The Lesser Light of Dying Stars

Jinwoo Chong
| Fiction


It is believed that Mr. Leon Levitt of Peridot, Arizona, began to emit sometime around his forty-third birthday—“emit” being the retroactive clinical term ascribed by those of the science community studying SDR phenomena where they occur. Given the location of the Levitts’ home in a topographical trough flooded with natural light, it is likely that Mr. Levitt’s condition was, at first, imperceptible to both himself and Nora, his wife of eight years. While total light emittance can stay negligible for weeks, radiologists argue that, in theory, within an enclosed room with no windows, some may have perceived certain physical changes (paler skin, a subtle translucence to the irises and hair). The difference would have been, for most, slight. As has been observed, Leon Levitt was emitting for some time before his skin began, visibly, to glow. On that day, Nora woke in bed, especially dazed, and realized that the soft blue light that had alerted her eyes to a new day was not the sun, which had not yet risen, but the sleeping form of her husband, lighting their creased linens from underneath like Luna moth wings curled about their bodies.
Sub-dermal radiative phenomena are so named for the origin of emitted light from beneath the skin. Mid- to late-stage novas often emit a light so intense that bones, surgical implants, and major blood vessels can be seen with stunning definition, similar to holding a powerful flashlight against one’s arm. Leon Levitt was admitted to San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation that morning, attracting a crowd of attending doctors in triage when eyes fell for the first time on his luminous body. Hours later, South Korean media reported a second emergence in a secluded hamlet of Gyeongju: five-year-old nova Bek Ki-Jung, whose parents had brought her to the emergency room after they noticed her bathtub suds begin to gleam around her as she played. Both Ki-Jung and Mr. Levitt were early-stage SDR, diffusing roughly the same brightness as a fluorescent lightbulb. Sonoya Merrick, head of San Carlos’ Radiology Group, noted in the Levitts’ log a postscript to her examination: whatever words there are to better illustrate—they are beyond my degrees.
It was on the same day that the media descended in Peridot that Saul and Priya Morrow of Jordan, Minnesota, lost their son, eighteen-year-old Jack, in a car crash that had left two friends in intensive care and three pedestrians dead on a neighboring crosswalk. The accident made the papers in Minneapolis, but most had larger matters on their minds after the glowing man of Arizona had captured national attention, the little Korean girl following soon after. A celebrity medical figurehead had already claimed on air that the two emergences were linked and that more would arise, predictably around cell towers, natural gas processing plants, and the like. Saul and his wife received this news blindly, for they were burying their son.


Jinwoo Chong is an MFA candidate in fiction at Columbia University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in CRAFT, Tahoma Literary Review, The Forge, and others. He serves as Fiction Editor at Columbia Journal.

In the So-Called Open Sea