I seek the hoarders of light. I follow their excess radiance, canvas their illuminated neighborhoods. Where I have suspicions I check their gaudy cars for hidden compartments, query their relatives, look for patterns in their spiral friendships. I research unexplained wealth, suddenly revealed balloon payments: match the timing of their good fortunes with an infusion of light onto the easily triggered, endlessly adjusting, black markets. I look for a cockiness that belies the hoarder’s otherwise usual and threadbare social station.
Anyone can be a hoarder. I have caught children as young as seven, and old men as wrinkled and outside of their skin as conglobulated waste paper. They leave a little excess light in their pants pockets, or fill a back bedroom with more than the tinseling windows can stand. It does not matter why, or how wonderful. It does not matter the sanctions of joy it brings. It violates the law.
Most have no clue concerning the intricacies they are slack-handedly dealing with. It starts with lingering sunlight strangled out of an unwatched window, and soon moves on to muttered scrapping from an emergency flashlight. Tatters of light become tangles of rays become buckets of radiance. In the end it will be a house full of common lamps, light laid out everywhere: in all the drawers and all the cabinets; and the dark, with its victim’s heart torn out, bursting out from the shadowed front door to make its own crestfallen accusations.
To afford more glass and mirror space to store their collected light, they will start off by selling a little of their older, more clumsily secured light: and that is when I have a trail to follow. I let the individual buyers go, their thimbles of light certainly illicit still, but nothing compared to a real hoarder’s boxes and cloven racks of tethered photons. I want to access the knowledge of those who have learned to harvest light, to preserve irradiation, to keep it shining for their own all-consuming selfish pleasures: the marshalling of light loose in their own tight, exotically shut places.
I am the line against which there is only so much day and night, so much energy generation and so much dissolution. I put on my black hat and black coat and wriggle into the night with my quiver of weightless crime leads. I know there will never be enough light for all, and that all light must be fairly rationed. No one has a right to hold more than his or her ephemeral share. Our illuminated society thrives on getting and giving, not on keeping.
I have no idea some otherwise ordinary citizens are driven to hoard. Their object is not profit. Their pride is only personal. If I do not catch them, eventually the light itself pushes them out of their brittle homes and one day explodes into a fanfare of brilliance running, simply and uncritically, in every direction: away. At the beginning there is the passion of possession, with an erotic tinge in sympathetically accomplishing the profane. But it does not last. The obsession grips them like an incubus in an elegant nightmare of dusk and their lives become ever more the stealing and stacking, the inventory and preservation, the frenzy of more and more and ever more. In every hoarder I catch there is a crescent of moral relief at the climax of their apprehension: a falling away of their obtuse, by then almost parenthetical need.
In the end, they try to ruin the physics. The light itself turns against them and they secede from magic and join common science in trying to maintain control. Given long enough, their alchemy can braze buildings, eviscerate entire neighborhoods. They work in their goggles and lead lined aprons, praying there is a way to tame the light they have so lovingly gathered: the light that broke first out of the box, then out of the closet, then out of the room, and now threatens the house.
But I get most of them long before it unhinges to that. I see small signs. I look to the singe of unlikely skin; follow the bends of gravity around otherwise unimposing structures; find dark that looks so ordinary and commonplace that it must be an imposter.
Oh, you should see their faces when I set the hoarded light free! Their mouths drop open and expose the great blackness within, the dim cold of their unfired internals, as the once hoarded light disentangles and in a flash goes back to meet the external dark it was always conjoined with. The tears come out of the accused like a purring acid rain and all they have left are the finger burns gained from fondling their fleeting, but once transiently captured, brilliance.
I stare into their shadowing eyes and imagine that they have learned their lessons, and now are ready to be ordained in the currency of an ordinary physics; but I always see, in their growing ethics of refractory crystallization, that they have not the skill to reform. They will, one day, drag their fingers across some stray mirror, and again be stung.
Ken Poyner is a Friend of the Macabre from way back. Ken’s latest collection of short, wiry fiction, “Constant Animals”, and his latest collections of poetry – “Victims of a Failed Civics” and “The Book of Robot” – can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, at www.barkingmoosepress.com. Look for “Avenging Cartography”, flash, coming in mid-2017. He often serves as strange, bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs. His poetry of late has been sunning in “Analog”, “Asimov’s”, “Poet Lore”; and his fiction has yowled in “Spank the Carp”, “Red Truck”, “Café Irreal”. www.kpoyner.com.