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American Fiction Thriller

It’s More Than Dark

“Hey Hon, is the power out where you are?” John asked into his cell.

“Odd question. The lights are on in the office, but I’m looking outside, and yeah, the street lights are out.” Sally said. “What’s going on?”

“The streets are dark here too. Our back-up generators have kicked on.” John looked out the window. He could see two forms of darkness - the blackness of the lake far in the distance, a shade lighter because of the moon, and the thick blackness of the land beyond the reach of the city. Gone were no strings of lights running to the huddled glows along the shore. He ducked lower, and he could see close to a half moon.

“It’s eerie,” he said.

“What’s going on? Can you hear me?”

“The fire alarms have kicked on for some reason. I’ll call when I get outside,” John said, and disconnected. The alarms and the emergency lighting would make it impossible to work. He covered his ears as he looked out the window. All the intersections were dark, all the traffic lights were dead, and most of the buildings too. Besides some residual light from a sprinkling of office buildings and the moon, it was completely dark. It was odd because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. He walked around the office along the window line, his hands on his ears. All around him it was unrecognizably dark. He cut between cubes as he headed to the conference room, following the emergency exit signs. He could see two silhouettes outside the door.

“Hopefully, this ends quickly,” John said, “but in case it doesn’t, bring all your TG files into the conference room. We’re going to lock’em.” 

“Gotcha,” Angelo said as they broke apart to their offices. John was remembering the last time something like this had happened in clear weather, and that was almost twenty years ago.

Sally called Betsy. There was a beep then silence. Next she texted Betsy, but the prompt said Message Not Delivered. She called and texted her Mom, but she received the same responses. This is getting creepy. She went over to the window and saw cars moving, using their headlights to feel their way forward. She called her boss.

“Hello Sally,” Megan answered, “It’s fortuitous we’re in the NorNet offices. We have light.”

“Maybe,” Sally replied. “Going home in the dark is going to take a long time. Is it coincidental we were requested to do server maintenance on a night when we lose power? There’s something else odd. It seems some of our competitors have lost service.”

“That explains why Marge hasn’t called.”

“I’ve tried a few people and there’s no connection, but I can connect with John.”

“Strange. I wonder if the power outage impacted some cell towers?”

“Makes you wonder what’s happening out there. Anyway, I want to finish up and check on the dogs. They’re going crazy right now.”

“Ok, keep in touch. If we can keep our phones charged.”

Sally went back to the window. The streets were dark, except for a few cars creeping between intersections, slowing under the dark lights at the intersection, and then moving to the next cross street. If the traffic lights and street lights were on, the drivers would be flying through the intersections on the green lights. Now the drivers were stuck between wanting to be somewhere else and a lack of confidence. Sally walked down along the window line to the corner. It was bizarre to see the city stop like this. No one was out walking, but she wasn’t sure if she could see them because of the lack of light. Her office was on the edge of the downtown district, so she looked to the cluster of office towers to see if she could pick out John’s office. It was difficult to be certain, but it was on the right side, behind the two shorter ones, on the other side of downtown. She continued along the window line to the opposite window corner from where she began. Looking west, she saw camera lights in front one of the buildings.

There were people moving things between the camera lights. First, four men were assembling what looked to be some kind of aluminium structure before they carried it over into the middle of the lighted area.  Next they brought out a wooden platform that they assembled on top of the metal structure. It was a stage about two feet above the parking lot. That was one quick assembly as they were skilled at what they were doing. One man carried a lectern and placed it on the stage, and other people placed backless benches in front of the stage. Another person was attaching bunting along the stage. Sally was too far away to read what was written on the bunting.

What’s going on over at the TV station? Sally texted to Megan. She waited a minute before going to her laptop. On the TV station’s website, there was a picture of a Mom and Dad and two kids walking through a green meadow towards a sunlit horizon. Across the screen it read, Like Jesus Christ, We Will Rise Again. Sally frowned. She had never seen that before. She checked other regional news stations, and they were showing the weather, and one had a trailer running along the bottom of the screen that read Special Bulletin after the Commercial Break.

Sally picked up her cell. “Hey Megan.”

“Oh my God, you’re not going to believe this. I’m not sure I believe it.”

John was outside the conference room, watching Sam lock the door. Angelo was off to the side, covering his ears. John motioned to the elevators, so the three of them went out in the floor lobby. The elevators weren’t operational in an emergency, so they had to take the emergency stairwell. When all four were in the stairwell, and the door closed, they took their hands away from their ears.

“This is the first time I’m taking the stairs,” John said as he led his colleagues. Besides the muffled alarm, it was quiet in the stairwell as it was past nine, the night before Good Friday, and the office building would be close to empty. They had hoped to settle their case on the court house steps after jury selection, but the Mayor backed out again, so they were finalizing their opening statements for Monday. Their client was suing the Mayor for breach of contract over the lack of a business transaction. Nobody in town who knew the Mayor trusted him, but their client thought he had an agreement until the Mayor and his associates reneged. Even thought it was clear to John they had an open and shut case, he was worried.

“Thank god the alarms are softer now,” Angelo said. The cement-block walls were unpainted with red handrails and the floor was painted grey. The stairwell was well-lit and dusty on the fourteenth floor.

“Hey, can I get the conference keys?” John said.

Sam handed a key to Angelo, who handed it to John.

“I thought there were two keys,” John said.

“I only got one,” Sam said.

“Do you think the judge gives us an adjournment because of this?” Angelo asked.

“Let’s hope this is over in an hour because we’re gonna kick their ass. Unless the Mayor has bought the court as well,” John said.

“Hey, are your cell phones working?” Angelo asked.

“Mine’s working,” John said as he held his phone up above his head. “You can make a call if you need to.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Angelo said. “What about you Sam?”

“What?” Sam asked. 

“Do have coverage?” Angelo repeated.

Sam pulled out his phone, and typed in something. “No” he said, putting his phone in his pocket. “The line seems to be corrupted.”

“Did your text go through?” Angelo asked.

“No.”

“Who’s you carrier, Sam” John asked.

“NorNet.”

“That’s my carrier too, so yours should work.”

           “Well, it isn’t.”

Someone came out in front of them on the tenth floor. It was a policeman, and he stood in the way before standing to the side with his arms crossed at his chest.

“Hello officer,” John said.

The policeman nodded to John and Angelo. He said “Hello Sam.”

“Hey Bart,” Sam said.

As John walked by he saw more policemen in the office behind the man in the doorway.

He slowed his descent, and stopped in front the exit door for the eighth floor.

 “Do you hear that?” John asked.

“You mean the footsteps?” Angelo said.

“Yeah, where do you think they’re going?” John said.

“There checking the emergency doors,” the policeman they passed said. “Please keep moving.”

“I forgot something in the office,” John said.

“Keep moving,” the officer said.

“I need to go back to the office.”

“You need to keep moving. It’s an emergency. Stop being an asshole, because I can be a bigger asshole than you.”

“Whoa,” Angelo said. “What’s with the attitude.”

“Listen to the police, guys,” Sam said. 

The officer took his radio, and said, “I have a problem on the ninth floor. Send back-up.”

“What’s your name officer?” John asked.

“You need help Bart?” said a policeman coming down the stairs.

“Yeah. These guys don’t want to follow directions.”

“Alright, alright” Angelo said. “C’mon John, this whole thing stinks, but we’re not going to win in the stairwell.”

“C’mon guys, they’re doing their job,” Sam said.

John thought about making a call to the police station, and when he looked at his cell, there was a message from Sally:  The Mayor and the Sheriff have taken over the TV station. Claiming a new Christian state. Not sure who is involved.

“Put the phone down,” the policeman named Bart said. After a moment, he said, “Hey Sam, you work with these assholes?”

“Who do you work for?” Angelo asked.

“Kellerman and Saison,” Sam said.

“Let’s go guys. See we’re leaving,” John said. “Sam you can stay here with your buddies.”

“Follow them out,” Bart said.

The six of them continued down the stairs. John began a text to Sally: Call, email, the regional TV stations. I’ve been escorted out of office by police. They must have disrupted the power.

“Put the phone down,” a policeman said.

John searched for Sam in his texts, and replied with HI, and watched. Sam reached into his pocket to check his phone. He looked confused before looking at John.

“I thought you said your cell wasn’t working? Who were you texting earlier?” John asked.

“It must have started working again,” Sam said.

Both John and Angelo stared at Sam.

Outside the police told them to go home, and walked amongst them to make them feel uncomfortable. John always thought policeman looked fat with all of their equipment and bullet-proof vests, but these cops were extra-large because they were also fat. John wished he brought a jacket as they were walking into the breeze. The darkness felt odd because there was no light on the street. A few moments after the police turned around, Angelo turned around and said “What the hell are you doing? You lied. I’m never working with this asshole again.”

“Hey, c’mon, I know the guy,” Sam said.

“And you did nothing for us,” Angelo yelled. “And you lied. Who were you texting?”

“He’s right Sam,” John said. “You’re not coming clean, so you’re off the team.”

“You can’t do that?”

“Yeah, and the Mayor isn’t supposed to declare a new Christian state either,” John said.

“That’s a lie,” Sam said.

“Beat it,” Angelo yelled.

“This isn’t the last of this,” Sam said as started walking back to the offices.

“Forget him. Use my phone, call your wife.” John said as he was texting Sally: Meet at Third and Columbia in front of your office.

“What a dumb ass brown-noser,” Angelo yelled as he took the phone.

“Angelo, focus. Things are worse than we think. Sally heard the Mayor is going to declare a Christian state, and I’m pretty sure there were two keys in the conference room door.”

“You’re kidding me. They’ll steal all our files,” Angelo said.

“And we can’t stop them.”

“Why has the Mayor taken over the TV station? How is he going to broadcast it without power?” Angelo asked.

“Good question. I’m heading over to get Sally.  We got to be smart about this.”

“I’m so annoyed. I don’t like to think when I’m angry.”

“I can see that, but get used to it. This is going to take at least a few days to resolve, if we’re lucky. It could be a lot longer. You saw the police, acting like the Mayor’s lap dogs.”

“Yeah, but this is so surreal.”

“You should call Beth?”

“No, I’m going to drive home, and see what the news is saying.”

“Does Beth have NorNet?”

“No, we’re on the same plan. Shit, we can’t get news on the internet either. Man, he’s fucked us.”

“Be calm and be careful. Check the news on your car radio. We might be targets if they read our files. If the power comes on soon, we’ll be back in the office tomorrow. If not, I’ll drive to your house between nine and ten.”

John and Angelo separated, both wondering if things were as bad as they imagined. John looked at the news on his phone. Most of the news showed the States was in its normal throes of bad behaviour. There was one article about the Mayor, who was saying the power was cut by domestic terrorists, and he’s making an announcement at eleven. Other top stories were about state senators arguing about voting irregularities, a bank robbery, and a fashion model doing something marginally humorous. There were even articles about the NFL draft.  Everything seemed to be the normal level of dysfunction, except here.

“It’s my desperado, in desperate times,” Sally said as she walked out to meet John.

“I am desperate, and so are the times,” John laughed as he kissed Sally.

“This can’t be happening, but it is,” Sally said. “I was watching them set up for his speech. Its mind boggling that he has the police and fire department in on it. How did he do that? How did he get so deep?”

“I know, and I’m going to get spanked on the law suit. I’m pretty sure Sam had a second key to the conference. Who knows who has it now. If he has the police on his side, there’s nothing to stop them messing with our files.”

“What can we do?” Sally asked.

“I’m thinking Canada,” John said. “We should drive up.”

“Wow, that came out of nowhere. You know we can’t.”

“Why not? I’m serious. Who knows what’s going to happen? This could snowball, we could be targets.”

“Wait, answer me this: What’s the chance he creates a new state?

“I can’t see the rest of this State or the States letting it happen, unless this is bigger than we know. But why would he do this? He’s not stupid. There must be something else he’s after? And he must know what he can get away with. Look at what he’s doing with our court case. It’s going to be hard to prove he broke into the conference room.”

“You just said, the rest of the US won’t stand for this. So we have to fight. We have to do something,” Sally said as she sat on a stone bench.

“I’m in the Mayor’s cross hairs,” John said, “and the police are on his side.”

“But what happens when he fails? We come back looking like little puppies after everyone else has done the clean-up? Do you want to be remembered as one of the guys who ran away when the Mayor was making trouble? Or do we leave and never come back? We gotta stay.”

John walked back to the corner, and after a moment, he came back to sit on the bench next to Sally.

“You’re right,” John said, “but how can we hit him back?”

“We gotta figure something out.”

“How is he going to broadcast this?” John asked. “He’s cut the power, so people’s TVs are dead, right? He’s compromised cell service, so only users of NorNet have service. Are any other carriers providing functional internet service?”

“Not that I know of,” Sally said.

“That’s our way in. We, or you, compromise the NorNet internet service, and thus his announcement.”

“Oh no, I’m not risking my job for some chuckle.”

“Hey, you said ‘it’s stay and fight, or live in Canada.’ What’s it gonna be? Who else can fight back tonight? No one else is in our position.”

“But what are we gonna do?”

“You re-route his coverage to something else. It can be anything. It can be a Trump talking about injecting disinfectants into people’s lungs. Or some comedian who’s bashing the lying politicians. There’s so much BS we can pin on the Mayor. He’s still saying the election was stolen.”

“I can’t.”

“C’mon? Can Megan do it?”

“She could, but she wouldn’t. I trust Megan, but she doesn’t have the stomach for this.”

“Would she get in your way?”

“I’m not sure, but she wouldn’t help. She’d be too scared. The best she would do is passive moral support.”

“Moral support only mixes the messages. So if you’re too scared, and Megan’s too scared, we need to get packing. Toronto is pretty nice in the summer.”

“No, you’re right, but god this is scary. There’s got to be some Jerry Farewell skit we can put on rerun while he makes his speech. C’mon, we gotta hussle, its quarter to eleven.”

May 07, 2021 16:19

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