Awful Shadow, ch. 1: Simon Martin

“The awful shadow of some unseen Power
Floats, tho’ unseen, amongst us.”
Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

5:10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
Sunday, May 4th, 2014
8:10 Coordinated Universal Time
Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Fast forward—

It takes a couple of tries to actually hit the remote beside his bed and turn the lights on. At least he doesn’t have to deal with a lamp anymore—he knocked it over on his second night, in his attempt to work the twist-knob while his hands were shaking.

“B-Bedpost,” he says. “Blanket. Wall. Television. Notebook. Computer,” he continues, forcing his eyes to stay open. He shifts around on the bed to put his feet on the floor, and presses them into the carpet. It’s the kind with the extra long fringes, that he’s only ever seen in older homes. “I-I’m awake,” he says. “Nothing’s happened.” Yet, adds some treacherous part of his mind.

Still a little jittery, he pulls open the drawer beside his bed and takes a couple of Altoids. It’s all about senses and information, Dr. Denham keeps telling him. It’s like the mind is a stage and only so many actors can fit on it at once, so you need to get rid of the actors that you don’t like by calling forth some others–literally any will do. Fixating on objects in the room, the feel of the carpet beneath his feet, the peppermint flavor on his tongue. It’s all important.

Simon reaches over again to turn on the radio, and his room is lightly filled with the sound of “Spanish contemporary,” which apparently everyone but him has heard about because when he looked up what the radio played, they didn’t bother to elaborate, Spanish contemporary what? Maybe contemporary everything. He doesn’t know. He likes the sound of it, at least.

His hands are better now, so he feels capable of touching the cell phone that Rucker gave him and sends a text to Hannah. It’s hardly something that he wants to do, but he’s pretty sure that the lack of sleep is going to start showing on his face, and there won’t be any hiding it at that point, so he might as well admit what’s going on now.

His phone starts buzzing a moment later. Hannah isn’t a heavy sleeper.

“Uh, how’s it going, Hannah?”

Hannah’s first response is that particular kind of groan that people make when they’re still waking up.

“Nightmares again?” she asks.

“Y-Yeah.”

There’s some part of him that’s always expecting Hannah to be, he doesn’t know, not like this. She isn’t so much terse as she is direct, like she’s got the time for his problem but he doesn’t, and she’s not going to waste his time.

All told, he’d sort of prefer to be talking with Austin, but Hannah’s the one who noticed, and as much as he’d prefer Austin, he’d prefer even more to not need to be talking with anyone, except maybe Dr. Denham. As he’s come to expect, though, Hannah doesn’t trust that Denham can cut it. It…can’t be an “adults” thing, because she gets along with some, so maybe it’s just some dislike for therapists (and teachers, and parents, and…okay, Simon thinks he’s putting together the picture now).

“Tell me,” she says.

“None of it’s really new. I’ve seen it all before, in my visions, though the specific elements can be mixed and matched,” he says. What he doesn’t add: I’ve killed myself a dozen times, just the way I did it when I experienced your suicide. “Giants moving in the dark, stone pillars that reach past the clouds, and forests of Giger trees. People bursting into flame. People being shot. Nuclear bombs, going off exactly like the one that’s going to kill the woman in white.”

“Yeah, so the world’s going to end. I suppose it’s a little different for you since you’re seeing it but we still know…” Hannah trails off. “Sorry.”

Something’s going to happen. Simon isn’t sure how or when, or even exactly what, but their range won’t be so limited. This is just some sort of training wheels period or something, Simon thinks. They’re being given a time to figure out how their powers work, and then the gloves are going to taken off of their hands. Maybe it’s for the best, because surely they’d be better equipped to handle whatever threat is facing the world if their powers were given a greater range, but lately Simon has found it harder to shake off the niggling worry that maybe the Giger trees weren’t created by some outside threat at all. Maybe there’s some other kid, exactly his age, down to having the same birthday, and he’s planning right this moment to turn the world into something quite literally from out of Simon’s nightmares.

“—you copy? Earth to Simon, this is Houston, over.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t go quiet like that. I’ll think someone’s written your name into a murder notebook, Simon. How do we know that there isn’t somebody out there like that and they kill you and I’m left wondering why you just stopped talking all of a sudden. Pay me some courtesy.”

“You mean a death note?”

“I don’t know. I never watched it.”

“Or read it?”

“I didn’t know it was a book, too, so no.”

Simon is about to make a comment about that, but decides it might be rude or at least imprudent. If she missed something like that, then there’s probably a reason for it. “Give me a moment,” he says.

“Thanks.”

“Why do you think we have these powers?” he asks a few seconds later.

“Not by chance, obviously.”

Certainly not. If there’s one thing that they’re pretty sure on, it’s that there’s an intelligence behind this. That isn’t what he’s asking, though. “But why were we given them? I’m not asking from whom, but why?”

“We can’t answer the second without the first,” Hannah says, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Fine then. Magic. Gods. Artificial superintelligence. Aliens,” Simon reels off. “Magic alien supercomputers.”

“With a god complex,” Hannah adds.

“Sure. I don’t see how any of this is supposed to answer the question. We don’t have enough information, do we?”

“I’m thinking,” Hannah says, and then there’s silence on the other end. “Not human,” she says eventually. “I don’t know how many physical laws we’re apparently defying but it’s a lot, and even if we aren’t actually breaking them they seem so fundamental to our current understanding of physics, I’m pretty sure, that it’s safe to assume that there isn’t some lab out there that’s responsible for doing this.”

“Right. Where are you going with this?”

“Creator beings? Not gods as we know them because this doesn’t match any religion in history, or at least I don’t think. Do you remember anything like that?”

“No,” he answers, after giving it some thought. “They have an understanding of human affairs, though,” Simon brings up. “We all have the same birthday, but we weren’t born at the same minute, so they have a conception of days. That would be simple enough to think of without knowing anything about humans, but the first of January isn’t anything special. The Chinese New Year is on a different date.”

“So they’re not just aliens or gods but European ones at that.”

“Maybe. It’s universal, though, so maybe they just went the most easily-recognizable system. Which would mean…that they’re signalling us.”

“What?”

“They could have picked any date or set of dates, right? But they didn’t. Why not? We were born on a date that has significance for people. We’d notice. We are noticing. Everybody could have been born on a different day, and it wouldn’t have pinged anybody’s radar. It would have been expected. They could have gone with, I don’t know, the twenty-ninth of March, too, but all that would tell us is that they know that the Earth rotates. The first of January is something that almost anybody would pick up on. I don’t know if the Chinese celebrate it, exactly, but I’m pretty sure that they still use a Western calendar at least some of the time.

“So, it’s not just that they want us to know that they’re there. Whoever did this is trying to let us know that they’re have some familiarity with us, I think.” Simon pauses. “They could talk to us. But they aren’t doing that. Why aren’t they talking to us?”

“Gods never talk to you, Simon, no matter how much you pray. You’re old enough to know that.”

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2 thoughts on “Awful Shadow, ch. 1: Simon Martin

  1. I just woke up (too early) and I’m not as competent as Hannah. So I won’t be giving you a full review right now. Probably gonna reread it later.
    I did find a typo though:
    “But why did we were given them?”

    Like

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