Kia’s life revolved around the monsters that stalked her tribe every night. The Dark killed at will and there was nothing that Kia could do. Until one night, Kia’s anger overwhelmed her fear. Her life went on a different path, one that she could never have anticipated. Defender of her tribe, Kia bided her time until she discovered a weakness in the Dark that promised everyone freedom.
Darkness Rising is a moody science fiction story set in humanity’s ancient past where one woman’s life made a huge difference in humanity’s development and in first contact with a mysterious alien race.
By Meyari McFarland
Kia watched quietly, nibbling on her bottom lip as Chinara took a fresh incense cone and gently set it on the family altar. Her hands didn’t shake the way Fola’s had when she put the dates on the altar. Chinara’s hands were steady. Her voice was calm as she prayed to the Gods to grant them good weather, bountiful harvests and freedom from the Dark. It felt wrong for her to be so calm. She should be angry, like Kia.
Outside, Kia heard the strange echoing sounds of impacts that always came from the Dark’s ravine. They were such a normal part of her life that she barely noticed them. Since Mother and Father had been taken by the Dark the sounds seemed louder, more threatening. Kia had tried banging rocks and wood together but nothing made the same hollow booming sound that the Dark’s hammering did. It was if they hammered on something completely different from the familiar wood, rock and earth that surrounded Kia.
“Will you set the flame, Kia?” Chinara asked.
“Can I?” Kia asked, surprised. “I thought I wasn’t big enough yet.”
“It’s just the three of us,” Chinara sighed, her smile so sad that Fola put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I think it’s okay as long as you’re careful.”
“I’ll be very careful!” Kia exclaimed.
She scrambled up from her cushion by the fire, coming over to take the little lamp from Chinara. It was heavier than she expected. The rosy quartz crystal base chilled her fingers and filled both her hands. Fola poured a puddle of oil in the hollowed out center of the base. Kia let her tongue poke out of her lips between the gap where her front tooth had fallen out, concentrating hard as Chinara carefully lit the little puddle of oil for her.
“Just set it on the altar, Kia,” Chinara said, “right between the dates and the incense.”
“Okay,” Kia said.
Kia had to stand on her toes to set the lamp on the altar. She was very careful to make sure that the lamp didn’t slosh to the sides, spilling the oil and fire. Chinara smiled as Kia stepped back, resting her hands on Kia’s shoulders. Fola patted Kia’s shoulder and smiled too but her smile was wobbly and sad, not confident and reassuring.
“Do you know the words?” Chinara asked.
“Uh-uh,” Kia said. “Say them for me?”
“Of course,” Chinara laughed. “Just repeat after me, okay?”
She took a deep breath as she stared at the lamp for a long moment. Chinara carefully picked up the incense cone and touched the tip of it to the flame, holding it there until it began to smolder. A long thread of smoke curled towards the ceiling of their cave. Kia watched with Chinara and Fola as the smoke built in the dark spot over the altar before slowly flowing like an upside down river towards the smoke hole that led outside.
“Protect and defend us,” Chinara said, looking back down at Kia. “Keep us safe so that we may bear the flame to the next generation.”
Kia repeated the words along with Fola, her tongue stumbling a little on ‘generation’ but Chinara didn’t seem to mind. She tugged both Fola and Kia back over to the cushions, sitting with Kia in her arms. Her arms were thinner and harder than they had been before Mother and Father went to the Dark. Chinara’s belly was flatter, too. It made her hip bones poke into Kia’s side but she was warm and that was nice enough that Kia didn’t complain.
A wail sounded outside, faint and distant. It sounded so far away that Kia wondered if it was out on the plains instead of in one of the other caves. No one lived on the plains, though, so that didn’t make sense. It was too dangerous out there with the Dark and lions and crocodiles and hippos. Chinara’s arms went hard and tight around Kia’s back, tugging her so close that Kia protested.
“Hush,” Chinara whispered.
“Chinara!” Fola hissed. “What do we do? There’s no one to defend us now. We’re all alone.”
“Hush!” Chinara repeated. “We stay quiet. We stay still. We don’t go out at night. We’ll be fine.”
“Should have gone to live with Duna,” Fola muttered but she said it very quietly.
Chinara didn’t seem to hear her though Kia could feel the way Chinara’s body stiffened. They’d already argued about that. In the last three days since the Dark got Mother and Father, Fola and Chinara had argued about it again and again and again. Last time Chinara had screamed at Fola and slapped her. Neither of them had brought it up since.
Kia didn’t want to go live with Duna. He was big and strong but his cave was the closest to the plain. He didn’t live high up where it was hard for the Dark to climb. It made her scared when Duna looked at Chinara. The look in his eyes was more like when Father had brought in an antelope for dinner than how Father had looked at Mother. Besides, Duna’s cave was full of other women, ones he’d convinced that he could protect against everything including the Dark.
“Why do they come?” Kia whispered once Fola had stopped shaking and Chinara’s eyes had relaxed around Kia’s back. “Why do they take people away, Chinara?”
“I don’t know,” Chinara whispered back. “I don’t think anyone does.”
Other wails rose in the night, closer, father away, then one so close that it sounded as though it came from two caves down. Fola gasped and hid her face in Chinara’s back. Chinara shivered but she stayed perfectly still other than the way her arms tightened once more around Kia’s back.
A wail came from the cave next to theirs, full of terror and something that Kia had never heard before. It was a sound like teeth grinding or maybe like grain being ground between two flat stones. But it wasn’t that. She could tell. The grinding sound was too wet for grain, even fresh gathered grain that hadn’t yet dried in the sun.
“Go away,” Kia whispered. “Go away!”
The wet grinding sound changed to a burbling sound that reminded Kia of a babbling brook. Another burbling sound answered it, then a third. Fola whimpered high in her throat, backing away from Chinara and Kia until her back was pressed against the back of their cave. Chinara’s shaking was so bad that Kia felt like her eyes couldn’t focus on the dark patch that was the entrance to their cave.
“No…” Chinara whispered. “Please no!”
She scrambled backwards as a scream sounded right outside of their cave. Kia fell out of her arms, landing on her knees on the cushion. Its woven strands of rush felt harsh under Kia’s hands. Kia stood, staring at the dark opening of their cave as another scream sounded outside.
“No,” Chinara sobbed. “No!”
Fola’s whimpers had changed to a wail of terror that made Kia want to cry but she didn’t. It wasn’t fear that made her heart feel like a captured butterfly. Anger burned inside of her instead. Kia stomped her foot, stepping off the cushion to stomp again.
“You stop it!” Kia said to the Dark hiding outside the entrance to their cave. “You stop it now!”
The screams stopped. So did the burbling sound. Kia stared at the cave entrance, surprised. A moment passed with only Fola’s slowly quieting wails and Chinara’s muffled sobs. Then something moved at the entrance.
It wasn’t dark. Kia blinked in surprise at the person who crawled into the cave. He, she, Kia couldn’t tell which, looked stretched to the point their forearms and shins were as long as Chinara was tall. Their upper arms and thighs were as long as Fola was tall and Kia thought that the person’s fingers stretched as wide as Kia’s arms from fingertip to fingertip.
But they weren’t dark.
The Dark was grey-white, with skin that looked like a fish’s belly instead of the nice warm brown of Kia, Fola and Chinara. Its eyes were as big as Kia’s fist and when it opened its mouth there were lots and lots of sharp, sharp teeth stained with blood. It hissed at Kia and then made that burbling-grinding noise again.
“Stop it!” Kia yelled at the Dark.
It hissed, twisting its arms and legs outwards at impossible angles so that its head swung lower and lower until its eyes were on a level with Kia’s. When it opened its mouth again Kia stomped her foot hard. The Dark started and skittered back towards the entrance.
“Bad!” Kia shouted, stomping her foot again. “You’re bad! Go home! Don’t you come back again, you bad person, you!”
Kia grabbed the cushion and flung it at the Dark. It keened and sprang backwards as if the cushion was a deadly weapon like Father’s spear had been. Outside, Kia could hear other Dark making frightened keening noises. Behind her, Chinara’s sobs had turned into wails that were louder than Fola’s had been. It sounded like Fola had passed out but Kia didn’t turn to look. Instead she stared at the Dark, stomped her foot and waved her arms the way Mother used to when she chased starlings off of the drying grain.
“Stop it!” Kia yelled with as loud and angry a voice as she could manage.
The Dark turned and ran out of the cave making little barking keens that carried through the night. It was answered by another set, then another, until more than a dozen Dark voices bark-keened in the night, their voices going farther and farther away as they ran from Kia’s anger.
Kia turned and stared at Chinara. She’d never heard her sister speak with that sort of worshipful awe for anything other than prayers. It frightened Kia to hear that tone of voice directed at her. The way that Chinara looked at her was worse, as if Kia had suddenly become the oldest, the one who took care of everyone else.
“You saved us,” Chinara whispered.
“I got mad,” Kia explained. “They’re scaring everyone, hurting everyone, taking them away. I got mad. Mother always said I shouldn’t get mad. Isn’t getting mad bad?”
Chinara laughed and rocked as she hugged Fola who was still passed out. She cried and shook her head no and then yes and then just buried her face in Fola’s twists as she sobbed. Kia stared at her sister, unsure what to do now. The Dark were gone but something really important seemed to have changed though Kia didn’t know what it was.