Best Books We Ever Received As Gifts

Regardless of which winter holiday you celebrate (if any), November and December are often filled with gift-shopping trip after gift-shopping trip. While we all like that special feeling we get when we give someone a gift they adore, it’s no secret that spending hours at the mall is exhausting, time-consuming, and, quite frankly, expensive. However, the Inklette team has compiled a list of the best books we’ve ever received as gifts to remind everybody what the holiday shopping season is about (and, if you’re unsure what gift to get your book-loving friend/family member/significant other, look no further).


The Hat-Stand Union by Caroline Bird

 

51xPRiL2IeL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_Those who know me know that I like obscure contemporary poetry (how much people are willing to let me ramble on about it is a different story). My parents gave me this volume of poetry by British poet and playwright Caroline Bird for Christmas when I was about thirteen or fourteen and just starting to become seriously interested in creative writing. Reading poems that covered a bizarre range of topics — from King Arthur to Chekov to suburban life — helped me understand that I had the agency to write about what I found inspiring, rather than what people told me to write about. Even now, in my final year of my undergraduate, I still have The Hat-Stand Union on my shelf and pull it out from time to time when I need inspiration. 

— Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

9780345804327_lI received this novel as a gift from one of my aunts in college, and it’s travelled with me as I’ve moved from one coast to the other, and back again. It was my first introduction to the author, Colson Whitehead, who is a brilliant Black writer living in NYC, and who is also one of my earliest inspirations for the style of writing life I want to achieve. The novel itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. It’s a fascinating depiction that turns the real-life Underground Railroad into a collection of underground trains, safe houses, and secret routes. It’s one of those books that I’ll always have on my bookshelf, and which consistently reminds me to return to Whitehead’s other works to see what other challenges he has in store.

— Naomi Day, Blog Editor

The Professor and The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

 

9780099521341.jpgThis book was gifted to me by Trivarna Hariharan, the former editor-in-chief of Inklette Magazine. I had never heard of Ogawa’s work before and hadn’t read prose that felt so light, so porous. I think Ogawa’s work best reminds me of the kind of cinematic language of Ritesh Batra’s films such as The Lunchbox (2013) and Photograph (2019). But this book, in particular, read like that thin line between myth and realism even though the materiality of its story felt like a weight, even a burden at times I had to accept, learn how to carry. Since then, I have read Ogawa’s other works but somehow The Housekeeper and The Professor is one I keep coming back to, because it also incorporates and disguises behind the porosity and poetics of literary language a stunning mathematical language as well as logic, and if you read the book you’ll perfectly understand the role these two levels and anatomies of language play. 

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 

9780316133999_l (1).jpgI believe my sister gave me this book a few years ago (for Christmas or my birthday I can’t remember, they both fall in December so they tend to blur together. Both my sister and I are avid readers, so we often gift each other books, but this particular book was definitely one of my favorites.Though it took a while for me to actually open the book, once I began reading it I devoured it. The book is magical, poetic, and wonderfully poetic (I have several notes on my phone filled with pulled quotes from the novels that I use to inspire me, and I used an excerpt from the first book for an erasure assignment I was given in college). The author’s gift for world-building made me eager to get the next books in the trilogy and finish them just as quickly, and I can’t wait until I’ve forgotten enough of the series to reread it—Taylor truly knows how to wield a plot twist, and I can’t wait to experience the shock and delight of piecing the tale together all over again. 

— Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

 

9780486834368_l.jpgAlthough I’ve given lots of books as gifts, I’ve never been gifted a book (other than the ones I personally requested from my parents when I was a kid). Maybe people just don’t know what to gift me because they don’t know what’s already in my collection; I don’t know. My brother, though, frequently gifts books to my 6-year-old daughter. So far, one of her favorites has been The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I avoided reading it when I was a kid because I hated the movie. I read it to my daughter, and we both loved it. My brother is a research scientist, so he often sends her science-y books. Another fun one he gifted her was The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure (Hans Magnus Enzensberger, trans. By Michael Henry Heim). Although I think my daughter needs to age a bit before she can truly appreciate it, I loved The Number Devil.

— Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems by Eunice de Souza

 

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Until the third year of my undergraduate degree, a lot of my poetry reading was either limited to canon, or to snippets and fragments I had read online. Reading Eunice de Souza’s work was formative for me as a poet and as a literature student not only because of the cultural similarities or her engagements with feminism, but because she spoke of the everyday with an almost unfounded sense of ease. There was this comfort in her navigation of language I hadn’t read before, which is what made her work all the more appealing – that poetry could be soft, simple, and yet impactful. 

 

— Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff, please visit the Masthead page here.

NaNoWriMo: Planning and Execution

November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. It’s a time of year when writers following the conventional rules challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or at least 1,666 words per day. Others use this month to set time-based intentions (e.g. write 1 hour a day for 30 days). Two members of the Inklette team are doing NaNoWriMo this year. Here we’ve shared a little bit about our preparation processes, and what the month looks like for us.


Naomi Day, Blog Editor

This year I’m doing NaNoWriMo with a friend based on the West Coast. Since we are both relatively susceptible to burnout and didn’t spend enough time preparing our projects, we’ve decided to do a time-based (rather than word-based) month. Every day we both spend at least one full hour writing, and then text the other person a summary of how we spent that time. Since I didn’t have the time to properly prep what I was going to be working on, I spent the first day planning out what projects I’ll be working on. I will be spending the rest of the month alternating between planning the outline of a novel I’ve spent the last four years writing and rewriting, and working on a series of short stories set in a shared world. The buddy system helps keep me accountable and gets me excited to share my work with someone who cares about me independent of my productivity, and the hour system allows me enough time to get immersed in a project but isn’t so long it feels unattainable to do daily. I figure I can always take that time away from scrolling Instagram if it starts to feel like I can’t find it elsewhere!

Thus far the challenge has been in finding inspiration when I am between projects. I tend to write when a line pops into my head, or I overhear a bit of dialog that I decide to put in a short story. I have never challenged myself to write regularly when I am not working on a project. So I’ve been pushing myself to find alternate ways to get to the inspiration that keeps me writing for hours at a time. For example, when I have a vague idea what I want to write about but I’m not sure where to start, I pick up a notepad and hand write a conversation between myself and the character I am interested in. Writing by hand is important because the slower pace helps me think through my words more freely, and the conversational style helps me uncover interesting details about my characters that may give me a clue as to where to begin their stories.


Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

I’ve always wanted to do Nanowrimo, but balancing the act of writing over 1,500 words a day along with an already heavy load of creative writing homework mandated by my classes always proved to be too much. Having graduated in May, I have a lot less motivation to write, so I figured this might be a good year to give Nanowrimo a go. 

The first thing I did was make a bevy of different folders and document so that I could keep my ideas organized. My story idea involves several different groups of people all from the same family, so it’s vital that I keep them separate. After that I divided the characters I know I’ll need into main, secondary and tertiary characters so I know how much detail I need to go into for them (in an ideal world my tertiary characters would be as detailed as my main characters mais c’est la vie).

Strangely enough, I didn’t have a beginning, middle or end plotted out when I started writing. That aligns with my general writing strategy, if you can call it that: I’ll get an idea for a character or plot point, usually in the middle of the night, and the story starts from there. Because this story has a lot of different main characters who won’t necessarily interact with each other (think “This is Us” but everything is happening on the same timeline), I could have started anywhere. And in theory, at least in these early stages, I can change the ordering of the story components so long as I don’t, for example, put a major holiday in one, rendering the ordering stationary.


To learn more about our staff and read their bios, visit our Masthead page here

In Honor of Black Speculative Fiction & In Response to Naomi Day

BY SAVANNAH SUMMERLIN

In honor of October being Black Speculative Fiction Month and in response to the lovely and informative piece written by Naomi, another Inklette Blog Editor, I’ve decided to try my hand at writing black speculative fiction. Naomi’s piece featured a writing prompt, steps one and two being to write down something that is interesting about the world around me and consider the rules that govern it and the way that exists. The next step is to write an alternate history for whatever I’ve chosen that gives the same end result regarding its use and purpose, but in a different way. I consider myself to be a bit technologically inept, so I decided to reimagine how cell phones and texting came to be:

It’s easy to understand why adults constantly complain about millenials and the cell phones we seem to be unable to live without, but only if you know the history of how their lives were before. It’s not just cell phones that they hate; they despise the very idea of technology made for communication, because they know of a time when it didn’t exist, and didn’t need to. Though they may not have been there to experience it themselves, the stories that have been passed down in their DNA for generations, along with a loathing for the technology today’s age cannot function without.  

Long before the invention of the telephone, humans needed only their minds to communicate, even across long distances. Survival of the fittest truly was the law of the land, and it didn’t take long for humanity as a whole to realize they’d be much better off if they had better communication methods. Humans first discovered they had the gift of telepathy in a small town in South America. Two sisters, Jana and Lucia, swore up and down that they could hear each other’s thoughts at night when they slept, but no one believed them. The pair quickly tired of being ridiculed, so they took it upon themselves to prove their talent. 

For weeks neither Jana or Lucia spoke a word aloud. They spent countless hours each day in silent meditation until finally their father Daniel had had enough of their behavior. He took Lucia by the shoulders and shook her fiercely, demanding she stop her foolishness and speak to him. Lucia chose to communicate in a different manner, and sent her response straight into her father’s mind. It only took a few seconds for Daniel to go from shocked to curious and proud of his daughter’s feat, eager to learn himself. By the next afternoon, the news had spread all over the town, and because Jana and Lucia were excellent teachers, it didn’t take long for many to master the art of telepathy. 

Urged by their desire to spread their gift, Jana and Lucia left their home as soon as their expertise was no longer necessary. They travelled all over South and North America to help anyone who would listen. Lucky for them—and humanity as a whole—they encountered more people eager to learn than not, and in only a few years time, telepathy became the norm. As new generations were born and were taught the craft, humans learned how to send their thoughts further and further than ever before. 

Then along came the Industrial Revolution, and with it trouble for humanity. 

Men and women found themselves bogged down by the stresses of the day, unable to easily communicate with one another across dinner tables and office spaces, let alone send their thoughts to far away relatives. They began to panic; was this the end to life as they knew it? What would society become? They still had their oral language of course—the first humans to learn telepathy had been sure to caution that they mustn’t lose their ability to speak should something happen to their mental gift, and oh, how right they had been—but what of quick long distance communication? How would they survive in a snail-mail run world?

Enter Alexander Graham Bell. Graham Bell invented a middle man to ease the stress telepathy was putting on the humans: instead of sending their thoughts directly to one another, they would use a device to help transmit the signal of their thoughts. Once he’d completed his invention, Graham Bell gave the honor of testing it to a descendant of Jana and Lucia, Deeana. Deeana was already located far from her husband Thomas because of work, and the strain of keeping in touch with him was draining on both their relationship and her mental health. When Deeana picked up a telephone for the first time and heard Thomas on the other end, as clear is if he had sent his thoughts to her from the other side of their shared bed, she nearly wept with relief. Deeana’s seal of approval of the telephone all but guaranteed its success, and soon telepathy was a thing of the past.


SAVANNAH SUMMERLIN is a recent graduate of NYU Gallatin where she made her own major entitled “The Intersection of Arts and Activism.” Yes, it’s as cool as it sounds; no, she doesn’t have any idea what she wants to do with it. In her free time, Savannah enjoys traveling, reading, writing, and binge-watching Netflix original series.

Black Speculative Fiction Month

By Naomi Day


I recently realized we are coming to the end of October without having acknowledged the time of year that celebrates my favorite group of writers! So, here we are: happy Black Speculative Fiction Month!


What is Black Speculative Fiction Month?

Black Speculative Fiction Month, celebrated every October, is a month to commemorate speculative fiction written by and about Black folks. Individuals, libraries, authors, and organizations will often host events centered on Black speculative fiction authors and their work, post book lists highlighting authors writing in this genre, and write extensive articles calling attention to the genre and the wealth of diversity within it for folks who wouldn’t necessarily come across this work otherwise.

 

Why October?

The origin story I know of comes from author, Afroretroism expert, and gamewriter Balogun Ojetade. According to this post, he and author Milton Davis came up with the idea together one June; they chose October because the annual Alien Encounters celebration (formerly a conference for Black speculative and imaginative fiction, film and music and presently a celebration of speculative and imaginative arts) took place in October already, and it just made sense to overlap the two.

I like it because it means there are two distinct times of year to celebrate Black history in different ways: February brings us Black History Month and seven months later, October gives us Black Speculative Fiction Month.

 

Ok, so what actually is Black Speculative Fiction?

The most useful resource for this question, in my opinion, is an article from Marcus Haynes that goes through an extensive set of definitions of Black Speculative Fiction terms. To excerpt from the part that talks specifically about the umbrella term, Black Speculative Fiction refers to texts that force readers to imagine possibilities that do not fit with their present understanding of the world, with a focus on the people and cultures of the African diaspora.

 

Why is it important?

Speculative fiction is important as a genre on its own; it is one that asks us to question why our world is the way it is, and gives us the tools to think differently about changing the parts we don’t like. It helps us understand and refigure our history while we consider the multitude of courses the future could take.

Black speculative fiction does this through the lens of those who are part of the African diaspora (which is why the term “Black” is used—it makes it clear this envisioning includes Africans, African-Americans, Afro-Latin people, and so on). This is critically important because this is a group of people who are often pushed out of the present reality, not to mention excluded from visions of the future. The mere existence of Black people, particularly in America but all across the world, is too often seen as a physical and cultural threat and depicted as being against the norm. Writing Black folks into the future is an act of resistance as well as a call of hope.

And, critically, it isn’t saying that only Black people exist in the future—rather, it speaks to the wondrous and powerful events that can take place when there is a radical diversity of people stretching from now to eternity.

 

I’m in! Who can I check out?

Wonderful questions! You’ll find a short list of authors and their books at the end of this article. It’s a mixture of presently-trending folks with those who may be slightly less well known, with links (via Alibris, a marketplace for independent vendors that is a wonderful alternative to Amazon) to where you can find their books.


Additionally, to get you started on your own speculative fiction project, here’s a prompt I’ve partially adapted from an article about Margaret Atwood’s tips on writing speculative fiction:

Write down something that is interesting about the world presently around you: the dog lying on the sofa; the wooden table whose wood came from central America; the fact that you type with ten fingers (or two, or none). Consider how it came to be—what are the forces that have shaped its life such that it exists as it does? Write an alternate history that would give the same end result, but in a very different manner. For example, the wood of the wooden table was not harvested from trees: rather, the table comes from the second-most-populous species on land, an organism that shapes itself according to what is lacking in a space and will hold that shape for as long as the need is present. Have fun!


Reading list:

 



NAOMI DAY is a queer Black woman who enjoys interrogating the strange ways her mixed-race experience has shaped the way she moves through the world. Nowadays she primarily writes short stories focused on a future that actively and intentionally has Black people in it (a genre otherwise known as Afrofuturism). When she turns her life upside down and shakes hard, interesting things fall out for her to write about. She considers herself a lifetime student and much prefers the nomadic life, finding home in cities from Atlanta to London.

 

 

Indigenous Voices

by Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Having celebrated Canada Day and the 4th of July earlier this month, many people in North America may be feeling more patriotic than usual. However, it is of utmost importance during these days of national celebration to acknowledge and pay respect to the voices of those who rightfully claim first ownership of these lands. Here are some provocative, humourous, heartbreaking, and, above all, relevant works by Indigenous writers that you should definitely put on your summer reading list!


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 
Novel, Sherman Alexie 

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“I draw because words are too unpredictable.

I draw because words are too limited.

If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.

But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.

If I draw a cartoon of a flower, then every man, woman, and child in the world can look at it and say, “That’s a flower.”

So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me. I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist.

That’s the only way I can become rich and famous.” 

 

Junior, an aspiring cartoonist, has mixed feelings about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. As he decides to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school, one where the only other Indigenous presence is the school mascot.


Talking to the Diaspora 
Poetry, Lee Maracle

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“Some sons are trees

 

Quiet mist magic memory oddly named sequoia

General somebody or other who killed us

killed his own

killed worlds

then came to rest a crest on this man-tree”

                                          -from ‘Archer’s Body’ 

 

The second collection of poetry by one of Canada’s most prominent contemporary authors features a look at diaspora and identity that is both intimate and larger than the individual experience.


They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School 
Memoir, Janet Rogers

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“I read somewhere that everyone is born with the potential for success, and it is only through life’s experiences that we develop or destroy that potential. For many Aboriginal people, our most vulnerable and impressionable years, our childhood years, were spent at residential schools. Our mental, emotional and spiritual growth was extremely stunted because of the way we were treated there. You have to tell our story like it is, don’t hold back or make it seem like it wasn’t as bad as it actually was. People have to know and believe what happened to us.”

A defining part of Xatsu’ll chief Bev Sellars’ childhood was spent as a student in a church-run residential school. This honest and evocative memoir details her time at St. Joseph’s Mission, as well as how it has affected her and her family over generations. As Sellars discusses trauma, diapora, and healing, she makes it apparent that it is only through knowing the truth about these past injustices can we, as a society, can begin to properly address them.


Islands of Decolonial Love 
Short Stories, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson 

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“bringing up trauma from my life made therapy-lady cry, especially if it was “aboriginal” themed. she said “aboriginal” a lot, and i knew she was trying to be respectful so i planned on letting it slide until the breaking point and then i was going to let her have it in one spiralling long manifesto. therapy-lady liked to compare my life to refugees from war-torn countries who hid their kids in closets when airplanes flew over their houses. this was her limit of understanding on colonized intimacy. she wasn’t completely wrong, and while she tried to convince me none of us had to hide our kids anymore, we both knew that wasn’t exactly true. i knew what every ndn knows: that vulnerability, forgiveness and acceptance were privileges. she made the assumption of a white person: they were readily available to all like the fresh produce at the grocery store.”

Simpson’s debut collection of short stories explores the lives of contemporary Indigenous peoples and communities, especially those of her own Nishnaabeg nation.

Heartbreaking, absurd, and real, these stories aim to capture all aspects of what it means to be Indigenous in a world that has been taken from Indigenous people.


Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization and the Politics of Intervention
Ethnography, Jaskiran Dhillon

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“The persistent sensation of being hunted, of monitored movement, of freedom being truncated through institutional caging is central to the daily reality of being an Indigenous youth in Saskatoon. It is not an anomaly. It is not the fictitious creation of a youthful imagination on overdrive. Through their existence as Indigenous youth, these young people constitute a direct threat to an already existing settler social order.” 

Dhillon’s ethnography sharply examines the indigenous-state government of Saskatoon, Canada’s strategy of dispossession and the state’s failure to uphold human and political rights of the indigenous community. We learn that indigenous alliances meant to help indigenous women, lack representation for whom they are advocating: indigenous women. Dhillon, who grew up on Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatchewan, details the state’s refusal to look for missing indigenous women and its failure to include indigenous participation in what they deem to be a community in need of reform. Are Canada’s state advocacy organizations merely visible tokens for what they consider invisible problems in their own country?


To read staff bios, please visit our Masthead page here.

Kempt

I’ve been living in my body for many years. It has changed. Girls my age use tweezers and razors, but I let my hair spread lawlessly. When I’m in the bathroom, I take a shower, look in the mirror, and observe the strays that nest beneath the wingspan of my eyebrows. I let them be, wild as beasts beside our backyard creek. I seldom ask for money to visit the drugstore. Deodorant, a little shampoo, and conditioner is all I need. My father says, just use soap. Tried that once. There were flecks in my hair that wouldn’t come out. I walk into my bedroom. Instead of grooming, I use my fingers to draw shapes and shades late into the night. There’s no T.V. My brother is gone. He stole a credit card and was off to Thailand. But there is peace in the house.

Then one night my brother returns home.

A mildewed backpack and a ripped sleeping bag are flung beside the front door where he walks in.

He steps into the bathroom. Unlike me, he loves to shave and pluck the hairs on his body. 

He’s hairy because my mother struggled with infertility for three years. She swallowed a lot of testosterone right before she got pregnant with him.

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‘My Brother’s Death’ by Chuka Susan Chesney, Watercolor with Pen and Ink, 2015

The bathroom door remains locked for many hours. When I have to go, I use the powder room.

When he comes out, the counter is covered with dark stubble, as if it had grown a beard. The razor on the sink is full. I look in the tub. A ring and black, curled pubic hairs blemish the porcelain.

“Clean it up,” my mother tells me. “It’s good practice for when you’re married.”

My brother shaves his cheeks above his beard, his upper arms, his back, and wherever else he can reach. He sculpts his eyebrows because he wants to be pretty.

When he’s not shaving and plucking and tweezing away, he simmers mussels in the kitchen─and leaves a mess. 

After he eats, he drives off in his dented Firebird.  

“He’ll turn up again like a bad penny,” my father remarks.

My brother calls us from the E.R. with a broken jaw. His brakes went out. The car swooped down the hill and wrapped around a traffic pole. 

My father picks him up at 2 a.m.

My mother blends oxtail soup in the blender for him.

When his jaw is healed, he steals a credit card─again.


CHUKA SUSAN CHESNEY has a BFA in Fashion Illustration from Art Center College of Design and an MAT from Occidental College. She is an artist, poet, curator, and editor. Her award-winning paintings and sculpture have been shown in galleries all over the country. Her poems have been published on three continents. You Were a Pie So We Ate You, a book of Chesney’s poems was the winner of the 2018 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival Chapbook Contest. In October 2018, Chesney curated the “I Pity da Poe” exhibition at the Hive Gallery in Downtown L.A. In November, Chesney hosted a poetry reading with Don Kingfisher Campbell at the YEAR ONE exhibition featuring Loren Philip and Tomoaki Shibata’s collaborative art at Castelli Art Space in Mid City. Chesney’s anthology of poetry and art Lottery Blues, coedited by Ulrica Perkins will be published by Little Red Tree Publishing in 2019.

The Endless Night

On May 6th, 2017, at exactly 1:53 AM Central Standard Time, the sun turned off.

Around the time when the piercing rays of the sun would normally be peeking through the blinds, curtains, and tent flaps of the Western Hemisphere, hundreds of millions were shutting off their alarms and groaning, reluctantly dragging themselves out of bed for a day of work, school, or driving to visit Aunt JJ in El Paso. But there was no sunlight.

Manuel Hidalgo of Santiago, Chile didn’t notice. Neither did the Ross family of Lincoln, Nebraska, nor the entire city of Pittsburgh. However, Uh Yong-Sook in Seoul did, as did 80,347,568 Chinese farmers and 458 kangaroo ranchers. 3,434,847 people fell off their bikes after suddenly not being able to see where they were going. 84,568 people, in 189 different languages, asked someone near them, “Is there a solar eclipse happening?” 27,446 people replied “I don’t think so,” 14,871 said “No idea,” 4,104 said “Yes,” and 38,157 people pretended like they didn’t hear.

8,408,372 people screamed, 2,109,334 people pinched themselves, 843,145 laughed, and two drunk middle-aged men shouted at their wives to turn the lights back on, even though they were both outside.

As billions of electrons zoomed along cables stretching across the Earth, carrying with them messages, pictures, and cries for help, newscasters, used car salesmen, and gourmet chefs all asked the same question: Where did the sun go?

Whether it was through TV, radio, or looking outside, by 9:24am CST, nearly everyone on Earth knew that something was wrong. Everyone except 284,485,460 kids too young to know what the sun was, 45,278,994 elderly who refused to believe it, and 83,428 people in comas.

Katie Webster of Tuskegee, Alabama didn’t see it either.

 

****

           On May 6th, 2017, at 9:24 AM Central Standard time, Katie Webster was where she normally was at this time: sleeping in her bed, where she would remain for another six hours or so. Her mother, Mary Webster, was downstairs in her kitchen, watching her TV in disbelief. Her twelve-year old brother Mac and fourteen year-old-sister Angie were sitting at the table, patiently coloring some pictures of dolphins and squirrels. And her father, Roy Webster, was currently in Alaska, getting drunk off four different types of liquor, although none of them knew that. After two years of having to deal with three kids on opposite sleep schedules, Roy had gone out for a pack of cigarettes and never come back.

Katie Webster was born August 16th, 2010, weighing in at seven pounds, five ounces. Her breathing was steady, appetite good, and she laughed and cried as much as any other baby.

One year later, her mom took her in to the doctor after she got a particularly bad sunburn. After hours in the ER, a team of a dozen or a hundred doctors broke the news. They called it Xeroderma Pigmentosum. It was rare, it was serious, and it wasn’t going anywhere. All Katie saw were a bunch of giants in white coats. Then she saw her mom start to cry, so she cried too.

****

          After two days of no sun, the potent initial shock subsided and gave way to a more sustained, constant fear around the world. Hundreds came forward as the Messiah, the Second Coming, the Grand Wizard of Destiny, announcing that Judgement Day was upon them and God, Satan, or some fourth-dimensional shape-shifters were coming to save them or damn them. Millions believed it.

It was the golden age of TV news. They brought on agriculture experts claiming that plants need light to grow. They brought on thermodynamic physicists claiming that the sun provides heat to the Earth. They brought on clinical psychologists claiming that sunlight combats depression and fatigue. They brought on nutritionists and biologists, photographers and congressmen, astronomers and practitioners of sorcery and magic, all with the same doomed message. The more fear they produced, the higher their numbers climbed, as more and more sat in their homes, too afraid to go outside, to look out their windows, to confront the debilitating terror that what was going on in the world of their TV’s might be going on in their world as well.

Meanwhile, great plans were set in motion by the governments of the world.

China quickly pulled together a mission to the dark and lifeless sun – but it failed shortly after liftoff because an engineer working on the first stage decoupling had gotten distracted by a donut and input pi as 31.4159265.

Germany figured out how to extract nutrients from rocks and, with no time for preliminary trials, enlisted a few thousand brave souls to try out the diet. It wasn’t tasty, but it kept them alive. At least for a few days, until they all began experiencing diarrhea the likes of which has never been seen before on Earth. Their hair started to fall out, their nails grew at 1000x the normal rate, and their tongues turned blue. And then they died slow, painful deaths.

And the UN commissioned a great ship to be built, filled with great works of art, music, and literature, history books and science books, pictures, videos, machines, artifacts, and relics: things to capture the essence, the beauty, and hardship of humanity. They cast it away, on a course out of the solar system. They hoped that one day, somewhere deep in the future, something would find it and think about humans, about Earth, about the fact that humanity existed and, in some small way, mattered.

However, nothing seemed to work. No amount of funds, bureaucracy, or bipartisanship seemed to be able to overcome the brutal fact that the source of Earth’s heat, energy, and life for billions of years was now gone.

****

          Katie Webster couldn’t quite grasp what was happening. Her world of darkness and artificial light now pervaded into the hours when she was usually locked away behind her protective curtains. “Hey, on the bright side, now you’ll never get a sunburn,” her mom had said through choked tears and bitter fear. Katie wasn’t quite sure what she meant.

Katie wasn’t quite sure of a lot of things. Like why her tutor Jody hadn’t been showing up. She missed her warm hugs and coffee breath. On the other hand, Mac and Angie seemed to be around a whole lot more. But when Katie asked them why they weren’t at school, all they did was stare back with wide eyes, before looking at the TV.

Whenever her mom would wake her up at these strange hours and she would ask why, all she would get is “don’t worry, Katie.” But she was worried. Her life had suddenly changed, and she had no idea why.

 ****

          Word spread that they had a couple of weeks before it would get noticeably colder. A few more after that and the outer extremities of the Earth would be virtually uninhabitable. Two months in, they expected hypothermic deaths by the millions. Six months, and it was a different world.

Governments urged people back to work – food, water, and energy require working economies. They reopened schools to keep children busy, and poured billions into research, though whether to focus on astronomy or theology was anybody’s guess. They promised that they had the best and the brightest working overtime, though 87,431 of the best and 44,181 of the brightest had long since retreated to secret cabins far from civilization.

Out of the public eye, delicately hatched plans began to take shape as many vied for the heroic position of savior: savior of themself, savior of their family, and savior of humanity. 

****

          The last, and only, time Katie had been on anything like a school bus was when her mom had let her go with Angie on a stargazing field trip. She remembered the foreign world of chatter, gossip, hormones. Laughter rung in her ears as she lay on the mossy ground, drawing lines between stars. That was also the last time she heard laughter that wasn’t Jody’s. She wondered why everybody laughed differently, and why school buses were yellow.

She wondered why she was now on a school bus, surrounded by strangers. She wasn’t used to this many people; it was disorienting and destabilizing. She joked about it being a magic school bus to the girls behind her. They stared for a second before continuing to talk about their favorite youtubers. Years of being exposed Jody’s antiquated taste in TV let her down as attempt after attempt to relate ended in failure. She retreated into her seat, silently hoping that these were the popular girls and she would find company in a less highly-viewed, but less critical clique.

Her mom had said to take the bus back home after school. She wondered how long school was. She spent the day being told about numbers by sweaty grown-ups, even though Jody had already taught her all of it. She quickly learned to keep quiet and not answer every question, even though she knew the answers. However, the damage was done, as rumors and notes spread about the smart-alec new girl.

After a lonely lunch, she reluctantly rode a wave of children out to the blacktop. Katie watched as other kids ran around the huge floodlights, screaming and pushing. She had never seen so many kids. She didn’t even know places like this existed.

Like an astronaut emerging from a ship onto a hostile alien planet, she was cautious and scared. She noticed a patch of trees and ran to it, thinking of the woods behind her house, something familiar, something safe, something she knew more intimately than books and tv shows. She began exploring, stomping around when her teacher, Mrs. Fuller, came up to her.

“Hey sweetie, would you mind coming back to the blacktop?”

        Katie didn’t want to and didn’t think she had to listen to Mrs. Fuller.

        “No thanks.”

        Mrs. Fuller persisted.

        “Listen, honey, we want everybody on the blacktop so we can watch – ”

        “Why were you crying in the bathroom this morning?”

        Mrs. Fuller stared. Katie, curious and ignorant, didn’t stop.

        “Is it because your stomach is so big, and it makes you look weird?”

        Mrs. Fuller, five weeks away from giving birth to a son in a world with no light, cried the whole drive home, but not before telling the other teachers to deal with “that little devil child in the woods.”

        It took four of them to finally manage to get Katie back on the blacktop. And there she stood, a lonely and confused astronaut taken prisoner on an alien planet.

After a few minutes she noticed a boy coming towards her.

She knew about boys. She had read 2,731 pages and watched 1,459 minutes of tv about boys. She wondered what kind of boy he would be.

He waved, so she waved back. Would he be a mean boy? He said “Hi,” and she said “Hi.” Would he pull her hair?

His name was Michael. Eventually he went up to her and tapped her arm.

“You’re it.”

She watched him run away, looking back over his shoulder. She stood there, bewildered and sad. A few minutes later he returned.

“Are you gonna tag me?” he asked.

“What’s tag?”

After he explained, off they ran, and 30 minutes and 30 tags later, Katie and Michael stumbled inside, grinning from ear to ear.

 ****

         The cold was steadily growing, the darkness relentless and infinite. Rationing began in Australia, Angola, and Amsterdam, after two months and eighteen days in the dark. Millions of farm animals had died, and farmers rushed to salvage any meat they could. But instead of selling it off, they decided to keep it, as they realized that they didn’t need money; what they needed was food. And just like that, thousands of years after its inception, the people of the world began to lose faith in the institution that had nurtured civilization, forged great armies, and dominated the lives of kings and peddlers alike. Farmers everywhere, embittered by the cold, sent shockwaves of doubt and fear all around the globe.

The hoarding came first, then the looting. Neighbors became enemies as they wondered how much gas, food, water they were hiding from each other. As communities slowly crumbled, so did common notions of civility, of manners, of patience, courtesy, and shared humanity.

A few places managed to band together, to cooperate and channel their common fear into productivity instead of hostility. The town of Doolin, Ireland, managed to pool all of their resources and restore faith in the local government, successfully doling out rations and making tough decisions to ensure their survival for as long as possible.

Addis Ababa pulled together like no other city could, with 90% of able adults going in to work, to keep the city functioning and producing, spurring the economy and keeping their supplies of food and energy steady.

And a small town in Australia decided to go out with a bang, gathering all of their food and alcohol and throwing a fifteen-day feast, filled with music, dancing, and debauchery, preferring to spend their last days in the hedonistic presence of friends and loved ones as opposed to slowly dying from the hunger, if not the cold.

As hope deteriorated, an idea, the inklings of a plan, were born in the mind of a prominent energy researcher, and a few weeks and phone calls later, Dr. Laura Butler announced her daring and heroic plan to save the Earth.

In front of reporters, cameras, and the world, Dr. Butler and her coalition of scientists described her pioneering new method of energy extraction, capable of producing sixteen times the energy from the same amount of fuel. This, coupled with a special form of lamp inspired by those used to treat babies with Jaundice, could save millions, if not billions, she said.

By producing not only light that mimics sunlight, but also vast amounts of heat, the lamps could not only provide the necessary conditions for humans to survive, but crops and animals, too. Everybody would have to gather in densely packed cities, leaving their homes, their lives, the memories behind them. Life would be unquestionably altered, but life would remain.

Billions donated, and research and development began. Countless scientists, engineers, urban planners, and designers offered their services, and for a select few, she graciously accepted and let them join her team. The world held its breath as its hope for survival was crafted in labs and factories, while food, water, and heat continued to decline. 

**** 

          At lunch the next day, Katie was sitting alone when Michael plopped his tray and himself down next to her.

They spent recess running, jumping, tagging, and laughing. As Katie rested against the wall after a particularly taxing but successful tag, a girl came up to her.

“Are you playing tag?”

Katie recognized her from lunch the day before. She didn’t let Katie sit next to her.

“Yes, but you can’t play!” Katie screamed, blind rage erupting, the painful memory of one of her first ever rejections reverberating in her head, the deep desire for revenge, for justice, for this girl, this witch to feel how she had felt-

But as Katie watched her walk away, she remembered the Golden Rule. Words she had read countless times, had heard countless characters speak.

“Sorry, you can join if you want.”

And like that, Amber entered her life and her games of tag.

Katie, Michael, and Amber spent every recess racing among the trees and the kids, feeling the soles of their shoes grind the asphalt, releasing the beautiful smell of rubber and rock that Katie was growing to love so much.

Soon, they were joined by a third. Then a fourth. After her first two weeks at school, Katie had acquired a small posse of recess-time adventure-seekers and tag-fanatics. They ran, carefree, under the floodlights, dodging each others’ hands, laughing, screaming, unaware of the stress, worry, and fear dominating the minds of the teachers who stood around them, silent and bleary-eyed. One day, she tripped and fell. She skinned her knee and cut her lip, but she didn’t care. She felt more alive than she ever had; her knee became a symbol for adventure, her lip a symbol for freedom.

The other kids were impressed by Katie’s agility and speed, skills nurtured and improved over countless empty nights running through the woods around her home, just her and a million crickets, all ignoring her mother’s cries to return home. Exploring was her love, an escape from the strange, dull world inside the house. The woods were her home; she felt warm and safe, even on those cold moonlit nights.

Never did she realize that there were others just like her out there, others wishing to feel the wind in their hair and sweat on their necks. She had always been so alone, assumed it would be that way forever. But as she played, she found warmth and safety in these people. She began smiling and laughing with them during class, talking about candy and cartoons on the bus, and feeling a bittersweet contentment as she left them, sad to leave but excited to laugh with them tomorrow.

Her mom, resigned to their new life of darkness, took down the blackout curtains in her room and Katie sat on her bed, looking up at the sunless sky filled with stars. Her dark prison cell became a waiting room with a view, a place to pass the hours until she could see her friends again.

****

          Dr. Laura Butler and her team of world-savers worked tirelessly as the people of Earth watched. Men, women, and children put all of their faith in chemistry, in physics in thermodynamics and materials science and quantum mechanics. Updates came daily, and Dr. Butler spared them the jargon and complexity. She kept it simple and gratifying, enough to excite the public.

Hope became the new business of TV. As spirits lifted, communities started gathering to share food and watch the news together, the atmosphere contagious and electric with hope. Billionaires announced grand contributions, appearing on TV with Dr. Butler to accept them. Progress accelerated and the people of Earth began envisioning their future, one devoid of the light and heat of the sun but filled with the light and heat of chemical reactions, a cheap substitute but a substitute nonetheless.

The countdown began when Dr. Butler said they nearly had it; it was only a matter of days until they were ready for mass production. With all the manufacturing resources they had devoted, they could light the world in a few months.

Small celebrations were thrown, celebrations of human ingenuity and the sheer willpower to survive. Celebrations of that which had turned us from apes into kings in a cosmological second.

Then, one day, Dr. Laura Butler stopped showing up on TV. No longer did her voice assure everybody that the solution was close. The people of Earth remained incredulously glued to their screens, wondering what had happened. Bewilderment swept across the globe and remained until, a few days later, a weary looking man appeared on TV.

He apologized and apologized. Apologized he had taken part. Apologized he had been selfish. Apologized he had participated in the lies.

As he described the elaborate plan that had been born in the mind of Dr. Laura Butler and perpetuated by the hundreds brought in to legitimize it, people in all time zones felt like they were sinking to the depths of the deepest ocean trench. He said the guilt was eating him alive. He said it wasn’t fair, how he and the others had taken the world’s money and bought themselves tickets to survival. He said Dr. Laura Butler was so convincing, so trustworthy. She said it was for the survival of humanity, how only a few could survive, how they were pioneers, how they would go down in history as the saviors of the human race.

He described the elaborate underground structure being built; the true product of the world’s money. He described the systems of air filtration, water purification, and hydroponics he had worked on in exchange for a ticket to salvation and a closed mouth. He described how they would not only survive but thrive, a few thousand living in luxury and decadence while billions starved and froze above.

He had bought into it. He had believed Dr. Butler when she said that this was the only way. That without this humanity was doomed.

He apologized and apologized, and then he stepped out of view of the camera, never to be seen again.

Riots broke out, the worst the world has ever seen. Fires the size of cities lit up the globe, giving a brief respite from the eternity of cold that would follow. The collective outrage fueled a mass search for the underground safe haven the man was talking about. Within days it was found, deep in the Canadian wilderness. The infrastructure that remained of the internet was used to organize a mob hundreds of thousands strong, which descended on the location like a swarm. They burned the living quarters, ate the food, found those that had already moved in and mercilessly beat them, and promised the same for any yet to move in.

Dr. Laura Butler, Jesus turned Satan, was found fourteen miles away trying to escape. And the masses turned her into a horrifying example of the most brutal human capabilities, an example that was broadcast live on the internet for millions to watch.

Anger and mob mentality brought about the destruction of the underground Noah’s Ark, and just like that, humanity’s last hope for survival disappeared.

****

          Katie’s mom sat her children down to explain what had happened. To explain that all hope was lost, that they didn’t have long. Katie didn’t pay much attention. Her mind was elsewhere, dreaming of what games they would play tomorrow. Content to go to school forever, as long as she could play with her friends.

She thought back to her world before, a world of artificial darkness and manufactured air inside her house, occasionally broken up when she was allowed to go outside. Now, the darkness was pure, deep, penetrating, the air crisp and smooth on the lungs. Her countless stuffed animals were replaced by real friends, friends who could laugh with her, get mad at her, talk to her.

Her mom spoke of the end of the world, but Katie was more worried about her friends: she thought of Michael, and Amber, and Michelle, and Drew and Ian. What would happen to them? Would they still be at school tomorrow?

 ****

          On March 3rd, 2018, at exactly 12:17 PM Central Standard Time, the sun turned back on.

Manuel Hidalgo of Santiago, Chile, was temporarily blinded and dropped the makeshift club he was about to use to smash a grocery store window. The Ross family of Lincoln, Nebraska looked through the barricaded slats covering their window and screamed. The city of Pittsburgh, now a fraction of its population a few months earlier, felt the warm, comforting, life-affirming rays of the sun for the first time in two months, twenty-one days, fourteen hours and thirty-three minutes. They all stopped what they were doing and basked, like a city of a thousand lizards. They felt the warmth overtake them, reaching deep into their bones.

Uh Yong-Sook didn’t notice. Neither did 4,844,685 Chinese farmers or 47 kangaroo ranchers. But within minutes, electrons had zoomed across the Earth, informing them of the news. And they eagerly waited, waited, waited, for the most beautiful sunrise the world has ever seen.

****

          At 12:17 PM, Katie Webster was outside, half a mile from her house, upset at her mom for not sending her to school, confused as to why her mom was saying school had stopped being organized.

So she had run away. She dashed through the woods, leapt over creeks, and stomped on all the dead plants. Then, suddenly, the sky opened up, and Katie Webster saw something she had only seen in the days before memory.

Panic gripped her, and she bolted out of the woods, emerging under the vast expanse of unfamiliar, starless blue sky. The rays of sunlight enveloped her, and she felt what everyone from British Columbia to Buenos Aires was feeling. She sat, stunned, for a minute that felt like a millennium. She wondered if Michael felt it too.

She heard her mom, crying her name. She ran back to the house, eager to share whatever this was with whoever was there. Nearing her back porch, she saw Mac and Angie dancing. As she rushed to join in, she saw her mom’s tear stained face emerge, stuck between what seemed like laughter and fear. She thought her mom was going in for a hug, so Katie opened her arms and embraced her.

Her mom held her tight and covered her with a blanket. Katie was confused while her mom dragged her inside, away from the warm, destructive, life-affirming and deadly rays of the sun. Katie flailed and fought in confusion and anger as she heard the door shut behind her.

****

          While Mac and Angie Webster danced and sang, everywhere else friends hugged, families cried, and couples made so much love that nine months later hospitals around the world would suffer shortages of space and medical supplies. But no one thought of the future. All thought was on the present, and the sweet, simple joy of sunlight that came with it.

Huge celebrations kicked off, impromptu parades were thrown, and joy was spread on the rays of the sun.

****

           Meanwhile, Mary Webster marched through her home, up her stairs, down the hall, and into the furthest bedroom, to hang up her daughter’s blackout curtains once more.


JIMMY BANTA studies Film and Math at NYU, and loves reading, watching, listening to, and consuming stories of all kinds. After spending time screenwriting, he recently decided to get into creative prose writing, which has been incredibly fun and rewarding. In his free time, he loves to enjoy nature, good music, good food, and good company.