While Tanner carried out his experiment in trying to boil water, Ella took one of the other candles and went back to the bedroom to change out of her work clothes. She put on a pair of comfortable yoga pants, a t-shirt and zip-up hoodie with a star on the back, a birthday gift from her aunt because of her name, Estrella. She had gone by Ella for years as people had a tendency to mispronounce the double L in her name, so rather than fight it she just made it a nickname.
Living in the city, she had grown used to not seeing the stars. Here their light was drowned out by the perpetual glow, but she still remembered growing up far away from the tall buildings, how she’d lay out in the field and find constellations. Pin-pricked with a million stars, that darkness had always felt comforting. This blackness felt oppressive, unnatural.
She picked up a book from her night stand and gave Dean’s head a rub before going back to the living room. One candle on the coffee table and Tanner doused the other two before he joined her on the couch. With Sam curled up on Tanner’s lap and Dean, who had followed Ella out of the bedroom, stretched out on the back, they were almost the picture of a lazy evening. Ella opened her book, only to set it down again. The candle was not nearly enough light to read by. After that they just sat there, petting the cats; there wasn’t much else to do.
The silence was broken a quarter of an hour later by voices out in the hallway, rising to muffled yells before fading away again. Ella fastened the chain on the door then retreated back to the couch. Though there was the occasional disturbance, the apartment building was generally quiet. Now, what with already being uneasy, the sounds from the hallway seemed even more threatening and dangerous.
“Should have grabbed stuff from home earlier,” Tanner mumbled.
Ella’s eyes widened slightly. “But you won’t go, now. Right?”
He shook his head. “No, don’t worry. I don’t really need anything.” Besides, these kinds of situations can make people act crazy, and he didn’t want to run into anyone or have to fight someone off. He was happy to justify it as not wanting to make Ella worried, though.
That made him realize that he hadn’t heard from his mother. His mother, who worried about absolutely everything, would no doubt be in a panic over this. He grabbed his phone and dialed her number but only got the automated message that all lines were busy. So, no power, no phones, and a self-imposed restriction to his apartment; Tanner felt the anxiety begin to creep up inside of him.
The next sound they heard was a rhythmless pinging coming from the window. Ella took the candle over to the sill and peered out. With no basis of reference for what she was hearing, her mind tried to make it into a bird pecking at the glass. It was Tanner who realized what it was.
Ella stared at him, her mind still not ready to comprehend what was happening. “What?”
“Rocks. Look, they’re small, but they’re rocks… hitting the window.”
That’s when Ella saw it, too. It was difficult to see anything outside, the glass reflecting most of the light back and obscuring what lay beyond, but if she stared at one spot long enough she was able to make out the tiny objects bouncing off of the window. Though they could only hear it as a muted howl, if the wind was strong enough to hurl even bits of rock three stories up, then it must be raging indeed. The thought of it sent Ella into Tanner’s arms, wrapping herself with a sense of security. He gladly took her in, guiding her back to the couch. Sam had spread out on the seat, and Tanner eased him out of the way so they could sit down again.
“It’ll to be okay,” he assured her. “We’re going to be just fine.”
Ella wished she felt as confident as he sounded. Tanner did as well.