Outage by Mark McConville

Outage.

What if the power went out? What if hope crashed like an old computer? People would lose their minds. They would arm themselves with everything sharp and dangerous. Dangerous enough to cut through bone if needs be.  

It is cold here, so cold I can’t feel my toes. The attic, painted in vibrant colours looks mundane when the darkness shrouds them. All over the floor are empty wine bottles filled with wax to create a glint of light. We’re cooped up here to preserve our lives. Those down on the streets have turned into maniacs, stealing what they can. Through time, they’ve altered the look of the town. Once a bustling patch of hope is now a decaying, festering pit of despair.

Cutting into us are these freezing temperatures. During the day, the sun shines, but only as an aesthetic orb in the sky. We have covers, but they’re paper-thin rags that barely add effect. We will die through the night. I can sense the Black Death eating through the wood, complementing the insects. I can see through my own nightmares that my mother will die before me and I’ll be left on my own. She’s a saviour, but I feel I am weighing her down.

Her greying hair alarms me. Only a few months ago, her hair was brown. It must be the worry that is ingrained in her mind. She used to be courageous and flamboyant, a lover of a blank canvas and paint. Her workmanship unparalleled as she would sit and finish a painting with sheer elegance and flair. When problems surfaced, she’d count to ten and then fix it. She doesn’t talk much these days, she only utters the same name ‘’James’’

James was a man who brought shivers to her spine. A crutch, a father, a dreamer. He was killed by two assailants. Victimized in the dark streets, kicked and stamped on, savagely beaten. He was trying to get some supplies, but found himself caught in a war of words and pain. He must have felt pain pulsate through his body until the end. My mother is deeply enraged and at some points during the night, she hollers out for him and scorns the attackers. I have to nullify and suppress these outbursts so we don’t get caught.

We hear voices from under us occasionally. People rummaging around, taking things. We hear gunshots and grovelling. Raids are commonplace, death swarms like flies, and happiness is forever dead in the eyes of even the optimists. Desire to run overwhelms me too. But what would I do? I’d be killed in seconds, my blood would be smeared across the walls, my insides left for the dogs. Adrenaline courses through my veins, but I wouldn’t make it out alive.

I’ll grow old here, maybe. If the stock lasts. Tins of oranges stack up. They become lacklustre, but are the only foodstuff we have. I’ve read the same book over and over for two months. I’ve counted the marks on the wooden floor, I’ve walked back and forth to keep the circulation in my legs. These are what I’ve designed to kill boredom.

Night comes and the temperatures drop again. I hear a noise coming from outside. Screams of terror alert me to drift to the small window that leads to the roof. I open it softly and climb onto the roof and look down, there’s no one there now. I venture back in until I hear a cry. The cold chill bites into my skin but I persevere. I know I shouldn’t do this, but it could be someone needing help.

I whistle. I whistle again. Using the makeshift candle as a source of light.

Out from the shadows comes a young boy. He looks at me.

‘‘Don’t speak,’’

He nods at me.

‘‘Here’’

I throw him down a rope. My eagerness could cause harm. It could be a ploy to grind down our defences. If my mother was fully alive, she’d tell me how complacent I am being. He climbs steadily up and I push my hands out to grab him. He isn’t heavy. His frame is skin and bones. I close the hatch.

‘‘I’m so glad you…’’

‘‘Shh. My mother is sleeping. Talk quietly’’

‘‘Thank you. My name is Chico’’

‘‘I’m Clare’’

‘‘Your eyes they’re so beautiful’’

‘‘Thank you, I guess’’

His gaunt face is a reminder of the lack of nourishment. He shakes constantly. I grab onto his hand to try to stop the agitations. He lets me. There’s no warmth in him. I place my head on his heart. It beats fast and hard like it’s about to explode.

‘‘Your heart, it’s loud’’

‘’It’s been like that since I saw…’’

‘‘Saw what?’’

‘‘People being gunned down. Their hearts were on show. I could see them beat outside of their chests. It is graphic out there’’

‘‘Where is your family?’’

‘‘They’re gone, I think. They ran, but I fell behind’’

‘‘So it’s only you?’’

‘’Yes’’

‘‘You can stay for a while’’

‘‘Thank you,’’

‘‘Is she okay?’’

‘‘Yeah, she’s sleeping”

My nightmares never predicted this. There was no other person. There was only to be me and my mother. I relied on these dreams to give answers. They’re fake and I should have known it. They’re full of ghouls and ghosts. I shouldn’t have been naïve. The thunderous thoughts that rip through my mind have been stemmed by the introduction of a new ally.

Joy is still under the strain of dismay. We’re still stuck in this small space, hungry for freedom. Only now is there a person I can have a conversation with. He’s fully alive, not broken, not demented. His cute features are an attraction, his smile compelling enough for me to look at him frequently.

‘So how did you end up here?’

‘‘We escaped to the attic and have been here ever since’’

‘’Why?”

‘’My father was beaten to death and there was no other choice’’

‘‘I see’’

My mother’s eyes twitch. She opens them and screams at Chico.

‘‘Who is this?’’

‘‘It’s okay mum?’’

I console her, but she demands me to tell her who Chico is.

‘’He’s the devil’s child. Those eyes, he’s evil’’

‘’He’s not evil, he’s scared like us’’

‘‘No’’

‘Yes, believe me.’’

She opens up her dusty old purse and points a crucifix at Chico.

‘He’s demonic’’

‘Stop it mother, you’re tired, go back to sleep’’

The atmosphere curdles. The room becomes a place of friction.

‘‘Go now,’’

‘‘You will get us caught’’

The screams become louder and we hear commotion under us. We hear gunshots and people talking.

‘‘No’’

‘‘Now look what you’ve done’’

Bullets pierce the weak wood. Hope diminishes with every shot.

‘‘What should we do?’’

‘Let me think,’’

The inner sanctum of my mind-set is subsiding. The nightmarish ghosts are flooding the room. Beams of light shimmer through from battery fuelled torches. It’s time to die, I can feel it. Chico stands there, hopeless and unready for what’s occurring.

‘Your mother, she’s sputtering,’’

Blood spills from my mother’s mouth.

‘We need to leave. It’s our only chance’’

‘‘I can’t leave her.’’

‘We will die. She’s had a purposeful life before this, let her be’’

There isn’t a glimmer of hope to save us all. My mother will perish under the weight of her own ways. Guns and bullets will play their part. The foundation of love is breaking.

We climb upon the roof, and look down at the blood soaked streets. We wait until the rest of them enter the building. They carry weapons, spreading destruction. Their eyes terrified, but their cravings for food and control are bubbling inside them.

We hear three gunshots…

They’re louder than normal. Volatile, ripping through the skin and into important organs. I can picture my mother laying there. Bloodied up, but the pain has faded.

Her laced up mind, untied.

We rappel down the side of the house and run.

We have to run…