DST Nocturne

Each year they made Daylight Savings Time longer, until one day it lasted the whole year round. Then it was spring forward, always spring forward, and never fall back, until noon was where midnight used to be and midnight lost in noon.

In the end it did no good.

The world grew darker, and darker, and darker still.

Now there is no sun and there is no daylight left to save. Now the day is darker than night used to be, in the days when days were bright. Now there are colors darker than black in the sky. Their names are fuligin, imbero, and fhjul.

People used to say that the sun was a phoenix child, born anew every seven years. It has not been born again of late. People used to say that the sun was a fox, fleeing the hunters and their hounds. It has not escaped those hounds of late. People used to say that the sun was a gift of the gods, drawn by horses through the sky. The reins of those horses have lain slack of late, for many dark long years.

The moon is dim now.

The sea is dark now.

The stars are a distant drowning light in the thickness of the sky.

Nocturne

April 6, 2031

Jaime walks across the hills.

The hills are green when he shines a flashlight on them. They are otherwise a subtle gray.

He is wearing jeans and a thick warm shirt. His hair is loose about his head. He carries a set of rags and there is an oil bottle roped to his waist. He is walking towards Old Forest and Big Hill, where the earth is closest to the sky.

The wind is blowing, and a playful wind-sprite stands beside him, saying, “Jaime, where are you going? Why are you traveling towards Big Hill?”

And Jaime says, “It’s Daylight Savings Time.”

The sprite is the size of a cat and the shape of a girl and the texture of a bit of fluff. It keeps easy pace with him, swirling on the wind, as Jaime trudges along.

“No, no,” it says. “It’s not a good day for that.”

“Every year at this time,” says Jaime. “It’s Daylight Savings Time. It’s time to spring forward another hour.”

“But I’ll miss you,” the sprite says.

Jaime stops. He peers at the sprite. “I’m not an hour,” he says. He holds out his arm. He flexes. “See? That didn’t accelerate time.”

“True,” concedes the sprite. “But it’s not a good day to go to the Big Hill. Today is a good day to stay home in your village. You can bake cookies and drink tea and tell stories to your friends by the fire.”

Jaime resumes walking.

“It would be wasteful, fair sprite.”

“Should the decadence concern you,” says the sprite, “you may leave several of the cookies outside for the wind-sprites to devour. Generosity has salutary effects on the spirit; your net moral development for the day would be positive.”

“I’m sorry,” says Jaime.

“I do not wish to see your ribs torn open and your skin turned to ashes and your skull made a toy for the trolls of Old Forest,” says the sprite. “This would be a glum end for any person and glummer yet for you; I understand you hold a specific disdain for the trolls.”

“Is this an imminent danger?” Jaime asks.

“Not at present.”

“If it should immine,” Jaime says, “please warn me. I assure you I will divert appropriately from my course.”

“Unlikely,” says the sprite in a dour fashion. Then it tumbles upwards to a level with Jaime’s head and races in broad erratic ellipses around Jaime as he walks.

“Do you remember the sun?” asks Jaime.

“I am the wind,” says the sprite. “Memory is not a characteristic I possess.”

“Ah,” says Jaime.

Jaime hikes up Big Hill. He reaches the place where the sky is closest to the earth. He climbs up the tree and pokes a finger at the sky. It ripples in rainbow patterns, and Jaime’s finger is now black with oil.

“It is easiest to collect,” says Jaime, “on this day, when the pressure of compressing time causes the oil to well up in the sky.”

“In the distant east,” says the sprite, “where they cling more to the old ways than does Santa Ynez, there are great drilling platforms in the sky. The oil falls constantly like a black river and the people feast on the meat they grow in vats.”

“Their population is doubtless higher,” says Jaime.

“And in the north,” says the sprite, “they send up needle bombs produced in their alchemical laboratories to pop the surface of the sky. The oil splatters down like rain. Old men and women walk in the streets, complaining of the ineffectiveness of their parasols, while the young toil by great burning flames inventing radical chemical formulae.”

“I dip rags into the sky,” says Jaime. He does so. “Then I squeeze them out into the bottle. That is the preferred technique of Santa Ynez.”

“In the west,” says the sprite, “there are great warty boar-birds trained to fetch the oil down.”

“And to the south?”

“To the south,” says the sprite, “there is no wind. —Danger is imminent, Jaime; you must make haste.”

Jaime studies the oil bottle. It is far from full.

“To what extent?” he asks, soaking another rag and squeezing it out.

“It is difficult to gauge,” says the sprite. “Events flow in one unceasing river. Each is intertwined with the next. How may I pick one moment from the flow and say, ‘here is where your fate begins?'”

Jaime considers that.

“Assume that I am capable of defying the weird you have seen upon me,” he says. “For if I am not, then the discussion is of no relevance. Then choose the last moment where it is within my normal capacities to do so.”

“Your reasoning is peculiar,” says the sprite. “Yet I assay to answer as you have asked: you have two minutes left.”

Jaime nods. He dips a rag. He squeezes it out. After a moment, he says, “I am hesitant to defy the workings of destiny. I fear that by doing so I will break the world.”

“It is unlikely that you are so important as all that,” says the sprite.

Jaime nods. He closes the bottle tightly. He drops from the tree. He begins to walk away.

“See?” he says. “I avoid my fate.”

The sprite is watching him with thin lips and an unhappy face.

Jaime reaches the trees. There, for a moment, he has the chance to save himself; but he looks back, and he is lost.

The hunters in the sky wear black. They are chasing a small thing, a small unruly creature with long pale limbs and eyes like saucers. The hunters are mounted on horses and they have oil-black hunting horns at their sides. Each of them has a gem, carved like an eye, set into the center of his forehead. Each has thick hair on his legs, three fingers on each hand, and a thick sharp thumbnail like a claw. These are things terrible and feared: the Petroleum Men of Old Forest.

“Your pardon!” cries Jaime.

He is down on his knees. He has cast his hand before his face. He is not looking at them.

These words and this gesture are what the people of Santa Ynez know to do, when confronted by the Petroleum Men. Sometimes it does not help them. Sometimes the Petroleum Men still kill. But sometimes if the formula is followed they will pass a penitent human by, or seize the human from the Earth to ride beside them on the hunt, or pause to bestow an arcane and horrifying gift.

“Your pardon,” murmurs Jaime, and he is still, and he does not look.

But he can hear.

The creature that the Petroleum Men chase is making gasping, squealing noises. They are the sounds of fear and the sounds of lungs pushed too hard.

The creature is very afraid and very small.

And Jaime cannot help thinking of friends he has known.

There is a crunching and a skidding noise. The hoof of a Petroleum Man’s horse has caught the creature in the head, and it has flown sideways to crash among the leaves and through the leaves and skid down the hill past Jaime.

There is a burbling noise. The creature is trying to stand.

There is the thumping, pounding of hoofbeats in the sky as the horses circle around.

And Jaime cannot help thinking of friends he has known, so he opens his eyes. He takes his hand from his face. He turns to the creature, and he half-scrambles, half-falls down the hill. He takes it into his arms. He begins to run towards the village.

The Petroleum Men will not follow him past the village gate. They fear the fires set along Santa Ynez’ walls. But Jaime has no hope of reaching them. The village is very far away.

Jaime simply runs.

“It’s all right,” says Jaime, to the creature. The creature is bald like an egg, like a baby, like a stone. “It’s all right.”

The creature squeals and Jaime notices its claws for the first time as it digs them into his chest.

Jaime stumbles.

“Don’t,” he says. “Don’t do that.”

The creature does not stop. Its claws are sinking deeper. The Petroleum Men are hard at Jaime’s heels and there is thick blood flowing down his chest. It hurts horribly.

Then the creature peels back Jaime’s ribs and there is a moment of pain and of brightness such as Jaime had not expected to encounter that day or any other day.

Jaime blacks out, and the night in his mind is darker than fuligin or fhjul.

The Weird

April 7, 2031

“Jaime,” says the wind-sprite. “Jaime. Wake up.”

Jaime opens his eyes.

“I survived,” he says, with a thick dry tongue.

“Your words are very fuzzy. I do not think they are technically comprehensible,” says the wind-sprite. “But technically I am incapable of comprehension, so there is symmetry.”

“Why did I survive?”

“You broke a lucky toe when you fell,” says the wind-sprite. “If you break your lucky toe, the Petroleum Men can’t hurt you. But you also can’t walk very well so it is a tradeoff.”

“Ah. That’s why my foot is so big,” says Jaime. He struggles into a sitting position. Intending to compliment the sprite on giving him sufficient warning, he says, “Your augury was correct.”

“Yes,” says the wind-sprite. Its voice is distant and sad.

“Did it . . . did it get away?”

“Did what?”

“The . . .” Jaime gestures vaguely. “The thing. The creature. It was . . . I wanted to help it. Did it get away?”

“Ah,” says the wind-sprite. “Yes. It did. It is now safely inside your chest consuming your internal organs.”

“Oh,” says Jaime.

He’s not sure what to add to that, besides passing out again.

The imbero silence in his head is disturbed many times by the distant words of the sprite before he lets himself hear them again.

“Jaime?”

“I like my internal organs,” Jaime says.

“So does the creature.”

“At least we’re in accord,” Jaime says. Then he laughs. He laughs and he chokes and he coughs and he laughs some more and then he pokes at his chest. His ribcage has been bent back together from the inside. Jaime closes his shirt over the sight. His hands wander the nearby soil until he finds a thick long fallen branch. He uses it as a support and pulls himself to his feet. After a moment, intending a rueful admission of his own fallibility, he says, “Your augury was correct.”

“Yes,” says the sprite.

“How long do I have?”

“Years.”

The sprite flutters beside him as he walks back towards Santa Ynez.

“It will grow inside you until you are little more than a hollow shell with the creature within,” says the sprite. “It will eat your heart and your kidneys and your lungs. It is fortuitous that you have a strong constitution or this would surely kill you. But in seven years it will burst forth and your skin will turn to ashes and your death will be assured.”

Jaime walks.

“I feel a surprising fatalism,” he says. “I think it is the pain and the shock and the sheer stupidity of my own actions.”

“I counsel you to consider it a blessing,” says the sprite. “Organs are troublesome and prone to disease; you shall not experience these disadvantages! In addition you shall die in your prime and will never know the troubles of old age. Further, seven years is longer than the wind will blow; the tragedy is the years you’ve lost, not the years you’ll have remaining.”

“This discussion is morbid and is cracking at the edges of my carefully maintained resignation,” says Jaime. “If we continue, I will begin screaming ineffectually and may flail in your general direction.”

“Then let us instead discuss our favorite flavors of pastry,” the sprite advises. “It is a long way home and such jolly discourse can only prove inspiring.”

So Jaime walks home, with the sprite swirling about him; but he does not get to bake it cookies or pastries, for the wind sputters out and the wind-sprite dies before Jaime makes it to the village gate.

The Day

April 4, 2038

Jaime walks across the hills.

The hills are green when he shines a flashlight on them. They are otherwise a subtle gray.

He is wearing jeans and a thick warm shirt. His hair is loose about his head. He is tired and walks slowly, but his eyes are clear. He is walking towards Old Forest and Big Hill, where the earth is closest to the sky.

The wind is blowing, and a playful wind-sprite stands beside him, saying, “Jaime, where are you going? Why are you traveling towards Big Hill?”

And Jaime says, “It’s Daylight Savings Time.”

The sprite is the size of a rabbit and the shape of a tall man and the texture of a bit of fluff. It keeps easy pace with him, swirling on the wind, as Jaime trudges along.

“This course of action has served you poorly in the past,” the sprite observes.

“I have thought on it for some time,” says Jaime. “I do not like the trolls, but feel that it’s unmannerly to make them walk all the way down to the village to collect my skull.”

The sprite waves a hand dismissively. “This burning desire to assist fate in its workings is incomprehensible to me; if such assistance were necessary, be sure it would demand it.”

Jaime walks.

“I have wondered,” says Jaime. “I have seen you as a girl, a man, a giant, and a drake. Sometimes you are large and at other times tiny. You are different on each occasion but you speak to me in familiar terms and with a recognizable tone.”

“Yes?”

“Is the wind always the same, then,” Jaime asks, “or is it always different?”

“It is the wind,” says the sprite. It flies about him in great arcs.

So Jaime walks up Big Hill to where the earth is closest to the sky, and he leans against a tree, and he waits, and then he dies.

The thing that rips out of him with a fire that burns away his skin is not a creature or a sprite. It is not the pale little thing that once he took into his arms.

It is the sun, that comes now and again to Big Hill to be born, and has of late before its birth been slain by the riding of the Petroleum Men.

It is a creature long and short, great and small, and in every wise a burning fire, and it rises through the fuligin and the black, the imbero and the fhjul, and its touch sets fire to the sky.

The Petroleum Men catch fire, screaming in the sky, on April 4. The world is given to sunshine again on April 4. And it is Daylight Savings Time again, on April 4, 2038—an hour later, an hour shorter, an hour is given over in sacrifice on the altar of Time, that the sun may brighter burn.

7 thoughts on “DST Nocturne

  1. So having destroyed the sun in Countdown to Annihilation you feel the need to have a legend in which it’s brought back? I don’t know if it’s the earliness of the hour but that seems somehow reasonable.

    I have to admit that the paragraph in the intro didn’t stick in my mind enough; the ending took me by surprise.

  2. Wow. This was beautiful.

    Also full of interesting implications about Iphigenia and other sun gods, but at the moment I am basking in your lovely imagery.

  3. Fuligin is the color that is blacker than black from Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun” series. Fhjul is, I think, a character in the computer game Planescape: Torment. Does anyone know if there is a similar reference for imbero?

  4. So it has to be significant, especially in a story about timekeeping, that the sun re-emerges in 2038. For non-computer types, 2038 is the year when Unix time, which is counted in seconds since Jan 1, 1970, will finally wrap around into a negative number on computers that store it as signed 32-bit integer. But this happens on Jan 19, which is far too early for daylight savings, and far before the end of the story on April 4. Is there some elegant way to account for the 75-ish missing days? Were they eaten by years of accumulated daylight savings? Frittered away one leap-second at a time?

  5. Jaime lives in Santa Ynez. This is significant because Santa Ynez is the location of the bridge to the Gibbelins’ Tower, as is stated here. With this in mind, it seems to me that this story might actually be about Martin, and that it might contain implications as to what his ultimate goal is. That’s only my theory, however.

    A tangent: since it’s established that there are places on earth where you can actually walk into the Chaos, I wonder how many of them there are?

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