves to the carpet like spider webs, sticking to the floor, stretching and tearing as Phoenix walked through.
Phoenix glanced down at the nighttable next to his bed and saw an empty soda can.
He looked around the room some more, darkness being forced away by his flash.
His eyes finally caught something, and his mouth gaped open.
Grimacing, he said in a quaky voice, “No. No!”
Under the soda can on his nighttable were the keys to his apartment. The door was never locked. This meant . . . his parents left without the keys to the house. This was totally unlike them. Why would they do that?
Thoughts flew through his mind like a swarm of flies, at first itching, then scratching and gnawing.
Phoenix rushed out of his bedroom door and hurried to his parents’ room, panting. He tripped over the turned chair and hit his head against the dining table. He sucked the pain through his teeth and stood back up, stumbling his way towards their room, groaning. He burst through the door.
“Oh, God,” he said.
“Aw, man –” Phoenix spoke – “where the fuck did they goooooo, man?”
He went outdoors. Went down the steps of the apartment building. Pushed the main entrance open and felt those same cold and bitter winds catch hold of him again.
This scene . . . this scene he remembered not too long ago – when he left the Retrove Centre.
The streetlights were powerless, and the milky way galaxy
(Was that the milky way?)
was visible, at least, for the time being – behind the cyan vortex.
The harsh thrum of traffic still fluctuated up and down the crevices of Violetwall, especially the commercial district: there had been quite the commotion ever since they introduced that traffic law back in the early twenties (‘The planet is under major stress due to our pollution levels’).
“Everything is so dark,” he whispered to himself. “Is the blue light going away?”
But that wasn’t his primary concern; his parents, even his dog, were missing. That much he understood.
Phoenix wondered if they’d forgotten he was there. This wasn’t making much sense to him; he decided they must have grabbed Fluffy and drove around the city to look for him, wanting to escape this place as soon as possible.
Was it true though? he asked himself.
In the darkening city light there was a building penumbra. It hung like blindness in even the brightest areas of the city, and that’s when Phoenix noticed, the blue glow of The Spire was no more; a speckle in the skyline.
Then a familiar sound came back to him. The chuh-chuh-chuh of the helicopters he heard on the same night that he left the Retrove Centre. It sounded dangerous – like a storm was brewing.
Was it danger? Phoenix thought. Is that really what I should be worrying about right now?
Phoenix slowly backed away towards the apartment complex, his fists balled.
“Aw, shit,” he murmured. “Here we go again!”
He went back inside.
Alex was home, and there was a can of Diet Coca-Cola in the fridge. That was hers.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” her mother said. “I’m just glad you got home before anything bad happened to you.”
Alex had gotten home ten minutes after she split up with Phoenix and Andy. It was hard to miss her house: the three-storey building with a big tree out front that curved like a cat’s tail, white walls with a black roof, and large gnomes in the garden that sometimes scared children away on Halloween. Yeah, she had a real house.
They were in the kitchen, and Alex’s mother had been making tea for herself for the last five or so minutes (two spoons of sugar, a drop of milk, Lyons).
It was safe to say that Alex inherited a lot of her features from her mother.
Katherine Ramiro was her name from birth; she was tall, maybe five-eight, and had sharp facial features that bore a stark resemblance to Vanessa Williams. Her eyes were green like her daughter’s, and she had those same red lips and black freckles on her cheeks. That night she wore a black nightgown.
Alex went over to the fridge and looked at the clock: 1:23 A.M.
She took her Diet Coke out of the fridge and cracked it open.
“Your father is late because he, and I, wasn’t expecting a giant cloud to form out of nowhere, but at least it’s quietened for the past while.”
“Yeah,” Alex said. “I hope Dad’s okay, too.”
“Too?” her mom said. “Who else is out there?”
She sat down at the kitchen table (there was a plastic cup of straws next to a vase at the centre) and looked around the place. There was nothing out of the ordinary, some potted plants, cupboards above the counter, and a door that led into the bathroom. They hadn’t lost power, well, they had at the beginning, but it came back after ten minutes.
Alex felt a chill. “Nah, it’s –” she said.
“Phoenix,” Katherine said. “Andy, too, right? Nice young boy.”
Mhm – “Yeah, nice . . . ” Alex said.
There followed an awkward silence, and Katherine took a sip from her tea, looking down at her nightgown, then back at Alex. She smiled. “In good news, you might get school off for a while until they figure out what’s going on with the atmosphere. Looks cool, though, doesn’t it? Like one of those mosaic paintings from the early, what – eighteen, seventeen hundreds?”
What are you talking about? – “Yeah,” Alex said aloud.
“Well you’re not very talkative are ya?” Katherine laughed.
“No.” Alex grabbed a straw from the cup on the table. She twisted the opener of the can around and stuck the straw through the middle, sipping it. “Tired.”
“Then you should probably stop drinking Coke . . .” Katherine grabbed the can and put in back in the fridge. “And go to bed. It’s way past your bedtime anyhow. And there’s no certainty that school will be cancelled tomorrow.”
She sipped her tea.
The helicopters in the sky flew overhead, and once Katherine noticed, she peeked out the kitchen window and said, “Huh, well that’s interesting.”
Alex yawned and stood up. She wanted to stretch but didn’t. “What is it?”
“Now?” Alex said.
“Yeah,” Katherine said, “they were just passing over The Spire just there.”
“Your father better get home soon,” Katherine murmured. “Well,” she blurted out, “off to bed with you. Buh-bye,” she said, sarcastic.
“Night,” Alex said.
Alex went up the steps to her bedroom. On the way she glanced at the pictures on the blue walls: some images of herself and her mom and dad, a large picture of Jesus Christ by the bannister, and The Starry Night by Van Gogh by her bedroom door.
Alex didn’t get a good sleep that night.