At The Edge of Dawn

The night is old. It hangs onto the sky like a stewed cow drinking one last beer before the bar closes.

I am standing on my roof, up very late. Or is it early? I cannot decide, but dawn has not yet crept up from the horizon where the palisades meet the housing projects.

The air is cool and fresh — without the fog of pollution or the heat of the day baking the sidewalks and streets, metal railings, tar roofs and brick buildings. There are no bubbling greenhouse gases to clog sinuses, no prattle of trains or roar of buses, no honking, no thump-thump of music from a passerby car. Earth is sleeping.

Yet, I know there is another world, one that belongs to the night. Where the bats roost on my patio and moths scurry in the glow of street lamps. The bartenders stumble home, heads stuffed with the voices of cackling girls and glug of brown liquor. The fat, tabby cat pads across the street, past the heroin addict who sleeps with her dog in the doorway of the church.

In a meditation class I once took in Tahoe, the teacher said that 5am is the best time to practice because the environment is clear of negative energy. He also suggested I buy a blanket and use it for nothing else except meditating.

I do not own a mediation blanket, and though the clock on the microwave said it was nearly 5am, my eyes are still scratchy with sleep.

Bloated and thick waisted, this night can no longer hold onto itself. And neither can I. I find my way downstairs and into my soft bed where I lie, dreamless and content.

 

One Minute Twenty-Seven Seconds

Breath rattled deep in Karen’s chest. She turned up her music and plugged the earbuds deeper into each canal to block out the sound. It had been months since she ran, impossibly long — she’d always associated the activity with peace not exercise, but there hadn’t been peace for some time. Three months, four days, and a few hours, actually.

The digital screen of her fitbit blinked. She rediscovered the gadget in a drawer a few weeks ago and had been using it to monitor her sleep. There was some satisfaction in knowing, really knowing, that she wasn’t just feeling tired. Exhaustion was now quantifiable. The little app told her each morning that four hours and fifty-three minutes with 3 times awake and 15 times restless was not sufficient. She’d watched every dinosaur documentary and episode of Ancient Aliens on Netflix, and vaulted to level 223 in Soda Crush Saga over the past sleepless three months, four days, and a few hours.

She gained one minute and 27 seconds on her run time. The robotic voice alerted her to the gain from her wrist through Bluetooth to the app on her phone and then through wires of her earbuds into ears where the sounds were delivered and decoded in her brain. The fitbit would automatically update her Facebook profile with her distance: Karen Schiff ran 2.27 miles. There would be a map of her route automatically posted too. Everyone would see that she had (finally) gone running again and that she had gained one minute and 27 seconds. They would see where she had run and at what point in the route she had paused to catch her breath.

Karen stopped and pressed the button the side of the digital faceplate long enough to end the exercise session. It was the first time she had gone running in three months, four days, and a few hours. She had gained one minute and 27 seconds. She made a mental note to turn off the Bluetooth and disconnect her fitbit from her social media accounts. That one minute and 27 seconds was hers and hers alone.

Total Darkness

The rabox was hungry. Gillian dodged another swipe and cut through the trees, the creature’s breath on her neck, droplets of saliva on her skin, the lingering brush of its gray, prickly fur on her thigh.

She felt the primal rush of imminent death, intensified by the red-colored forest. Latmos was a stomach lurching scarlet — the leaves, trunks, branches, scraggy grass, even the flowers. All of it was red, like a great god had split his wrists and sprayed blood across the forsaken planet, as if the ground was bleeding from the veins of all the dead who had ever lived, and ever would.

Behind her, the rabox panted and grunted, its ice pick claws raking the red trucks as it rushed through the foliage. She wasn’t ready to die. Not yet. She wouldn’t be eaten alive by a giant, rabid rat. Without breaking pace, she scanned the forest.

“Pol!” she cried, lungs bursting. “Where are you?!”

She didn’t see him, and he didn’t answer. She’d lost sight of Pol a few hundred yards from the shuttle. She should have circled back, but there had been two raboxes waiting when she’d kicked open the cockpit door, and she lost her head. Pol had run in the opposite direction, the second rabox chasing him with frightening speed, teeth bared.

He might be dead. No. That couldn’t be. She would not think such things. She could’ve shot the raboxes if only she hadn’t dropped her gun in the shuttle. That was very dumb.

Yet, the shuttle had been a nightmare of its own kind. She remembered the tone of Pol’s voice. Urgent. Frightened.

“Snap out of it and help me!” he had cried as he tugged on the door. It was jammed. The ship had broken apart as it plummeted through Latmos’ atmosphere, and the spherical cockpit had grazed the sky like a meteor.

Though there were no windows, she judged that the heat shield was failing. The cockpit was an oven. Sweat poured down her face, her body slick inside the suit. The G-force wedged her body into her seat back, which the engineers had molded to fit her form, a safety precaution for rough landings.

She forgot the rest of it, or more likely blacked out. The next thing she remembered was a bone lurching jolt when the cockpit struck the ground.

The silence and cold-pressed blackness had been so rich that she could feel it curling around her limbs, reaching into her eyes and mouth, into her nose. Her head woozy, the darkness slipped like a phantom into her pores, traveled through her bloodstream, curdled her lungs. She coughed.

Smoke.

The cockpit was filling up with smoke.

“Gillian, fucking help me!” Pol had screamed, his voice rattling in her head.

The ground team had trained her well. Her body was on autopilot, already knowing what to do without her needing to tell it. Her hands felt in the darkness for her holster, and she undid her harness. She pointed the gun at the direction of Pol’s voice.

“Move out of the way,” she said.

“I can’t see what you’re doing.” He coughed. “It’s pitch black.”

“Move!” She heard him stumble, then trip. She pressed the trigger. The gun jerked, followed by a flash of light and a deafening explosion.

A rim of daylight traced the outline of the circular door. Air! She slipped forward in her seat, the gun clattering to the floor, and kicked the hatch fully open.

Still running, Gillian glanced over her shoulder. The rabox was losing ground, but it hadn’t given up yet. It crashed behind her, its claws slashing at the red brush, teeth chittering, tail swishing.

She pressed deeper into the red forest, further into the unknown. Away from the shuttle, and from Pol, into the strange planet called Latmos.