By Hannah Rosner

Exactly two years after the Switch, Jemma and Kyle finally dared to watch the sunset.

They climbed the ladder to the roof of their Oak Park townhouse, where they had a partial view of the Chicago skyline, the distant towers slicing dusk’s reflection into gleaming geometric patterns. The charred skeleton of an apartment building was visible a few blocks away, another arson, another reminder of the dangers that came alive after the sun went down. 

The sun hovered above the horizon, fat and dripping and blood-red. Jemma checked her timer: five minutes and forty-two seconds. She was determined to savor this moment, though she never loosened her grip on the knife in her pocket. 

Kyle had bought it for her last year, a short switchblade with a mother-of-pearl hilt. Beautiful and lethal. He’d gotten it for her so she’d feel safer going out on her own. But being on her own during the day wasn’t what made her feel unsafe. Once they moved to the Day Zone – if a spot ever opened up – Jemma hoped she would no longer feel the need to carry around a knife. 

Their block was quiet, as always. A few months ago, this hour was often fraught with tension, people hurrying to get inside their homes during the grace period, locking their doors, covering their windows to keep out the approaching moonlight. Now the neighborhood was silent, few sounds of domesticity audible from the modest suburban homes around them. The cars parked in their driveways were sparkling clean, but their flowerbeds had been neglected and overgrown with weeds. Nocturnals had no use for landscaping. 

Kyle looked nervous, fidgeting with the broken zipper on his jacket, permanently stuck in the middle of the chain. He kept checking the time, eyes darting from his phone to the empty sidewalks. For months, Jemma had been begging Kyle to come up here at sunset, but he’d always said it wasn’t worth the risk. For some reason, tonight was special. 

“You don’t have to keep checking. The alarm—”

“We shouldn’t assume it’ll always go off at the right time,” Kyle said. He seemed upset about something. Sweat beads glistened on his forehead, and his face was turning green, like he might be sick. Jemma’s pulse accelerated – what bad news was he preparing to share this time?

“Are you alright?” 

Kyle nodded and coughed a little.  “Yeah, I’m just…” He checked the timer on his phone one more time: three minutes and fifty seconds. 

“Jemma, I love you,” he choked, his voice catching. He cleared his throat. “There’s more, I have this whole speech actually, but I forgot to time it out, so—” 

“Save the speech,” Jemma said and pressed her lips to his, her answer to his unspoken question. 

An ear-splitting klaxon blared, severing the silence: the curfew alarm. The sound flooded Jemma’s body with adrenaline. They had three minutes until the grace period was over. 

It took twenty seconds to descend the ladder, seven seconds to jog to the front door. Jemma checked her phone. They’d be inside with two minutes to spare. 

But as they moved to the front of the house, they found a man standing at their door. 

Jemma recognized him. He lived two houses down and always wore suits that seemed two sizes too big. She tried to recall the last name on his mailbox – Benson? 

“What are you two lovebirds doing out at this hour?” Mr. Benson asked. His smile was kind, though for some reason it made Jemma’s stomach turn. She checked her timer: one minute, fifty seconds.

“We’re heading inside,” Kyle replied, his tone less friendly. “Do you need something?” 

“Just wanted to give you two a heads-up.” Mr. Benson’s eerie smile hadn’t faded, yet it no longer seemed kind. More maniacal, like a man about to embark on a very exciting vacation. One he would never come back from. “You two seem like a nice young couple, and I didn’t want to leave you all alone here without letting you know what’s coming.”

Jemma opened her mouth to ask what was coming when Kyle grabbed her hand, hard. He moved in front of her protectively. “We’re fine here, thanks. Now move out of our way.”

Jemma snuck a glance at her phone’s timer: one minute, eight seconds. 

Mr. Benson remained rooted to the spot, continuing as if he hadn’t heard Kyle. “I was waiting on my balcony when I saw you two and I thought, hell, it might be rude not to extend an invitation. Especially since you’re about to be the only two Daywalkers left.”

“You threatening us?” Kyle hissed, slowly retrieving his knife.

Jemma’s pulse thundered. 

Forty-seven seconds.

“Like I said, a friendly heads-up. It’s only neighborly.” 

Kyle held out his knife. “Out. Of our. Way.” 

Forty-one seconds. 

Mr. Benson put his hands up, chuckling. “Hey, I get it. I was like you for a while. Clinging to the ‘good old days’. Wife said I was being stubborn. She used to have Parkinson’s, you know…” The man sighed. “Now I know those old days weren’t so good after all.” 

Thirty seconds…

“Oh, well. At least you’ll have each other.” The man finally stepped aside, heading back toward his house. “See you on the other side, one day.”

Jemma and Kyle shoved their front door open and hurried in with only eighteen seconds to spare. Kyle locked the door as Jemma quickly checked the blackout curtains. They both stopped to catch their breath, waiting for their heartbeats to return to normal.

Jemma heard a soft purring from the living room. Their sweet tabby cat, Thom, slinked out from behind Kyle’s keyboard, and Jemma scooped him into her arms, hugging him tight to her chest. They sometimes let Thom roam outside at night, since he was so active in the evenings. Kyle had built Thom a little space in the garage so he could come and go as he pleased without having to be let out in the middle of the night. But tonight, their little nocturnal creature would have to remain indoors. Thom wriggled out from Jemma’s grasp, naïve to the concerns of his troubled humans.

Kyle wrapped Jemma in his arms. She drank in his scent, the trace of earthy cologne on his jacket, a scent that tethered her to safety like an island amid a stormy sea.

“Is it true? Are we the last ones on the block?” 

Kyle stroked her hair, his mind on the number of occupied houses around them. For weeks this place had felt like a ghost town, except the ghosts were very much alive, haunting only at night. 

Suddenly a distant scream pierced the air, somewhere out in the forbidden dark. An anguished cry, the pain of transformation. Jemma had heard this sound many times over the past year, but each time it had the same effect, a shockwave of terror that seized her entire body.  

“We are now,” Kyle whispered.

Two years ago, on the night of the Switch, Jemma and Kyle opened a bottle of chardonnay and snuggled up to watch the latest Pixar movie. The astrology accounts Jemma followed out of dim curiosity said there would be a significant lunar eclipse that evening, especially if you were a water sign. Her horoscope advised against making any big lifetime decisions or signing any legally-binding agreements that night. The eclipse would disrupt untold cosmic forces. The universe was in flux. 

“My Dad mentioned it too,” Kyle said when Jemma told him about the eclipse. “I guess it’s a big deal. Did you want to try and see it?”

“No chance we’ll be able to, all the light pollution. I think you need a pretty serious telescope.” That was all they said about the celestial event that was about to change their lives forever. At around 11 p.m., Jemma pulled the curtains shut, unaware of what she was protecting them from. 

The next morning, Jemma decided to swing by Edna’s Café on her way to work, but they were closed. No sign on the door, no explanation. She remembered being annoyed she’d have to settle for a stale vending-machine croissant at the office. It’s funny what we remember about that day, Kyle said later, when she described what she had seen on that haunting morning.

Jemma continued down Nordica with her noise-cancelling headphones on, listening to Kind of Blue. Over Miles Davis’ soaring trumpet, she didn’t hear the sirens. 

Jemma waited at a crosswalk with a half-dozen other pedestrians, all looking at their phones, Jemma included. The light changed and the group surged forward, veering around a homeless man lying in the middle of the sidewalk. Only Jemma slowed her pace, alarmed by the sight of the old man. His toes poked out of his soiled shoes, his gnarled limbs sprawled at odd angles. Jemma stood and stared at him, waiting to make sure he was breathing. It certainly wasn’t unusual to come across a homeless person sleeping in an undignified position in Chicago, but something about this tableaux seemed off. Jemma looked around for help when she spotted another person, another body on the sidewalk.

This one belonged to a lithe young woman her own age, wearing a sports tank and running shorts. Her headphone wires were strung across her sleeping face – at least, Jemma hoped the woman was sleeping. Jemma removed her own headphones, barely registering the sirens in the distance as she nudged the woman’s shoulder. Jemma was relieved to see that the woman was breathing, but she didn’t stir, no matter how forcefully Jemma shook her. A curly-haired woman in a pantsuit walked by, glancing down at the unconscious jogger, but she continued on without stopping, her heels clicking against the pavement.

Down the street, Jemma saw a smaller body. A child. A little girl with black hair and a yellow Spongebob backpack, lying on the sidewalk. Beside her, a middle-aged man in a suit, probably on his way to drop off his daughter at school before heading to work. What the hell was going on? 

An anguished, guttural scream pierced the air, the kind she’d only ever heard in slasher movies. That’s what she remembered: a scream so soaked in fear, it didn’t sound real. 

Across the street, an older woman cradled a man’s head in her lap. Crimson blood was leaking from his eyes, his nose, the corners of his mouth, lips parted in a silent scream. 

Jemma would later learn that not everyone who had been exposed to moonlight after the Switch had survived. Some tried to stay awake using caffeine or stimulants. They met the same fate as the man across the street, his screaming wife holding his heavy head, his blood dribbling down her forearms. 

It’s funny what we remember.

Morning light flooded their bedroom as Jemma threw open the curtains, exacerbating Kyle’s migraine. He’d barely slept, his mind straying towards nightmarish possibilities, afraid the neighbors would come with pitchforks to force them out into the moonlight. 

He’d heard of things like this happening in other Neutral Zones, overheard the anxious whispers from his coworkers who’d been terrorized into moving out of their homes. He was probably being paranoid, assuming the worst. He’d gotten up in the middle of the night and unplugged their wall clock to escape the faint tick tick tick that sounded to him like a doomsday countdown. They had a dozen other digital clocks throughout the house. Losing track of time was dangerous.

At the kitchen table, Jemma jotted up a guest list for their wedding. Yes, they would have a wedding, the new normal be damned.  They would figure out logistics later, like finding a venue for the reception now that so many had gone out of business, or how they could even begin to afford it. The traditions that used to make Jemma roll her eyes – a bouquet toss, an exchange of vows – now evoked nostalgia for a simpler time. It had been so long since they had something to look forward to.

Across the table, oblivious to the white chiffon daydream Jemma was enmeshed in, Kyle scrolled the news on his phone. A video was making the rounds, grainy footage shot at night: a drunk guy vomiting in an alley, two teenage boys laughing off-camera. The drunk’s eyelids drooped as he slid down a brick wall, mumbling weakly in protest as one of the kids doused him in gasoline. A lighter clicked. 

“Do you have to watch that right now?” Jemma kept her eyes on her list to avoid the horrors on Kyle’s screen. He stopped the video. It wasn’t hard to guess where it was going, anyway. 

Kyle scooted closer to her, glancing at the list. About half the names were crossed out, including his parents’. 

“Why write the names of people who can’t come?”

“So I know I’m not forgetting anyone.” They both stared at the list, growing overwhelmed by the sheer amount of crossed-out names. Jemma flipped her notebook shut. By the time the Big Day came, there was no telling how many people could actually attend, since they wouldn’t be having a Big Night. 

Jemma and Kyle had a little extra time before work that morning, so they headed to Edna’s Café for coffee, their fingers interlocked like teenagers. In the Neutral Zone, most businesses had expanded their hours to serve both the day and night crowds. Edna’s was one of the few places that was exclusively open during the day. The shop was frequently vandalized overnight, yet each time, the owners immediately painted over the graffiti, despite knowing they would have to do it all over again the next day. 

As they turned onto Nordica, they were met with sirens and flashing lights. Firefighters doused the smoldering remains of Edna’s Café with their power hoses, the damage long since done. Last night, apparently, someone decided vandalism wasn’t enough. 

A gurney was wheeled out of the back of an ambulance, though the medics weren’t in much of a hurry. Jemma looked up at the blackened windows on the second floor above the café. Edna and her husband had lived upstairs as long as Jemma could remember. Had the Switch altered Nocturnals’ brain chemistry, Jemma wondered? Were the ones who burned other people alive psychopaths before they turned, or did the Switch shut off the part of the brain responsible for empathy and remorse? If science hadn’t discovered a place in the body where the soul resided, how could anyone know if Nocturnals did or didn’t have one?

Jemma and Kyle walked home in silence. The neighborhood was eerily quiet, like a paper town, blinds drawn in every window of every home they passed. It was a warm day, but Jemma shivered, chilled by the sight of the scorched café. Another horror scene now etched into her memory.

“Have you heard back from the management company yet?” Jemma tried to keep her tone casual, even though it was impossible to hide the edge of anticipation.

“Not yet. I’m sure they’re backed up with applications.” 

“I hope it wasn’t a credit-check thing.” Jemma’s brow furrowed.

“Your score was great.” 

“Is ‘great’ good enough in such a crowded market? I’m sure we’re not the only ones trying to move into a Day Zone.”

Kyle squeezed her hand. “We’ve got the down payment ready, in cash. If anything, they might want a co-signer.” 

Jemma lifted an eyebrow. “You think your folks would co-sign a mortgage on a Day Zone apartment?” She let out a little laugh. “They’d rather buy us a freaking mansion in their neighborhood.”

“Trust me, they’ll be so thrilled to hear we’re engaged, they won’t give us a hard time about moving. It’s not like it makes a difference to them where we live.” Jemma gave a tentative nod, though her skepticism didn’t wane.  

On the night of the Switch, Kyle saw his parents in person for the last time.

His mother had made lasagna, his father’s favorite. David swallowed four different prescription pills with water as Susan scooped a heaping square onto his plate. Kyle reached for the spatula, but Susan insisted on serving his portion. His left hand was still in a cast; it had been four months since an Uber struck him broadside while he was biking down Elston. Everyone told Kyle he was lucky the worst injury he sustained was a broken hand. He’d really tried to take comfort in that. But as his mother served lasagna for him, as his father eyed him with pity, Kyle glanced at his first piano positioned prominently in the living room, now just for decoration. He didn’t feel very lucky at all.

After dinner, David went outside for a cigarette. Kyle followed him. 

“Stage three lymphoma wasn’t enough to kick the habit?”

David took a drag. “You expect me to go through chemotherapy without having a smoke once in a while?” 

Kyle shook his head. “Whatever.” He headed for his car.

“Not staying to watch the eclipse? There’s this asteroid—”

“I told Jemma we’d watch a movie.”

“You can watch a movie anytime. This is historic stuff.” David glanced up at the bright, taciturn moon. “When do we meet this Jemma?”

“Soon. Promise.” Kyle started down the driveway. “Night, Dad.” 

After his wife went to bed, David went into the garage to get his Celestron NexStar telescope, a mid-life crisis purchase Susan much preferred to a motorcycle. The asteroid, nicknamed “Apophis” after the Egyptian God of Chaos, was scheduled to pass by around 12:30 AM and arrived on time. The impact of the massive space rock against the moon’s shadowed surface was a sight to behold: a tiny, silent explosion, a flash of golden light against the pockmarked gray. David could barely sleep that night, buzzing with excitement at having witnessed a once-in-an-era celestial anomaly.

The next morning, David woke before dawn. He felt fine. He brewed coffee and read the news the old-fashioned way, from a newspaper. But within a few minutes of sunrise, he started to feel very ill. A blanket of fatigue engulfed him like equatorial heat. David went back to bed and did not wake up until twelve hours later. 

David staggered down to the living room in a daze. All the curtains were drawn, cardboard taped over the windows. He found Susan in the basement, standing a foot from the TV. When she saw him, she burst into tears and embraced him. David couldn’t make sense of her hysteria. Then he saw the news briefing on the television behind her, and he understood.

At his next chemotherapy treatment, the doctors discovered David’s cancer had vanished. 

As they learned more about the benefits of turning, Susan could see no reason not to join him. Nocturnals aged more slowly, were impervious to disease and more resistant to injury. The only downside anyone had yet discovered – other than needing to hibernate during the day – was that Nocturnals were infertile. Well, that was no trouble; their son was grown now, and they certainly weren’t planning on having more children.  

David and Susan emailed their son frequently, sending him articles and video seminars. Kyle’s fractured hand would be instantly healed, they pointed out. He could play music professionally again, have the career he’d always dreamt of. Kyle never responded. David figured it had to do with that Daywalker girl he’d been seeing. It was always a girl. 

Driving to work that morning, Jemma turned her radio to NPR, catching the tail end of a story about a coup in Indonesia by the Nocturnal military. There was always chaos on the other side of the world, always violence and terror anywhere it was night. She switched to 93 XRT, playing Dire Straits’ “So Far Away.” Jemma lightly tapped the steering wheel, the glint of sunshine against her engagement ring making her a little giddy. 

She was excited to tell her friends at work. Carly was going to freak out when she saw the ring. They weren’t close, didn’t spend time together outside of the office, but it was nice to have someone to talk to at work. It made things feel normal. Carly wore sparkly headbands affixed atop her head like a tiara, her pink pastel nails filed to points like mermaid claws. Carly had undoubtedly been a Bridezilla before her wedding, based on the extravagant details she shared about her big day – though Jemma rarely heard a kind word about Carly’s husband, an accountant with a sports betting problem. Carly always seemed so desperate to escape the banality of her home life, Jemma was sure she’d be delighted to hear the news. 

Dire Straits crackled to static as Jemma’s car descended into the parking garage. She worked in the marketing division of a skincare company; her job was to delicately remind women that the collapse of civilization was no excuse not to moisturize. Her usual parking space was blocked by construction equipment, stacks of glass panels leaning against the wall like translucent dominoes. The top floor, her floor, was having its roof replaced with a glass ceiling, so the night shift workers could “charge” at their desks. After a study found that Nocturnal employees were more productive when exposed to moonlight, most offices swapped out their roofs. Even though she never, ever stayed at work within an hour of sunset, sitting directly beneath the open sky all day still made Jemma nervous.

A “pardon our dust” sign taped to the wall greeted Jemma as she arrived on her floor. Digital clocks on the wall displayed the exact time of sunrise and sunset in Chicago, New York, London, and Tokyo. Someone had stuck glow-in-the-dark stars on the wall in the break room, management’s attempt at inter-office camaraderie. But everyone knew that even if the day and night shift could interact, camaraderie was unlikely. 

Jemma shared a desk with Zackary Twill from Data Filing. He always left their work space littered with candy wrappers, open takeout containers, and nail clippings, never bothering to clean up after himself. Last week, Jemma wrote him a tactful note asking him to keep their shared workspace tidy, but Zackary left the note crumpled in a ball amid the rest of his detritus. As Jemma swept his nail clippings into the trash bin, she shoved her anger deep down inside herself, refusing to let her nocturnal coworker’s disrespect and entitlement get her down. Today was going to be a good day. She was engaged.

Jemma strode toward Carly’s desk with a spring in her step, secretly hoping others would see the childish glee on her face and ask what she was so happy about. But Jemma’s excitement faded as she approached Carly’s vacant cubicle. Her computer was off, the screen covered in Post-it notes: “We’ll miss you Carly!” Someone had left fresh-cut tulips on her desk in a glass of water. The yellow-gold bulbs were splayed open triumphantly, like a little girl stretching her arms wide after a restful sleep. At night, Jemma knew, the petals would curl up into themselves. Perhaps the flowers had been chosen deliberately. 

The gossip in the break room was about the picture Carly had posted from Luna Nightclub at 10:45 PM. Her eyes had developed the telltale slitted pupils, a horizontal zig-zag like a squid’s eye, and her skin had the subtle, ethereal blue-green glow of bioluminescence due to the increased luciferin in her new Nocturnal cells. 

“Maybe she had too many drinks, lost track of time,” offered Ellie from Branding. 

Kevin from Accounting scoffed. “You’d have to be drunk off your ass to miss the grace period by four hours.”

“You think she did it to get away from her husband?”

“Or maybe she just wanted flawless skin and perky boobs forever.”

Jemma covered her ring finger with her right hand, not wanting anyone to see. She no longer felt like sharing her good news. 

When she got back to her desk, she scribbled a terse note for Zackary: “clean up your shit, you slob.” She threw the note in the trash and wrote a less antagonistic one: “please clean up after yourself.” She knew Zackary would ignore the note, but it made her feel like less of a doormat, standing up for herself for once. She was tired of living in fear of people she never even saw. Daywalkers shared custody of their world with Nocturnals, yet they were in a whole separate universe.

Kyle’s laptop displayed an icon of an old rotary phone, the old-school “ring-ring” tinny and grating to Jemma’s ears as they waited for the video call to connect. David and Susan’s faces blinked onto the screen, sending their son warm smiles that cooled slightly when their eyes landed on Jemma. Their slitted pupils were visible despite the poor image quality. 

“Guys, we have some big news to share. Two things, actually,” Kyle sputtered nervously. He sucked in a breath and held up Jemma’s left hand. “We’re engaged.”

Jemma wasn’t sure if it was a lag in the connection or something else. After a moment, David and Susan broke into expressions Jemma decided to interpret as surprised joy.

“Congratulations! That’s incredible, you two. Have a date set?”

Kyle waved a hand. “It’s all brand new. We’re still working on the details…”

“Like how the hell your own family will be able to attend?”

Jemma saw Kyle’s shoulders go rigid again and cut in. “We’re going to find a way to make sure all our loved ones can be there, virtually if not physically. We’re working on it, but… we wanted you both to be the first to know.”

David and Susan beamed, the glare of their laptop screen reflecting off their pale, slightly luminescent skin. “We’re very happy for you both. Wait—what’s the other news? It’s not a shotgun wedding, is it?” David chuckled, but his apprehension was starting to show.

Jemma did her best to hide her irritation. Of course they’d assume she was pregnant. 

“No, no. One big life event at a time,” Kyle said, forcing a laugh. “We’re moving.”

A flicker of confusion crossed his parents’ faces. “Not far, just across town,” Kyle continued. “We’ve been waiting months for a place in the Day Zone to open up…”

“What’s wrong with your current place?” David interjected. He seemed to be having trouble keeping up his fake grin.

“It just… this neighborhood doesn’t feel safe anymore,” Kyle tried to explain. “There’s been arsons. Someone burned down the coffee shop…”

“You’re not running a coffee shop.”

“I’m just saying, you know, we’re not starting a family right now, but we would like to someday, and this area isn’t—”

“As long as you don’t bother your neighbors, they won’t bother you.”

“We’ve heard of noc–… people… breaking into houses, dragging people out of their homes and forcing them to turn—”

“Daywalker propaganda,” David spat. “Your mayor’s approval rating is in the toilet so he’s resorted to fearmongering. Trying to divide people…”

“Okay, okay,” Kyle put his hands up in an effort to redirect the conversation. “Look, we already signed the paperwork. We’re moving at the end of the month. That’s my decision.” Jemma straightened at this – it was their decision – but she knew Kyle was saying what his parents wanted to hear. What they didn’t want to hear was any hint Jemma might be manipulating their son into remaining a Daywalker. “It’s a nice house, big yard, plenty of space. It’ll be a great place to raise kids someday.” 

“Sounds nice,” Susan said flatly. She and David exchanged a look of disappointment. 

“I’m sure you’ll be very happy there, surrounded by electric fencing and patrolling security guards, so no boogeymen can come and get you in the night.” David sighed bitterly. 

Kyle leaned forward, getting right to it this time. “We need a co-signer for the mortgage. We have the money, but the credit check… Would you two be willing to sign for us?”

There was a long pause as David and Susan absorbed what was being asked of them. Both seemed to sit up a little straighter, as if suddenly realizing the immense power they held over Kyle and Jemma’s future. 

David’s face softened. “We’d be happy to help. Just send over the paperwork, I’ll sign it and email it back.” 

Kyle’s shoulders sagged in relief. “Thanks. Are you able to print it though? It has to be a physical signature.”

“Fine. I’ll sign it tonight. Just one condition…” Jemma stiffened, wondering what their terms could be. “Be a good boy and bring us a box of profiteroles from Alliance Bakery, would you? We’ve been craving them the past few days.”

Kyle smiled gratefully and squeezed Jemma’s hand. It was all going to work out. Soon enough they would be in their new home, safe from the threats of their neutral neighborhood, free to get on with the rest of their lives in peace, among their own kind.

The next day after work, Kyle headed to his parents’ house. It was overcast that afternoon. Not being able to see the sun gave many Daywalkers anxiety. You could always check the time, but still. Cloudy days seemed a bad omen. 

Kyle’s childhood home was only twenty minutes away. He had a good two hours to get home. He texted Jemma, was she good with thai food tonight? On a jog, she responded, if you order I’ll pick up. Then she texted, It’s cloudy. Hurry back

Kyle assured her he would. He had plenty of time.

His parents’ house was a two-story craftsman painted white with forest-green trim. The tire swing in the front yard hung motionless, like a worn-out metronome. David and Susan had also replaced their roof with glass, inviting the moon’s celestial power into their home. Kyle secured the bakery box under his arm as he found the spare key and went inside.

It was strange, like entering a museum of his former life. His little league trophies sat on a shelf beside his high school graduation photo. A shallow pool of weak coffee sat cold in the pot. Kyle picked up the financing paperwork on the counter, checked that his father had signed all the necessary lines, and slipped it into his jacket pocket.   

A post-it note on the fridge told him to help himself to the lasagna inside. He ate a forkful and let the cold bite linger on his tongue, savoring the forgotten comfort of his mother’s cooking. 

Something compelled him to head down the hall to his parents’ bedroom. David and Susan’s eyelids pulsed as their eyes darted around in the throes of REM sleep. Their hibernating bodies became blurred shapes as tears stung Kyle’s eyes. It was a confusing kind of grief, mourning people who were not dead. Kyle wiped his eyes and hurried back down the hall, his pain eclipsed by the realization that it was time to head home.

But when he got to the front door, he found it locked. 

The metal knob felt cold in his hand. The door wouldn’t budge. 

A shiver staccatoed his heartbeat. 

He threw his weight into the door, again and again, more forceful each time. He heard something pop in his shoulder, but he didn’t feel any pain. All he felt was the overwhelming urge to get the hell out of the house.

Black dots swam in his vision. He was starting to feel drowsy. 

He thought of his mother’s lasagna. It tasted just as it always had, but he was increasingly certain there was an extra ingredient. A rush of anger was quickly subdued by a swell of terror. 

He swayed and staggered toward the basement door. It, too, was locked.  

He’d had dreams like this after the Switch. Nightmares in which he was surrounded by faceless Nocturnals obstructing his path home. He’d heard stories – sedatives in cocktails, hacked anti-theft systems that trapped Daywalkers inside after dusk. It was usually the work of night gangs or extremists, but sometimes it was carried out by families. Kyle didn’t think his parents would ever do something like this. He always thought they wanted to be grandparents, but now he realized he had no idea what they wanted. He didn’t really know them at all.

Kyle tried to blink away the blur as he checked his phone. In seven minutes, it would be night. If he could just get out, if he could just get to his car…  

He stumbled to the window, each step a Herculean effort, as if his legs were trapped in wet concrete. Iron bars sliced the outside world into strips. The clouds had burned away, and now the sun was low on the horizon, giving the sky a sinister orange tinge. 

His fingers trembled as he typed a message to Jemma: stuck in house. im sorry. 

Outside, he thought he heard laughter, but when he looked out, he couldn’t see anyone.

Jemma’s phone was in the living room when Kyle’s text came through. She was in the bedroom, trying on the wedding dress she’d just picked up from the alteration shop. The dress was simple and elegant, floor-length ivory silk. It had belonged to her mother. Jemma admired how the dress hugged her curves, imagined the look on Kyle’s face when he saw her in it. 

Jemma thumbed the ring on her finger as she walked back into the living room. The light was turning pink outside; Kyle should be home soon. She debated changing out of the dress, but decided to keep it on until he got home. She wasn’t superstitious about things like that. Any minute now, Jemma thought as she reached for her phone, my future husband will walk in the door and see me in this dress. Any minute now.

When David and Susan emerged from their bedroom after dusk, Kyle was curled into a ball under the table, shuddering violently from the agony of the turn and trembling with rage. 

“He needs time,” said Susan. 

“All the time in the world now.” The expression on his parents’ faces was one of triumph, of pride. 

A memory slammed into Kyle in that moment: he was six, at the marina, ignoring his parents’ warning not to wander too far down the pier. He slipped and fell into the water, and his father reached down with one hand to rescue him. Kyle saw that same look on his father’s face now. 

“He’ll see,” his mother said, staring down at him with those alien eyes. “He’ll see that we did what was best for him.” 

Kyle went straight from his parents’ house to Jermaine’s place, an old college buddy who lived in a particularly loud and raucous section of the Night Zone, like Bourbon Street and the Vegas strip intersecting in the fun part of hell. He and Jemma talked on the phone until dawn, although very few words were exchanged. There wasn’t much to say. Kyle’s voice was hoarse, garbled with tears. He sounded broken. He could never forgive himself for what happened. If she wanted to break off the engagement, he understood. A wedding was fucking impossible anyway, wasn’t it? 

Jemma assured him he had done nothing wrong, that it wasn’t his fault. She longed to see him, to touch him, at least during the grace period, but Kyle refused to put her in any sort of danger. He didn’t know what it meant yet, the change his body had gone through. If he couldn’t trust his nocturnal family, how could he trust himself? 

Jemma felt shattered, sick with grief, a hollow shell of herself. First Kyle been taken from her, and now Thom had gone missing. She called for him, searching the neighborhood until the curfew alarm. Her family had been torn apart overnight. 

In the morning, Jemma picked up her phone to call in sick, then hesitated as she looked around her house. She couldn’t bear to spend the day here alone. 

Jemma was the first to arrive at the office that morning. She hoped to avoid any encounters with coworkers who were sure to see her forlorn, sleep-deprived face and suggest a green tea serum for those bags under her eyes.

A putrid stench struck her as she stepped off the elevator. The rotting smell of decay grew stronger the closer she got to her desk, so foul it made her eyes water. She covered her nose and mouth, surprised and a bit confused to see her desk spotlessly clean, as if Zackary had actually heeded her request to clean up after himself. But then she opened her desk drawer and found the real mess he’d left. 

Inside was Thom, his belly torn open and crawling with maggots, eyes bulging in permanent terror. Jemma ran to the bathroom to vomit and didn’t come out for hours. 

Fiona from HR said they couldn’t prove Zackary killed her cat. She could try filing a police report, but without proof, it was unlikely Zackary would face disciplinary action. Regardless, Jemma should probably stop letting her pets wander around at night. 

When she finally returned to her desk, she ignored her inbox and spent the rest of the afternoon scouring the internet, using search terms like “nocturnals loss of humanity” and “moral center” and “psychopathy”. She found herself inexplicably obsessed with finding some scientific explanation for what Zackary had done to Thom, what David and Susan had done to their own son. Was it going to happen to Kyle? Was her fiancé destined to transform into a monster? 

The overhead lamp was out in the parking garage. She clicked her key fob twice and followed the sound to her car, immediately locking her doors and turning on the lights. She never used to be so afraid of the dark. She used to be a night owl. 

Before she met Kyle, before everything, Jemma spent long nights at Clarke’s 24-hour coffee shop, writing poetry in a corner booth until 3 AM. There was a piano near the bar, but at that hour, no one ever played it. She wrote to keep the lights on in her mind, to hold her dark thoughts at bay; poetry gave her something to think about besides her mother’s ailing health. Jemma couldn’t control how her mom’s body would respond to the treatment, couldn’t control the darkness threatening to swallow her up. All she could control were the words hovering on the screen in front of her. 

Jemma was rearranging some of those words when a young man with dark curls and insomniac eyes took a seat at the piano. He wore a black t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of Metro, a music venue next door to Clark’s. Jemma watched him as he played “Sail to the Moon,” one of her favorite Radiohead songs. She thought he played beautifully, but he stopped himself a few times, looking more frustrated each time he hit a wrong note. She noticed a wrist brace on his left hand as he got up to claim his to-go order. She smiled at him in a way she hoped was encouraging, because she really wanted him to keep playing. When he smiled back, it was as if someone turned the lights on, chasing away the shadows. 

They moved in together a few months before the Switch. They kept each other calm and sane as they waited out the chaos: riots in the cities, food shortages, market crashes. But the gears of trade refused to succumb to destruction, and soon enough society adjusted to the new paradigm. Windows were painted over, tunnels were dug, some workplaces moved underground. Eventually, the economy adapted to serve consumers of both kinds, at both times. A tenuous peace was achieved, yet Jemma couldn’t shake the feeling that they were always on the precipice of another, slower disaster. 

At first Kyle isolated himself, going straight home after work, but his loneliness was starting to gnaw at him. When his new colleagues invited him out for drinks at a jazz bar in the Night Zone, he accepted. The other guys possessed a cocky playboy attitude that his old self would have found nauseating, but he found himself beginning to admire their expensive clothes and lavish tastes. 

“When do we get to meet this elusive fiancé of yours?” they asked.

“We’ve seen the picture on your desk. Quite a catch, my man,” they said.

“I can’t expose her to the likes of you heathens,” Kyle responded with a strained grin. The other men waved him off, Kyle’s mystery woman already forgotten in favor of the sumptuously clad girls in red lipstick at an adjacent booth. When the girls joined his coworkers, giggling with delight as the men lifted them onto their laps, Kyle was sure he’d never felt so alone in his life.

Kyle knocked back the last of his whiskey. He could now have six or seven cocktails and feel pleasantly buzzed but never drunk. His new and improved liver irritated him; he wanted to get blitzed out of his mind.

On a small raised platform, a grand piano beckoned Kyle, its obsidian cover reflecting the crimson and violet overhead lights. He barely heard the whoops and cheers from his table as he took a seat at the piano, barely registered the hush of the crowd as he began to play “Sail to the Moon.” His fingers danced with a dexterity he hadn’t known since that biking accident three years ago. 

When he finished, the bar broke into applause. He scanned the faces in the crowd, some genuinely dazzled, others unimpressed, but the only face that mattered to him was the one that wasn’t there. 

Jemma hardly slept anymore, startling at every sound. Was that just the wind, or was someone raking their fingernails against her windowsill, looking for a way in? When she did manage to sleep, she dreamt of fire, crackling embers licking at her back. Nightmare after nightmare found her trapped in her home after dark as flames closed in around her, and the only way out meant turning into someone else. She gasped awake tangled in sweat-drenched sheets, suffocated by a noxious blend of fear and grief she couldn’t seem to escape.

There was a way to escape, of course. It was just outside, casting the street in a silvery haze. Hovering like a patient UFO, waiting to take her to a new home. 

The Friday before the end of the month, Jemma got a call from the Day Zone leasing office – her application had been approved, she and her fiancé were cleared to move in on the first. Kyle must have dropped off the paperwork his father had signed, she realized. Jemma pretended she had a bad connection and hung up on the leasing office before the sob rising in her chest made it impossible to speak. 

Kyle was giving her the ultimate gift – a chance to move to a place where she could feel safe. A place he would never be allowed to enter. 

She knew from the letters he’d been sending that he missed her terribly, that every bone in his body ached for her. He wanted her with him more than anything, yet he was leaving the choice to her. It meant he wasn’t like the others – like Zackary and David and Susan. It meant becoming nocturnal didn’t mean giving up your humanity. Didn’t it?

Jemma paced the house all night, debating, weighing the pros and cons. It wasn’t about losing her ability to have children – she wanted children with Kyle, or not at all. It was about how much longer she could live like this. In fear, in sadness, in isolation. Even if she moved to the Day Zone, she knew she would never feel safe, not really. It wasn’t just that she missed the comforting protection Kyle offered. She simply longed to feel as if she could protect herself.

The global population of Nocturnals was nearing fifty percent. Soon there would be more of them than of her kind. She wondered how long it would take. She wasn’t sure she could bear the waiting. 

She couldn’t decide on her own. She had to see him first. 

Jemma called Kyle and told him she wanted to meet him during the grace period. She rented an AirBnb in the Neutral Zone. Kyle could check in during the pre-dawn hours of the morning and sleep all day, and when he woke up, she would be there waiting for him. Kyle suggested they meet in the house, but she wanted him to come outside at dusk.

The summer equinox was a celebration for Nocturnals, a night they believed ushered in the dominion of nighttime over daylight. Jemma was always a little spooked, especially that first year, when the rumble of helicopter blades at dusk shook the walls, the ear-splitting sirens freezing her blood to ice. Nowadays things had quieted down, but still. It was a night when anything could happen.

At 5:52 PM, Jemma laid a woven blanket on the lawn, sticky blades of grass clinging to her bare ankles. A garland made of fake white roses hung from the shrubbery behind her. She barely flinched when the curfew alarm blared, simply smoothed the fabric of her wedding dress. A small white purse over her shoulder carried Kyle’s wedding band in one pocket, and in the other, her knife. Just in case.

She pressed play on her phone, and the stormy piano of “Sail to the Moon” began to play. The back door creaked open. Kyle’s face beamed like the sun as she turned and met his gaze. 

“I wish you’d told me,” he said, his eyes watering, “I’d have worn a tux…”

“I couldn’t find an officiant willing to perform a three-minute ceremony at this hour anyway.” She smiled through tears as he stepped toward her, his movements delicate, careful, like she was made of glass. 

Jemma wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. “What’s it like? On the other side?”

Kyle pulled her into an embrace. His arms felt like coming home. “It’s dark without you.” 

She nodded, burying her face in his neck. “I love you, day and night,” she whispered.

“Day and night,” he whispered back. In the corner of his eye, he could see the sun dipping below the horizon. He pulled away, blinking back tears. “You should get inside,” he said.

Now she was certain. Hearing those four words, she’d made up her mind. She glanced west as the blood-red sliver of molten light began to disappear.

Jemma pressed her cheek to Kyle’s and closed her eyes, counting the seconds, as the last fading embers of sunlight gave way to darkness.