The Black Out

Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt

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Fiction Contemporary Suspense

This story contains sensitive content

*CONTAINS POTENTIALLY SENSITIVE CONTENT - MENTAL HEALTH AND IMPLIED VIOLENCE*


The light over the kitchen sink has been flickering sporadically for the past two hours, a storm brewing outside, teasing the electricity lines into the house. I have a flashlight on the table next to me and candles ready to be lit nearby. My phone is charging in case the power is out for days versus hours.


I have a love-hate relationship with thunderstorms. I love to watch the lightning light up the sky, each bolt a brilliant flash like blinking neon. I appreciate their individuality, each one different from the one before, like snowflakes. But the resounding thunder is another story entirely. The violent crashes frighten me, cause me to cringe, sometimes forcing me to wrap my arms around myself to squelch the vibrations that course through my body.


The wind is picking up. I can hear it in the rustling of the trees. The thunder is in the distance still, a low rumble like a hungry belly. The lightning and the rain are holding off for now. According to my weather app, it won't be long; the green blob is close to my home pin.


I should probably begin lighting the candles. I don't want to be caught in complete darkness should the power go out, not even for a second. I have what some call "an irrational fear of the dark." They think I'm a grown woman, not a child, so I have no right to possess this fear. But I most certainly do. I have a credible diagnosis of nyctophobia, a fear of the dark. If the lights go out with the storm, the darkness would momentarily paralyze me making it impossible to flick on the flashlight immediately. And what might follow the paralysis is an unknown, it's not as tidy as a specific reaction or behavior, and I, for one, would prefer to let it remain a mystery.


As a child, I had a mild fear of the dark. I simply didn't like it, so my mom ensured that I had a night light in my room. There was also one in the hallway outside my door and one in the bathroom in case I got up at night. It was a simple fix for what, at the time, was a reasonable, childlike fear. It became a full-fledged phobia later in my life, just a few years ago, when the notorious monster under the bed came to life.


A quick flash of lightning pulls me from my reverie. I stand from the couch to light the candles, and my trusty sidekick, Charley, hops off with me and stretches into a picture-perfect downward dog pose. Charley is my service dog, an extremely handsome Golden Retriever with a big square head and gorgeous brown eyes. Charley has been with me for almost three years and is much more than a companion. He is an actual service dog, charged with the responsibility of keeping me safe, both from the outside world and myself.


I finish lighting the candles and walk to the sliding glass door that opens to my back patio. I look out, getting an update on the storm's progress. It is past ten o'clock and now pitch black outside, the cloud cover blocking any moonlight that might otherwise light the backyard on a clear night. I flip the switch to the outdoor lights and see the movement of the trees is fiercer than before. A streak of lightning lights the dark sky. I count – one, two, three, four, five – and the thunder cracks, loud, no longer a rumble, the rain likely just five miles away.


I look down to find Charley sitting right by my side. He is trained to stay close to me both in the dark and with loud noises, among other situations. I sit with him on the floor, giving him a good rub, telling him what a good boy he is. I contemplate shutting the curtains to cover the large door entirely though that will only block out the strikes of lightning, not the clamor of thunder.


I notice the kitchen light flicker again; the slight strobing effect causes my breath to quicken. I know I must regain control before a full-on panic attack begins. I start my deep breathing techniques, and Charley catches on, sprawling out alongside me, dropping his head in my lap. I recognize his placement and move to a lying position, Charley tight to my side, and he shifts slightly, bringing a paw to my chest. I continue to breathe; in through the nose for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out through the mouth for four counts.


I continue until I have regained control of my breath. Charley, sensing my breathing has returned to normal, licks my face to let me know what a good girl I am. We both stand as a bolt of lightning fills the sky – one, two, thr… – a boom of thunder, the storm that much closer. I close the curtains and shut off the kitchen light before it can flicker again. Even with the candles, it is dark in the room. I can feel anxiety fall upon me like a heavy cloak, an uncomfortable weight on my shoulders, a tightening in my chest. I think of my weighted blanket, the even pressure of it capable of alleviating the tension.


I grab the flashlight and head to my bedroom. Logically, I could turn on the lights, the power is not out, but I don't want to tease my senses. I don't want to be basking in a room full of light and have it disappear suddenly, the timing of its outage not within my control. I call Charley, and he is at once by my side. We walk to the bedroom, and I pull the weighted blanket from the bed; feeling its heft, I start to relax. I wrap it around my shoulders and sit on the edge of the bed momentarily. Charley jumps up next to me, and I run my hand the length of his furry body, over and over. He leans into me, dropping his head to my lap. After sitting for a couple of minutes, I realize we should just go to bed; there is no point staying up.


I wash my face and brush my teeth, pull on pajamas, and make my way back to the living room, Charley in tow, to snuff out the candles. I hear a gentle splatter and check outside to find that the rain has finally started to fall. The wind is blowing wildly, causing the fronds on the palm trees out back to dance, the pines' boughs sway chaotically. The small drops of rain suddenly become large, heavy drops that fall harder, faster. The trajectory of their flight changes with the gusts of wind and the glass where I stand is peppered with their spray. I jump back, startled, and move the curtains back to their closed position. I let out my held breath and turn my focus back to the candles.


I extinguish all but one large candle and carry that and the flashlight back to my room. I settle the candle on my dresser, which sits next to the door of my en-suite bathroom, lighting my way should I need to go there. My night lights are still working, so I know the power has yet to be affected but who knows what will happen while I sleep.


I get settled in bed, fixing the weighted blanket to cover me, and Charley joins me, lying against my legs. I practice my deep breathing techniques to help coax me to sleep, and I drift off surprisingly fast.


A loud crash wakes me from a deep sleep. Disoriented, I sit up and look around me, attempting to assess the situation. The night lights are out, but the candle I left on my dresser is still burning. The rain is still falling heavily outside; I can hear the rapid pitter-patter of the drops. I hear the stirring of the trees and, after a minute, a boom of thunder, no longer overhead but further from us now. I need to see what caused the noise that woke me but find myself unable to move, gripped by fear that someone has entered the house.


Irrational? Perhaps. I have no indication that someone else is here, just an absolute paranoia that history will repeat itself and I will be brutally attacked. Again.


I try to stop the flood of memories and panic before they crush me, but I fail; all of it sweeps over me, consuming me. I am terrified. I think of the instructions my therapist gave me for times like this, moments where the PTSD hijacks my brain, but I am unable to employ the tactics. I start to hyperventilate, dizziness and nausea washing over me. My vision blurs. All I can see is a slow-motion replay of what happened, as though I am a director behind a camera watching myself be assaulted by that monster.


Charley lays across my legs and begins licking my hands to calm and distract me. When that doesn't work, he sits on my lap, moving one paw to my shoulder and his tongue to my face. After a minute, I come to, my eyes refocus on the room. I pat Charley on the head and tell him, "good boy." He jumps from the bed and goes to my nightstand, where my anxiety medication and a water bottle sit. He picks up the bottles with his mouth, one at a time, and brings them to me. A couple more pats on the head and another "good boy" to let him know he successfully carried out the correct task, and then I swallow the pill and some water. To clear my mind, I finish with a few deep breaths – in for four, hold for four, out for four.


I toss aside the covers and grab the flashlight as I stand from the bed. Trying desperately to remain focused on finding the source of the noise without allowing my imagination to take over, I point the flashlight around my room. I then move to my bathroom and closet, Charley hot on my heels. There is nothing out of place, so I move slowly into the hallway. As I approach the second of two bedrooms, I notice that the outside sounds of wind and rain seem to have diminished some. I have not seen any lightning flash and have not heard any thunder either.


I look around the second bedroom and everything appears to be in order. I head into the living and kitchen area, and I hear a slight whistle as I enter the kitchen. I check the light switch to see if the power is still out, and, unfortunately, it is. I move closer to the sound, Charley at my side.


I am standing at the kitchen sink when I find the source of the whistling noise. I feel a breeze and move the flashlight to the window above the sink. There is a small hole with spiderweb-like cracks in the window, and as I point the light outside, I see a large branch lying on the patio beyond. That must be what caused the disturbance that woke me. I sigh in relief and kneel to Charley, hugging him for comfort. I stand and turn the flashlight to a kitchen drawer and search through it for a roll of duct tape so I can patch the window.


I locate the tape, tear off two large strips and place it across the hole in the window, "X" marks the spot. As I put the tape back in its drawer, the sky lights up, just for a split second. A roll of thunder. It seems the visual and aural spectacle of the storm is making an encore presentation.


With the noise found and resulting damage temporarily secured, I am ready to return to bed. As I turn, flashlight in hand and Charley eager to follow, there is another flash of lightning. Outside the window, from the corner of my eye, I see a face; his face, the face of a monster.


I gasp, turning back to the window to see if my eyes, or mind, are playing a trick. The sky is dark again; I point the flashlight to the spot in the glass where I saw him. At that exact moment, the flashlight flickers and burns out completely.


I am in slow motion again, falling through the darkness. I hear Charley barking, the sound echoing strangely, muffled. I land with a thud. Blacked out.


June 06, 2022 16:38

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2 comments

Cindy Calder
15:48 Jun 16, 2022

This story was packed full of visual imagery and emotion. I found myself experiencing a myriad of emotions just like the person in the story. Well done.

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J L Jones
20:44 Jun 16, 2022

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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