Have you ever wondered why they call New York the city that never sleeps? It’s because the lights are always on; because if the lights ever go off they come out.
I don’t know how long it's been since the black out, but my phone isn’t charging and I have no signal. The power loss seems to have affected the entire city. I look out the window at the brick building across the street and see the faint glow of a candle passing by. Given enough time, that light will be extinguished too.
This is the exact reason why there are so many failsafes put in place to protect the power grid. But not tonight. Tonight all of New York City has been thrown into darkness. Thick clouds blot out the moon and stars, emergency lights only cast their faint glow in circles on the ground. Everything else is dark. And in the dark, they wait.
When I opened my eyes at midnight I knew something was wrong. Normally I wake up around that time to pee, or because of the anxiety induced by the coming work day. But tonight there was no glow from the street lights outside, no luminous clock, no headlights passing by. I sat up in bed, my heart racing, my body was covered in sweat, like it knew the darkness was unnatural. I walked to the window and saw one of them walking down the street. It wasn’t walking so much as stalking. They look almost human, but their arms and legs are much too long, and their eyes glow red.
Native New Yorkers have all heard the legends of the creatures that live in the subway tunnels. That’s why we always mind the gap when stepping onto the train. It’s not because of the gap itself, but what is waiting to grab your leg from within the gap. Some call them Tunnel People, others just call them monsters, but whatever they are, they can’t stand the light. So when the power is on everything is fine, but if the power ever goes out, like tonight, we are all in deep shit.
I can feel the scraping of their claws on my doorway as I put my ear against it to listen. I can hear the screams of my neighbors who didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. The yells only last a few seconds before the creatures silence them. It sounds like the victim is being forced underwater; the screams slowly fade to a gurgle as blood fills their larynx.
I peer out the window again and see them flooding down the street like a swarm of locusts. People who have escaped their apartments are running away from the creatures, but they don’t get very far. They are overcome by the creatures that strip the flesh from their skeleton and consume the meat. I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I need to get out of the city, I won’t be able to make it until daybreak. I can hear the handle of my door jiggling and the claws scratching at the wood getting louder with frustration. They can smell me. They know I’m here. I need to escape.
Then I see it from down the street, the colors of help. The red and blue lights of a police car strobe in the darkness. The headlights are out, it seems as if they were damaged from a collision, maybe from running into the hoard of creatures. I crack my window and look down from my second story window. It is a fifteen foot drop, but what other choice do I have? The creatures in the hallway have started throwing themselves against my apartment door. I can hear the cracking of the wood as it splinters.
The river of creatures turns slightly to gaze at the flashing lights of the police car. They part like the sea for Moses, to allow the brightness through. They hiss with displeasure at the revolving lights as they rotate around. I need to make my move. I carefully push the window up and slide out. I lower my body down and fully extend my arms to try and get as close to the ground as possible. I glance over my shoulder to see where the police car is. It’s about to pass right in front of my building.
I’m ready to let go when I hear a guttural howl from one of the creatures. It launches itself through the apartment window above me, sending shards of glass raining down on my head. The creature's body lands on the roof of the police car shattering the lights, causing the red and blue strobes to become nothing but sparks. A wave of blackness washes over the car. Creatures smash the windows and pull out the inhabitants within. The officers’ shrieks of terror are quickly silenced, along with my hope of being rescued.
I strain my muscles, trying to pull myself back through the window. My eyes peer over the sill. I see two red slits staring back at me. The creature has made it through the door; it’s in the apartment. “Oh God,” I whisper. The creature stands up straight, it’s head brushing the ten foot ceiling, it’s arms by its side. They rest just inches above the ground. It stares for a moment; its cheeks curl back into a toothy grimace full of razor blades. It takes a step towards me. I let go of the building and fall.
I stare up at my apartment as I fall, the creature's neck stretches out the window. Its red eyes watch as I disappear into a bush that sits between the building and the sidewalk. It’s branches consume me, hiding me from the creature's view. When my back hits the ground I black out for a moment; the air in my lungs rushes out of me. I lay their gasping for air. I can’t breath, I can’t see, but I can hear the unearthly screech of the creature I left behind in my apartment.
I know it will be coming after me; there is no time to waste. I roll over onto my stomach and scramble along the ground, the branches of the bush rake my bare arms like nails. I make my way onto the sidewalk. The creatures are still busy dismembering the contents of the police car. I push hard off the ground and run into the darkness.
The road ahead is empty. I glance over my shoulder. I see one of the creatures come tearing out of the front door of my apartment building. I can tell by its piercing eyes and impatient shriek that it was the creature I got away from. It slides to a stop in the middle of the street and turns to face me. The creature tilts its head back to the cloud covered sky and lets loose a howl. It sounds like a chainsaw cutting through a sheet of metal. The creature lunges forward, its oversized arms reach out in front of it. It is coming at me on all fours.
I try to scream, but my lungs don’t have it in them. Instead I gape silently, and will my legs to move. I look for any light, anything that might serve as protection. As I turn my head from side to side I see that the front lights of cars have been smashed, street lamps have been bent and destroyed. The creatures are making sure the darkness lasts for as long as possible. The only thing to stop them is the rising sun… and that's still hours away.
The creature has nearly caught up. I can feel its hot breath caressing the back of my neck. One of its barbed fingers runs down my spine. It opens its maw wide ready to grab me when suddenly the sound of a roaring engine fills the air. The blasting of a horn comes from my right. I dive out of the way just as a city dump truck plows through the intersection taking the creature with it. I slide along the concrete, skin is scraped from my knees and elbows.
I roll onto my back as the garbage truck continues down the avenue, parts of the creature hang from its front grill. Blood trickles down my legs and arms and pools on the ground around me. I will my body to get up, to run, I need to find someplace to hide. The hoard of creatures is done consuming what was in the police car and are swarming down the street towards me. They look like a black wave in the ocean, their eyes like red bioluminescent plankton.
I make it to the end of the block and look both ways in case another vehicle comes charging through. Then I see it. To my left is a bright light. No, not one bright light, but many lights together to create a safe haven in the park. People of New York have gathered together with whatever light they could find: flashlights, candles, phone screens all illuminated to create a dome of light that protects them from the creatures. They have created a bonfire that rages in the middle of the park using branches and garbage.
I sprint as fast as I can towards the salvation of light. I can hear the swarm behind me screeching. They are getting closer, they are so much faster than my battered body can move. I am almost to the light when I trip over debris hidden by the darkness. I scream, knowing that I will never be able to recover in time to reach the light. I close my eyes waiting for the darkness to take me… but it never comes. The pain of being torn apart never happens. I slowly open my eyes. Instead of being consumed by darkness I am consumed by light.
People from the park have surrounded me, pointing their devices at the oncoming swarm of creatures. They cannot penetrate the light. If they try their skin smolders and melts. If they push through the pain they ignite into flames.
I feel arms wrap around my body and pull me towards the protective glow. I watch as the darkness howls in frustration. My saviors lay me down in the middle of the circle of light they’ve created. It’s beautiful. I pass out from the pain.
When I awake the sky is a fiery red from the rising sun of dawn. I sit up and look around; people are huddled together. The community of light weathered the storm of darkness. Now we need to make it out of the city before the sun sets again.