Chapter One

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CHAPTER ONE

Gabby Gonzales peered out from her bedroom window, elbows propped up on the sill. She and her family of four lived on the fourth floor of an apartment in the community of Linden Grove.

Outside it was evening, dark as pitch beyond the smoky glow of the inner streets' oil lamps. She had a difficult time imagining a world where night was only a few shades darker than day thanks to what Nana G referred to as light bulbs. Trapped light within glass spheres were so common before Black Out Thursday that cities had been lit by millions of the glow balls. Millions! Gabby wondered if back then any of the Lighted ever missed the sun. Doesn't matter, the ruins are dark now. As bleakly shadowed as the nightly din Gabby gazed upon. But this was normal to Gabby.

She was born in the generation all the oldsters called the Lightless, a generation after the lights went out. Her mother had a vague remembrance of the world in which light and power were as attainable as flipping a switch. Gabby's grandmother used to say something like that...

"Used to be that you flipped a switch and the world came alive," Nana G used to say.

Some of the old buildings people lived in still had those switches. One such switch was on the wall across the room. Her brother Sammy loved to play with that switch and he always caught trouble when playing with it. Curious, his kind was.

Again Gabby tried to envision a world where the junk lamps—those with wires instead of filled with oil—glowed along the cracked streets. A world where the rusted shells of the golems (Nana G called those heavy husks "cars") went go on their own. Nana G told her people long ago crossed the country on machines with wings, she called these "planes". Her friend Clara also called these golems, people like Clara did. Other people simply called the antiques junk, worthless and a waste. Just as wasteful as the tall tales the Lighted like Nana G told.

All the kids her age laughed at the legends. Gabby's parents chuckled too, their memories of those days as faded as old photographs.

Gabby didn't laugh. Albeit the ramblings from the Lighted generation did bring a wry smirk to her lips. But Gabby kept secrets, confidences she could not, would not trade for the genuine laughter of her friends.

I can't do that to Sammy. Not Sammy. If people knew they would talk and when people talk eventually they would come after him... just like in the stories.

Getting up from her perch at the window, Gabby grabbed the one candle lighting the room and headed to the apartment's single washroom and undressed herself. She exchanged her usual daytime clothes for a pair of undershorts and a loose t-shirt too big for her small frame. To retain a sense of modesty and privacy she kept the door closed. She was fifteen years old after all, nearly a woman grown in her estimation, and she deserved a few minutes of privacy from her father and brother. Bad enough Gabby had to share a room with her little brother Sammy. She felt guilt for complaining. Her father and mother couldn't afford to keep a larger home, not with the average rent in town so high and their combined wages as a field worker and a seamstress meager.

I shouldn’t complain, Gabby chastised herself. Sammy is a good kid. A little distracted but harmless. She was thinking of the trouble with the switch.

Gabby helped her mother with sewing, little things like buttons and hemming. Most kids in their community tended to apprentice with their parents. If your father was a blacksmith and you a boy, you learned to swing a hammer and work the bellows. If your mom was a baker, you lugged flower around, greased pans, and stoked fires. And if your parents worked in the nearby fields, you started as a laborer as soon as you were strong enough for the work and your family couldn't afford to have a child off at school for part of the day. Strong backs always earned coin, if not a lot of coin. Certainly more coin than sitting at a desk for hours doing equations, reading books, learning history.

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