The Altered Sky
I was the only one who could see it. It took me a while to realise.
It was noon, a hot and bright Saturday in summer. The sea had been turned lapis by the generous sky. Children were enjoying ice creams; teenage boys with unbuttoned shirts serenaded girls with acoustic guitars; the elderly had taken their places on the deckchairs, sunhats or handkerchiefs shielding them from the molten light. An intrepid few were swimming, though the sea had retained its chill.
I was walking along the clifftops. Every few meters, I would pass a concrete post. Each one came up to just below my chest. Although once they had stood straight and implacable, they now mostly leaned towards the cliff’s edge. I wondered if any had ever become entirely unfastened, plummeting downwards to ruin a day, or a life. Between them were threaded thin, rusting, though sturdy metal wires. I preferred to think of this not as a fence, but rather as a network of pylons, carrying energy or information from sources and to destinations both unknown.
Living on the coast, you get used to changeable weather. Frankly, it can be positively schizophrenic. A sunny day can give way to downpours and gales with indecent swiftness. Something I only realised when I left Newdean for a few years – the seaside is blessed with a far more varied catalogue of clouds than the inland. Billowing up from beyond the horizon, then gracefully processing, dissolving, coalescing over us, mountains of the sky which could be steam from the waterfall at the world’s edge. Sometimes, the chaotic weather can produce the most curious optical effects. The right combination of cloud, rain and sunshine can transform the light into an ambient gold, or sepia.
Initially, when the light changed, I assumed it was such an event. I looked skywards, expecting to see a hazy curtain of rain obscuring the sun, but I saw no such thing. In fact, quite the opposite, the sky was completely cloudless. And yet, though there was nothing to eclipse it, the sun’s light was altering. It was shifting from clean white to burnished gold, then brass. In desperation, I looked about me, trying to detect anything, anything at all, that might account for this.
But there was nothing.
The sun’s light had, simply, broken.
The sky’s blue had vanished. Stretching overhead was a burnt canvas, oppressive and impenetrable. The sea was a rippling, umber desert. I must have been screaming, because my throat was hoarse afterwards.
I ran back along the cliff’s edge, towards Newdean. I’m not sure if I wanted the security of my own home, or simply to be joined by other faces. I followed the path down to the main road, and realised that the traffic was moving undisturbed. I looked about. People went up and down the street, talking to one another. I looked down towards the beach. Children still played, young people still congregated, the elderly still sat and warmed themselves.
No one else was having the slightest reaction to the new light. My breathing was laboured, and I had broken out in a cold sweat. My vision blurred with tears, and I spun around in a frenzy of fear and confusion. They couldn’t see it. For some unknowable reason, only I could.
I looked back up at the sky. The sun was dim enough that I could hold my gaze. A disc of pale yellow against a darkening copper sky, a glaring blind eye.
For a while, I had hoped that the sky and the sunlight would return to their prior states. Night was little relief, as the sky would deny me its stars, and instead glowed a dull, rust red. After a few months of this, I resigned myself to this perpetual, personal twilight. Sometimes, in the abyss above, I saw great shapes moving with too much control to be clouds, and I wondered what force could have brought this about. And then, a more disturbing thought occurred to me – that the only change was the parting of a veil, and this necrotised light was what had always accompanied us, though we didn’t have eyes to see it.