The city was blacked-out. Smoke hid the moon and the stars, and the night was lit only by the reflection of fires from the clouds, the flash of emergency lights from ambulances and squad cars. On the roof of the police headquarters, a beacon sat black and lifeless.
In the gutter, he looked for the stars but could not see them. Sprawled between two rusted cars, he clutched his gut. He could hear the city. The crash of breaking glass. Screams of women and sirens, a long way off. The howl of dogs, who sang along of the danger to the pack. A spasm of pain sank through him, worse than the perpetual ache in his hands, his knees.
Cancer was the diagnosis. He had always thought it would be his heart, maybe hoped for it. To die in the ring, just take one punch too many...but that wasn't to be, not after the sad-faced doctor had broken the news. Blood in his stool. The pain would get worse, the doctor had said. You knew you were in trouble when the docs pushed the pain meds on you. Evans had lost count of how many pills he'd gone through, the bottles he'd emptied, the nights he'd spent on the street. Depression had given way to acceptance.
He opened his eyes, tears welling up in the corners, and looked once more for the stars.
A tiny green light burned down through the clouds. It seared his eyes, but he didn't close them against it; the light seemed to come right down to hover over him, trailing emerald fire.
Manuel Evans. You have nothing left to fear.
Green light invaded his brain. Visions. A little blue man with thinning white hair, lined face old and tired, hammered at something on a small anvil. He held up a circle of fire - a ring - and pressed it onto the talon of a six-foot insect. Then the insect lay broken on a battlefield, surrounded by the fried bodies of dark grey ant-like things, and the flame unfurled from that talon, flying off through the darkness...to light upon the tentacle of a nine-limbed octopus that swam in the darkest seas. Then the forepaw of a hair lupine, whose emerald spear pierced the sable coat of the saber-tooth stalker in the night. The claw of the beautiful bird-woman, who crept through the silent colony-ship, her lantern chasing the shadows from her sleeping charges...and so many more, until Evans saw himself, lying on the ground, and a burning pain wrapped itself around his ring finger.
He stood, and the benighted street was lit in a green glow. Looking down, he saw that it was coming from him, his broken body glowing like a torch, a flickering aura that chased away the shadows. Evans walked through the darkened streets. It wasn't that the pain in his gut had faded, but he seemed to be able to focus beyond it, and his body responded. His step was lighter than it had been in years, since the last time he was in the ring...
A laugh caught Evans off-guard. Ahead of him, walking down the street, was a scarecrow, straw sticking out from beneath poor clothes, stick-thin. It giggled and swayed in an imaginary breeze.
"What's this?" The strawman hissed. "A nightlight? That won't do, that won't do at all."
The figure swayed drunkenly toward him. Evans drew himself up, clenched his hands into familiar fists. The aura around him flared brighter, illuminating more of the street. He could see, behind the scarecrow, men and women in the street, curled up on the ground. Some were sobbing, some weren't moving at all.
"What...did you do?" He asked.
The scarecrow smiled. It was a Jack-o'-lantern grin painted on sackcloth, but it curled up and down. Evans stood his ground as the gangly figure sauntered closer, 'til he could almost smell the sweat that must have been coming off of him. The eyes flashed green circles - glass, Evans realized. Goggles. Some kind of mask.
"Do? I diagnosed them. I diagnosed this whole city. Nyctophobia. Fear of the dark." The mask leaned in close. "What do you fear?"
From the scarecrow's mask burst a plume of dark smoke - and in a second, Evans burst out sweating. His heart pounded in his chest, his gut churned, his bowels squirmed. It was stark, and primal. The light around him seemed to dim, the dark began to close in on his vision. The scarecrow was all he could see, following him with obsessive interest, dark cloud spewing forth from its mouth. Evans backed up...could barely stand, lungs burning. The green halo was almost gone now. He had felt like this in the ring...right before he hit the ropes, the canvas. Blindly he reached out behind him with his left hand, and something solid. A dead lamp post.
Evans opened his eyes, though the sweat stung him. He looked hard at the scarecrow, which still leered over him. Saw the seams of plastic beneath the ill-fitting clothes, disguised by the pale straw. A man hiding in a suit.
"I'm not afraid of the dark. Let's see if you're afraid of the light."
Green lightning surged from Evan's left hand, up and down the pole. All along the street, the streetlights began to glow a dim emerald green...and then the whole city took on a verdant glow as the light spread through every outlet.
In front of him, the scarecrow took a step back, then another. Staring up and down the street which was now almost as bright as day.
"No...no...you're ruining it! You're ruining everything!"
Evans smiled, and took a step forward. Green gloves covered his fists, and his clothes were gone, replaced with green trunks and boots. "Ese...I'm gonna ruin your face."
The green light lasted until dawn, when they flickered and finally died. Normal power was restored a few hours later.
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