The Magic Hour
His eyes opened partway, just enough to reveal a huge clown staring at him. They opened fully, that image on the flat screen just an advertisement for a movie that was available on demand. He realized the screen saver was on, and he’d fallen asleep in the recliner again.
He found the remote on the cushion beside his leg and turned the TV off. Birds chattered and chirped among themselves in the darkness outside. What appeared to be a bright moon shrouded by clouds in the dark sky was actually that new LED street light viewed through the folds in the sheer curtains hanging in the picture window. Between two of those folds, he could see the subtle shift of the black sky to more of a bluish gray tone, the approaching sunrise those birds must be discussing out there.
As he shifted in his chair to reach for his phone, each creak of the frame was louder than it would be among daytime distractions, giving them a more sinister presence in the silent house. He narrowed his eyes against the bright screen that advised him he had no messages, but his battery was running low.
Let it go off, he thought as he set it back down, there’s magic in the air right now, as the night reluctantly hands its dominance off to the invading light of day. Technology has no place here.
The full bladder that woke him asserted itself just then, reminding him that he had something to attend to. The spell now broken, he got up and made his way to his bathroom while he wondered if there was a way to capture that magic somehow, to bring it back at will and fully explore the possibilities it held.
That detail completed, he shuffled into the kitchen and pressed the button on the coffeemaker, which he’d set to go the night before. Measuring grounds and water to make coffee is a job for one who’s already had their coffee, he thought. If that isn’t oxymoronic, then what is?
As the coffee maker got to the business of brewing, he returned to his recliner and picked up his laptop. He’d scan the news until the coffee was ready, bypassing the usual ads and prompts vying to divert his attention. His plan for the day was to focus on his new story and practice social media distancing to prevent distractions.
“And I don’t even need to wear a mask!” he chuckled as the screen came to life.
The first thing he noticed was that he had no Wi Fi connection. He glanced at the router and saw it had power, but the connection light was off. He picked up his phone again and saw that had no local connection either, but seemed to be getting a signal from his carrier. He tapped the app for the local news station and his jaw gaped open.
PANDEMIC TO PLAGUE? The headline screamed. The story said that bands of ‘unidentified creatures’ began running amok on the streets shortly after sunset yesterday, attacking anyone or anything in their path seemingly at random.
These were not robberies or sexual assaults, the intent seemingly to maim and kill their victims, inflicting copious amounts of damage with ‘claw like’ hands with no other motive.
“This can’t be real,” he muttered softly as the beep sounded in the kitchen, alerting him the coffee was ready. He set the laptop and phone on the table beside his chair and went to the kitchen to pour a cup. As he turned to open the fridge and fetch the creamer, he glanced out the window, the street outside now brightly lit by the morning sun.
And saw the blood pooling on the sidewalk in front of the house next door beside the prone body of what used to be the woman who lived there. She looked as though she’d been fed head first into a running wood chipper, then pulled back and tossed aside when she proved to be too big to pass through the spinning rollers.
He remembered the night before, how he’d raised the volume on his TV because she was outside talking loudly on her phone, seemingly her mission in life. He’d always described her as a ‘Trailer Park Drama Queen’ who’d moved in to care for her father when he fell ill, and then stayed when he’d passed away, to his great dismay.
He looked back at the carton of creamer in his hand, leaking now from his having squeezed it unconsciously while he viewed the carnage outside. He poured some into his cup and grabbed a paper towel to wipe the container off before he put it back and closed the fridge.
Avoiding the outside view this time.
He returned to his chair and picked up his phone to call 911, but hesitated at the sound of sirens somewhere nearby. As he listened, the sound grew louder as they approached. He set his phone down and looked at the router again.
Still no signal.
He turned on his TV, hoping he still had a feed from the fiber cable strung outside along the telephone poles, but there was nothing other than the splash screen from the DVR indicating it was looking for its signal.
He grabbed his phone again, and now the signal bars were missing, the battery indicator blinking red. He tried 911 anyway, but never heard anything beyond the beeps of the 9 and first 1 digit as he pressed them. The phone went off before he pressed 1 again, the battery finally exhausted.
“Shit!” he exclaimed, remembering he hadn’t plugged it in earlier.
Phone still in his hand, he realized the volume of the sirens had peaked and was fading again, apparently heading to another scene instead of the one outside.
He looked over at the closed laptop that contained the beginning of a new story, one that connected the dots between the wildfires triggered by global warming, the current pandemic whose symptoms seemed to mutate and change overnight, sightings of massive insects and their impact on the local ecology… he’d basically been drafting the end of the world, but hadn’t yet introduced creatures that had somehow spawned from it all.
Not yet. But… had he thought about them? Imagined their origin or purpose?
He thought he might have.
It might have been during that twilight time when the night plumbs its depths before reluctantly surrendering to the dawn that the idea had come to him.
He had a momentary thought, something to do with a gate or gates being breached during the hysteria, releasing something that was never meant to walk the surface again, but that thought left as quickly as it had arrived.
Had he written anything? He had to check and see.
It was then, just as he lifted the laptop off the table, that he heard the loud cracking of the locked back door being snapped apart followed by the clicking of claws on the floor tiles in the kitchen.
And then he heard no more.