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Black Sun by Kirsten Imani Kasai

Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, Africa

Daily log: Tuesday, 12 July.

Have not had time to write for nearly three weeks. Our sky went dark on Saturday, 25 June. After first sighting of airborne debris, our primary concern was the safety of the animals. Efforts have been made to protect the water supply but we do not have enough tarps or workers to shade the Ewaso Ngiro River or to divert its supply into storage, so I fear many of our number will be lost. We lack the facilities to keep the animals indoors. Though we cannot hear them, the elephants are very noisy. The spectrograph jumps and wiggles constantly, recording the infrasound of their silent speech. They have much to say about this disaster. Oryx and gerenuks lay suffocating. Birds drop from the sky, their feather heavy with ash. It is easy picking for the lions, but yesterday, we discovered three dead—their skins coated with ash, their muzzles gray with death. Each day, along with myself, Jonah Owiti, Chege Abasi and our Australian students Joanne Blithely and Angus McKenzie, we cover our faces with wet cloths and drive some 30 km round the perimeter. We are finding much to lament.


Tokyo, Japan

July 15

I miss the moon. Less so the sun. The moon was mystery, promise, love-locked whimsy on a plate served up shiny as cream. Our sky is empty of luminous breath, like a corpse. Thirty-six hours of black sun and the entire world has shut down. Nights (is it night? can’t tell anymore) are packed with glass shatter, rage screams, gunshots, panicked clawing and the wet gouging of eyes.

Store shelves busted and empty. Cash machines cracked open like walnuts. Bodies in the streets, harrowing wail of sirens hour after hour ’til even the alarms grow hoarse and break apart into static. Suicide cults line up, hold hands and plunge from cliffs and overpasses and rooftops. In the darkness, the blood has no color and we do not mind as much.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

16 July

@pzpierat The sea looks like mud. Parky weather and colder by the minute.

@pzpierat Lescudjack community centre hit full capacity today. They r offering 1 meal per day to kids & OAPs. Everyone else is SOL.

@pzpierat Set a teacup outside on my windowsill—full of ash after 40 mins.

@pzpierat A levels postponed for 4 weeks! School’s trying to go online so we can study from home. I hope they can’t do it.

@pzpierat Pointed out irony of mum smoking inside the house. She gave me a smack for being a cheeky bugger.


Newsweek Magazine July 18

Supereruption: The Ice Age Cometh

Elspeth Hardy-Reed

Representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast a period of total darkness for nearly 80 percent of the globe lasting two to six months caused by the June 21 supereruption of Mount Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia.

The death toll is estimated to be more than 530 million in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, New Guinea, the northern and western territories of Australia, and areas of southern China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Millions of environmental refugees are flooding China, Myanmar, Burma, Eastern Europe, India and the Middle East. Many of these countries—already struggling with pockets of epidemic poverty and a grave imbalance of resources—are certain now to topple over into total chaos.

The United Nations has dispatched peacekeeping forces and the Red Cross, Oxfam, Medicins San Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), Catholic Relief Charities and countless others are marshalling forces to provide shipments of food, water, clothing, medical supplies and temporary housing but are stymied by travel conditions and the sheer amount of need. Communications and flight plans in currently unaffected areas have been suspended due to disrupted satellite transmissions. International aid organizations strive to evacuate survivors from the areas suffering the most damage, however, efforts are hampered by thick clouds of airborne ash, as planes cannot fly in such conditions without risking seizure.

As expected, world financial markets have taken a tumble with stocks plummeting and trading suspended for several days as Asia struggles to emerge from this latest devastating catastrophe coming on the heels of a decade of earthquakes, tsunamis and civil and political unrest. Schools and businesses around the globe remain closed due to power outages and levels of unprecedented violence as markets and banks are raided in frenzied attempts to gain hold of some measure of security.

Volcanologists originally predicted a displacement of more than 900 cubic km of ash but the eruption continued much longer and with more violence than anticipated, resulting in volcanic ash plumes reaching heights of 11-13 kilometers (6.8-8 miles). Toba blasted 100 million cubic yards of molten debris per second. Volcanic ash clouds have been reported across most of Asia and Europe and are expected to reach the Americas within 2-4 days. Pyroclastic flows deposits (the heavy debris carried by ash clouds) can reach speeds of 100 miles per second, and extend for 60 miles. These deadly deposits dump sediment up to a half-mile high, completely burying everything beneath.

Toba’s last supereruption, about 74,000 years ago, plunged the planet into an ice age lasting a decade. It’s suspected that this volcanic winter created a genetic bottleneck in the human species, and likely many more, as scarce food supplies threatened our ancestors and likely drove many animal species into extinction, or at least to its brink. Obviously, the outlook for nearly half of earth’s population is dire as we face a new ice age. Aerosolized particulates are expected to circulate for many months in the upper atmosphere, reflecting sunlight and dropping global temperatures by as much as 35-60 degrees Fahrenheit. A volcanic winter is expected to last up to seven years.

The International Food Resource Commission (IFRC) has formed to evaluate existing food supplies and to redirect the flow of grain, meat, oil, rice and sugar to those nations most in need. Because planes still cannot fly in Southeast Asia, food will have to travel by land. With the spate of recent hijackings and assaults on food carriers, the operation will have to be militarized. The IFRC is working in conjunction with local military and police forces to protect transports for the foreseeable future.

Agricultural workers in Asia and Europe are already pulling up their fields, trying to rescue their crops. As little as a half inch of ash fall will effectively sterilize the soil, so it’s unlikely these farmers will be able to provide food or maintain their livelihoods for several years.

The death toll is enormous. The grief is blinding, maddening. Each day brings new reports of damage and loss of life to a human tragedy of unprecedented scale. Many more are expected to die in the coming weeks from starvation, dehydration, exposure, injuries, violence and lung disease. Airborne particles, like tiny needles of silicate, can inflame and injure delicate lung tissues. When inhaled ash combines with atmospheric moisture and the natural water in the body, it turns to a concrete-like sludge, overwhelming the respiratory system. Those unlucky enough not to perish in the first wave or to be far from the epicenter will drown with lungs full of mud.

High concentrations of atmospheric sulfuric acid predispose children, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions to illness and severely impaired lung function. The American Lung Association recommends the use of home air filters and masks for those who must venture outdoors. All others should remain inside during this period of hazardous air quality…


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

19 July

@pzpierat Wheezing a lot lately. Chemists’ is out of bronchodilators. Told me to rest, drink tea & coffee & wipe up ash with wet rags.

@pzpierat Keeping the windows sealed but the ash still gets in and flies about everywhere. Our white Persian looks like the chimneysweep’s cat.


20 July

@pzpierat Tap water is grey today. Used filter pitcher but it still tastes like smoke.

@pzpierat Garden dead. rescued 5 courgettes, 1 wrinkly swede, a kilo of potatoes, a bunch of dusty beans & some leeks. Mum’s chuffed.


23 July

Tokyo, Japan

My husband speaks of leaving Japan for Argentina, Canada, even Iceland. Cloaked in gray snow, airplanes line the runways at Narita Int’l Airport, their engines spitting dust. We have not left the apartment in ten days and subsist on packets of ramen and some tinned fish and oranges. There was a scare when the water was off, then the power, and we hunched in the dark, wrapped in blankets and staring out the windows at the snowfall of ash. Briefly, it rained and black sludge ran down the panes. It dried in splotches that look like a colony of bats performed a fly-by attack and launched guano bombs against the glass. I cannot think of my old World Lit. professor, Honorato Vivas, without tears filling my eyes. I’m sure he is dead—his early retirement in Manila preempted by an early retirement from life.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

24 July

@pzpierat Gran says this is much worse than the Blitz. She wants to send me to my cousins in NY, USA, where the air’s better but all flights are down indefinitely.

@pzpierat Tommy Lynn from the pawnshop came round today to buy Gran’s gold. She got £15 for her diamond wedding ring.

@pzpierat Sleep for hours but we’re all totally knackered. Up at weird hours, hard to tell what’s when.

@pzpierat Sea’s frozen. I could walk to St. Michael’s Mount across high tide just like Jesus Christ.


27 July

Tokyo, Japan

I swear I can taste death carried on the wind—surprised that the sky does not rain blood. The current events reports are so blisteringly, mind-numbingly bleak, I cannot watch. I avoid the papers and the Internet, but bad news is like a draft and still blows in through the cracks.

The solar-powered street lamps have stopped working. I am too afraid to venture out, certain that madmen, monsters, rapists and beasts lie in wait behind every parked and vandalized car. Our upstairs neighbor, Mr. Tanaka, threw himself off the balcony yesterday. We knew he suffered with depression. My husband saw Mr. Tanaka’s robe dangling down between the railings and went outside to speak to him. My husband came back holding Mr. Tanaka’s sash and said the old man jumped. He was wearing pajamas and his reading glasses. Today, his daughter told us today that his pension had not been deposited into his account and he could not afford his medication. Apparently, there have been many suicides due to depression caused by this permanent state of night.

Last night, someone tried to break into the building and shattered the lobby doors. My husband has gone downstairs with the other men to board up the gaps.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

31 July

@pzpierat The UN doled out American MREs at city centre today. Pleased to have food, but I’m gagging for fish & chips, pineapple fritters & mushy peas.

@pzpierat @bbccouk says pineapples will cost about £12 each next year.

@pzpierat Gran gave me hot brandy today for my lungs. When I coughed up, I saw bits of dirt in it.


1 August

Tokyo, Japan

We have a son. Well, he’s not really our son but as he’s got no other family and his home’s been completely obliterated by a fire (I suspect caused by flaming ash setting his village alight, but can such a thing really be possible?). He speaks a bit of English and so do we; somehow, we manage to make ourselves understood. His name is Bao and he hails from coastal Vietnam. Where exactly, I’m not certain. My research attempts proved futile as there’s so little accurate information available about the areas most affected by the eruption. He’s around 9 years old, a bit sullen and frighteningly thin from malnutrition. There are burns on his legs and feet, raw with blood-caked scabs. I used the last of our bottled water to wash them.

My husband found Bao wandering on the street, trembling and caked with dirt. He will not say how he came to Tokyo. We meant to take him to the city rescue shelter, but the days go by and we do not do it. Bao helps me flavor the rice with a bit of fish paste and I tell him he might grow up to be a chef. The idea of growing up, choosing a vocation and returning to life as we knew it seems absurd.

The days are darker and darker still. When we glimpse the sun through the haze of debris, it is but a dull pulse of light in a wash of ink. No stars, often, no streetlights. My husband went to Daiso to buy washing powder—foolish when the water is likely to be silty with ash—and on his way home, passed a UNICEF van unloading refugees at the doors of Keio University Hospital. All children, all bandaged about the eyes, mouth and head. Many had to be carried indoors. My husband says they looked like stiff, lifeless dolls, clumsily wrapped and catatonic with grief.

When he returned home, we lit incense and gave thanks for Bao, who manages to smile on occasion.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

2 August

@pzpierat Water shut off 22 hrs a day. We’re only allowed to flush the toilet once. Paper goes in the bin. Woe betides the nutter who forgets.

@pzpierat Gran says we have to make sure mum gets 8hrs daily under the lamp, even if she doesn’t want it.

@pzpierat Gran says it’s just something called SAD that’s affecting loads of people.

@pzpierat All of us sleeping in the parlour. Too bloody cold to go outside. I can see my breath, even when the fire’s on.


3 August

@pzpierat Mandatory electric conservation. Lots of blackouts lately. @bbccouk says many feeling the pinch due to lost solar power.

@pzpierat 10 degrees Cunplugged the cooler and put our food in the shed. Its colder outside than in.


Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, Africa

Daily log: Thursday, 4 August.

The Helsinki Zoo has offered places to four elephants. They have a new pachyderm center with an indoor house and heaters. The Chicago Zoo would like our male lion, on loan, to breed and to add his DNA to their catalogue of frozen samples. I agreed to Chicago because they will pay for transport. It is much easier to move one lion than four elephants, though tracking and capturing him will prove greatly difficult. Chege Abasi suggests injecting meat with tranquilizers, but our male is too full to be baited with such ease. Why would he fall for our trick, when there is so much available to him?

I loath to send our elephants to Finland, so far away, but two days ago Angus McKenzie found the calf, Zeta, dead. His mother sits by her infant, blowing warm air onto his cold body, rubbing his frozen skin with her trunk. She had frost on her lashes. How can I choose which of our family to send to Finland and which to leave behind?

Joanne Blithely encountered poachers dragging an ostrich off the reserve. It was tied to the back of their truck and they had already slit its belly, looking for eggs. Joanne fired warning shots from her flare gun. Sparks caught and the ostrich’s feathers began to burn. I am deeply saddened to report that these men took advantage of the darkness to violate Miss Blithely in a most intimate way. We have all agreed that she must abandon her duties and remain at the lodge.

On another note, the UN delivered a box of clothing and packaged food to us. The donated items were in good condition, if not what we would have chosen for ourselves. Seeing Jonah Owiti wearing a bright pink woman’s coat gave me the first good laugh I have had in many weeks.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

5 August

@pzpierat Mum frets about the heating but we’ll freeze to death if we don’t use it.

@pzpierat We run the sun lamp like we’re supposed to but the dark is cruel to mum. She cries whenever she looks out the window so we keep the drapes drawn.

@pzpierat School went online today. There was a list of students missing & dead. Now I know why Noelle is off Twitter.


Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, Africa

Daily log: Monday, 8 August.

Five ostriches found dead. I saw my breath today, which I have never before witnessed. For a moment, it startled me. I thought my soul was leaving my body but I know such a thing cannot happen, even if I should wish it.

We have little to eat. I relented to Angus McKenzie’s requests to butcher and prepare some of the carcasses we have found on our rounds. My guilt was tremendous.

Joanne Blithely’s parents have not responded to her many phone calls and she cannot make contact with neighbors to inquire after them. Miss Blithely often sits on the veranda, staring into the dark while knitting a scarf that seems to have no end. She will sit there until her fingers turn blue from cold. Many times, I have wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, only to return later to find it discarded. Tomorrow, she is to join a UN convoy to venture to the Australian Embassy in Nairobi and inquire about her family. I do not expect her to return.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

10 August

@pzpierat Gran phoned 999 cos mum won’t get out of bed, nor eat nor drink. She had to leave a message on the answer phone. No one came.

@pzpierat Mum went missing yesterday.

@pzpierat Gran won’t let me go out to search for mum. Says my lungs are too weak to handle the stress.


11 August

@pzpierat Uni of Exeter in Penryn has a hydroponics program going.

@pzpierat Gran & I are going to learn hydroponic gardening at the Uni in Penryn.

@pzpierat Excited to get away & see how the world’s changed.


Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, Africa

Daily log: Thursday, 18 August.

Angus McKenzie has gone missing. Jonah Owiti says this is a good thing as Angus has been very angry lately, accusing Chege Abasi of hiding rations from him and twice punching Jonah.

I have agreed to share meat with the nearby villages. It is my conclusion that it is best to establish good relations with our neighbors in the event our funding is cut and we must become self-sufficient. Chege’s cousins have visited us in their truck to bring a machete, two rifles and ammunition. Bands of thieves roam the country, stealing food, money and valuables. There have been many riots in Nairobi. I wonder if my wife’s relatives survive, but I have not spoken to them since my wife passed into Heaven four years ago.

Joanne Blithely has returned from Nairobi. She has many tales of sorrow to share, including having learned no new information about her family in Australia. She brought a box of military MREs, a large bucket of grain and dehydrated vegetables to mix with water, a filter system, paper masks, vitamin supplements and most joyous of all, several bottles of Coca Cola and a chocolate bar just for me.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

29 August

@pzpierat God, I could kill for a Cadbury’s Flake. @bbccouk says chockies will be very dear in future due to frozen cacao trees in Africa & South America.


2 September

@pzpierat Found mum arse over tit at the Admiral Benbow. She traded her Lady Di tea set for 2 pints & half a bottle of Malibu.

@pzpierat News said we could make a short trip outdoors if needed. Went to the Community Ctr to see my mates. Heard the sea moving below the ice.


5 September

Tokyo, Japan

At long last, we relented and walked Bao to the Vietnamese Embassy. Bundled up in my husband’s clothes, he looked like a woolen snowman. We each carried a flashlight and my husband and I had each held a santoku at the ready, blades angled out in our defense. We did not recognize Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden until we saw the sign lying broken on the ground. The cherry, plane, tulip and cedar trees have been absolutely razed to the dirt. I can only assume that the wood was taken for fuel—we do not have a fireplace and have suffered for it—because of the cruel saw marks and the lack of debris. Every stick and twig that might burn is gone. Seven summers ago, my husband knelt there beneath a weeping cherry tree and asked me marry him. It was to my great relief that the darkness hid my face for I could not stop myself from crying out when I realized what has been lost. Perhaps my husband felt it too, for he slipped off his glove, took my hand and squeezed.

The woman at the embassy threw up her hands when we told her Bao’s story. She was very irritated, whether at us or the vagaries of an insufficient bureaucracy, I do not know. We explained how we came to find Bao, and that we had taken care of him. Does he have papers? No. Does he have family? No. She spoke to Bao in Vietnamese and flipped through a large sheaf of papers bulging from a binder, jabbing her finger at the documents. Bao went absolutely still and then shuffled away to sit on an orange chair in the lobby.

My husband learned from the woman that Bao’s village—his entire region—was gone. We inquired about finding placement for Bao. She was small, her black hair stiff with ash, and she sighed frequently. Do you love him? she asked. I did not look at my husband and very quickly said yes. Do you want to raise him? she asked. Again, quickly. Yes. Then take him home, she said, and we did.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

8 September

@pzpierat I think the neighbors ate our cat.


Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, Africa

Daily log: Friday, 9 September.

Joanne Blithely reports that she is with child. This news does not make her happy or sad. She said, “It is what it is.”

We have discussed her future here and though I encouraged Miss Blithely to return to Nairobi where she might receive better food and medical care, she has declined. She prefers to remain with the animals and offer whatever aid she can. She is earning a doctorate in Wildlife Ecology and says she can conceive of no better experience than shepherding our small flock through this crisis.

Since we have no fuel for our generator, Jonah Owiti, Chege Abasi and myself take turns running the hand crank so that we might shine fluorescent lights upon the small garden we have cleared of ash. We must also take turns keeping watch in the lean-to, to prevent theft by people or animals.

Jonah traveled to his village last week. Despite the cold, he was happy to report that nearly everyone is well. His family is surviving on ugali and goat. They have some cooking oil and are fortunate enough to receive rations for their children. UNICEF has been dispensing enriched milk powder to babies, and pregnant and nursing women, to prevent rickets. His father offered to trade Jonah’s pink coat for his sister’s brown one, but Jonah said until the sun rises and the flame trees bloom again, he is very happy to have this little bit of color. Jonah returned bearing a water buffalo liver and a plastic bag of fish heads and tails. After much debate, we have agreed to plant the fish in our garden to nourish it rather than eat it ourselves. Chege sulked at this news—he is very fond of fish.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK     

12 September

@pzpierat hydroponic garden doing well. Some sprouts already!

@pzpierat caught mum slugging mouthwash from the bottle. Emailed the SAD help line.

@pzpierat down to 8 stone after 3 months w/out Devon cream or jaffa cakes.


15 September

Tokyo, Japan

Bao has entered the third grade. His language skills will likely keep him behind his peers for the next year, but once he adjusts, I hope to persuade the school administrators to allow him to jump ahead so that he can graduate with his others his age. He’ll face enough difficulty being a refugee of the black sun. We have had nothing to eat for two days but rice, a few specks of aonori and some wasabi peas. Fortunately for Bao, the school’s subsidized lunch program will ensure that he has at least one meal per day.

After a lean period of three months without work, my husband has managed to find a part-time accounting position. Twice weekly, Bao and I escort my husband to his new office where he sits at a computer tallying up figures for a fishing company. It is bleak work. He often comes home very late in the evenings, his face pinched like clay beneath brutal fingers. There is not enough to go around, he says. Not nearly enough.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK

18 September

@pzpierat School’s back in session. It’s good to have somewhere to go, even if I have to wear my coat in the classroom.

@pzpierat Mum’s got a new pen friend in Finland, land of the Midnight Sun.

@pzpierat. A minke whale washed up nr Marazion. Walking over with knives & bags to take our share.

@pzpierat The visiting Dr says Gran’s got to go to hospital for lung therapy.


Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, Africa

Daily log: Wednesday, 21 September.

Our staff has grown by one with the addition of a female veterinary student from Mombassa. Dahlia Kapoor answered Miss Blithely’s post on a conservation networking site and has agreed to stay at the reserve for a period of one year to help tend our animals. Miss Kapoor has limited her study to pachyderms as she hopes to work with the World Wildlife Fund or another international agency to help preserve the threatened elephant population. Miss Blithely is very pleased to have another female on the reserve. She refuses to admit that my company has grown tedious. In fact, she has taken to calling me Babu—grandfather—a name which delights me as I have not had contact with my own daughter for many years.


24 September

Tokyo, Japan

Yesterday, my husband, Bao and I took the train to Kyoto to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine.

My husband let Bao purchase a little hand-carved stone fox from an elderly woman selling them on the street. He keeps it in his jacket pocket, and it already shines from his constant stroking of it.

We hiked the mountain trails of Inarisan, our shoes puffing up bursts of ash. It was light enough to see without our flashlights and beneath the sun’s subtle glow, everything looked to be made of frosted glass and shadows. The fountains ran with milk, or what appeared to be milk, opaque and pale as it was.

On the way down, we ventured to a noodle house for kitsune udon. One bowl was all we could afford, but it was so delicious, I wanted to cry. We went round the bowl, each of us picking up a single noodle in turn. My husband gave all the seaweed to Bao and I told him that each piece was a blessing from Kudokuten, the goddess of happiness. Now he carries the sea inside him and with that, the souls of his absent family.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK     

26 September

@pzpierat Mum’s penfriend is 52, a man named Matti. They chat 4 hrs a day. She seems happier.

@pzpierat Went to see Gran in hospital today. She sounds like Darth Vader.

@pzpierat Ate my first wee tomato from our hydro garden today. Tasted like sunshine.


Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, Africa

Daily log: Thursday, 29 September

We have managed to keep our “weed patch” alive and are developing quite strong arms as a result of our constant cranking of the generator. Since we can no longer afford gasoline for our Jeep, we have pitched several tents around the perimeter and travel between them in pairs. The lions have not been sighted since 31 August and I assume that the entire pride is gone—taken by poachers, cold, starvation or disease.

Miss Kapoor and Jonah Owiti have become fast friends and he assists her with her studies and care of our elephants. The herd had been missing a week but the matriarch was sighted on the reserve this morning. Miss Kapoor surmises that they have traveled far to find food but returned to Samburu because it is safer with us than out in a dark world. “This is their home,” she said. “They will not abandon it.”

Miss Blithely has confided that the father of her child is Angus McKenzie, not the men who assaulted her. This news comes as a great relief.


Penzance, Cornwall, UK     

2 October

@pzpierat Gran passed.


4 October

@pzpierat had cheese & pickle at the pub today & thought I’d drop a tear for old time’s sake.


5 October

@pzpierat The sun shone for three hours today. Mum says it’s just the light off Gran’s halo.


7 October

Tokyo, Japan


On this fine day, ash glitters in broad, swirling drifts and rises into the sky like smoke from the burning heat of our beloved, yellow sun. Crimson filaments inflame a peach and rose sky—Tokyo is on fire with light.

Kirsten Imani Kasai is the author of three novels: "Ice Song" and "Tattoo," about the adventures of a gender-swapping single mother and the half-human inhabitants of the frozen Sigue; "Private Pleasures," concerning desire and the sex industry; and a short fiction/poetry collection "Rhapsody in Snakeskin: Tales of Erotica and Horror." She's also the editor and co-founder of Body Parts Magazine and holds an MFA from Antioch University. Visit her online at or