darkness came after one of the coldest winters in Tawgate’s history. The
clouds moved in following a season of hope for the spring to come, and
after just a single warm day. On the thirty-sixth day of darkness, Sarah
decided the time had come to leave. She would visit the fortune teller
who lived on the outskirts of the town, say her goodbyes and hope to
escape the darkness by any means possible.
had happened before, in Tawgate, which was reassuring to the townspeople
in a way, but at the same time lent an eerie feeling that perhaps they
were cursed, as a town, or as a place, or perhaps as a people. Five
decades earlier, in 1954, the town had entered spring following a
particularly harsh winter. After a single day of warm temperatures in
the waning days of May, clouds moved in and covered the sun. What had
been predicted as a small, springtime shower ended up being 46
consecutive days of clouds and grayness, with not a single drop of rain
until the last day of darkness.
those dark days of Tawgate, the town saw four deaths, one runaway and a
spate of arsons. Four homes and two businesses were burned before the
sheriff caught 18-year-old Anthony Hyatt dousing a barn in gasoline.
Hyatt killed himself in jail that first night, using his canvas belt and
the bars of the cell’s only window, through which no light penetrated.
The following day, the clouds parted. Hyatt’s funeral was three days
later, and all the town turned out for reasons they could never
of these parallels were known, and others were not, as the darkness
settled over Tawgate again. The town held less than 10,000 people, and
stories quickly spread from the residents who had been there 50 years
before. At first it was a joke, and then a cautionary tale to watch for
people who seemed depressed -- but after the third week with the sun
blotted out, the smiles vanished and were replaced by grim faces and
more tears than was normal.
the twenty-seventh day of the clouds, sixteen-year-old Jeremy Figg
drowned swimming in the lake next to his family’s farm. Always a strong
swimmer, Figg’s death was somewhat of a mystery and the town’s elders
immediately predicted more deaths. A group of citizens set out nightly
patrols to look for potential arsonists, though none were ever found.
Whether or not the patrols prevented fires was a source of debate. But
when a lightening storm that brought no rain passed through and caught
fire to a tree at the edge of town, the patrols were stopped. Most
people assumed the darkness, and the fire, whether by nature or arson,
was now the work of god. A religious town, always, they would suffer the
torments of darkness and fire in silence, they decided.
the thirty-first day, 97-year-old Albie Messer died in her sleep. No
connection was ever considered, but before she passed away she dreamed
the town was burning in a fire so hot it swallowed the light. She
dreamed she stood on the edge of town watching her own funeral as clouds
passed between her and the grave. When she finally stopped breathing,
her daughter, awake in the next room and reading, put down her book for
a moment as she felt a warmth pass over her face, like when clouds move
away from the sun. But it was momentary, fleeting, and she went back to
her book, chapter 19, page 137, before she fell asleep in her chair.
Albie’s body would be found in the morning.
the thirty-fourth day, at precisely noon, Tony Messler died of a heart
attack while standing on a ladder to change a light bulb outside his
house. It was the fall which killed him – the heart attack struck as he
reached up to unscrew the light bulb which had burned out the night
before. He fell, striking his head on the ground and crushing the new
bulb beneath him.
so on the thirty-sixth day, with the sun nothing more than a lighter
spot in a gray sky, Sarah Evans decided the time had come to leave. She
woke that morning with a kind of peaceful certainty about her. She wrote
a brief note to her family, which she sealed in the orange envelopes her
brother had given her with on her 19th birthday. She quietly
made her bed, and left the envelope on the pillow. She expected it would
be found that afternoon, or perhaps in the evening.
left through the back door, carrying only a knapsack filled with a few
pieces of fruit, a book, her journal and some clothes. She started
walking towards the fortune teller’s home, about a mile outside the
center of town. Along the way, she stopped at the lake where Jimmy Figg
had drowned. She had gone to school with Jimmy for three years, though
never really knew him. Different classes, different groups of friends,
different everything and nothing. Sarah walked down to the lake, and
though there was a chill in the air she bent down and washed her hands
in the shallow water. An hour later, she knocked on the fortune teller’s
Johnson had lived in Tawgate for 87 years — as long as she had been
alive. Born to a farming family, she has shocked everyone when at the
age of nine she predicted a flood which wiped out her father’s soybean
crop for the year. The next year she kissed her grandmother goodbye and
cried herself to sleep; her grandmother died that night, and Pragma’s
reputation was set.
being blessed with an obvious and beautiful gift, the townspeople feared
her rather than welcomed her. Rather than accept what was to come they
opted for ignorance over knowledge, and the Johnson family was pushed
out of general society. At least one family moved their farm to get
farther away, though the farm had never been successful anyway and no
excuses were needed.
Sarah and Pragma had become friends years ago, or as much of friends as
an 87-year-old fortune teller and a 19-year-old girl can be. Their
friendship was a natural one, born not out of things in common but from
an acceptance of the inevitable. Pragma had long ago seen Sarah’s
future, and knew she would live happily into her old age.
their talks, which were short and infrequent, Sarah did much of the
talking. As much as Pragma recognized Sarah, she forgot each time who
the girl was. Such is the curse of those with future sight, that they
have poor memory. And so Pragma, in her old age, would listen and smile
and nod to Sarah whenever the girl would visit. But instead of
listening, Pragma spent much of the time smiling at the life she could
see ahead of the girl.
on the thirty-sixth day of darkness, Sarah knocked on Pragma’s door. And
when the old woman called out, Sarah pushed open the always-unlocked
door and walked into the darkened house. She found the fortune teller
sitting on an old couch, staring into the chilled darkness, smiling.
everything ok, Sarah asked the fortune teller, genuinely concerned for
the old woman. Yes child, everything is fine and will be, Pragma
responded, not looking at Sarah. I wanted to say goodbye. I’m leaving.
Pragma merely nodded and continued to smile, watching something in her
mind’s eye, some scene that would play itself out in another year or
ten. As she had gotten older, she saw events even more clearly but could
almost never determine when they would occur.
understand, said the fortune teller, and she reached out at just the
right moment and stroked away the single tear on Sarah’s face. Sarah
started to speak, but stopped. Instead she leaned over and hugged the
old woman, taking a blanket from a chair next to her and wrapping it
around her shoulders.
closed the door gently behind her, bag slung over her shoulder, and
began walking down the dirt road. A bus stop was three miles to the
east, and if all went well she thought she could make the 1 p.m. to
Evansville. From there, she had no plans.
made a left at the end of the road and continued walking. The air was
cool, the sky was grey, and had she turned around she would have seen
the rain gently beginning to fall on Tawgate.