Authors: Jennifer Ellis
“Maybe. If it does, and it wants to kill us, we’re dead, but I don’t plan on inviting it to take the first shot.”
With a handgun stuffed uncomfortably into her belt and Timber once again huddled against her side, Sasha returned to playing with the radio. With her gun skills, she’d probably shoot herself in the leg.
It sounded like Soren was dishing up plates. She gave the dial one last twist and the station was suddenly filled with a new voice.
“I want to give you every assurance that our scientists are working on the situation. If there is anyone in the world who is not currently blind, they will find them, and they will figure out what has taken away our sight and how it can be restored.”
“It’s President Kent,” Sasha said. She could hear Soren approaching.
“For those of you who lost loved ones today on airplanes and in motor vehicle accidents and other unavoidable tragedies, we are all very sorry for your loss. To those of you in emergency situations, please be patient, firefighters, policemen, and paramedics are trying to get to you. The military has been mobilized. If you are not in an emergency situation, we ask that you sit tight, and help your neighbors.”
Everyone in the world was blind. Sasha had not even considered this shocking enormity. If everyone in the world was blind, there would be no rescue. No hope of getting out of the Arctic.
“We know you are worried about loved ones, but our communications networks are damaged and overloaded and struggling to keep up. We ask that you stay off the phone and the Internet as much as possible while we try to restore basic services. Thank you and God Bless.”
Static overtook the radio again, and no matter how much she twisted the dial, she could not find another station.
She heard the sound of wine being poured into glasses, and then they both sat at the table and ate the cheese and bean burritos that Soren had prepared. They each had a second glass of wine.
They left a plate for Amber who threatened to shoot them once again, despite their pleas for her to calm down. The smell in the sleeping wing had gotten worse.
“We’ll have to try to deal with it in the morning,” Soren murmured. The storm continued to rage unabated, and after they had done the dishes as best they could, they made their way back to the couches in the common room.
“I’m not going back to my room alone,” Sasha said.
“I thought maybe we could sleep on the couches again,” Soren replied.
Sasha nodded. She felt the tears well and gather in her eyes. She loved the Arctic. She just didn’t want to spend the rest of what seemed likely to be her very short life here. Her mother was supposed to be on a cruise in the Caribbean this week, and her brother was a firefighter in SoCal. Were they both now dead?
“Do you think they’ll find a solution?” she asked. “I mean we’re all blind. How are they going to fix that? And if we’re all blind, aren’t we all going to just die? Who’s going to grow food and drive buses, and perform surgeries and build houses and all those kinds of things? We’ll all end up starving, and well, dead.”
“It’ll be the lack of bus drivers that kills us for sure,” Soren said.
She leaned over to punch his arm, but missed entirely, and almost fell off the couch. “You know what I mean,” she replied. “Do you think it’s aliens? Aliens have made us blind, and screwed up the magnetic fields, and who knows what else.” She didn’t want to mention the
that had talked to them. Ice. Who or what had a name like Ice? “What else could it be?”
“I don’t know, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to go down that path. That thing in here could easily have been a human with a bad case of laryngitis. Maybe the U.S. just thinks everyone else in the world is blind. Maybe this is an invasion of sorts.”
“But the people in the invading country wouldn’t have been able to keep this secret. They’d be outing themselves on Twitter or Facebook immediately.”
“Unless it’s just their military running the mission, and they’ve made the rest of their population blind as a cover.”
Sasha pulled one of the blankets that they had retrieved from their own sleeping wing over herself. If Soren was determined to believe it was a military invasion, she would go along with it. It seemed better somehow than the prospect of aliens. But only marginally.
They went together to the side door of the storage bay to let the dogs out to do their business. Every second they stood in the doorway facing into the pelting snowstorm, waiting for the dogs, Sasha felt exposed, her mind creating a fleet of alien ships or military encampments all around them, biding their time before attacking. But the dogs returned unscathed, and Sasha tried to push away her thoughts of imminent torture and death.
There was no need to turn out the lights in the station to go to sleep. All she saw was darkness, all around her. Every last light in the station could be blazing, although she was pretty sure Soren had said that he was turning them all off to save power for cooking and communications.
The light played at the edges of her eyes. She must be dreaming. Her mind conjuring fantasies that she could still see. That she would once again drink in the shocking color of a fall day, the sparkle of a rippling lake, the exquisite detail of a snowflake, and the deep saturated green of a rainforest. That she would be able to stare into the eyes of a lover.
Sasha opened her eyes. The dim glow of morning illuminated the station common room. Soren lay asleep on the couch opposite her, his chestnut brown hair a tumble of curls, and a line of dark stubble marking his sharp cheekbone. Tundra sprawled on the floor beneath his master, his paws twitching with sleep.
She could see. She blinked. She could still see. She sat up.
“Soren,” she called urgently. “Wake up.”
He leapt to attention, throwing off his blanket and drawing out the gun that he had clearly slept with.
His face registered shock, and he too blinked his eyes open and closed as if unable to reconcile himself to his newfound reality.
“Can you?” he asked, seemingly not trusting himself to even say the word see.
The storm had abated, and benevolent shafts of sunlight filtered in through the snowdrifts piled against the station window.
At this moment, sight meant everything. Sight meant they would possibly get out of here alive, that the world was not ending, especially if everyone else in the world could see again as well.
Soren’s expression reflected a similar welter of emotions.
He rose from the couch. Tundra leapt up too and head-butted Soren, howling a morning greeting. Sasha felt for Timber. Crusted blood marked the outlines of his wound. She had hoped to stitch it the previous day. But no matter how hard she had tried, she could not thread the needle blind, so she had plastered it with antibiotic cream and hoped for the best.
“Do you think this is just temporary—the return of our sight, I mean?” she asked.
“I don’t even want to think about it. I’ll get breakfast. You try the Internet, radio, and sat phone. Then we have some bodies to clean up, and we need to get out and look for the rest of the dogs, and the others.”
Soren rebuilt the station fire and proceeded to cook eggs. They both still moved with the slow wariness of the sightless, feeling for obstacles and carefully placing themselves at their workstations.
The Internet was, not surprisingly, down, and there was no sat phone signal. Turning the radio to the Retort Air Force Base channel yielded only static. But if everyone in the world had been blind until this morning, it might take a while for things to come back on line. There was no reason not to be optimistic. All those things—Ice, Vincent, the dead bodies, the strange languages—that had seemed insurmountable and terrifying in blindness, seemed surely to have logical explanations by the light of day. She had already peered out the station window to confirm that no military or alien encampment surrounded them. She rose and fed the dogs. Then she started to trawl through the static.
A loud thumping came from the door to the sleeping wing.
“Let me out. Let me out of here, right now,” Amber yelled.
Soren unlocked the door, and jerked back as Amber leapt out with a drawn gun pointed directly at Soren. He threw his hands into the air.
Her gun was trembling. “Was it you? Did you come into our room?” She almost sobbed the words. Then she flicked her head around to Sasha. “Where is everyone else? Are you in on this with him? Keep those infernal dogs away from me.”
“Amber,” Soren tried for a soothing voice, but it snapped with anger around the edges. “I did not come anywhere near your room. Edie, Cal, and Kyle all went missing in the storm. I don’t think it was the dogs that attacked you. We’ve all been blind for the past twenty-four hours. Everyone in the world has been blind. Please put down that gun and so we can talk about this like rational people.”
“Then where is Robert?” Amber’s voice shook. “Why did someone come into our room? Who
“I don’t know,” said Soren. “I promise you, I came nowhere near your room at any time.”
“I don’t believe you. I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing Soren Anderson.”
Soren visibly flinched. “What are you implying, Amber?”
“Don’t think I haven’t heard about your past. About Marina. I know why you left Antarctica. Convenient for you that the only two people left here are the two most attractive women. I demand a military transport out of here. Today. Immediately.” Amber flicked a look at Sasha. “You’d be wise to come, too.”
This break in focus was all Soren needed. He wrenched the gun out of Amber’s hand and swept her feet out from underneath her neatly with his leg. She fell to the floor in a thud, screaming hysterically and slashing at Soren with her fingernails. Both dogs raced to Soren’s side growling, which caused Amber’s screams to escalate. But Soren ordered the dogs back. Amber rose to her feet, her eyes slitted in fury. Soren stuffed the gun into the waistband of his pants.
“Now what? Are you going to lock me up again?”
“You need to calm down,” said Soren. “I don’t know what you think is going on here, but you’re mistaken. Please go sit on that couch there and we’ll talk.”
Amber turned to Sasha again. “Why does he have a sleeping wing that he can lock people into? Usually locks are made to lock people out.”
“Except when you run a prison work program for two weeks every spring,” Soren said.
“He’s lying,” Amber said. “I know he came into the sleeping wing. I know he came into our room. I know he’s done something to Robert.”
“I don’t think he did, Amber,” Sasha said. “He was with me the whole time.” Sasha realized that this was not strictly true. Soren could have gone into the other sleeping wing before he came to get Sasha, and he could theoretically have been down the hall in Amber and Robert’s room during the conflict. It had not seemed like he was there, but realistically everyone had been blind, so she could not say for sure. She didn’t really know Soren, but she had trusted him. Did trust him. Mostly.
“Then where’s Robert?”
“I think we need to look in your room, Amber.” Soren said. “I’m assuming you haven’t spent the last twenty-four hours in there.”
“I have too.”
“Have you noticed the smell?”
“It’s coming from Edie and Cal’s room. I assumed that their toilet backed up or something in the storm. I kept my door closed. You aren’t saying…” Amber’s face crinkled up in disgust.
“Let’s just go look,” Soren said.
The stench in the sleeping wing was overpowering, and Sasha wondered how on earth Amber could have slept in there, how she could have not known. Amber held her face straight and stoic as if she couldn’t smell anything. Still, as they approached the door to Edie and Cal’s room, Sasha felt the crawl of trepidation in her gut. What were they were going to find? Robert, dead in some sort of unimaginable way? But if Robert was dead, who or what had left the station two nights ago?
When they rounded the corner, pushed the door open and peeked into Edie and Cal’s room, Sasha stifled a full-on scream. On the bed, covered in dried blood, lay Edie.
Edie. When and why had she come back into the station?
Amber sank to the floor in the hallway and wailed.
There were signs of a struggle. The contents of Edie’s wardrobe, mostly clothes, and some equipment that Sasha could not identify, were spread across the carpet, and the green glass of the bedside lamp lay in shards. Edie still wore her base layer and her snow pants. Her parka hung across the chair just inside the door to the room, as if she had just removed it.
Soren moved closer to the body, and Sasha tentatively followed. Edie’s black long underwear top had been slashed open in multiple places, and Sasha had to close her eyes against the gory mess beneath.
She started to sway a bit and the room spun in front of her eyes. Soren grabbed her under her elbows and guided her to the door, his deep blue eyes intent on her. Amber sniffled loudly in the hallway.
“I’m not sure if there’s anything more we need to see there,” Soren said.
“Was she…stabbed?” Sasha said.
“Or slashed, but yes, it looks knife inflicted,” Soren said still supporting her arm. Her legs felt absent, and completely incapable of supporting her torso.
“Do you think Edie and Cal came back in the middle of the night? Because of the storm?” Sasha said. “Wouldn’t the dogs have barked?
“Or did Edie come back, alone?” Soren said. “The dogs liked her.”
“But where’s Cal? And who killed Edie?”
Soren flicked his eyes at Amber on the floor and then back at Sasha. He didn’t want to say Robert in front of Amber. “Maybe Edie came in to get something before the storm started, and Cal stayed outside. We should search the other rooms,” Soren said.
They walked past Amber who glared at Soren. Other than Kyle’s room, and the room Amber shared with Robert, the three remaining rooms were all neatly made up and showed no signs of recent activity, and no sign of Robert, or Cal. Kyle’s bedside table lay on its side, but Amber who now trailed them bristling with indignation, indicated that she may have knocked it over while looking for the flashlight.