The Next Light (Short Story)

Note: This short story was written for teen readers. Teachers, try the worksheet and our speaking lesson on The Next Light.

A monochrome crosswalk signal

The corner was a few meters ahead. The pedestrian signal began to count down from 10, 9, 8, 7… The woman thought about running to make it but decided against it. She wasn’t in a rush. And there’s always the next light, she figured.Though there was a long delay on July 22, 2031. A DRX-AV5 was driving a passenger of importance late at night. Instead of slowing and stopping, it propelled itself into the streetlight at full speed. The light was out for 13 hours afterward.Then there were the protests of the following year. They sparked largescale riots and ultimately the beginning of the war. In an act of desperation, the humans destroyed the power stations, terminating all lights.During that time, the woman and many others died.  A long period without illumination followed.

Streets gradually cracked and turned to bush. Bush became forest. A route of sorts began to emerge again, paw after paw, hoof after hoof, footfall after footfall. Eventually a light appeared at that very spot, though not on a post, but on the ground, burning steadily under control.

The route would become part of a corner again, and centuries later, an outpost. The people were not entirely primitive. Among them lived tales of lights that could be held in hand and ones that could fill the sky. There were even stories of sharp blades that drew power from nature itself. But there was also unease—unease of what such developments could lead to.

In the end, no street lights were erected or power stations created. The torches outside the outpost continued to burn nonetheless.

Then came the illness. It started with a fever and aches. Then a rash would appear that progressively worsened, leading to serious complications. Handwashing and isolation proved inadequate as treatment. During these long years, many perished and the outpost closed. Occasionally, a dim light flickered.

After a decade, communities recovered. The outpost lights returned and burned with consistency in the evenings under the stewardship of several generations.

And then one day, something appeared above in the realm invisible to the naked eye. Undetected, its trajectory remained unmapped until it was too late to address. The shadow descended, anchored to a mass twice the size of its predecessor that had arrived 66 million years ago. Instead of plesiosaurs, this time it was humans that looked up towards a darkness that would never be lifted. It was a few kilometers overhead.

At that same corner, a boy began to count down from 10, 9, 8, 7------

-- Short story written by Matthew Barton (copyright). Published August 22nd, 2023

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