They can see the darkness, across the plain, moving toward them in defiance of the sun: a great wall, pure black, erasing everything in its wake as it travels. The sun shines bright from the other side of the world, only a quarter of its way through its trek across the sky, but no matter. The darkness pays it no heed.
“What is it?” the child asks.
“I don’t know,” says the father.
The television doesn’t know either. The stations that broadcast news from the east, where the darkness has already covered, have ceased. One by one, their channels went black, as though they, too, were covered by that sable curtain. The channels from the west are left only to speculate, which does the family little good. They can only guess as to the meaning of what approaches them.
“I’m scared,” the child says. He watches out the window regardless. From this distance, perceiving the movement of the darkness is difficult. It is only when one looks away and then back that it becomes easy to see that the darkness has advanced. The child refuses to look away.
“Don’t be,” says the mother. She goes to the child, holds him, envelopes him in her arms. She does not look out of the window. He strains, turning his head so that he can see. “We don’t know what it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to hurt us.”
“It hurt the people on the TV,” the child says.
“We don’t know that,” says the father. “They just lost their signal.”
“We just have to believe that they’re alright,” the mother says. “We don’t need to be scared. It won’t do us any good. Just have hope, my love.”
The grandmother grunts, drawing sharp looks from the mother and the father. She, too, has focused her gaze on the darkness. “There’s no point,” she says, running her spotted hands along the wheels of her chair. “No point.”
“No point?” the mother asks sharply.
“No point in being afraid,” the grandmother says. “It won’t do us any good.”
The mother relaxes visibly, though the father still holds tension in his shoulders. His fear is obvious, visible in the way he paces about the room, unable to stay in one spot for more than a moment. The mother’s fear is clear in the way her hands grip her child’s shirt, in the way she seeks to comfort another so that she can comfort herself. The child shows his fear in the way he shakes and stares out of the window.
The grandmother is truly not afraid. “Fearing something can’t stop it from happening,” she says. “Some things just come regardless of what you do about them.”
“Mother,” says the father. “Maybe this isn’t the right time…”
“What other time do we have?” the grandmother asks. “I see what that is. Maybe it’s because I’ve been closer to it than you have. Maybe you’re just in denial.” She points out the window at the wall of darkness. “That’s death.”
The mother covers the son’s ears. “Why would you say something like that?” she says. “He’s already afraid.”
The grandmother finally brings her eyes away from the darkness. “Son,” she says, though she is speaking to her grandson, not his father. “Listen to your mother. There’s no reason to be afraid. Death was going to come for all of us, eventually.”
“Mom!” says the father sharply. She ignores him.
“Death is inevitable. Look at that wall.” She gestures. As if to illustrate her point, a farmhouse disappears in the distance. In one moment, it is there, stark white against that encroaching blackness. In the next, it is nothing. “That wall has been moving toward all of us our whole lives. Now we can see it.” She looks back out of the window. “Seeing it changes nothing.”
“Why are you being like this?” the mother says. She pulls her child to her breast, tearing his eyes away from the darkness. “You’re not helping.”
“I am, in a way,” the grandmother says. “There’s nothing we can do to stop it, so why not discuss it? If we dread what is to come, that only gives it more power over us. It rids us of our present by infecting in with what the future might be. What I’m trying to say is that, if we see and accept our fate, well, that’s all we can do about it.”
“Stop it,” the mother says. “I don’t want to hear all that.”
“Mother,” says the father. “Please.”
“Please what?” the grandmother says. “You’re the ones that are making this difficult. I’m only trying to help you see that it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The father turns away from her. The mother remains silent. The child struggles free from his mother’s grasp to look out of the window once more. The impenetrable darkness is closer, now. It is the horizon. It is as though the earth itself simply comes up against it and ends, dropping off in to nothingness. A night sky devoid of stars has more light than what now approaches them. It it close enough now that its movement is easy to see. The forest to the south disappears tree by tree.
The mother begins to pray. At this, the grandmother shakes her head. “What are you doing?”
The mother stutters and looks up. There are tears in her eyes. “What?”
“Why are you praying?” the grandmother says. “You’re just making things worse.”
“No I’m not,” the mother says defiantly.
“You are,” the grandmother says. Her tone displays a hint of anger for the first time. “Prayers are terrible for the psyche. They’re lies to the self, like wishes and dreams. Every time you wish or pray you just open up a wound in your heart. It will never heal unless you stop peeling it further open.”
“At least I’m doing something,” the mother says bitterly. “At least I’m not just tearing into my family with a bunch of shitty nonsense.”
The grandmother barks out a laugh. “Praying isn’t doing something,” she says. “If it were, so many issues in the world would have been solved long ago. How many people do you think prayed, when they saw that darkness? And it’s still there! Prayer is just a thing people do to make themselves feel better. It’s a thing people tell others that they’re doing so that it looks like they’re doing something to make a difference. It’s a lie, to ourselves and to others. Prayer is just inaction in the guise of action.”
The wall is closer, now. And now. And now still, it is closer; for it is moving at a steady, constant rate, with no hint that anything in its path will stop it.
“Just stop,” says the father, sounding tired, though his eyes show his anger. “You’re not helping.” The grandmother opens her mouth to speak, but he holds up a hand to keep her silent. “No, you’re not. I don’t care how you frame it or what you think you’re trying to accomplish. You’re only causing more pain. So what if you think that acceptance of fate is better, or happier, or healthier? Now is not the time to try to change us. If you really think that wall is death, let us deal with it how we can. Do you really want our last moments together to be so antagonistic?”
The wall reaches the edge of their property. They watch it sweep over the garden shed. It covers the cabbage, the carrots, the potatoes, the apple tree. Like a fine blade, it excises them out of existence.
“No,” the grandmother said. She wheels over to them. “I’m sorry.” She reaches out to take her son’s hand in her own. Her other hand finds her daughter-in-law’s back. “I love you all.”
The darkness subsumes their home.