When the moon's gravitational pull increases, causing massive natural disasters on Earth, Miranda and her family struggle to survive in a world without cities or sunlight, and wonder if anyone else is still alive.
SUSAN BETH PFEFFER's first two apocalyptic novels, Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone, were widely praised by reviewers as action-packed, thrilling, and utterly terrifying. Life As We Knew It received numerous starred reviews and honors and was nominated for many state awards. Ms. Pfeffer lives in Middletown, New York.
I’m shivering, and I can’t tell if it’s because something strange is going on or because of the dream I had or just because I’m in the kitchen, away from the warmth of the woodstove. It’s 1:15 a.m., the electricity is on, and I’m writing in my diary for the first time in weeks.
I dreamed about Baby Rachel. I dream about her a lot, the half sister I’ve never met. Not that I know if Lisa had a girl or a boy. We haven’t heard from Dad and Lisa since they stopped here on their way west, except for a couple of letters. Which is more than I got from anyone else who’s left.
Rachel was about five in my dream, but she changes age a lot when I’m sleeping, so that wasn’t disturbing. She was snuggled in bed and I was reading her a bedtime story. I remember thinking how lucky she was to have a real bedroom and not have to sleep in the sunroom with Mom and Matt and Jon the way I have for months now.
Then in the dream the lights went out. Rachel wanted to know why.
"It’s because of the moon," I said.
She giggled. A real little-girl giggle. "Why would the moon make the lights go out?" she asked.
So I told her. I told her everything. I explained how in May an asteroid hit the moon and knocked it a little closer to Earth, and how the moon’s gravitational pull got stronger, and everything changed as a result. There were tidal waves that washed away whole cities, and earthquakes that destroyed the highways, and volcanic eruptions that threw ash into the sky, blocking out sunlight, causing famine and epidemics. All because the moon’s gravitational pull was a little bit stronger than before.
"What’s sunlight?" she asked.
That was when the dream turned into a nightmare. I wanted to describe sunlight, only I couldn’t remember what the sky looked like before the ash blocked everything. I couldn’t remember blue sky or green grass or yellow dandelions. I remembered the words—green, yellow, blue—but you could have put a color chart in front of me, and I would have said red for blue and purple for yellow. The only color I know now is gray, the gray of ash and dirt and sadness.
It’s been less than a year since everything changed, less than a year since hunger and darkness and death have become so commonplace, but I couldn’t remember what life—life the way I used to know it—had been like. I couldn’t remember blue.
But there was Baby Rachel, or Little Girl Rachel, in her little girl’s room, asking me about how things were, and I looked at her, and she wasn’t Baby Rachel anymore. She was me. Not me at five. Me the way I was a year ago, and I thought, That can’t be. I’m here, on the bed, telling my half sister a bedtime story. And I got up (I think this was all the same dream, but maybe it wasn’t; maybe it was two dreams and I’ve combined them), and I walked past a mirror. I looked to make sure I was really me, but I looked like Mrs. Nesbitt had when I found her lying dead in her bed last fall. I was an old woman. A dead old woman.
It probably was two dreams, since I don’t remember Baby Rachel after the part where I got up. Not that it matters. Nothing matters, really. What difference does it make if I can’t picture blue sky anymore? I’ll never see it again, anyway, or yellow dandelions or green grass. No one will, nowhere on Earth. None of us, those of us who are still lucky enough to be alive, will ever feel the warmth of the sun again. The moon’s seen to that.
But horrible as the dreams were, they weren’t what woke me. It was a sound.
At first I couldn’t quite place it. I knew it was a sound I used to hear, but it sounded alien. Not scary, just different.
And then I figured out what the sound was. It was rain. Rain hitting against the roof of the sunroom.
The temperature’s been warming lately, I guess because it’s spring. But I couldn’t believe it was rain, real rain, and not sleet. I tiptoed out of the sunroom and walked to the front door. All our windows are covered with plywood except for one in the sunroom, but it’s nighttime and too dark to see anything anyway, unless you open the door.
It really is rain.
I don’t know what it means that it’s raining. There was a drought last summer and fall. We had a huge snowstorm in December and then another one later on, but it’s been too cold and dry for rain.
I probably should have woken everyone up. It may never rain again. But I have so few chances to be alone. The sunroom is the only place in the house with heat, thanks to the firewood Matt and Jon spent all summer and fall chopping. We’re in there together day and night.
I know I should be grateful that we have a warm place to live. I have a lot to be grateful for. We’ve been getting weekly food deliveries for a month now, and Mom’s been letting us eat two meals a day. I’m still hungry, but nothing like I used to be. Matt’s regained the strength he lost from the flu, and I think Jon’s grown a little bit. Mom’s gotten back to being Mom. She insists we clean the house as best we can every day and pretend to do some schoolwork. She listens to the radio every evening so we have some sense of what’s happening in other places. Places I’ll never get to see.
I haven’t written in my diary in a month. I used to write all the time. I stopped because I felt like things were as good as they were ever going to get, that nothing was going to change again.
Only now it’s raining.
And I’m writing again.