It was a quiet night. Not especially quiet or eerily quiet, but unremarkably quiet. The usual sounds of nightly bugs and birds melded into the background, while the electrical buzz of a streetlight hummed faintly overhead. Suddenly, the dim light it was casting cut out, although the droning noise didn't falter. A girl stood beneath it, staring up at the dark lamp, the ambient light from the other posts still enough to see by. The lamp had an opaque off-white casing, offering no glimpse of the bulb or filament within. It came back on as suddenly, the noise still not varying.
The light cycled irregularly between on and off a few more times, before the girl turned her attention away. She set off down the sidewalk, walking casually towards an intersection. The occasional glance over her shoulder showed the light was still going out, although the other posts around were fine. She turned her gaze towards the farthest streetlamp she could still see glowing, staring for a few moments. Nothing noticeable happened. She shrugged her shoulders, turned around, and kept walking. The lights didn't act up again.
The girl, Aster, hummed under her breath as she went. It wasn't unusual for her to be out so late. Even if she broke curfew, nobody really seemed to care, at least not in her small neighborhood. It wasn't late enough for that to be an issue at the moment anyways, although it was already dark enough to seem like it should be. She was on her way home, taking the familiar route back from the nearby dollar store. A plastic bag was tucked away in her jacket pocket, wrapped around a small tube and a short receipt.
Aster came to an intersection, and walked across to follow the other road, not lined by any streetlights. She passed several houses, spaced progressively farther apart as she went along. It always felt to her as though she was departing the town proper and venturing into some sort of Outskirts, in a particularly profound way considering it was only a several minute walk. The effect was punctuated by the large wooden billboard facing the way she was walking. On its far side, it proclaimed 'Welcome to Polk', complete with a painting of her high school's mascot. That had always seemed like a weird fixture to her, not to mention a probable infringement of a professional sports trademark. Mostly though, she thought it was funny her house was on the other side of where the thing had been put up.
It was one of three homes on the roadside, shortly after the sign, on the other side of another intersection. That was probably the reason why the sign stood where it did, to welcome traffic coming in from either road. Still, it was a bit of a joke among her family and the neighbors that they were their own separate community. They couldn't ever settle on a name, though. Aster was set on 'Dots', but so far her wit went unappreciated. It really stalled the project, although it was probably for the best that they didn't set up a joke sign opposite the actual one.
Setting the separatist whimsy aside, she stepped up to her home. It was a plain, small building, in the standard one-story rectangular plan. Technically the shape was a pentagonal prism, but that name tended to conjure up images a little more exciting and considerably more exotic than the actual fact. She reached into her jeans pocket and fished out her key. It was attached to a lanyard she had been given in seventh grade, which had the phone number for the local office of the Bureau of Preternatural Affairs written on it. She let herself inside, spinning the lanyard around for a few moments before slipping it back into her pocket.
The interior of the home was as economical as the outside, not that Aster had any real complaints. The entrance opened to the living room, with the comfy furniture, television, and assortment of shelves. A few pictures hung on the wall, mostly family photos, though a landscape hung over the couch. There didn't seem to be anybody else home, judging by the lack of shoes at the door before Aster set hers on the small square of tile. Considering the cars still in the drive, her parents were probably at the neighbors'. That worked out just fine, for her purposes. In all likelihood, they wouldn't be out much longer anyways. She stepped out of the living room, through the short hallway, and into her bedroom.
Her room was not really decorated, but it was certainly cluttered. It wasn't messy so much as full, as Aster had a definite system for arranging all the possessions she kept inside. She hadn't ever been one to throw something away if she didn't have to. She pulled the plastic bag out of her pocket, set her jacket aside, and sat down on her bed. Reaching into the bag, she retrieved the little tube and pressed the button on its side. It produced an eerie, pale purple glow, and there came a faint fluorescence from the objects immediately nearby. It was weak, but not bad for a dollar store blacklight. She got up, flipped the light switch, and closed the door.
The fluorescence stood out much more, but wasn't bright enough to serve as an ideal guide back to her bed. Still, she managed to make it there without any terrible foot-related accidents. She drummed her fingers on her leg for a second before focusing her attention on the light. It was time to do some science.
It was a surreal feeling, as it always was, almost as though she was holding out a hand that had fallen asleep. It was a vague awareness of being at a point in space, with an occasional pinprick of strange sensation. But it was ethereal, not concrete, an inkling of a feeling that she couldn't quite assign to words. She shifted the focus in space and stretched it out, and then it seemed to set into place. In the same moment, the light went out.
A faint illumination was slipping in from the edges of the door, but she was fixated on the blacklight in her hand. She couldn't see it, which came as no surprise. What was more interesting was the lack of any fluorescence from the objects around it. The blacklight's purple shine was cut off, and so was the ultraviolet light that would have otherwise brought a glow out from its surroundings.
The strange perception was still there at the back of her mind, faint, but no longer indistinct. There was an arc in space, curved into a hollow cylinder, surrounding the blacklight. She couldn't feel through its surface or detect what it touched, but had a sense of where it was, relative to her. In this case, it was overlapping her hand, extending so far outwards this way and so much that way. It was an intuitive measure, which for whatever reason had never matched up with units like feet and inches, the way she imagined it did for most people. Though maybe that was normal, and she was just bad at estimation. Setting her dashed hopes of compensating by means of a spectral ruler aside, she pulled her hand away.
The cylinder didn't move, nor offer any resistance to the movement. As the cheap blacklight slipped past the boundary, the glow resumed as normal. In the faint light, the cylinder was in view. Arguably. It was black, but that label didn't do it justice. It was pure black, profoundly dark. It was what nothing looked like. She knew it curved out in space, could feel the exact shape of it, but to her eyes it lacked all depth. It was like looking at a flat cross-section. There may as well have been a hole in space, leading into an endless void.
Even contrasted with regular darkness, it was discernible, clearly standing out in the low light. She stood up to turn the light back on, switching off the blacklight and setting it aside. The contrast was beyond stark, now that she could see the surroundings properly. It was hard to get wholly used to the effect of it, even with a basic idea of what it was. Aster, of course, had a preternatural power. It hadn't come with an instruction manual, but she had pieced together what it did. The means were an enigma, but she could trace out a shape in space, which was for most purposes not there. It was immaterial, unaffected by any and all physical forces, and didn't interact with its surroundings, with one sole exception. Any light that would cross the boundary vanished.
It was not reflected, refracted, nor absorbed. There was no trace left; no heat, no later release, no slight fraction that slipped through. It was functionally erased. The effect was plainly obvious with visible light, and the experiment she had just conducted demonstrated it blocked ultraviolet radiation as well. At least whatever wavelengths of it the dollar store bulb had put out, which was a good enough indicator for her purposes. That hadn't been the first test she conducted around the house. The TV remote had earlier served as a similar indicator that infrared light could be blocked, while the radio's waves had been unaffected. A well-done hot pocket had shown microwaves weren't stopped. The blacklight test thus rounded out her exploration of the electromagnetic spectrum, as she was not keen to interfere with a medical X-ray, nor get anywhere near gamma radiation. She already had superpowers, so that would only leave the unpleasant outcome.
Not that deadly radiation had much to do with gaining extraordinary powers, outside of old comic books. The study of preternatural phenomena still wasn't an exact science, but there was at least enough of an understanding to say how powers actually tended to manifest. The last four years had delivered a particularly heavy-handed lesson not to take well-accepted theory for absolute fact, but conventional science wasn't completely out the window.
Aster counted herself a firm believer in the principle that everything must have a rational explanation, apparent or not. And while nobody had one for why, over the past four years, people had been spontaneously developing strange powers that seemingly flaunted the laws of physics, there was statistical evidence. While it didn't offer much help in determining the ultimate cause, the one trend found in almost every detailed report on preternatural powers was that they manifested during a state of strong emotions, stress, trauma, or mental effort. Aster was no exception herself, though she hadn't reported it to anyone.
There wasn't really any need for Aster to keep it secret. Public opinion was by no means of one mind on preternatural powers and all their ensuing ramifications, but there was nothing that would pose disastrous consequences to her specifically. It wouldn't jeopardize her social standing at school, not with her power, nor would it lead to familial woes. Aster certainly didn't have any preposterous plans to live a double life, or fulfill some delusional superhero fantasy. Still, she hadn't told anyone, and wasn't making any plans to do so. Not just yet, at least.
And after all, it wasn't really the sort of power that was particularly life-changing. It might lend itself to niche uses or interesting visual stunts, she supposed. Mostly though, it offered an opportunity for experimentation, and the potential for plumbing the peculiarities of preternatural physics, albeit at a small and highly limited scope. She felt satisfied with the night's testing, and let go of her lingering focus on the cylinder. It vanished in an instant, winking back out of existence, if it ever really existed to begin with. Aster turned her light back off, and headed back out to the lawn to wait for her parents.
It was a nice night, if not a particularly special one. She sat down on the grass, turning her head towards the sky, and the myriad pinpricks of light that dotted it. It was awash with subtle colors, if she peered closely enough at all the white points set against a black expanse. The thought that the vista ensconced there was only a collage of far-flung marvels and objects of unfathomable scale would always bring an almost transcendent sense of awe, when she let her thoughts turn to it. She might have called it magical, if the grandeur didn't lie in the fact that the sight wasn't. It was simply a product of faraway and long-past moments of rote astronomy and physics, brought in accordance with typical rules of optics to the surface of what was just one planet among many. It was mundanity in all its glory.
There were a few wispy clouds hanging in the sky, but they left most of the view unmarred except by ambient light. There wasn't much that could be done about that, short of heading somewhere more remote. She had done as much before, but that hadn't spoiled the comparatively modest view from her lawn. If anything, it enriched it, a chance trip to an observatory park having inspired her little stargazing habit in the first place. Along with the transcendent wonder of contemplating her place in an expansive, marvelous universe, Aster was enjoying the fresh air and tranquility of her yard. Sitting in the grass and tilting her gaze upwards and away from the road, it almost approximated a natural setting.
After a little while spent in the embrace of her lawn, the wonderment was ebbing away and the slight chill creeping in. With a sigh, Aster got back up. The lights were on at the two closest neighbors' houses, which were the safe bets for where her parents had gotten off to. She could call, or just head over, but didn't feel like interrupting whatever fun they were probably having. With that thought, she went back inside, and reluctantly admitted to the fact that she would have to do her homework eventually.
It wasn't that much work, anyways. She was close to the end of a page of math problems when her phone buzzed, playing the dulcet tones of chiptune Beethoven that heralded a text. She dug it out of her pocket, and was greeted by a message from her cousin. That wasn't a surprise by any means, although she had been half-expecting some update from her mom. Her cousin, Lily, was the only relative she had at her own age, and didn't happen to live in the same town. Texting was how they generally kept up.
Lily: 'Hey, psst. You're not asleep yet, are you? There's something I need to talk to you about.'
Aster: 'Just because I don't stay up all night doesn't mean I go to bed early. I'm not that much of a square.'
Lily: 'The extent to which you are a square is so absolutely preposterous, you still refer to it as "being a square". I don't know that there's any stronger evidence possible, honestly.'
Aster: 'If you say so. I guess I have to accept your superior judgement as rightful arbiter of all things Hip and Cool. Anyways, unless you just wanted to call me a dork, what's the matter demanding my attention?'
Lily: 'I'm glad you can recognize this objective truth. As for the subject at hand, I'm bored.'
Aster: 'Oh. Is there something you're expecting me, stuffy uncool snooze that I definitely am, to do about that?'
Lily: 'No, not particularly. I simply wanted to give you the knowledge, to remind you I'm still human. We couldn't have your obvious hero worship getting out of hand.'
Aster: 'Naturally. Well, in that case, I'll go back to my math problems.'
Lily: 'The fact that that's your idea of leisure is exactly why this conversation happened the way it did.'
Aster: 'Firstly, it's homework. Secondly, I think there are some much deeper factors responsible for that.'
Lily: 'Probably, yes. Maybe it's the overlap in genes. Or perhaps bonding over ridiculous names? Our shared, freakish commitment to grammar on phones?'
That last line got a laugh out of Aster, who rolled her eyes. The bit about names took her out of the mood just a bit. Aster was something of an unorthodox name, but she had never resented it. If anything, her feelings ran in the opposite direction. Her cousin, on the other hand... 'Lily White' was not a name that should ever be inflicted on a child. Aster knew her cousin's habit of slipping gripes into jokes and nonsense, and after a moment's thought, decided to let it lie. It didn't really seem like Lily was coming to her to get over a foul mood.
Aster: 'Zealous adherence to typographical convention is an integral part of our camaraderie, but I think it shares a root cause. No, I think the terrible truth here is that you're as big a dork as I am, Lily.'
Lily: 'This is slander, and I for one am shocked you would stoop to it, dear cousin.'
Aster: 'I submit the contents of every conversation we have ever had for review, and rest my case.'
Hoist by my own petard, then.'
Aster: 'Oh, how the mighty have fallen.'
Lily: 'As loathe as I am to end things on this woeful note, my mother wants me for something. I'll let you get back to your homework.'
Aster: 'Alright. This was a fun distraction, so thank you for that. Have a nice night!'
With that, Aster put the phone back in her pocket, turning back to her math with a lingering goofy smile. It wasn't that long before she finished the last of her homework. She briefly wondered what Lily's mom had wanted her for, and if she would be free to text again. That turned to wondering about her parents again, for a little bit before her phone chimed back in with another text. This one was from her mom.
Rosemary: 'Were stayin over late! Srry. Gnight hun.'
Aster: 'Okay, goodnight. And have fun!'
That settled that, she supposed. It was a bit off-putting, but it wasn't a particularly big deal. She put her school stuff away, got ready for bed, and called it a slightly early night.