The Fires of Yesterday (The Silent Earth, Book 3)

By: Mark R. Healy

Part One





Into the Dark





1


The stars were gone.

I crouched in the gloom of the garden and allowed my eyes to drop back to earth, to the cluster of leaves and stems that fluttered in the candlelight. I was reminded of how difficult it had become to tell night from day of late. The sun, when it came, spun across the sky behind the veil of murk, giving only glimpses of light and warmth. Empty promises that it never fulfilled.

My hands fell gently across the soil, brushing under desiccated leaves. I searched like a blind man in the poor light, feeling for fruit, for seed pods, anything I might have missed when last I checked. Nothing.

The plants were beginning to wilt and die.

The darkness had come out of the north and swallowed the light like a wave of inky blood across the sky. There was no warning, no augury of its arrival. It just appeared on the horizon and moved inexorably toward us, marching onward as ominous as Death itself, sickle in hand, silent and unrelenting and grim. For close to twenty days it had stayed, brooding and resolute. The very essence of it seemed to have settled deep into my bones, a chill that I could not shake. I’d become desensitised to many hardships over the years, but this was a sensation that I just couldn’t seem to subdue.

“Brant?”

Arsha stood in the doorway of the house, her slender frame silhouetted against the dim light from inside. Caught up in my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed her presence.

“I’m here,” I said.

“What are you doing out there?”

I clasped the candle and stood. “Just looking through the garden.”

“You won’t find anything.” She took a few steps out into the yard. “I already checked earlier.”

“Yeah. So did I, but I figured I’d do it again anyway.”

As she neared, the glow of the candle alighted upon the pale skin of her face. Her visage floated toward me like a spectre, brow furrowed, eyes gleaming.

“You okay, Brant?”

Her auburn hair appeared black in this light, as did almost everything else, as if a great sooty brush had swept across the city and painted it with tar.

“Sure. I’m fine.”

“You look spooked.”

I deflected away the comment with a little tilt of my head. “Just got a lot on my mind.”

“I can understand that.” She looked to the sky, then back to me. “Anything you want to talk about?”

“Nothing that we haven’t talked about before. I’m still just… well, trying to figure out where to go from here.”

“We’re coming to the crunch, huh? We have to make a decision.”

“Yeah.”

She looked over her shoulder, back at the house. “Look, I need you to take watch. The monsters want their dinner.”

Since the incident with the Marauders, we hadn’t left the children’s side. Without fail, one of us would stand at the front window of the house, looking out across the city for any sign of their return. With so much to do, it seemed a waste of resources, but there was no other choice. We’d come so close to losing the young ones, and we couldn’t allow that to happen again.

“What’s on the menu tonight, then?” I said.

“Bread. Again. And a bit of potato. It’s almost gone, though.” She turned and started back toward the house and I fell in beside her.

“Ouch. They’re not going to be happy.”

“I know, but we don’t have much choice.”

“They’re going to whinge about the size of the meal again, aren’t they?” I said.

“Oh yeah. You can bet on it. Poor things are hungry all the time. But if we’re going to make our grain stores last another couple of months, they’re going to have to get used to it.”

I could hear them inside, giggling and chattering, blissfully unaware of the predicament they were in. Without the sun, nothing would grow. The crops that we’d spent so many years carefully establishing would die out, and only the grains – the wheat and corn we’d stored away – would be left to feed them. Those wouldn’t last longer than a matter of weeks.

The children would starve if we didn’t find a way to stop this seemingly endless night.

But how do we stop it? How do we bring back the sun?

It wasn’t the first time I’d contemplated these questions. I couldn’t control the skies. I couldn’t part the clouds like some mythical god, or bend the elements to my whim any more than I could make plants grow without that precious sunlight. I felt impotent in the face of these forces that had conspired against us, and I couldn’t see a way out.

Despite that, something would need to be done if the murk didn’t dissipate of its own accord. There was no future for these children if it hung around. Although from time to time there were gaps in the sky through which the sun briefly shone, these were too localised and short-lived to provide any value to the vegetation.

“You’re thinking of leaving, aren’t you?” Arsha said, reading my thoughts.

There was no point being evasive. “Yes.”

“When?”

I glanced to the north, considering. “Tomorrow. Or the next day. If I leave it much longer, there won’t be much point in going at all. They won’t survive.”

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