I was out on the town Friday night when the first Pulse hit. My brother had forced me to come downtown and check out the nightlife for my thirtieth birthday, so we could ‘have some fun for once.’ We were between clubs in the wee hours when the lights went out.
Brin’s serenely smug face loomed out of the sudden dark. “I told you we’d have an adventure tonight.” He grinned for a moment, then swung away again. “You can thank me later.”
Putting on my prissy face, I wondered like so many other times how we could be brother and sister. We didn’t look anything alike, and a few times—to my horror—people had even mistaken us for a couple.
Brin ran around me, making low hooting sounds into the empty streets. He wasn’t drunk, he just liked to play with the acoustics of a place.
Checking my cell phone and getting a dark screen like it was off, I tried turning it back on but it didn’t respond. Brin had noticed and was doing the same, with no better luck. So much for calling a cab. Or anyone. I leaned over to Brin just as he came to a halt across from me on the sidewalk and said, “Oh, I’ll find a way to thank you all right.”
His snappy comeback was interrupted by other people emerging into the streets, all of them either sounding worried or as if they were joking to cover their fears.
I stared around us, trying to understand what had happened. Certainly nothing weather-related to bring power lines down. No sirens or helicopters to signal something worse. My being the older one, even if only by a year, seemed to give my brother permission to be the eternal child. He started screeching my name, “Jane-EE, Jane-EE.”
I tried to shush him, which of course only provoked him further—inciting me to try to cover his mouth with my hand. But he was all too ready to bite or otherwise slobber on it and I was in no mood to be seen acting like juveniles, so I gave up and turned my back on him.
He stayed right there, behind me. “Come on, Janey, you used to be so much fun when we were kids.” His words hit me with a surprising fierceness to be all but swallowed by the mostly empty street and hulking buildings. “Every day with you it was new games, more adventures. Your imagination never quit, and we never stopped having fun.” He seemed to deflate as he spoke, and then walked away to scuff the pavement with one foot.
I didn’t know what his problem was. I’m the older sister—even if not by much—so of course I grew up first.
Without the muted thumping of club music, and a background of traffic, being in the city felt surreal. What at first had been rather refreshing, was now becoming a void. I could understand why my brother had been making all that noise—to cover the disconcerting lack of it.
But it only got worse when the quiet ended. Rough voices reached us from down the block, and then an argument broke out in the other direction.
I found myself huddling with Brin, saying, “Where can we go? Do you know anywhere...safe...around here?”
He kept glancing around to keep an eye on the people approaching and passing us, but said, “My favorite hang-out claims they’re a designated emergency shelter...”
“Oh, gods, you don’t mean that glorified ‘playland for grown-ups’ you’re always going on about?”
The distant argument escalated into shouts, threatening to turn into a fight.
“I do,” Brin said, taking my arm through his and leading me into the middle of the street where he must have thought it would be safer than the sidewalks. “You say that like it’s an adult emporium. It’s not! The Imaginarium is a blast. You’re going to love it, and kick yourself for not letting me take you there sooner—”
“I have plenty to keep me busy: my career, my house...”
Ignoring me with rolling eyes, he continued, “And if this is what it takes to finally get you there, it’s totally worth it.”
We stayed in a sibling-snit until we reached the Imaginarium and walked into their small parking lot. I was relieved to see a few scattered cars still parked in it. And a few lights on inside the place. You had to look hard, but the signs were there.
While looking, I made out all kinds of strange shapes protruding from an industrial four story block-long building in the low light of the night sky.
I stared as we approached, glad of Brin’s arm keeping our steps in synch so I wouldn’t trip. Some of the shapes resolved into crazy circular staircases like giant Slinkies fashioned out of thick wire to make you go dizzy climbing them, and walkover tunnels between them like hamster runs of some see-through material to give you a heart attack crawling through them. I’d just identified one of those human gyroscopes welded into the heart of all that—three stories up, hanging over our heads with the kind of big drooping net they use in the circus stretched underneath like a giant cupping hand—and was wondering what it would be like to be strapped in and swinging all over-and-around in one of those things thirty feet off the ground, when Brin shouted.
Such a sudden and loud sound coming from so close, after twenty minutes of walking in let’s-not-draw-attention-to-ourselves silence, got my heart pounding. But what he did next scared the crap out of me. He let go of my arm and started running towards one side of the building, waving his arms, crying, “Stop that, you bastards. Leave this place alone!”
I saw two guys trying to break a first floor window with a golf club. They stopped to stare at my brother as he ran at them, and I started running, too, hoping I could get there in time—and then be of some use if I did.
Fortunately, they didn’t react like toughs, but swore and took off.
When I caught up with Brin, I punched him a swift one in the arm.
“Come on,” he said, dragging me with him. “Tonight we are the appointed Defenders of Imagination!”
Holding him back, I employed my withering-look face close up for maximum damage. He stopped, leveled his forehead to mine and batted his eyelashes.
I resisted as long as I could before relenting.
Hooking arms with me again, he urged, “Hurry up. Let’s get inside so we can help protect this place from the Evil Army of Urban Looters.”
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