This is an excerpt of "Quick Fall of Light," deep into the story. Josephine, the protagonist, has been very ill with bird flu, and she describes some of this experience to Sterns, the logger who’s continued to stay with her through her long journey to survive and solve the mystery surrounding her husband’s death. Here Josie describes her awareness of what it’s been like to suffer the flu, both as herself and the bird she has pledged to help through the devastation. And, in a way, it describes the book’s title.
“I keep being reminded of the only thing I was supposed to be. And, you know, I failed even at that. I was supposed to be the control. That’s a simple thing. Just the average, non-stimulating control. But control of what? Not my marriage. I lost that. Not the bird. He’s an opportunist and totally out of bounds. Not this trip. You’re the one in charge, and you could leave me or turn around anywhere along the line. I’m not even in control of myself. I think. . . No, I’m convinced I had bird flu. I think I’m better because of what you did. But I’ve had the craziest dreams of my life. I’ve been somewhere else far too long, Sterns. Somewhere inside another’s dream. I’ve watched my companions die and curiously followed Gem-X’s escape.”
“What do you mean, watched?” Sterns asked, getting a look on his face like he was about to enter yet another hallucination-by-proxy.
“To Gem-X escape was never the goal. Training was the goal. In order to fly the route, he had to withstand Colzer’s technology. He waited through inoculations, blood draws, the excessive handling for a clamp that sleeved his leg. The pattern would begin with, let’s call it beads. Beads of light. In dreams I’ve seen them pulsating against the horizon. Pearly dots of quick light. Something that incited his curious nature. Maybe triggered some dim collective memory. Over and over before the beads evaporated he knew the height of mid-summer sun. So that when the trainer, my husband, no longer brought him to the beads he followed a trackline he’d memorized. Something mapped inside.”
“He began eating biliously. Bugs in the aviary became addictive. He dehorned slugs and bored through acorns while he waited. And then, the morning after you showed him to me, he found the trigger. It wasn’t me, Sterns. It was the solstice. June twenty-first at the Powder Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. That’s what Robert used to start the training every day for months. Aldebaran, bull’s eye of the constellation Taurus. The quick light of a perfectly photographed dawn.” Josie considered her perspective, now so clear, and what an aberration it was becoming as she related it to Sterns. She wanted him to look for her explanation, to search hard to believe it, yet he seemed to concentrate even more on what was in front of them. He squinted into the subduing light and pulled down his visor.
“It took me a while to figure it out. Because it didn’t all come pieced together so tidily. Gem-X had to train me. And he did it his way, just like Robert did with him. In my flu-dreams when I went to this other place at first I was a stranger unable to feel the only thing I can describe as familiarity. It came to me in clips, segments I can only describe as intense determination. There was light and then an absence of it. There would be a descent slow and steady into a cave where the slightest impatience would mean forgetting the way back out. Sometimes light moved away, sometimes toward, a fusion of color and motion but always darkness at the center. He was alone, Sterns. Steering toward the cold, dark eye of a plague. He was doing it for months. For so long, I guess, that his serum became something of a truth serum. The control I’ve become is not what my husband intended. He had no idea it would be his training coming full circle. Through something mankind mined from a bird.”