Pyper despised cleaning the closet underneath the stairwell. Irrational fears of evil monsters donning sharp claws and lurking within the space haunted her. For years, she neglected the remarkably ample area and simply tossed items inside to store. Now she sat amidst the massive clutter: backpacks, duffle bags, suitcases, and totes. If Harry Potter could tolerate such confinement, surely I can endure a few hours of cleaning and organizing. Of course, Harry is a fictional character, she mused.

A bead of sweat ran down her temple, and she wiped it with the back of her hand. Pyper released a loud sigh, reached up, and tightened her amber-colored ponytail. With much hesitation and a headache, she resumed the tedious task.

Pyper discarded the unwanted assortment of bags into a pile near the door, then scooted to the back corner of the ‘monster-annexed’ space to continue sorting. With a glimpse of her watch, she calculated how long until her kids arrived home from school. Three hours. Oli, her husband, wasn’t due home until an hour after their arrival. The headache worsened, so Pyper closed her eyes to rest. An unintended nap ensued.

A few hours later, she awoke and felt rested—with diminished throbbing in her temples. The darkened room gave the illusion of approaching nightfall. An eerie silence greeted her: no hum from the ceiling fan motor, and no background chatter from the television. She panicked and glanced at her watch, then breathed a sigh of relief. Almost thirty minutes remained until her kids arrived home. Must be a power outage, she reasoned.

Pyper got to her feet, dusted off her clothing, and flipped the light switch to confirm the loss of power. Damn it! I hope it’s not out for long. With a groan, she bent and pushed the pile of unwanted bags out from the closet.

The cooler temperature wafting throughout the living room, compared to the too-warm closet, delighted her. Pyper stood near the heap of bags and scanned the house and windows. Bright daylight had faded; it no longer shined through the blinds. Instead, gloomy, overcast skies had taken over. She peeked at her watch once more to confirm the time since it seemed much later. Why the hell is it so dark?

Pyper went to the living room window and peered outside. Her stomach sank as she discovered ashes falling from the sky. Layers of thick soot smothered the ground, concealing the grass as far as her eyes could see. The vivid coloring of flowers faded. They no longer stood erect. The colorless blooms drooped toward the ash-coating. Ominous shades of a dark, gray sky replaced the otherwise bright blueness. And the majestic green trees had lost their leaves and appeared dead, alluding to a Halloween town. Their finger-like branches sagged downward, reaching toward the gloomy earth.

She clasped a hand over her mouth as thoughts raced through her mind. Power, sunlight, colors, living things—vanished. Wh-what happened?

Pyper sprinted out the front door and stood in the ankle-deep soot. She gazed skyward, and sprinkles of ash cascaded from the sky at a rapid rate. It pervaded the air and settled on her arms until she gave them a shake to rid the gray flakes.

She trudged through the powdery substance toward her neighbor’s house. After giving many attempts at the doorbell and repeated harsh whacks on the door, she reached for the knob. Pyper couldn’t believe she had become that person—the nosy, disrespectful neighbor—entering someone’s house, uninvited. The front door opened with ease, and she stepped inside. Instantly, she noticed their power was out as well.

“Hello, Kimmy? Stephen?” she called out. “Guys, something weird is happening outside! Are you home?” Her questions went unanswered. Pyper gave up on the futile attempts at locating the neighbors and hurried home.

Ash continued descending from the dark, ominous sky, landing atop her amber-colored hair. After dusting herself off, she rushed inside and retrieved her cell phone from the kitchen counter. Her heart rate soared after realizing the phone reception was non-existent. Unable to contact Oli, her husband, she pressed a hand to her throat and struggled to ward off the surging panic.

“Think… think…” Pyper uttered aloud.

Her face lit up, and she grabbed her keys from the metal hook on the wall. Pyper bolted outside and hopped into her jeep to make the short commute to her kid’s school. Forgetting about securing the seatbelt, she hustled to turn the ignition.

Click.

The motor was as lifeless as her favorite nearby oak tree. Power, sunlight, colors, living things, neighbors, cell phone reception, working vehicles—vanished.

“No… No… No!” Pyper shouted as tears flooded her face. “What… is… happening?”

Clop. Clop. Clop.

A faint sound grabbed her attention. Pyper reached up and wiped the wetness from her cheeks, then peered down the street. Something moved. A sizable silhouette shifted in the distance. She squinted to sharpen her vision, and her stomach sank. The massive dark figure headed her way.