Brian Burt - Speculative Fiction
Soul or Eclipse
[Originally published in Talebones.]
Lita Hoile hurried toward the Psychiatric Ward of Munson Hospital as her pager went off for the second time. She spotted Bill Meltzer outside one of the examining rooms, face unusually grim, straw-blond hair mussed where he always ran his fingers through it when a tough case had him stumped.
She willed her eyes to shift his physical features out of focus. The brassy gleam of self-confidence suffused him, surrounding a sickly yellow core of doubt. Wisps of blue swirled around him: compassion, the color that redeemed his faults. And something she rarely saw in Bill - bubbles of lavender floating through the rest, flashes of pastel fireworks. Frustration. Worry. When he returned her wave, the bubbles swelled like pustulent balloons.
The Inner Light hid nothing.
Bill looked thoroughly chagrined. "Sorry to drag you out of session, but I don't have your way with kids."
"Forget it. It's worth the trip just to hear you admit you don't know everything. What have we got?"
"Little girl named Sarah Baxter. Not quite seven, according to her records. Family Services brought her in a couple hours ago. Mama's over in Intensive Care - Daddy beat her to a pulp while the little girl watched. Evidently he's done it before… to both of them. Lita, this kid has scars where no kid should have them."
Bill's Light flared crimson, igniting Lita's own. The color stained her cheeks, her thoughts, her vision; it even bled into her voice. "Christ, you need a license to own a dog in this town, but any psycho with an active sperm count can become a father! Okay… the physical scars will heal. What about the rest?"
Bill sighed. "Preliminary diagnosis: severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Kid's wedged in a corner, nearly catatonic. She just sucks her thumb and stares into space. I've tried talking to her, so have a couple of the nurses. No sale."
Lita nodded. "I'll see what I can do."
The examining room was dimly lit, redolent of antiseptic. A little girl crouched in one corner in a faded jumpsuit covered with leering images of Minnie Mouse. Brown hair drooped across her face in greasy tangles, wide brown eyes oblivious to the presence of another stranger. Behind the glassy stare, magenta clouds of terror roiled inside a tiny, trembling soul. Gashes of livid purple luminesced deep inside: raw, festering bruises of Light. Lita shivered.
The colors of mangled innocence were the hardest to endure… for both the victim and the healer.
Lita knelt a few feet away. "It's okay, Sarah. I'm a friend." She stretched out a hand to stroke the child's emaciated arm. A twitch of muscle as the arm flinched away; a flash of incandescent horror. "Do you like Minnie Mouse?" Fear more muted - a silvery flicker of interest. "We have a lovely, cuddly Minnie Mouse doll in the Play Room. If you come with me, we'll go get something yummy to eat, then we'll go play with Minnie, just the two of us." Flares of magenta punctuated every utterance of the word go.
"We have chocolate pudding in the Cafeteria… all you can eat." Another splash of quicksilver light. Sarah rose on spindly legs, held out the hand that did not have its thumb jammed in her mouth. She did not smile. She did not speak. Her palm was slick and cold, like melting ice.
Oh, Sarah, you've got a long, dark road ahead.
Bill grinned and mouthed a thank-you as Lita led Sarah through the door. Lita steered her down the corridor toward the Cafeteria, scanning for the first glimmer of trouble. A commotion erupted in the Admitting Area ahead, a gruff voice shouting obscenities; the little girl froze, squeezed Lita's hand so tight the knuckles ground together.
Sarah's eyes were blank, but inside… inside was the Fourth of July.
He came lumbering down the corridor: a hulk of a man reeking of old sweat and malt whiskey, features little more than a shadow in Lita's mind. The Light of his pollution blinded her. Flames of orange and vermilion blazed inside him; she could feel the heat of his psychic fever spraying sparks of poison. So sick. Burning from the inside out. Lita grabbed the little girl and held her tight as the Light of terror screamed silently around them.
"What're you doin' wit' my baby girl? You ain't no better than that whore wife o' mine, tryin' to steal a man's baby away. You can't keep her from me. Nobody can."
It happened so fast: Bill chugging past her in a blur, launching himself at a silhouette of fire. Two orderlies sprinted from the opposite direction and dove into the melee. A security guard came running, looking sheepish and confused. Lita could see nothing but flames dancing in the hallway. The orderlies finally wrestled the intruder to the floor. A disheveled Bill Meltzer crawled off the man's chest - huffing and puffing, angrier than she had ever seen him - and tried to straighten his unruly mop of hair. He glared at the security guard, who pointed his pistol between the orderlies, trying to look like he had the situation under control. Bill almost deafened them all.
"Get this piece of garbage off my ward and lock him up somewhere until the police can slam his butt into jail where it belongs. And don't ever — EVER — let a psycho like this slip through Admitting again. You got me?"
The orderlies pulled Sarah's father to his feet and dragged him down the hall, security guard trailing warily behind them. Bill dusted off his chinos, cursing and muttering. "You two okay? Earth to Lita… are you all right?"
She could not answer. She could only stare at the misshapen ball of fire retreating down the corridor. The Light of Sarah Baxter's father spat red and orange virulence in every direction… except one. A line of darkness nibbled at the edge of him, curved across the molten surface of his soul like the shadow of some invisible moon.
The man's soul was in eclipse.
* * *
Lita had known about the eclipse for weeks - vaguely, through half-heard conversations and snippets on the Evening News. Astronomy held little interest for her. Bill Meltzer, on the other hand, was a rabid stargazer and babbled about it all the time. "I don't care if Old Doc Hodgson himself beeps me, I'm not gonna miss this. The only total eclipse that will hit Munson in our lifetimes; the umbra will pass over us almost dead center. We'll be in darkness for eight minutes. The corona, Baily's Beads dancing on the limb of the Moon… it's gonna be one hell of a light show!" Some eclipse, all right: it managed to turn Bill into a kid again. At the time, she couldn't help laughing.
She wasn't laughing now.
She noticed more of them on the walk home: a bristle-headed teenager loitering outside the QuikMart; a snake-eyed businessman pounding on a laptop outside the Cafe Cinzano; a sour-faced old woman waiting for a bus, staring daggers at everyone who passed. Very different people with two things in common. Their Inner Lights glowed in tainted harmony, and a shadow carved out sections of their souls.
She stumbled into her apartment, weary to the bone, too keyed up to relax. She grabbed a Diet Coke and a bag of stale pretzels, went straight to her Mac, and dove into the Net, surfing for anything she could find on the eclipse. Not the scientific aspects - those were common knowledge - but the mythology they spawned. Her head began to pound. Not too little information, but too much: Celtic dragons swallowing the Sun, Mayan gods demanding bloody sacrifice, Chinese emperors cowering from celestial omens of their own demise. Fascinating legends. None of them explained the cataract forming on her inner eye.
She gave up after a couple of hours and plopped down in front of the TV, ready to soak her brain in something tepid and mindless. Her finger clicked feebly on the remote. Rerun… ad… rerun… news…. A chuckle turned into a groan: Channel Eleven was running a fluff piece on myths surrounding the eclipse. Lita sank into the crumb-filled cushions of her couch and listened to the reporter interview some crackpot who claimed to have the gift of prophecy.
The reporter smiled a plastic smile. "No one can dispute that you've gathered quite a following here. But why did you pick Munson, of all places?"
The crackpot smiled back at him, darkly handsome features posed in a sardonic mask. The man seemed frighteningly lucid. "I did not pick Munson. Munson picked me. For centuries, shamans from your local Pottawatomi tribes have predicted that a day would come when Gitchi Manitou would place His hand over the Sun and send the wendigoes into a Night That Is Not Night to eat the souls of the unworthy. It is an ancient prophecy. Two days from now - at just after three in the afternoon - we will all know the truth of it."
The prophet gazed directly into the camera. "My message is simple: don't be misled by the delusions of Nostradamus or the ravings of tabloid psychics. When they prattle on about nuclear Armageddon, they ascribe far too much power to the puny human species. The World will not end in a fireball, my friends - the World will end in Darkness."
She could not tear her eyes from the screen. He knows. My god, he knows!
Lita lay awake in bed for a very long time, unable to escape the glow of her own ripening terror. A nightmare chased her out of fitful slumber well after midnight, snapped her eyes open as she struggled to untangle sheets grown clammy with her sweat. Her aura glimmered above the covers: bright magenta now, with fresh streaks of violet, so much like that little girl's. With good reason. Part of her had vanished in a smooth, black arc, as if the night had loosed invisible piranha to gobble her essence with geometric precision. She could almost see the shadows squirm and wriggle, almost feel the bite of needle teeth.
Lita Hoile was no longer an observer. She had slipped into the jaws of the eclipse.
* * *
In the morning there were more. Lita passed them on the way to work: a parade of zombies with blank, black crescents slicing through their Inner Light. Some seemed farther gone than others, but everyone bore the mark. Everyone. Friends she had known for years at the Hospital seemed remote, disoriented, floating through the halls like the ghosts of the recently departed. Even Bill Meltzer - hyperactive Billy Boy - barely said good-morning to her in the Cafeteria, his smile as bland and lukewarm as the eggs.
She could not bear to look at him… at any of them.
Work — the only thing left to hold onto. The only thing to keep her sane. She decided to visit Sarah Baxter in the Children's Ward right after her morning infusion of coffee, hopeful that they could make some progress. That little girl… so delicate. So blameless. Whatever plague had infected the rest of them, it surely could not touch her. Lita wandered familiar corridors made strange by the unnatural way light mixed with shadow, chased by the echoes of her own footsteps. A sour, uneasy scent mingled with the smells of menthol and disinfectant. Shame wormed its way inside the fear. She was not going to Sarah's room to help but to get help, to find some reassurance. Unworthy. Cowardly.
She got exactly what she deserved.
Sarah Baxter's Inner Light glowed with a little less misery… a little less of everything. A wedge of darkness curved along her side, leering at Lita like the sideways grin of some toothless demon. Lita tried to comfort the little girl, to paint the colors of her suffering with softer shades, but she could not heal that darker wound. She could not even slow it down - in Sarah, or in herself. Is this how the cancer patients feel, watching the tumor grow larger on every x-ray, knowing there's no way to stop it? Am I the only one who can see this thing eating us alive?
But she wasn't the only one. That self-proclaimed prophet from the Evening News, he saw it too: the knowledge had been there, hidden in his spooky eyes.
His name, Lita. What was his name?
She remembered seeing it on the screen at the beginning of the interview - something foreign, Slavic perhaps. Sceadu… Darik Sceadu. She went to her office, grabbed a dog-eared phone book from beneath a stack of case files that looked like a badly shuffled deck of cards, fingers trembling as she turned the pages. No Sceadu. She dialed Directory Assistance, already feeling the sinking sensation in her gut, the certainty that he would not be listed. When she spoke to the operator, her voice trembled like her hands. She waited, prayed, flinched when the operator asked her to spell the name again.
Another dead end. She called Channel Eleven as an act of desperation, expecting a polite rebuff at best. The receptionist wasn't as surly as she expected. "We don't usually give out addresses, you know, but Mr. Sceadu made a point of saying he wanted people to know how to get in touch with him. He has a place over on Allendale Lane… yes, 228 Allendale. We have his telephone number if you'd like it."
Lita thanked the woman and hung up, not caring about the number. What could she say over the phone? No. She needed to meet Sceadu face to face.
Allendale Lane lay nestled in a middle-class neighborhood less than a mile from the hospital. She walked it, to give herself time to think about what she would say… about how crazy she would sound if this man's particular vision did not coincide with her own. The fresh air cleared her head: a crisp autumn day, not too cool, wind spiced with the aroma of burning leaves. Lita found Number 228 halfway down the block. She rang the doorbell half a dozen times, heard the harsh electric buzz reverberating inside the house. No answer. She heard voices around back.
Lita walked around the side - past a row of scraggly hedges - saw a crowd gathered in the tiny back yard: men and women, boys and girls huddled together on a carpet of dead leaves. Darik Sceadu stood in the center, preaching to his flock. He looked at her and paused. Lita felt like a trespasser at the scene of some pagan ritual - she could smell the tang of a nearby barbecue, hear the sizzle of roasting meat. No one spoke. No one moved. Then the wall of bodies parted and Sceadu strode toward her, a smile splitting his dark features. "Welcome, my dear. Please join us."
She could not speak, could not even breathe. Her gift - her special vision - kicked in of its own volition. She could see the mad tangle of Lights in the circle of Sceadu's congregation, each one defiled by its own vertical grin of darkness. But Sceadu had no Light at all. He drew closer, a man-shaped chunk of midnight, a tunnel into some nether world. She tried to scream, could manage nothing more intelligible than a croak.
She had her answer, as he stretched out ebony fingers to grasp her hand: Sceadu was no prophet of the Darkness. He was its avatar.
Lita ran. She stumbled past Sceadu's startled neighbors, past their barking dogs and squealing children. She ran until her lungs refused to give her legs the luxury of any further fuel. She leaned against a mailbox on Fifth Street, gasping for air, ignoring the stares of passersby who could not see their own souls slipping into oblivion. What good is seeing if you can't stop it? Maybe someone could. She stumbled around the corner, not quite able to catch her breath, not quite sure where else to go. She had not been to St. Anne's in years - not since she was a fidgety child ruffling the pages of her hymnal - but she needed help.
She needed salvation.
Twilight had begun its slow descent into night. She turned onto a path that meandered through the wilted garden outside St. Anne's and wondered if the priest she remembered from Sundays long past would still be there, face as cracked and faded as the church itself. That would be fine, as long as he would listen. As long as he would not think her mad. The gothic facade of St. Anne's scowled down through the gloom as she climbed the stone steps to the massive oaken doors, pushed. Met resistance. She pushed harder, pushed with all her strength, but the doors did not budge. She pounded so violently that she bruised her hands. Silence. The doors refused to open.
Behind her, an overhead street lamp flickered and went out. The lamps in both directions winked out as well, part of some ominous chain reaction. It grew dark in the little courtyard - unnaturally dark. He was there. She could not see him, but she felt him even before he spoke, his words as chill and merciless as winter wind.
"You won't find any answers in there, my dear."
"Who… what are you?"
"I have many names. If you know one, you know them all."
"But… I don't…."
"Don't be dense, Lita. You know me."
She did. "Why Munson? Why now?"
"Because it is Time… and I must start somewhere. Darkness falls. I have come to mark the ones who belong to me. And you, Lita - I am here to ease your troubled spirit, because you are the only one in this dreary little town who can see it happening. I want you to know that there is absolutely nothing you can do. Just go home to your lonely apartment and accept what you cannot change."
"You say you mark the ones who belong to you? I say you're a liar. I've seen your poison in all of them."
She could feel the night harden, solidify around her like a prison of black ice. The voice - glacial, mocking - sliced her hope to pieces.
"Let me tell you a secret, my dear: when Darkness falls, they all belong to me. Every one of them."
The street lamps blinked on one by one as he retreated. She heard the shriek of hinges badly in need of oiling as the church doors swung open. A new voice, thin and shaky. "May I help you, Miss?"
The old priest hunched in the doorway - more ancient than she remembered - hands quivering with palsy. He peered at her from behind glasses ridiculously thick, making his eyes look like a pair of watery amoebas trapped beneath the lens of a microscope. His Inner Light glowed blue, a welcome shimmer of compassion… except that half of him was gone. She turned away, voice leaden with despair.
"No, Father. You can't even help yourself."
* * *
Another sleepless night. Lita spent most of it wrestling with blankets that offered no warmth at all, sobbing into the darkness… watching it eat away at her. By morning her Light had waned to a wisp of life-glow, a slender crescent moon. She could not stop shivering. She lay in bed well past the piercing reveille of her alarm, wondering if there was any point to going in. She finally crawled out from under the covers and into the shower. Work was where her friends were - where her life was. Whatever was left of it.
She got to the Hospital an hour late, but no one even seemed to notice. Doctors, nurses, orderlies, patients all moved in a languid fog, as if the darkness had filled their limbs with sludge. She passed Bill Meltzer in the hallway near Sarah Baxter's room. Bill always shot her a smile in the mornings - something between a smirk and a leer, usually accompanied by some crack about waking up his libido. He had no smile for her today.
"Feel like joining me on the roof this afternoon? Should be a great view of the eclipse. A bunch of the staff's gonna be up there."
She could barely look at him. Waning, waning… only a sliver of his Light remained. "I'm not sure I'm up to it. I haven't been sleeping well, and I really need some time with Sarah. Let me think about it, okay?"
Bill shrugged. A week ago he would have argued and cajoled, refused to give her peace until she surrendered. Not today. "Suit yourself. Be a shame if you missed a moment of celestial history."
The Children's Ward appeared deserted. False tranquility - the calm before the storm. Lita slipped into Sarah's room, not wanting to disturb the little girl. She need not have worried: Sarah was awake.
She already had company.
Someone grabbed Lita's arm and yanked her into the room, pushing the door closed behind her. She heard the lock snicking into place. Breath steamed against her neck like the snorts of a winded grizzly. The animal stink of fur drenched in pheromones stung her nostrils. She twisted free of her attacker's sweaty grip and retreated across the room. Sarah's father glared back at her, chest heaving like a man in the throes of a coronary, meaty paw brandishing a very nasty knife. She could see blobs of light gleaming on the blade. Not his Light. Papa Baxter still burned, but no longer a feverish inferno - more like a campfire sputtering as the last log splinters into embers.
The man was a ghost.
The ghost spoke in ugly, grating tones. "I remember you. Miss Boss Bitch, the one wants to steal my baby girl. I been thinking 'bout you in the Can, you snooty, tight-assed piece o' trash. Been thinking you need a lesson in who the Boss really is. My baby girl learned quick. So will you."
Oh god, Sarah, what has he done to you? Lita swung her eyes toward the bed, saw the tiny figure buried in a nest of pillows: wide brown eyes staring blankly past both of them, little mouth sucking fiercely on a thumb. No torn clothing. No blood. Lita shuddered with relief… and anger, rising in a molten tide, overflowing the black barriers that squeezed her soul like a vise.
"Listen, you sick bastard, you can make all the threats you want against me, but even someone as diseased as you should have the decency not to do it in front of his own child. Sarah's suffered enough, don't you think?"
Papa Baxter flashed scarlet as the flames tried to burn through enshrouding darkness, but his Light shrank back to a line of burning blood. He wheezed, choking on shadows. Panic danced in his eyes, a spark of violet in his aura: maybe for the first time, the man was scared. He lunged awkwardly, raised the knife above his head. Lita had no time to dodge. No strength. The stench of him made her eyes water, his Light a hairline crack of madness. Then, nothing.
The final febrile glimmer of his soul winked out, like the street lamp beside St. Anne's. For an instant, Lita stared into the depths of a shadow ripped from the body that had cast it. Darkness - the inky, icy heart of it. The shadow imploded, shrinking to a point, a singularity consuming Light and flesh. She heard a pop, the whoosh of air rushing in to fill a vacuum. She heard the faintest echo of a scream. The knife clattered to the floor, with no hand to hold it.
Papa Baxter would not bother them again.
Lita rushed to the bed and hugged Sarah as tightly as she could. Such exquisite relief. The moment passed quickly. She looked down at the little girl clinging to her - saw darkness spreading through the child's tormented Light like a tumor - and knew her tears could not wash away the stain. If innocence was not immune, was anyone?
* * *
Lita spent the rest of the morning working with Sarah, trying to heal the bruises Papa Baxter left behind… feeling her own spirit dim as she watched the little girl sink deeper into the jaws of the eclipse. She worked through lunch, devoid of appetite, focused her remaining strength on breaking through Sarah's shell of silence while counting the hours - the minutes - until totality.
Totality. The word had a terrible, irrevocable sound.
Morning dragged slowly into afternoon. Just before three, Bill Meltzer popped his head inside the door and tried to smile, his Light a mere flicker of blue and yellow. "Last chance, Lita my pet. Show starts in twenty minutes. I've reserved two of the finest seats in the balcony just for us."
She stared at him - not his dying Light, but him - tousled hair and steel gray eyes, hawk nose and quirky grin. Oh, Billy Boy, you can be a real pain… but you're one of the good guys. You shouldn't have to be alone. She offered the best smile she could muster.
"Okay. You've charmed me into it… but Sarah goes, too. I don't want to leave her."
Bill ushered them up the emergency stairs to the roof. At least forty of the Hospital staff sat, stood, or lay up there already, with a few of the ambulatory patients sprinkled among them. Somebody had smuggled a stash of leftover doughnuts from the Cafeteria and spread them out on a bedsheet like a hobo's buffet. The wind blew cold against Lita's cheeks, laced with scents of honey-glazed and liniment. Bill had several extra pairs of glasses distributed by the Munson Science Club for viewing the eclipse; he gave her and Sarah each a pair. Lita just stood there, flimsy glasses in her hand, studying the people.
Here and there, a friend waved at her. Some faces she did not recognize. She could no longer recognize any of the auras, spectral lines tracing perimeters of shadow. Sarah's little fingers quivered in her hand. Bill leaned over, whispered in her ear.
"Put your shades on, Lita. It's showtime."
She put the glasses on and stared into the sky. It was beautiful - wonderfully, terribly beautiful. The dark circumference of the Moon obscured all but the tiniest arc of sunlight. She watched in awe as the black disc edged further into the last vestige of the Sun; the sliver of yellow fire seemed to brighten, fighting in desperation to repulse the final charge of shadow armies. The Lights of those around her joined in the battle, losing ground to an enemy they could not even see. Shrinking, brightening, shrinking. The last precious breath of light died in a blackness more dense and inescapable than anything Lita had ever known. No Sun. No stars. No gleaming Lights of souls. Only darkness.
The roof of Munson Hospital grew deathly silent. No one breathed… as if they knew that breathing would make no difference. Lita could barely feel Sarah's little hand clenched in her own; all sense of physical contact was fading like the Sun. She could hear Bill's voice, choked and distant, raw with panic. "This is wrong. Too damn dark… we should see light on the horizon, beyond the umbral zone. We should see the corona, the brighter stars. This is all wrong…." Another voice - sharp and clear in Lita's head - drowned the echoes of Bill's terror. She could hear Sceadu laughing.
Welcome to Eternity, my dear. You taste so very sweet, as I knew you would, but perhaps I'll start with the choicest morsel first. Little Sarah is so pure, so ripe with misery. A rare delicacy - one that I will savor.
Fury kindled deep inside, burning through the fear, rising from that dark abyss into which she felt herself slipping… felt them all slipping. The roof of Munson Hospital had vanished. A nightmare landscape now stretched toward infinity - barren, rocky plains of obsidian and coal, frozen crust of black layered upon black. Monstrous fingers squeezed their fragile flesh, wringing out the final glimmer of life. Rage filled Lita’s emptiness, held the fragments of her consciousness together. She doesn't belong to you. She never has, and she never will. SHE DOESN'T BELONG TO YOU!
So weak. Lita bled into the darkness as thirsty shadows swilled her soul like wine. She tried to move, to turn her head. Did she have a head? She saw something at the edges of her vision: a microscopic spark, a single pinprick in Sceadu's suffocating shroud. It did not belong. She knew that, knew it with every ray of hope remaining in her heart. Sceadu would never tolerate such a blasphemy. As she stared into that lonely star - Sceadu's laughter ringing in her ears - she realized something else: Sceadu could not see it. This was a species of Light only she could see.
She still felt Sarah's hand in hers. She dragged the child after her, stumbled toward that lone, unblinking star, knowing there would be no other chance. The ground sucked at her feet like molten tar. Sceadu's roar battered her from every side - she could feel him closing in, breath hissing against her neck like blasts of arctic wind. Still she chased the star, pulling Sarah with her; she could see it pulsing in the darkness, heartbeat of a lost and distant world. Sceadu's talons clawed at her, spitting venom. Such agony! She fought to move with all her strength, but her muscles would not answer.
Sarah… don't let him have Sarah!
She crept forward, shattering into a thousand shards of pain. Vampire shadows drained her last drops of vigor. She collapsed, tumbled into darkness, stretching out her fingertips to touch that fleeting star.
Light. A tiny nova exploded deep inside her, bursting through the greedy, grasping darkness. She could see it - oh yes, she could see it - flaring and flickering around her, wrapping her in a halo of radiance. Light, shimmering and liquid, flowing into every chamber of her soul, covering her like another layer of skin. She heard Sceadu scream in pain, felt his leathery fingers burning from her touch. And she laughed. This time, Lita laughed at him, because she had found his weakness.
Sarah's hand trembled in hers. Sceadu had lost one - he would not surrender more without a fight. He sank his fangs into the child's tender spirit, ravaging without mercy, ripping open wounds that had never been allowed to heal. Lita focused all her energy on the little girl. Sarah Baxter began to burn with a purity that did not consume her. Lita could not see Bill, but she could feel him floundering in the murk. She reached out, setting him aflame.
Light. It streamed from her in all directions, crackling through the void, sheathing other souls in incandescent armor. Coronas of white and blue and gold blazed into view, scattering across the rooftop like a galaxy of newborn stars. Sceadu shrieked in fury as he melted into pools of Darkness, raging at his own impotence.
These souls did not belong to him. They bore a different mark.
A new Light bloomed on the horizon: brighter, more glorious than any human mind could fathom. It swelled across the sky, boiling away shadows, chasing Darkness back into Its lesser Kingdom. So beautiful - the cradle of a thousand Suns. Lita feared that it would blind her, but it did not. She had never seen so clearly in her life. She tugged at Sarah's hand, fumbled for Bill's callused palm.
"Come on, both of you!"
Sarah actually giggled out loud, the first sound Lita had ever heard her utter. Bill resisted, tentative and trembling. "Come where? For Christ's sake, Lita, there's nowhere to go. I can't see anything."
Light beckoned in the distance: a special kind of radiance, requiring a special kind of vision. Little Sarah smiled into the heart of it, pristine soul healed of every scar. Phantoms drifted aimlessly through the gloom like wayward comets deflected by the whims of gravity. So lost. They needed someone to guide them. Lita squeezed Sarah's hand, and Bill's. Joy warmed her like the kiss of Summer, filled her with so much Light she felt that she might burst. When she spoke, even her voice seemed to glow.
"Don't be afraid. The Sun is calling us. Follow me."