After the Eclipse on Paragon Hill
By Joanne McNeil

At the crown of the hill, there was a giant rock to sit and admire the surrounding area. Mal stayed there for a moment, gazing out at endless green, careful not to look too far left and beyond. The old Paragon campus could be seen in the distance. No one looked that way. Birds chirped and the sky was full of promise. She returned to the crowd on the hilltop field, admiring the heft of her shadow with each step. They were sitting in circles on a patchwork of mismatching blankets, just a few dozen people there at first. Before long the entire village of former workers gathered around, in taupe and grey smock jerseys fraying at thick hems. They shared bread and berries and company-branded thermoses full of tea.

A young woman handed out sheets of paper, scraps she hauled off-site on her last day. “Hold the sheet with the pinhole like this and look through it at the sheet on the ground,” she explained. “Not as grand as glasses and you won’t see the diamond stud sparking. But we’ll know when it is happening, even if we can’t look up.” One by one, they collected their sheets, and the crowd lined up like the start of a marathon. A woman near the back started singing in a low voice, too softly for Mal to place the lyrics. Her voice twisted in arrangement with the birds and light rustling of the trees. The rest of the crowd was quiet, cozy in their own headspaces, before the natural spectacle they were about to witness. The sun showed initial movement and the crowd cheered before following the sun’s lead and mingling around. People moved from the blankets to their spots viewing the sun through the paper, and then back again.

“Over here! The best part is coming!” shouted the woman with the pinhole papers. They took their places again lining up in imperfect queues. Mal was somewhere in the middle. The sky darkened. The little orb of light on the sheet grew narrower and narrower until the crescent crawled to a bright flare edge. Maybe that was the diamond twinkling. The birds stopped chirping. It was cold. The bright sky was gone, but it wasn’t pitch black either. The Paragon campus illuminated in the distance as though it were trying to issue one final command. The woman with the pinhole papers shouted it was safe now, “Look up!” The crowd gasped. The sun was completely covered. What a sight. An unceasing momentary wonder. She called out again, “Look away! Protect your eyes!” The sky was dark indigo resting above gloaming orange, an aggressive twilight, while on the page, the orb was growing, anew. They chanted: Earth! Moon! Sun! Earth! Moon! Sun! The sun beamed out again, like justice, in triumph, full of its power but newly mystical and brave, like a friend who has come back from years abroad.

Then it was over. And yet it seemed too early to leave. People stayed in place. Some continued to look through the pinhole, some looked around, then broke their positions again. A man was nibbling on berries. A few others filled their cups with more tea. Some grabbed blankets to wrap their shoulders and cover their knees. They began to talk, “Unbelievable! Did you see the sky?” Mal would have gone home otherwise but every person, every blade of grass filled her with warmth and joy. Before they were a community, back when they were a company, she would have gone home for sure. Then there was a familiar tug at her chip. She rubbed her skull at the hairline. Looking around, a few others were feeling it too. Something was going haywire, everyone murmured, more to themselves, then the crowd. What is happening? They asked in whispers. Then they asked louder, looking around. Their latent chips had snapped. They were seeing pictures of their previous lives.

“My micro-eye!” a young woman explained, “Something triggered it.”
“My chip!” a man shouted. “It is active again. How on earth?”
“Are we too close to the campus?”
“It was the sun. The sun’s fault!”
“Maybe because we’re all crowded together here,” someone offered.
“How do we get it to stop?!” another cried out.

Mal saw visions from inside Paragon. But it was something new. A hallway she never passed. A factory floor, she had never seen, items her micro-eye never scanned. Was this a manufactured vision or had she forgotten these details already? It had to be someone else’s memory. Perhaps all their memories were colliding, scattering from one to the next, like a pinwheel spinning. Whatever it was, she felt a chill in the air, disenchanted, all the more painful, following the warmth just the moment before. From the screaming in the crowd, she could tell she wasn’t the only one experiencing foreign memories. She wished she had gone home.

Then the visions passed. All was well. Mal looked out at the bright sky. People were sharing bread and berries again. She saw their faces in greater detail, as though her vision improved somehow.

“I saw something you did. It played me one of your memories,” a man said quietly to another. “That was not a good thing that you did. But it’s alright. We are here now. All of us.” In silence, the crowd hiked down the trail together, back to their makeshift homes. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but the sun. None of them had anything more now than this hill and their forts and the sky.

Joanne McNeil