by George Allen Miller

“Darkrise!” Kaia said. Streaks of grey on the horizon signaled the soon-to-be-rising dark-sun, the vast orb of shadows that chased away the light of the world. Small shrubs and a few trees lined the area that Kaia and her brother had found. Several small animals scurried to hidden spaces in preparation of the coming darkness.

“Dakashi, gather your things, dark-rise soon.” Kaia said.

Several feet away, Dakashi, her brother, sat on the ground with his hands deep in the soil. His fingers wrapped around something and he pulled with all the might of a seven-year old boy. Both of his heels dug into the soil to help free whatever he’d found.

Light dimmed around them and Kaia turned to see a sliver of black on the horizon, the first glimpse of the dark-sun. Shadows raced outward across the valley and the world dimmed just enough to notice.

“Dakshi! What are you doing? It’s dark-rise! We must go home,” Kaia said. She raced to her brother and pulled on his collar. If they didn’t leave soon they could get caught in the dark-day. Even if they survived there would be consequences for staying out this late.

“I’ve almost got it though. It’s from the old ship, I just know it.” Dakshi refused to let go of his prized find. Sweat mixed with dirt and rolled down his forehead in small streams of mud.

On the horizon, a quarter of the dark-sun had risen and shade grew around them. Kaia tugged again on Dakshi’s shirt but her stupid brother refused to let go.

“A screecher is going to come and eat us both, we have to go Dakshi!”

“No, help me then.” Dakshi kicked the ground with his heels and let out a grunt.

Kaia cursed and fell to her knees. She dug her hands into the dirt and tried to free her brother’s treasure. Her fingers curled around metal and stretched her back to bring the object up.

“Dig!” Kaia yelled.

Behind them, more than half of the dark-sun had risen and a constant stream of shadows raced outward. Once old man Mohinder told Kaia about the world humans had come from, where the sun was bright and the source of light. How the mornings were met with joy, not like here, in this strange new home.

Kaia felt sweat on her brow and knew her brother’s stubbornness could get them both eaten. She stood with her fingers still wrapped around the object and pulled with all her strength.

“Almost! I feel it move!” Dakshi grinned and his eyes went wide with enthusiasm. Boys.

Kaia let out a loud yelp and fell backwards into the dirt with the odd thing in her hands. Dakshi jumped up and stared at the strange treasure; his smile nearly as wide as his face.

“What is it?” Dakshi said.

The center of the thing, nearly as tall as her brother, felt hard like metal but bent with the slightest pressure and ended in a point. A thin webbing of material that Kaia could not identify covered the outside and had a slick feel almost like dried animal hide. Underneath the leather-like skin, a dozen thin metal sticks, thinner but just as long as the central shaft, hung down from the point at the top and attached to the covering.

“I don’t know but we have to go now. Look.” Kaia pointed to the horizon and cursed herself for spending time looking at the object.

“Oh no.” Dakshi’s face fell and his eyes opened wide as the dark-sun rose behind him.

“I was telling you. We have to go!”

Kaia grabbed her tools and pulled her brother toward home. They stumbled as wisps of darkness surrounded them. Far ahead, Kaia could hear the warning bell in their village. Their parents would be so mad they had stayed out this late.

“We aren’t going to make it, Kaia.” Dakashi said.

They reached a small hill that separated the clearing from the village. Far in the distance, buildings stood out against the landscape. Shadow-covers, structures with a roof and no walls to keep out the darkness, lined the edge of town. In the light from one of the covers, the figure of someone stood looking outward. At least with the shadow-covers Kaia could see the way home after dark-set.

The last clumps of light faded as the dark-sun behind them rose to dominate the sky. Only in those places where the darkness could not reach did some small amount of dull light still shine.

“Kaia, what do we do?”

Kaia reached behind her and pulled out a piece of thick cloth. She held it over her head and a small patch of very dull light came to life around them. The cloth was patched with several holes, through which darkness pierced and dimmed the light, still there was just enough to see. She squinted, and with help of her cover, could just make out a few feet in front of her. In the distance, light from under the shadow-covers gave her the direction.

“This way, stay close to me, we have to hurry.”

They stumbled in the darkness and tripped several times. Around their small oasis, darkness stretched in all directions. A high-pitched scream pierced the air and Kaia and Dakshi froze in place. Somewhere, close by, a screecher had announced itself. The beasts traveled in packs and could run great distances in the dark. Old man Mohinder said that screecher eyes were very sensitive to light and could pick up even the smallest amounts cast from a light-shadow, when a body blocks darkness from the sun. They also smell their prey and Kaia was pretty sure they could find Dakashi from a hundred miles.

“Kaia?” Dakashi shivered and hugged her waist.

Kaia reached into the dirt and rubbed as much as she could on both herself and Dakashi. It might be enough to get them home and cover their smell but she wasn’t going to wait to see. She bumped Dakashi forward and kept her hands on the cloth over their heads.

“Which way do we go, Kaia? I can barely see.”

“Walk towards the shadow-covers. That way.” Kaia pointed towards the light in the distance.

Ahead of them, small patches of very dull yellow moved in furtive gestures. Kaia counted six light-shadows in total and knew there was a pack of screechers ahead. Reaching the village now would be impossible.

“Dakashi, stop. We have to hide.” Kaia took her cloth down, as it might attract the screechers, and pulled her brother backwards.

“But I want to go home, Kaia.”

“You should have thought of that before you waited for dark-rise. We may be out here all dark-day now.”

Kaia grabbed her brother and dragged him toward the hill behind them.

“No, I want to go home.” Dakashi pulled away from his sister and ran towards village and the screechers.

Kaia reached for her brother but missed and only felt a tiny bit of his shirt. She chased after him but came to a stop as a dozen loud screeches echoed around them. Her brother cried out and Kaia just make out his light-shadow and that of a screecher next to him.

Without thinking, Kaia rushed forward and held the only weapon she had in the air, her brother’s treasure. The screechers yelped and barked at her but didn’t give ground.

Kaia reached her brother and put her hand around his shoulder. She waved the long pole in wide circles and added grunts and shouts of her own. Light-shadows danced around her in the darkness followed by snarls and yelps of hunger. Kaia screamed for help but knew, even if others came, it would be too late.

“Kaia,” Dakashi said. He held his sister tight and started to cry.

Kaia’s thumb found a circular round groove near the base of Dakashi’s treasure. Panic crept up her spine as she ran out of ideas of what to do. Her thumb, in more of a spasm than a conscious choice, pressed down and a small click came from somewhere inside the device. The sides of the thin pole exploded outward and formed a circle over Kaia’s and Dakashi’s head. The strange material, unlike anything she had seen, expanded in-between the small thin poles that extended outward from the top of the central shaft. More surprising than the new shape of the pole was it’s effect on darkness.

Ambient light, as bright as after the dark-sun sets, erupted in a circle around Kaia and her brother. She had never seen anything that kept out the darkness as well as the strange material.

Yelps of pain began as soon as the light came. Screecher’s eyes were far too sensitive to look at full light. Kaia stood and listened as the pack ran off into the darkness. Their sounds of pain faded with each second.

“What is this?” Kaia said. She looked the object up and down. Beautiful bright light shined around them as the device held out the darkness from above.

“I told you, it’s from the old ship. What else could hold out the darkness!” Dakashi jumped up and down and waved his arms high in the air.

Kaia bent Dakashi’s find toward the direction of the dark-sun. Bright light shined in front of them and Kaia could easily see the path home. She laughed and grabbed her brother and raced to their village.

As they grew closer Kaia could see, beneath the shadow-cover, old man Mohinder standing with a scowl on his face. Kaia feared his anger but all traces vanished when he saw the strange circle of light.

“What did you find, children?” Mohinder said.

“We don’t know, we found it in the dirt. See how it blocks the darkness!” Dakashi jumped up and down and pointed at the object.

“May I see it?” Mohinder said.

Kaia handed the object to him and seconds later he laughed and shook his head in disbelief. “You’ve found what was called an umbrella. It used to keep out the rain,” Mohinder said.

“What’s rain?” Dakashi asked.

“Water that fell from the sky.”

Kaia and Dakashi exchanged puzzled looks and laughed. Water falling from the sky? Impossible!

“How does it keep out the darkness?” Kaia said.

Mohinder shrugged. “We know very little of this strange universe, children. Imagine what your great-grand parents thought when they saw the dark-sun for the first time. Light here doesn’t behave like it did on Earth. Instead of coming from the fire of a star, here it’s part of the very fabric of space. I imagine the material that the umbrella is made of blocks the light-absorbing particles that are emitted from the dark-sun more efficiently than ordinary wood or cloth. Much more efficiently.”

“May we keep it?” Dakashi asked.

Mohinder looked at them both and smiled. “You can have it back but not now. I want to show it to the other adults. If we could figure out how our ancestors made it, or find more from the wreckage of the ships cargo holds, it would help us greatly. And I think you two owe your mother an explanation.”

Kai nodded. She grabbed Dakashi by the collar and dragged him towards home. Though she knew she was in trouble, the thrill of finding the umbrella sent shivers down her spine. She couldn’t wait to get back out to the clearing and see what other treasures await. Of course, in the future, she would make sure to leave a little earlier.