When the Lights Come On

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write about someone who purposefully causes a power outage.... view prompt

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Thriller Fantasy Mystery

Black and red glinted across the darkened town. Sirens wailed through the night quiet, and as more joined the fray, it was apparent that something terrible had happened.

In the span of an hour, the small beams of flashlights broke through alley-mouths and glided along the outskirts of town like the workings of a bee-colony.

François lit a cigarette. He was seated on a bench beneath a tree overlooking Vanquios. The warm smoke steadied his trembling fingers and calmed his heart. He leaned against the bench and closed his eyes. Even in the autumn wind the distinct smell of blood lanced through that of his cigarette. The pain in his abdomen flared up again and he pressed a hand to where the bullet was lodged inside.

He could not find the courage to close his eyes. What had been a simple act turned scary knowing it may be the last time he ever would. It seemed even here, well past his breaking point, he feared death. Dread filled him realizing that even madness would not free him of the fear.

A car pulled curbside, its tires screeching against the asphalt. The door opened and then slammed shut. He knew she was crying before she even came into view.

She rounded the bench and stood in front of him, sniffling.

For a moment there was only silence.

“Why?”

The hand holding the cigarette drooped in his lap but there was just enough strength left in his fingers to keep it from falling. His chuckle turned to a grimace as the pain in his abdomen flared up again. The air was thick with burning tobacco. “You were scared I would come back. You were scared what it would mean, hm?” The word rested at the tip of his tongue, but he lingered, scared that he would break as soon as he said it. He took a drag of his cigarette to calm his nerves, but as he mustered the courage to look his sister in the eye, the brittle wall he had built came tumbling down. He buried his face in his hands and cried.

She took a step forward.

“Run!” Hissed François. "There's nothing you can do for me!"

She begrudgingly hurried back the way she had come as the police-sirens grew louder and red and blue lights flashed in his peripherals.

The last thing he ever heard was the screeching of his car’s tires as his sister pulled out of the parking spot.

---

Marie speed further down the road built into the mountainside, away from the approaching police, but more importantly, the only one in the world whom had ever cared about her.

The radio station was tuned to a dead channel, the volume turned all the way up to disrupt the terrible thoughts that would have otherwise paralyzed her behind the wheel. She would not fail after the lengths François had gone to keep her safe.

A tunnel had been carved through the mountain like the mouth of a beast, unlit because of François’ blackout. They had not discussed it, but it was apparent enough that she would have to make herself scarce before the lights came back on.

Terrible things were stirring in the town of Vanquois. Their parents had only been the beginning.

Thankfully, the tunnel walls were made of ceramic tile so she could see them glint in the headlights well before crashing into them and steer the around the bend accordingly. But she did not rely on it for long. As the tunnel straightened out again it was lit with flashing blue and red lights. Marie squeezed the steering wheel with frustration, unable to get a better grip because of her palms, slick with sweat.

The dim echo of the car’s engine along the tunnel walls, mingled with the radio static made everything feel like some vivid nightmare.

The fluorescent panels built into the ceiling of the tunnel flickered on and off as François’ blackout neared its end. The afterimages bloomed across her vision in purple blotches, but she kept her foot pressed firmly against the pedal as the speedometer hand ticked at maximum acceleration.

She emerged out of the tunnel and sped past the streetlights built into the face of the mountain, showering the colour of gold through the dark. The sea glimmered off to her right, a pair of helicopters flying low over its surface and their taillights blinking red.

Marie raised a sore arm and wiped the sweat off her forehead. She lowered the radio-static, too deep into the chase to worry that her mind may stray elsewhere. Glancing at the rear-view mirror, she found that the police lights that had been following her had disappeared and so had their sirens.

Returning her attention to the road, she drove for a few minutes in eerie silence before her car jerked to a stop. Marie looked about frantically, light-headed from breathing so rapidly. She turned the car-key, but the engine made no sound. She tried again and again, but nothing.

The streetlights flickered like the lights in the tunnel, and went out.

It was pitch black. The only sound was the distant crash of waves against the cliff face to her right.

Minutes passed, the stillness jarring after the chase, turning terrifying as the irrational fear that something would nab her from the dark festered.

Suddenly, the radio switched on and bathed the dark, dim-yellow. Its red dial quivered at the end of the printed frequencies, and from that unlisted station came gentle, measured notes of violin bleeding through the silence from what felt more like the air around her than the car speakers. The notes held long and wavered in a way that felt distinctly human, but despite its beauty, part of her wanted to crawl out of her skin and run as far away from it as she could. It was magical in the way a Siren-Song was: alluring, yet steeped in foreboding. She reckoned that unlike the stories, she at least had the advantage of knowing something was off. But what good would it do her?

The streetlight just above the car switched on as the final note of the violin’s melody tapered with vibrato into silence. Her breath fogged against the air, and the car switched back on without a sound. It rolled slowly down the road as the radio-dial swerved to the opposite end of the frequency listing. Static crackled momentarily before heavy breathing filled the quiet. Pinpricks of warmth beat against her neck, heavy with the smell of cigarette smoke.

“Too late,” came the voice of static, shaking the entire car.

Marie felt a hand close around her throat just as the first tear dropped, and no more…


September 11, 2020 14:25

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