Words & Light Anthology I

The organisers of the International Year of Light 2015 Literary Competition “Words and Light” at ITMO University, St. Petersburg, Russia, are delighted to present the collection of best works submitted to the competition. “Words and Light” was a one-of-its-kind event, initiated purposely for this International Year and Light-baser Technologies 2015 (IYL 2015), aimed at being a tribute to all the writers inspired by Light, writers interested in the Science of Light, and scientists-poets, past and present.

More than 400 authors from 19 countries took part in the competition, namely Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lithuania, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Turkey, the Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The anthology, depicting a breath of themes and genres, is beautifully illustrated by the works of the winners of the Poster competition “Let there be Light!”, organised by the same university. You can download the Words and Light Anthology here.

Here you can read one of the texts included on the Anthology.

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Diary in a Time of Light and Change by Gregory Scheckler

July 22, 2018: This afternoon I stood at the bay windows and looked across to the Taconics when a great flare erupted in the sky. It flashed, just like a camera flash. Blitzed my eyes and made me blind for a moment. I saw in my mind a negative of the familiar scene, the mountains bright and red and the sky turned dark and burnt orange.

Electricity failed. Cell-phone failed. Internet stopped. Car wouldn’t start. Digital watch looked gray and empty, not even a readout. My first instinct was to message friends and family: What happened? What’s going on? The smartphone wouldn’t turn on. If it would’ve I’d’ve been sending a note and emoticons like lightning bolt frowny-face. I just about freaked.

The phone’s been my umbilical to society for ages, like a portable water cooler where we all chit-chatted with each other whenever I took breaks from writing and telecommuting from home. My computer wouldn’t function. Without it, I had no job.

My neighbors had solar panels on the entire south side of their roof. I went over to see if these were functioning. They were freaking out too. Their daughter, Sunny, she tapped at her phone and tapped at her phone and tapped at her phone. It was like she’d never not tapped at it, and couldn’t figure out that it wouldn’t respond. It was just a blank block of glass and polished metal, nice to the touch, but lifeless. The look of fear on her face, I won’t forget it, she tapped on the phone and looked up at me, eyebrows lifted and mouth pursed, nostrils flaring. Her eyes kind of just wobbled for a while. The she stopped. She said, “changey- strangey,” which I thought just about summed it all up.

Her Dad and I shut off the link between the solar panels and the main grid, and pulled the circuit breakers, then reset them. There was plenty of sunlight. Plenty of energy streaming right at us. The panels seemed to do nothing and we had no way of testing whether they were producing any electricity, although we thought about seeing if any live wires might shock one of us. There was no way to check safely. We have to figure out some other plan. If only we were photosynthetic, like plants, generating food from air and sun.

My wife and I had candles, and a nice store of food in the basement. We decided best to eat everything in the refrigerator soon as we could. So we grilled it all and drank the milk and cooked a lot so that it could be dried for later. Damn cooking. I hate cooking, on a fire.

The smoke. But what are you going to do? My favorite cooker, the microwave, wouldn’t operate. I got the lawnmower with the pull-cord to run. I turned it off right away, but it made me think it might be a way to generate some power if I could string a pulley to a generator of some sort. That’d take a lot of time.

July 24: What would cause such a disruption of all electricity? The best I could figure: near direct hit from an X-Class Solar Flare and pop everything light’s out.
X-Class Flare. (Once in a lifetime. Would you even see it? It didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be visible like that, a humongous flash, would it?
A distant nuclear explosion, with EM-Pulse? Maybe. No sign of ashes, radiation.

No news of distant destruction. No news at all, actually.
If power grid everywhere was down, I imagined the hospital and the grocery stores would become hollow lands of emptiness, useless. If anyone was on life support, then dead?
We took out the capacitors from the solar panels, and decided to find more someday, see if replacing the parts would help.

July 23, 2018: My wife and I rode our bikes into town to see if anyone had any news.
It was eerie. No lights. All stores dark inside. Restaurants shuttered because kitchens
not functioning. One cafeteria was giving food away for free, out of their refrigerators and freezers that’d failed. Nobody had any news.
If life were science fiction literature or movies, then without the basics all hell breaks loose and you need a strong leader with an iron grip on the law to keep order and prevent our inevitable descent into chaos.

I’m glad to report that such ideas are wrong, at least here. Maybe if food runs out, there’ll be more problems later on. But for now we’re collaborating and cooperating and most of us are all trying to help each other best we can. We’ve got messengers running from place to place, identifying needs and creating distribution systems. People are a lot smarter, and we don’t have a centralized leader and I don’t think we need one.

We realized when we got back home that we had two big jobs: find food and water, and consume it. That was primary motive number one. It had to be, for everyone. We got out the books about locating wild foods in the woods. We got them from the library, from everyone’s shelves, we shared and discussed setting limits so that we didn’t over-forage.

I was raising cucumbers in our garden. These did fine, and the rain came in the afternoon, which helps everything grow.

Writing in my little journal here, I’m thinking it’s quiet at night. We haven’t got motors running all the time driving up and down the street. Who knew, that the apocalypse would be so nice?

July 30, 2018: People who hiked up to us from Pittsfield had no news. They were just bored so they went walking, figuring the north was nicer anyway.
There were reports of a rape in town. We couldn’t verify any of it, and we never found a victim or a criminal; it was just hearsay and rumors as far as we could tell. But it was polarizing people and homeowners were some of them thinking they’d best keep their guns, safekeeping.

I had my recurve bow and two-dozen arrows. I know I’m not a good shot. I got the bow as a gift and it was just a hobby. Now it seemed like it might be a critical source of food. I set about to practicing and my arms got sore. Nobody nearby knows how to use a bow. I got a book from the library, and have to settle for trial and error to learn how to improve my aim and timing. If I could take down a squirrel — there’s lot of squirrels — then we’d have meat if we need it. I hate the whole thought. I hate thinking about killing any of the animals. We might not have much choice.

Update on the lawnmower idea: it worked fine and we figured the generator and pulley rig. We filled up some batteries. But the idea’s dumb because we’re running out of gasoline for the lawnmower. And it doesn’t sound like we’ll be getting more gas anytime soon. So we attached the bicycles and make a little electricity now and then with our own two legs. Works okay.

None of the tech really matters. Even when you get enough juice to charge a phone or computer, there’s no wifi and no signals. All the big networks, tv, Internet, cable, cell towers, all seem to be completely out. Not sure what’s going on, and news from afar is rare and unverified. We heard about looting in Boston, and a couple riots, but it seems outlandish and I don’t trust the reports.

August 8, 2018: I’m worried about the approaching winter, but we stashed enough food and I’m getting better at my aim. We’ve cut a lot of lumber. Speaking of which we said goodbye to the old apple tree which fell over in a thunderstorm. There’s plenty of dead branches in the forest, so we have lots of heating fuel. There’s no lack of clothing and layers: we’ve made a handful of trips to this or that old store and traded goods (gossip, cucumbers from my garden, some jars of pickles that we made) for extra clothes, and we gathered a lot of second- hand items from around the region and shared those with our neighbors.

My wife is making charts of the moon’s progressions and each day on a hand-drawn calendar, on our living room wall actually, so that we can keep track of our planet’s movements. It’s hard to believe the starlight. There’s no more light pollution from streetlights or cars or buildings. It’s amazingly dark. They feel good, the stars, thousands and thousands sprinkled in the sky.

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