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Urban Fantasy Suspense Fiction

Lights out. “What the hell was it this time?” Jade muttered to herself. Seems like ever since she and her father moved to Mercy’s Landing the power outages have become more and more frequent. Longer too. You’d think in the 21st century someone would get this kind of thing straightened out. Funny enough, her father was a field operations supervisor for one of the largest power companies in Massachusetts. The inability to prevent and fix these problems was a running joke when she felt like ripping on the old guy. 

Six months they've been out here, and for the last four, he would come home frustrated and exhausted. It seemed every time an outage struck, his crew would hustle out, only to find everything as it should be. His reports started to look ridiculous when they found no issues and, miraculously, the power just popped back on whenever it decided to.

This rarely happened back in New Mexico. And if her mother hadn’t walked out on them with that creep, Todd, dad probably wouldn’t have been so compelled to leave the “Land of Enchantment” and head for the farthest place east it seemed they could go. But, with Uncle Leo’s promise of a good stable job and plenty of educational opportunities for his favorite niece, her father leapt at the invitation. So, here they were, living next to a swamp no less. Mercy’s Landing might be a good size city, but it still felt like a “jerkwater town” to her. When she would start complaining about their new home her father would tease and call her “Darth Jader.” That usually got a rise and chilled her out. He’s a good guy. Corny as hell, but good, nonetheless.

The shadowy name alone of this place was disturbing. In her state history class, Mrs. Bennigan droned on about the origins of the city's founders longer than she cared to listen. A handful of citizens from Exeter, Rhode Island, migrated north in late 1892 to escape a growing mass hysteria. The delirium began with the death and ungodly desecration of young Mercy Brown's body. The poor girl was accused of and became the best-documented case of "vampirism" in New England, later found to be a tuberculosis outbreak. Sickened by the witch-hunt, members of the extended family moved north into Massachusetts and named their new home in honor of their deceased kin.

Honestly, and she would never admit this to any of her new friends, the only thing remotely appealing about the area was the swamp. It just so happened to be the legendary Hockomock Swamp, the heart of the infamous "Bridgewater Triangle." Her affinity for mystery and lore, especially surrounding cryptozoology wonders like the "Fiji Mermaid", "Jersey Devil", and other unexplainable critters, was a private interest of hers since she was a little girl. Strange sightings, anomalies, creatures, and cult-like behavior have been happening here since the Wampanoag Indian Tribe had welcomed early English colonists and began recording mysterious incidents. Supposedly, it's cursed by Native American spirits of those who died during King Philip's War.

Well, nothing to do now but grab a book and settle in. It was a good thing with the frequent power outages that she still loved the allure of the printed word. Maybe Uncle Leo’s old collection had something exciting she had yet to discover. She flicked on the little crank-powered lantern her dad bought for just such occasions and made her way in the direction of the den bookcase.

“Ice Ice Jadey'', her father’s gravelly voice called out. She never knew how his mind cobbled together the dorkiest nicknames, though it made sense now that she could hear him blasting his Vanilla Ice “Hooked” album again from his battery-operated tape player in the shed. “Pop on downstairs and spark up the dynamo, will ya.”

Damn if she didn't hate going down to the basement to fire up the backup generator. It smelled like stagnant water and feet. She would practically crawl on the dusty ground to avoid the low-hanging spider webs. She'd heard stories of people walking into nests of black widows native to Massachusetts. That was a great big "hell no" for her.

Jade carefully worked her way through the kitchen toward the basement stairs. "I wonder what Jeremy and Iris are up to?" she said out loud. The Dillinger twins had become fast friends of hers when she first arrived in Mercy's Landing. "They must be dying without TV or the internet," she chuckled to herself.

POW!

Jade hit the floor hard as all the lights in the house came on at once with enormous intensity. All, that is, except for the hallway light above her. It had exploded in a million pieces, threaded metal base and all! As she stood there picking the larger fragments of glass and filament from her hair, her father came barreling in through the back door.

“You okay, kid? What the hell was that?”

"Looks like that power spike was too hot for that one to handle," she said pointing up.

“Sheesh! Musta been a classic.”

“You mean old,” she shot back, still searching her scalp for anything sharp.

"Okay, kid. Let's go dust your head off outside. Then I'll sweep up before we bring in Squeak for the night."

Squeak, aptly named for the high-pitched noises the massive, bear-like Caucasian Ovcharka made when excited to see his family, was their gentle giant companion.

As the last of the shattered bulb made its way into the dustpan, it seemed like all the house lights started to dim again. After a few seconds, Jade noticed them begin to brighten, but not a normal brightening. This was like some strange high-low sort of bright-dim pulsing, bathing everything in eerie shadows that seemed to come alive.

POW! POW! POW!

The tinkling of pulverized glass and metal on the hardwood floor followed the three successive little explosions.

“You gotta be shitten me!” her father groaned. “Jade, go give your gal-pal, Iris, a shout on her cell. They aren’t too far away and see if any goofy power spikes are hitting their place.”

Jade passed through the kitchen as she pulled up Iris’ number in her favorites and hit dial. She could hear Squeak barking and growling outside and wanted to see what his deal was.

“Roadkill cafe! If you kill ‘em we can grill ‘em! Today’s special is Road Toad a la Mode. What can I get ya?”

“Jesus, Jeremy! Your one sick bastard. Where’s Iris?”

“Ah, she’s helping’ mom clean up some mess in the living room. The lights have been going wild and a couple even blew up! Now the power’s out altogether. Typical Mercy’s Landing.”

"Seriously? The same thing just happened here, but the lights are still on and doing some freaky flickering thing. Ah, shit...spoke too soon. Everything's out again," she said as the house was plunged into darkness.

"Well, I'm up here at my window and it looks like the whole city is out. Not a light on anywhere. I thought some places at least had those emergency flood lights or something?"

“Hmm, beats me. Anyway, I just wanted to see if this was more than just us. Tell Iris I rang, and I’ll probably see you guys tomorrow.”

“Alrighty. Give Squeak a belly rub for me and I’ll catch ya later.”

Jade hung up and walked to the back door. Squeak was still barking at the woods, but stayed close to the door. "Sounds like the power's out all over the city. At least that's what Jeremy could see," she called out to her father.

“If you’re going out to check on the big guy can you grab the shed stereo? I threw some fresh batteries in and we can see if there is any news or alerts.” “So much for an evening off,” he moaned.

When she stepped out the back door, she could see the outline of Squeak standing at the edge of the porch. The moon was still low but shedding enough pale light to see alright by. Squeak's low, deep growl and slow staccato of barks had her guessing it was probably one of the many raccoons, or "trash pandas" as she called them, that puttered around the area. By the rising intensity, she prayed it wasn't a skunk, or worse, a coyote. Something had his hackles up.

Jade slowly approached Squeak’s side and placed a calm hand on his huge head. With the soothing touch, Squeak ceased his barking and whining. With his noises suddenly interrupted, the silence suddenly seemed overwhelming. Almost deafening in the inky black darkness that surrounded her between the slivers of moonlight.

    As if cued by some unseen conductor, whispers began to sound from all three sides of her, low at first, then rising slowly only to quiet again. The prehistoric “lizard brain” responsible for man’s fight or flight drive suddenly tingled in her head. Squeak began his low growling almost instantly, ceasing the sound like someone stopping a record quickly. It wasn’t windy tonight, and the tree line was too far out for that to be leafs rustling. Jade stiffened and strained to listen as she put an arm around Squeak’s neck to quiet him.

    After about 30 seconds of silence, the whispering began to pick up again. This time, after a few moments, she started to pick out something more intelligible in the sound. “Ee-wah-chu” she could almost make out. Ee-wah-chu? Yeah, doesn’t sound like mother nature waggling some tree branches she thought.

    Leaving Squeak to man his post, Jade quickly stepped into the shed, grabbed the old stereo, and headed back to the house. She was thankful it was only a distance of 10 feet away. Ushering Squeak through the door, she slammed the bolt home and moved in to find her father. Squeak remained staring at the door.

    “You take a quick siesta out there? You were gone a while for just bopping into the shed.”

    Feeling a little self-conscious, she shrugged and placed the stereo on the counter. Probably just some auditory hallucination. We all have a little fear of the dark, she told herself. Nothing to raise alarm about.

    Her father switched the stereo from cassette to radio, tuning it to the local news and gossip station, 1530 WVBF, out of Middleborough.

    “Alright, keep an ear out. I’m gonna call in and see if they need another body to see what the situation is,” he told her. He turned the volume up a little and stepped into the den to make his call.

The high-pitched reedy voice of Midge Gilhooley, nice name, not, came on mid-sentence talking about the blackout that was stretching from Brockton to Taunton. Sweet. They were smack dab in the middle.

“...local authorities continue urging residents to remain inside if possible. While no signs of trouble or looting have occurred at this time, complaints and reports of odd power spikes, though no juice has been flowing for the last two hours, have begun popping up all over the area. Get this, listeners: reported sightings of small, animal-like creatures wandering the local neighborhoods have been coming in on our lines for the last 45 minutes. Observers are also claiming to hear whispering when outside their homes. Let’s not let the imagination run wild, folks. We haven’t had talking rats around here in years,” she said, bursting into laughter like nails on a chalkboard.

“Gremlins, huh? Or maybe it’s those Pukwudgie things that live around here” her dad chuckled from behind, scaring the hell out of her and causing her to spit out the sip of soda she had just taken.

“Wow, easy there, Jittery-Jane!”

“What do you expect sneaking up like a creep-o! I’m not saying anything, but there’s some weird baloney happening out there. Not to be the girl that cried wolf, but it was happening in our backyard too. That’s what Squeak was yapping about, and I was catching some of it too.”

“Well, we’re inside and it’s all good. Murph’s got things under control at the plant, so we’ll just wait it out. Don’t leave the fridge or freezer doors open too long if you go rummaging around in there for a snack. Gotta keep the food cold if this outage keeps up for a while. And close the backdoor when you come in.” he shouted walking to the master bedroom.

“Wait, what?” she said with mild surprise. She swore she bolted it shut when coming back in. Walking to the back of the house, Squeak was still minding his kingdom and had resumed his low, deep growl. The backdoor swung loosely on its hinges. She moved closer, frowning as she noticed what looked like little wet dirt streaks in the entryway. 

Jade threw the bolt closed one more time and turned back toward the kitchen. The lights started to come on again, but slowly, as if warming up like those high-efficiency bulbs that take forever to brighten.

“Let there be light!” her father yelled from somewhere deeper in the house.

Soothing Squeak with a handful of peanut butter and bacon treats, she stood there in the shadowy, dim light that refused to get any stronger. As Squeak finished licking his lips for every last morsel of biscuit, Jade could hear what sounded like a dog’s nails click-clacking on wood when they got too long...and Squeak hadn’t moved a muscle.

“Ee-wah-chu” whispered gently, seeming to come from nowhere and everywhere at once.

“Hey, you say something? Use your outside voice. I can’t hear ya from back here,” her father hollered down the hall.

“Dad! It’s happening in here! The noises on the radio and in the backyard!”

Jade felt her skin crawl, thinking back to her favorite podcast, “Lore”. It was the episode about the Bridgewater Triangle. Some guy and his dog came across a little creature on their walking path. She remembered the host saying it made a similar noise to what she was hearing now. The guy in the story was shaken up, but described what he thought the creature was trying to say: “Ee-wah-chu” was really “we want you!” Native American legends said that’s what the “Pukwudgie” did when luring people to them, only to attack, kidnap, or push them off cliffs. “For crying out loud, Jade. Get a grip and chill out!” she muttered to herself.

“What the hell?” her father cried out!

Silence.

“Dad? Dad, you okay?”

More silence.

Those same little fight or flight jitters started sounding off in Jade’s mind again.

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. The sound of a dozen little nails on the wood floor made their way slowly down the hall toward the kitchen.

“Dad!”

“Ee-wah-chu" whispered gently over and over almost aggressively.

As Jade bent down, wrapping her arms around Squeak’s massive neck, that’s when the lights went out...and stayed out...

May 02, 2021 21:56

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