18th post: Another Short Story: Blackout

I wrote this quite awhile ago, when i heard about the NYC blackout. I edited it recently for a competition

Black Out

This may sound like a dream I once had, but I doubt that it was.

Before I tell you about it, you need to keep in mind that long ago, when I was younger, I used to be quite afraid of the dark. This is an embarrassing thing for me to admit, but I think I can trust you to empathize. Anyway, so I used to be afraid of the dark. In fact, it used to scare me so much that I even kept a night-light besides my bed, and I kept up the habit for far longer than most people probably should. Then came the day that all the lights in the city went out.

On that day some people wandered in parks that were normally closed, and others started breaking windows because they now could, but I, personally, could not sleep. Not alone, and in that dark. So instead I looked in my little black book and found an old friend who I knew owned her very own generator. She had always been worried you see, that someday things would go terribly wrong, that people would sort of lose their minds. She used to talk about it often and had spent a lot of her time preparing for when it would be too dangerous to go out during the day. Part of her preparations included her very own power source. Until recently we had gotten along very well. Anyway, I called and asked if I could spend the night at hers. She told me to go over and let myself in; she wouldn’t be back till much later on. So I put on a heavy raincoat- not to hide my face but because back then the cold still bothered me. Also I remember hiding my watch in my socks, thinking, that maybe, someone might steal it. I even brought a pen, the closest thing I had to a weapon, imagining that in an emergency I could stab someone in the throat were i attacked. I thought of a lot of things that might have gone wrong that night. However as I walked the watch dug into my ankles, cutting me and staining my white socks red. And no one paid me any attention.

I would describe her apartment as small. It was minimally furnished with a cracked leather couch, a table dominated by a perpetually full ashtray, several chairs, a television, and all the other accessories of city life. The details inside didn’t really register in my mind as all I had eyes for was the one lamp in the bedroom and the one lamp in the kitchen. She had left them on, perhaps for my benefit. These, as well as a toilet, were the only rooms in her little apartment. The glow from the lights were an orange comfort within which I thought I could whittle the time away as I waited for dawn. Choosing the bedroom I sat on the old couch and flipped on the television to keep me company. I searched for some soothing channel to lull me back to sleep, but nothing could take my attention away from the ambiguous shouts that kept coming from the city.

 

Still, I tried to drift away.

And this is where things get a little strange. Although I am not entirely sure of it, I figure at some point I must have actually dosed off because I definitely remember waking up, and to the sound of knocking. When I first opened my eyes the room was completely black. The lights were off, and all I could see was the frame of the kitchen doorway, now glowing with the warmth of some kind of flickering light. I waited for awhile, called out. I wondered if the light was breaking. I considered checking to see if there was someone at the front door but there would have been no chain to prevent a forceful entry and besides, the knocking had stopped, so instead I walked into the kitchen to escape the darkness. Inside the lit room that was once the kitchen had now changed. The refrigerator, oven and sink were no longer there. All that it contained now were four candles, one for each corner of the room. The walls were naked and white, and there was a single door at the opposite end. It was a deep red, as if someone had splashed it with far too much paint. I did not recognize it. As you can probably imagine I felt somewhat unsettled by all this. Anyway, I do not know how long I stood in that room for, with nowhere else to go, but I’m sure I spent even longer sitting. The floor was cold, and hard, and impossible to relax on. The candles were strange. They did not drip wax, yet the wax looked real. I remember confirming that they felt real. It was when I noticed that the candles were not burning down that I really began to freak out. My fear of the dark room that I had now left increased. I wondered if it too, had changed. So forcing up the courage to walk over to the red door, I groped for what turned out to be, a slick red handle. I found it wet, though it left no mark on my palm. I pulled it open with some difficulty, to reveal a stair case, leading downwards. The staircase was made of rough stone, and I thought that this was a weird material, being used to the steel and glass of a city now dark. Again I was afraid. What lay at the bottom? Where am I? The expected questions weighed uselessly on my mind, but at some point I calmed down enough to step onto the threshold.

From over there, all I could make out was the top of the beginning of a set of stone stairs that marched on below, without any railings and only ending in darkness. I remember thinking I could feel the soothing heat of the kitchen lights on my back whilst I stood for awhile; waiting pointlessly for my eyes to adjust, hoping to find a clear objective ahead. My eyes did adjust, and as I waited more stairs would emerge below, but not the bottom. I had to choose between the dark place I had awoken in, or the dark of the stairs. I did not know where I had awoken though, and felt the need to escape. Nowhere to go but down. The sounds of my own laughter revealed clearly to me then, just how silent and lonely my current predicament was. Standing there, staring, my mind had begun to conjure up wild images, so, pushing back panic, I gritted my teeth, (which definitely helped) and eventually took the first, careful step. The rock felt like rock- solid, even comforting. Then I proceeded to plod forward. As I descended the light behind me began to shift upwards, dimming. So did the stairs, and soon I could not even see the very next step. I was so far away from the room-that-was-the-kitchen that I thought: Don’t look up. I chuckled again. And my laughter: brutish, short- it gave me strength, made me feel, for want of a better word, like a man again. I had had enough of fear, the pointlessness of perpetual waiting. Fear of the unknown had become the unknown. I wished to confront it, tear it back, reveal the joke; which was that there was nothing but myself, and my own insecurities. That is what I thought. So my heel hovered along and then pierced the black in front me, and tentatively feeling ground, I leaned over confidently, tumbling into an empty space, falling face first into the next step, and rolling painfully down the entire flight of the rough stone stairs.

I fell for what seemed like a very long time into a place of complete darkness. At the bottom, without the distraction of sight, all other pains and sensations were amplified. My mouth opened to the taste of blood, and my entire face burned. My arms and legs ached and felt wet to the touch. I remember there was pain, but across the veil of memory that pain is dulled. I am after all standing here now, in front of you. The one thing I did see. In front of me, at floor level, was a rectangular strip of light that must have been the space below a door. My tongue moved through my mouth in lonely anticipation and found that my teeth had loosened. I remember tongue in, feeling it wobble, then brushing my tongue across the top half of my teeth to find gaps that had not been there, and the other swaying, some of tiny threads of flesh that tasted like metal. Everything else hurt as well, especially my legs that screamed whenever I moved them, but still I half rose and shuffled, sometimes collapsing back down to use my hands and neglected nails, to snake, by degrees towards the soothing glow. The crack enlarged by increments, until it was in front of my shattered face. Raising my hands I blindly felt for what I hoped was the face of some door. My palms brushed against splinters that caught on open wounds, but I could tell that it was a door, A had located some kind of wet handle. I used it to pull myself up, awkwardly, and with some difficulty as my left foot felt wrong amd could not take my weight properly. Nevertheless I pushed till the door leaned open and the light momentarily blinded me. In those moments I listened, but heard nothing. So I waited patiently, for my eyes to adjust, wondering whether this was some kind of basement, or fire escape. Eventually I could make out the contents of a small room, practically empty except for a simple wooden chair right in the middle of it, and next to the chair a single candle which seemed to burn very brightly. The chair was clearly the focus of the room. It caught my eye.

The top of the chair’s backrest glinted with what looked like a gold plate. So I hobbled inside the room to read it. Inside that space I seemed to throw shadows whenever I paused, as crossing those few meters was rather difficult. It seemed like the room might have shifted in size with no relation to the light from that candle. At the time this did not strike me as odd, although perhaps it did contribute, subconsciously, to the rising nausea I was feeling at the time. I stepped forward until I could make out, along the top of the chair an inscription in gold. It was engraved, in tiny, tiny writing. I ran one bleeding finger across it, and thought I could feel the age of the thing. The chair itself was terribly simple, just about the simplest four legged, one backed wooden chair you could imagine. I bent downwards to squint at the engraving. And I remember it began in English, and with a pronoun. It began “I…” Which was all I ever got to read, because it was then that I heard the question asked, in a rather cold and rasping voice: “What do you want?”

Unable to locate the direction of the voice I spun around, terrified, but I swear that there was no one else there. The door was closed, but when did I close it? I began to panic. With my eyes I searched the rough stone walls for answers, for the source of that voice. And even louder, again into that deadly silence the voice spoke; filling the room and my entire head with the question:

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

It was a roar. Then the silence returned and my head had began to hurt. To scream. Was it my head screaming? Or myself? I cannot remember. Even now do you see my eyes? This look? Yes I looked just like that back then. I looked crazy. I felt crazy. When the voice spoke again it had changed- the roar became a high-pitched wail, constantly repeating: “WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT DO YOU WANT? I backed into the wall, and realized finally, how strange it was, that with my back against the wall, and with the only light source being a candle situated in the middle of the room, that I still cast a shadow on that wooden chair, a black space shaped like who I’d been.

I felt the shadow’s eyeless gaze, I felt it stare at me, and noticed it’s movements, which I had thought were due to my own. How it thrashed as if bound in the middle of that ancient seat. Only now can I ask, how long did it wait for? Draped across that chair, thin as anything is capable of being, that black space in the form of a man, that black space that should have been kept in my head, that black space’s shadow’s mouth opened to scream again: “TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT” The question hurt so much, it beat inside my chest, paralyzing my with fear. I started to recite old useless prayers taught to a child before sleeping, as back then I had no answer for it, and unable to respond I held my hand outwards, palms stained red, begging it, without saying anything, to stop. My shadow twisted again in that wooden chair, and I heard a scream that seemed to be right next to my ears and somewhere in that screams were words as well. Answers. I remember hearing what my shadow said to me, though if you asked me now I could not tell you what the words were.

But anyway, the next thing I remember, I was back in my own bathroom, in my own house, and I was looking into my own white mirror, and I was washing the blood from my hands. I had no idea how I had gotten there, but the face in the kitchen mirror was clean, except for the eyes, which had changed somewhat. There was a noise outside that sounded a bit like a siren, but I ignored it. I thought that through the window it was a very bright day. Turning, I noticed the whole room, and I saw the girl from the black book that had leant me her home. Most of her lay on the floor. On my toilet there was something round and red that looked like someone I used to know. Then there was a knocking at the door, a very angry knocking. I didn’t say anything when they shouted. Eventually the door opened, and there was a man with a gun that stood staring at what was inside my bathroom. I looked at him, and remember thinking how young he was, then realizing that he must have been about my age. He was shaking. “Shoot me.” I asked him. He did not respond. So my mouth opened and I tried to yell, but a different, a familiar voice came out, cold, screeching: it said “SHOOT ME”. So the boy shot me, several times, all over my body. And I remember feeling the first few.

And when I woke up I found myself here. Well, not here with out, exactly, but quite nearby. You see, I saw you, and wondered what you were doing up on this wall. So I came over. When I asked you who you were, all you did was scream at me. When I asked you who had put you here, all you did was cry. So with these things that used to be my hands, I picked up the knife on the floor and realized that I was no longer scared of the dark or of anything really, including red doors and stone staircases. I looked at you and felt a familiar feeling that I could not place. You had beautiful blue eyes and a very pretty face. So I started cutting it.

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