Sara slept in her yellow penguin pajamas, in a tangle of sheets and blankets, on an Ikea bed, in a darkened room without any discernable interior decorating and littered with discarded clothes, when it happened. The clock by her bedside, with it's red staring digits, read 11:53pm. The room burst with light and Sara shot bolt upright. Her synethesia interpreted part of the light as a high-pitched buzzing sound in the middle of her head. She scrambled to the headboard and clung to it, shaking. The blackout curtains on her window were transparent, like rendered-down onions in a frying pan. her pupils shrunk to millimeters and she instinctively squeezed her eyes shut, but the light came through orange, outlining all the tiny capillaries in her eyelids. The sound took on an addition low tone. She held up her arm, and peeked, and saw the bones as dark masses in the middle of transparent orange flesh. A moment later her son, in the second bedroom, in his new big boy bed, started to scream.
Sara leapt up, tripped over clothes, and found her way out of her bedroom. She ran to Tommy's room, down the brown carpeted hallway, feeling with her toes and arms out, her eyes shut to the light. She found his doorway, and stumbled to his bed.
"I'm here!" she announced. Their arms found each other. They embraced. "Don't look," said Sara, pushing Tommy's forehead into her chest. His face was already wet.
"I can't see!" wailed Tommy. "What's happening?"
"I don't know," said Sara. She noticed that the room was getting hot. The buzzing started to oscillate, leaping from ear to ear inside her brain.
"I know!" Sara thought about saying 'It's okay,' but she immediately recognized that it would be in-genuine. Instead she pulled him off the bed and carried him into the closet with her. She closed the door tightly. They sat on shoes and army men and balled up socks. The sound faded to an intermittent beeping, like a very slow clock alarm. Her eyes remained closed, but the orange of her eyelids faded to green afterimage. Tommy whimpered, but then there was total silence outside Sara's head, and just the beeping remained.
She opened her eyes. The closet was completely illuminated, just from the light pouring through the cracks around the door, as if it were noon in the tropics. Stuffed animals stared at her with dead eyes. She looked down at Tommy. He was sweating, and his thumb was shoved deep into his mouth. Normally she would have corrected him, but thought the comfort of it was more important.
"Open your eyes, Tommy," said Sara gently. He did. "Can you see now?" Tommy nodded, then looked up at his mother with questioning eyes. "I don't know what's happening," she said. "I'm scared too."
"Is it morning?" asked Tommy.
"No, I don't think so," said Sara.
"Is it the moon?"
"No, no it's not. At least I don't think so," said Sara, temporarily entertaining the idea that some rogue state had somehow nuked the moon into total oblivion. Then she thought that maybe it was nuclear bomb, just closer to home. She quickly went back to thinking about the moon. "No, I saw the moon during the day, so it wouldn't be the moon." She looked down at Tommy, he still looked at her, waiting for any kind of substantive, clear answer. "If we see the moon during the day, we won't see it during night, and if we see the moon at night, we won't see it during the day, because it orbits the Earth."
Tommy squinted his eyes briefly, then turned to look at the crack between the closet door and the doorframe.
"Can we go out and see what it is?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Sara. The house hadn't yet been blown to smithereens from a pressure wave, so Sara cultivated the idea that maybe it wasn't a bomb. "Maybe in a few minutes." Tommy rested his head against her neck. A cramp started to developing in Sara's right calf, right where an army rifleman was embedded, smothered in her skin.
Sara estimated that an hour had passed, and yet the light still had not diminished. They waited another hour. The phone rang from within her bedroom. Tommy looked at her expectantly. Sara smiled at him and ruffled his hair. The phone kept ringing. Tommy looked at the door, then back to Sara. The phone stopped.
After another two hours, both were sound asleep, still bathed in light. It was sweltering. Both were soaked through with sweat. A wind kicked up outside the house. The joints of the house began to creaked. Sara woke again. Tommy was slumped down in her arms, his head lolled, leaking saliva. The light had finally lost some of it's intensity. Sara carefully laid Tommy down in a pile of laundry and stuffed toys. She stood, aching, and squeezed through the door, trying not to let anymore light in than necessary.
She held her arm over her eyes again, but did not see bones. Tommy's room itself was very bright, as if several outdoor spotlights were all focused on the tiny little area. She could see the air littered with dust, and every unvacuumed particle and hair in the carpet. The beeping was more distant now, hollower, with a hint of an echo. She padded to the bathroom, and out of habit turned on the light, but it added little to the ambient light flooding in from the rest of the house. She turned on the cold water tap. Water ran, but it was warm. She filled the glass to the brim and drank the whole thing. She filled it again, not quite to the top, flicked off the light switch without thinking, and walked back to Tommy's closet. She opened the door slowly.
"Tommy," she said quietly. "Tommy?" He stirred, and held his hands over his eyes. "It's okay now. You can look. It might hurt at first, but you can uncover your eyes."
Tommy did. He squirmed and stretched.
"Is it morning?" he asked.
"Soon," said Sara. "Here," she said, squatting down next to him, and holding out the glass. "You have to drink this, okay?"
He grabbed the glass and drank as greedily as she had.
"What happened?" he asked, after he had powered through half the glass.
"I still don't know honey," said Sara. "Maybe we can find out."
They both stood and Sara drank the last of the water in the glass. She took Tommy's hand, and they walked out of the room and down the hall. Sara headed for the living room and the TV, but Tommy pulled her towards the front door, insistently.
"It's out there," he said, pointing and pulling.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea--"
"It's out there!" yelled Tommy.
"Alright," said Sara. She yielded to his pull.
Tommy had almost reached the doorknob, his hand up--
"No, don't touch it!" cautioned Sara. "It might be hot. I'll do it."
Sara unbuttoned the bottom two buttons of her pajama top, and putting her hand underneath it, she touched the doorknob. There was no additional heat. Then she touched it with a bare finger. It was warm, but that was okay. She grasped it fully, and turned, remembered the deadbolt, unlocked that, then opened the door slowly.
Blinding light assaulted them. The buzzing spiked up. Sara tested it again with her arm. No bones. She lowered her arm. Tommy groaned in pain. Both looked at the ground, the cement of the stoop, hyperlit, their bare feet like luminescent alabaster. Sara stepped out onto the stoop. It was warm, hot even. She looked around slowly. The light was coming from just above the treetops on the other side of the cul-de-sac.
"Betelgeuse!" yelled a male voice to her left.
"What?" asked Sara.
"It finally went," said the man. Sara turned her head in his direction. She saw her neighbor sitting in a lawn chair, in shorts and a t-shirt, his back to the light, and a shoebox in his hand, into which he was staring intently.
"The star?" asked Sara.
"Yes," said the neighbor. He turned to look at her. "Come over. You can see it."
"It's hard not to see it. Why is it so bright?"
"It novaed," he said. "Come over, I'll show you."
Sara took Tommy by the hand and they walked over the grass to the neighbor's yard.
"What's that?" asked Tommy, pointing to the box.
"It's a camera obscura," said the neighbor. "I made it for my daughter when we had that solar eclipse about twenty years ago. Look the light goes in here, this tiny pinprick, and it shows a little image of the sun, or in this case, the nova at this end here. Clever isn't it?"
Tommy nodded. The neighbor gave Tommy the box to hold and look at.
"Are we in any danger?" asked Sara.
"Hard to tell. The light will fade, and will go completely dark again. It might takes weeks, or months. We might have some changes in the weather, just from the extra heat, but I don't really know. I'm not an expert."
"What about radiation? Don't they give off radiation?"
"Yes, photons and electrons, light and electricity, and the electrons won't reach us for awhile, and they'll make some interesting northern lights when they get here, but I think we're generally safe from anything harmful. Again, I'm not an expert."
"Betelgeuse, you say," said Sara. The word started repeating in her head, softly, murmuring. She looked down at the image in the box. It swirled and moved on the cardboard.
"One less star in the heavens," said the neighbor, sighing. "All things die, in their own time." He looked down at his hands, every wrinkle highlighted, his parchmenty skin a sea of whitecapped waves. "It will set soon though, and the sun will come up. And from where we live, it will be day for the next few weeks at least. But the light will fade. The last gasp. The angry cry out, the death rattle. Then nothing."
"And night will return," said Tommy.
"And night will return."