For the second time since “back before,” Christmas crept under the world’s grimy, icy blanket of soot, found the world shivering, hungry, and afraid, and brought the world nothing.

“Back before” was shorthand to avoid saying “back before Daybreak,” because the word “Daybreak” called up memories that made the bad dreams worse:

Back before, when we had fresh orange juice in the fridge, and a fridge, and a kitchen, and a house.

Back before, when we had Internet, and gasoline, and emergency rooms.

Back before, when I could pick up the phone and talk to Mom, or the kids.

When I knew where they were.

When they were alive.

In the broken pieces of the old civilization, other dreams slipped in, and the cold slumber of misery was disturbed by conflicting tiny relentless hopes.