1977—The Department of Energy becomes a new cabinet post;

This little lighta mine…

At 9:07pm, EST, a distant silver bubble skimmed the top of Orion’s belt. In the city it could be seen only by looking straight up so that the towers didn’t impede the view. No one, except the agent, looked. Four street lights on First Avenue hummed on. A chorus of reverent chanting arose almost simultaneously. Agent Hatt, gazing skyward as he walked towards home, did not smile. Any pride in his achievement was canceled out not only by the necessity to deny his part in it, but also by the hollow, haunted voices singing praises to The Power that Be.
* * *
Before Agent Hatt was an agent and far before he had to change his name to Hatt, OPEC had used its dying words to demonize its foe, the Department of Energy. Pumps had been dry for months, with people growing increasingly rabid for gas and kerosene and power for televisions. On the evening news, if you could get it, they invariably charged the DOE with “burning the last billion barrels of oil” to crush such honest American endeavors as oil and coal and nuclear power. And although the DOE remained alive in theory, it was starved of funding until only a handful of followers—a few idealistic scientists who changed their names to Hatt and Vest and Shue—trudged on within its skeletal remains in the hope of relighting the city.
* * *

I’m gonna let it shine…
* * *

But there was still power, mostly thanks to Hatt’s jet stream turbines. (Vest and Shue had relocated to the abandoned land ringing the city to capture solar power and siphon it covertly back to the people.) A trickle like a choking stream dripped through what was left of the grid, jumping around the way electricity does, and random lights winked throughout the city at any given time. In fact, a whole religion crawled out into the flickering lights. Its Savior: The Power that Be. Its Satan: the DOE, who had undone all the progress of power and industry. Hatt assumed that these followers still thanked OPEC when the lights flickered, as if the Spirit of Oil was still alive within the grid. The tics—fanatics—sent up amens and hallelujahs when nearby street lamps wavered to life, and any on the street would run into a shop if the power happened to come on, sending up hymns of praise to the images illuminated inside. This superstitious fanaticism birthed, or at least reincarnated, humanity’s tendency to create imaginary evils. Those archaic avatars of ancient times rose like steam from under the jagged urban towers. People began again in the night to see filmy floating specters, heard the wailing lamentations of la Llorna, and found rumbling ravenous demons in alleyways once reserved for tomcats and bag ladies.
* * *
At home, they ate on the floor, cross-legged, amid dozens of overpriced Yankee candles that made the food taste sweet and smoky and waxy. It’s schizophrenia, Dee—he called her Dee honestly, lovingly, as if it were her real name—but you’ve got to wonder, if everyone’s got it, is it insanity or just reality? She loved him not because he was a scientist or even a good man, but because he was a poet. And a prophet. He whispered, The grid is dead. It’s rotting and no one even smells it; they enshrine outlets with wreaths and incense and candles until all you can smell is their decomposing idolatry. Whispering had become, to him as to most, the standard mode of speaking. Its tone and flavor fitted instinctively inside the darkness. The tics had never adopted whispering, but screamed into the empty streets and took the echoes as proof of disciples. She hardly noticed the whispering anymore, except when she thought of the tics, screaming prayers to the street lamps, and how his voice challenged them not by its volume but its reason.
They would go outside after they ate, before la Llorna began to pace, and search for Orion’s belt. You can’t take light away from people, he said to the stars. And when the faraway turbine passed across his eyes, his face, illuminated, became one as a martyr’s.
Let it shine, let it shine.
Let it shine.

Author's Notes/Comments: 

short story contest 2011

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