Black Hole Sun
by Kelli Owen and Alethea Kontis
Erica “Sunshine” Lukac
Following: 22 Followers: 17
Following: 0 Followers: 1
Subject: Messages to the Black Hole
Hey, Captain Blackheart!
Mom was shopping today — she’s having some weird cravings with this new baby. She and Ron haven’t decided on a name yet. I’m calling him Surprise. Sunshine and Surprise. won’t we be a pair? Anyway…she bought a ham at the store (do you know how hard it is to find a ham when it’s not Thanksgiving?) and I remembered that funny story you told me about the crazy homeless woman trying to shoplift that ham. I hadn’t thought about that in forever. And then I remembered something else you said that day at the park — about how you were always crap at emails but if I kept sending messages to the Black Hole that you’d read them. So….hi! And I hope you’re okay. And I made an A in English — can you believe it? And i painted my toenails blue. And I think Mom and I are going to see Memory of Angels at the Roxy on Friday night and you’re welcome to join us even though I know you won’t. But I had to ask anyway. You’re always my first Impossible Thing before breakfast.
Hugs, grass blades, and bubbles!
Seth’s laptop announced new mail with a thin metallic ping. In the two years since his mother’s suicide, “Seth’s muted shock has transformed into full-on victimhood, with a twist of anti-social behavior.” The counselors should have just called him emo and filed the papers.
He hadn’t spoken to Sunshine since the funeral. He would never again trust the female of the species not to crush him. He had severed all ties to them: his grandmother, his father’s sister, his best friend. But Sunnie’s contact with him continued as if nothing had happened.
It didn’t surprise him anymore, but it was starting to annoy him.
Seth highlighted the email and hit delete. He hadn’t read any of her attempts for the past year, and he wasn’t starting now…but he couldn’t bring himself to block her address or flag it as spam. Deleting each email was just another form of self-immolation, a virtual way for him to remember that he had some control over this semblance of reality he called life.
Subject: Rise of the Squirrel Nation
Ahoy, Cap’n Blackheart! The wind’s blowing from the south today and the squirrels are restless!
I was thinking about you today. Okay, technically I saw you first and that made me think about you — you turned down the hallway to Principal Harrison’s office when I was walking to the bathroom during forth period. It looked like you were being escorted. Well, I hope it was for something good. Chopping off all Dr. Nesbit’s ties is still my favorite prank of yours. That was so freaking awesome. You have mad skillz, my friend. Don’t you ever forget it. Does Principal Harrison’s office still smell like wheat paste and shoe leather? I still maintain she’s running an underground elf sweatshop. No way a principal’s salary buys that many manicures.
You didn’t seem to be wearing Prank Face, though, so I hope you’re okay. You know I’m always here if you want to talk. Our old swingset on the corner of James Park hasn’t been demolished yet. Dad says it’s going to be condos. I hope a ton of kids move in there and cry to the management because they don’t have any swings to sing about and jump from and have secret meetings on. Would serve them right.
No, it definitely wasn’t Prank Face. I still remember all your faces. I still have that radar for you too–the one that tells me whenever you’ve just entered and left the room. I didn’t just notice you in the hallway — I knew you were there. i guess when you grow up with someone from birth you never forget that. At least, I don’t. Do you? As of today my birthday is officially six months away. It feels like forever. I’m still planning on staying up til midnight and singing that song from the Sound of Music because then it will be true. I will be sixteen-going-on-seventeen then. You can come sing with me too, like we used to on the swings. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone you really have a mushy center.
Miss you, prankface–
The email notification sound was Sunnie. It was always Sunnie. He’d seen her in the hallway; this email no doubt said what her open mouth hadn’t been able to before he’d turned his back on her. She was always offering an opinion and a bubble-blowing, flower-picking, glitter-covered shoulder. He didn’t want to hear it. He was sick of hearing it. She wouldn’t have recognized the new counselor at school. The highly educated head shrink they’d brought in just for him. He didn’t want to hear it from them either. His mother was dead. Dead. Couldn’t they all just accept it and move on?
Seth highlighted the email and hit delete, but his stomach flipped as the email disappeared from the list. He didn’t mind if it hurt, he just didn’t want to care. For a moment, he missed life the way it used to be. The way it would never be again. The moment passed.
SunnieLu: Surprise Baby is craving apples today: Granny Smiths! Not Honey Crisps! Surprise and I are going to have a chat later abt quality.
Seth remembered Mama Lukac and her love of all things Honey Crisp. Her mouthwatering pies. Her amazing cobbler, still warm, with ice cream. The way she’d rant about the perfection of that apple and how all others paled in comparison. Such seriousness over a simple thing; it had always made him giggle. He missed Sunnie’s parents some days, but seeing her mom only made the abyss of his own pain deepen. It reopened scabs and scars he desperately to heal over.
He was glad to know her mom was pregnant. The Lukac house had been so sad when she’d lost the baby. So quiet. He knew that kind of quiet now, understood it. It had happened the year he and Sunnie were in third grade. That was the first year they’d been allowed to swing on the swings by themselves. While he sat there, blissfully lost in memory, there was an update.
SunnieLu: Missing a childhood friend is like missing baby teeth. You know there’ll be more but right now there’s just a hole that can’t enjoy apples.
Seth closed the laptop.
He walked through the living room, slicing through the quiet with an invisible machete. His father mumbled something at the television, which was currently displaying a commercial for some insurance company. Seth wasn’t sure if the program, the commercial, or life in general had Dad upset this time. He’d learned shortly after his mother’s suicide to avoid that tone, and then his father as a whole. He grabbed his backpack–containing everything he’d need to survive in the event he decided to never come back–and left the house without a word.
At the bus stop he pulled out his phone and checked his messages. There were several unopened posts on Twitter. For a school-day morning, Sunnie had been busy.
SunnieLu: Wow. Chicken Little told us once that the sky was falling. We should have listened. Wow. Wow. Oh my god…
Seth pushed his overgrown hair back from his eyes and stared at the nonsense tweet. Huh? Sunnie wasn’t one of those overly dramatic girls that constantly annoyed him at school. She was Sunnie. She was fun and bubbly. What the hell drama could make her talk like this? Maybe Mama Lukac’s hormones were messing with more than apple cravings. Maybe she’d gotten a C on her History test. Maybe it was about a guy. God, he hoped not. Then he really would have to cut her loose.
SunnieLu: We’re in a bad made-for-tv disaster movie. Quick–change the channel! I’d happily live in Tubbybabyland forever. As long as I got to live.
As long as she got to live? What the hell? And Tubbybabyland was the worst show on TV. It should have been cancelled back when they were ten. Things must have gotten really ugly over at her house. Then Seth remembered his father. Maybe it wasn’t just her house…
Breaking News: The change in gravitational lensing of Sgr A was first noted by Norwegian Astronomer Borak Krugeur in 2008.
Breaking News: Officials now stating initial figures were off and the trajectory of Sgr A has been recalculated at 94 days.
Confused, Seth silently cursed his choice to turn twitter off on his phone from midnight to six in the morning. He’d obviously missed something fairly important and now had to play catch-up on the news. He kept scrolling.
SunnieLu: *sob* oh god there will be no surprisebaby. i’ll never meet my brother. never turning sixteen seems stupid now. it was a dumb song anyway.
No capital letters meant Sunnie was really upset. Shit. Sunnie’s mom must have miscarried again. But why wouldn’t Sunnie have a birthday? The baby wasn’t due until two months after.
Breaking News: Leak of Sgr A causing panic across the globe. Major cities in U.S. declaring martial law effective immediately.
Seth snapped his phone shut and looked around the neighborhood. Several cars that should have been long gone–their occupants well on their way toward workplaces and daycares–sat untouched in driveways. The previous night’s frost clung to windshields that hadn’t been scraped. Not a single vehicle ran idle in its driveway, fogging up the early winter morning. He raised an eyebrow, spun on his heel, and headed back to the house. Once again, school was the least of his concerns.
His father was still glued to the television, unshaved, in the T-shirt and sweat pants he’d slept in, half a cup of coffee sitting forgotten on the table in front of him. He didn’t notice Seth. Just like he hadn’t noticed for the last two years.
Seth tossed his backpack toward the corner of his bedroom and flipped open his laptop. He checked the emails first, retrieving Sunnie’s last few from the garbage folder. The first was just Sunnie being Sunnie. He smiled at the childhood references she’d made in the second, but he was still pissed about the school counseling. Dad had told them it was unnecessary–especially after finding out they were going to charge it to his insurance after the first three sessions.
But nothing explained the bizarre tweets. Out of habit, Seth clicked the toolbar link for the suicide support forum he’d lurked on since his mother’s death. He trusted regular people, not anchors or actors, to tell him what was going on. He scanned the thread topics as the dark blue and tan page finished loading.
- Holy Crap! Less than 3 months?
- Sagittarius A
- Oversimplified or hyperbole?
- What’s the point to healing now?
- Galactic suicide
- Reporting End of World
Seth clicked the last one.
General Discussion —–> Reporting the End of the World
|Fox News just reported some comet or something is heading this way. I’ve checked the other channels and they all seem to be talking about this Sagittarius thing. Does anyone understand what exactly they’re talking about? It sounds like it was here the whole time, so why is it important now? And holy crap, why are they freaking out?|
User #923Posts: 88
|It’s not a comet, it’s a black hole. And yes it’s been here. But it’s moving. For whatever reason it’s moving through the solar system and it’s going to knock the planets out of alignment. The sun too. What it doesn’t suck up will be out of orbit and the temperature will plummet, putting us in a deep freeze and killing everything on earth. Yeah… it’s serious!|
|Get offline. Go see your family and plan how you’re going to live the last three months. The time for mourning is done. You’ve got 94 days to live. I wish I had gotten over my daughter’s suicide earlier and done more with my life now…|
Until the end of the world.
Seth shook his head to clear his thoughts.
Police’s “King of Pain” suddenly earwormed him.
There really was a little black spot on the sun today.
And then nothing.
SunnieLu: My parents stopped calling me Sunshine because I remind them of everything we’re going to lose. I’m not even sure who “Erica” is anymore.
“Jesus!” He eyes rose from the laptop to the tattered picture on the cork board above his dresser.
Re: Subject: Rise of the Squirrel Nation
He didn’t know how to finish the sentence and deleted it. He stared at the blank form. A million thoughts ran through his head. Sunnie, the park, apples, playing pirates, climbing trees, his mother’s brownies…
notgoth555:> @SunnieLu Ground Control to Major Tom
SunnieLu: call me now it’s all right. it’s just the end of the world. ♫ http://blip.fm/~hhw9w
notgoth555: @SunnieLu Really? You know I suck at the lyric game… check your email.
SunnieLu: @notgoth555 *gasp* *sob* Land ho!
Subject: (no subject)
Wow, I haven’t called you that since the first day I met you. The day you broke my blue crayon and then cried about it and got me in trouble with our kindergarten teacher… Mrs. Ford, wow. Remember her? Anyway, you ARE Erica. Whether you know who that is or not, that’s you. It’s always been you. My best friend. My confidant. My discarded wingman. And I’m sorry.
Now pick yourself up and brush off that funk you’re twittering! This isn’t new. This has been happening our whole lives, we just found out, that’s all. As it happens, everyone just found out. We’ve been dying since the day we were born. You could have died tomorrow. You could have died without knowing. Now you know. Now you can live. On the other side there could be sunshine and flowers, who knows. We’ll find out. Right now, we just need to cram in as much fun as we can.
I know it’s been a while, but the world isn’t gone yet. Our park won’t be demolished by the developers. If we’ve only got ninety-four days, I need you to know something, to hear something.
Meet me at our swings…
Sunnie didn’t close her laptop. She didn’t grab her hoodie off the bed. And she left the front door wide open.
About the Authors
Kelli Owen is the author of more than a dozen books–her fiction spanning from thriller and psychological horror, to an occasional bloodbath, and the even rarer happy ending. She was an editor and reviewer for over a decade, and has attended countless writing conventions, participated on dozens of panels, and spoken at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA regarding both her writing and the field in general. Born and raised in Wisconsin, she now lives in Destination, Pennsylvania.
New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a voice actress, and a force of nature. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland, and dabbling in a myriad of other worlds beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, and Cast of Wonders. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: https://www.patreon.com/
About the Narrators
Michelle Ristuccia is a second generation homeschooling mom of three who enjoys slowing down time in the wee hours of the night to write, review books, and occasionally plan her students’ homeschool day. She writes genre fiction, educational material, and picture books. She also teaches and gives writing presentations in several homeschool and writers groups and has a BA in Psychology from NCSU.
Graeme Dunlop is a Software Solution Architect. Despite his somewhat mixed accent, he was born in Australia. He loves the spoken word and believes it has the ability to lift the printed word above and beyond cold words on a page. He and Barry J. Northern founded Cast of Wonders in 2011 and can be found narrating or hosting the occasional episode, or working on projects behind the scenes. He has read stories for all of Escape Artists podcasts. Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and crazy boy dog, Jake. Follow him on Twitter.