By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: It happened between midnight and sunrise.
There was a reason why the elders would say to come home before dark.
When I was in school, I thought they were silly; old; over-cautious. The way they talked, in hushed whispers, about the night and the sounds. What sounds, I thought as I would tuck myself in at twilight. It’s just a little wind.
One of the boys in my class said he heard his parents talking about it one night after he was supposed to be in bed and that he heard the noise too. I told him he was stupid. What did fifth-grade boys know about the world after dark anyway?
Then I went to college, moved to another state, kind of forgot about those whispers and stupid boys. Don’t we all? I became enamored with life on my own, as a real, proper adult. I could make my own decisions about everything, from what to wear to what to eat to what to believe.
I could even get a real job, which I did. The graveyard shift in a big-box store. I wanted to go to graduate school and needed the funds. The graveyard shift was the fastest way to earn it; it paid triple what the daytimers got. Who could turn down that kind of money? I could earn it with my dignity intact.
I figured it was a smart move. And because I was such a smart, put-together young adult, I chose to ignore my parents’ advice, as well as the advice of the other elders I knew. They warned me not to be out that late. The wind was spreading, they said.
I scoffed at them, albeit in the privacy that comes after a phone call ends. During the day, the store teemed with people. On my first night, I expected nothing less. Didn’t people make late-night grocery runs for ice cream and frozen pizza?
But no. I learned, fast, that the graveyard shift spent all their hours in the store restocking. So many shoppers came in the daylight hours that the store needed to be cleaned, straightened up, and restocked every single night.
No one came to shop at night; no one.
At first, it didn’t matter. There was no shame in menial labor, I thought. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
Then I heard the wind.
It happened between midnight and sunrise and didn’t stop until the first rays of light peeped over the horizon as if asking for permission to come back. The wind; the screaming. The train-like sounds they described in the movies and I always thought belonged only there. Branches crashing; rain, sometimes hail, pelting the windows with a ferocity that made me edge away from the front of the store. Sweat broke over my top lip, and I wiped it away in a rough gesture. Maybe if I bluffed my way through my fear, it would leave me alone.
My manager growled at me then, so I scurried past the dozens of other employees who side-eyed me as I passed their aisles back to my aisle. As I opened my hundredth cardboard box with the cutter that had lost some of its sharpness overnight, a new sound descended on the world outside. I stopped, mid-cut, and tilted my head. Listened. Frowned.
Then I realized that what I heard was silence. The wind had stopped. I craned my neck around the endcap and saw the front windows of the store glowing with the arrival of the day.
Curious, I dropped the box cutter in the pocket of my store-issued vest and went to the front of the store. No one else seemed to care one way about the way the dawn broke. Shouldn’t it have mattered to someone, I thought.
A loud mechanical rumble made me jump, but then I saw what produced such a gargantuan sound. This one, thankfully, was manmade. A huge dump truck drove through the parking lot, and men would jump off every four parking spaces to gather the debris and throw it into the truck’s bed. Toward the far end of the parking lot, I saw a downed light, pole and all, but another crew had already reached it to repair the damage. To my right, in the distance, I spotted a shallow crater—an actual crater!—in the parking lot. A third crew worked there too.
I had no words. I still don’t. What kind of world do we live in where mammoth storms attack us every night, and we get up and repair the damage every day? Where are the storms coming from? Why can’t we protect ourselves from them? Why do people have to huddle in their homes, away from windows and doors, waiting out the night? What happened to the parties that went until the sun came up, the revelers who would meander down city streets for a cappuccino or a slice of pizza between midnight and sunrise?
(I know they happened. I’ve read the old books in the library, seen the gossip magazines and watched the old discs they call DVDs. Some of the funniest, saddest, scariest things happened in fiction in the middle of the night. But nothing scares anyone like this.)
Since when does the night swallow up our safety in its inky blackness?
How can we get our security back?