I felt the cylinder slide into my hands. Hard, cold, dense. It was small, too small, but I’d have to make do. I paid good money for this.
“That’ll be six double-A’s,” says the hooded man.
I fork over the batteries. The last of my stash. If this flashlight ran out of light, I’d have no way to replace it. No way to replace the batteries, no way to buy another one.
Our economy used to be powered by money. That’s why most of us leaped at the change when Zenith began.
Zenith, a nonprofit electricity company. Providing free energy to everyone, everywhere. It took a while for us to accept it, too afraid of a catch.
But there was no catch.
Or so we thought, until that Halloween when all the lights went out.
At first, we thought it was a joke. We wondered why none of the houses in our neighborhood had lights. Why no one was giving us candy.
Yes, 16 is a little old for Halloween. At least, some people think so. In my opinion, you’re never too old for free candy and gory costumes.
It was the first nice Halloween we’d had since 2029. Most of our Halloweens here are brutally cold. Rain, snow, sleet, hail. The whole shabang. One year, we even had graupel. That was the year I learned what the world “graupel” meant.
Four years of horrible weather. So in 2033, when sun and mild temperatures came together to create the perfect day, I figured everyone would be out on Halloween.
But all the lights were off. No one sat on their porches. And I didn’t know why until me and my brother John got home, discouraged and annoyed.
That’s when Mom told us what happened.
“Luke, John, come into the living room.”
For the first time in my life, the TV wasn’t running. My mom always had the TV running in the background; she said it helped her focus. I think she just liked watching General Hospital reruns and Family Feud.
But today, it was off; as were all the lights.
Not just here. Everywhere. Even from countries like China, electricity was out. The company of Zenith, which powered our world, had simply vanished overnight, leaving us in darkness.
My brother John was afraid of the dark. At 15, he constantly got made fun of for it. Once the power went out...
He couldn’t handle it. Three days after the blackout, he committed suicide.
It only took a week for the monopoly to begin.
Day 1: The panic. We waited for government officials to respond, to find a solution, to help us.
Day 2: The death: almost everything with a battery died. Phones, computers, even flashlights. Everything, in total sync. Almost as if it were planned.
But that’s crazy talk. I can’t afford to think like that. I have to keep living. Keep surviving.
I have to stay sane.
Day 3: The riots: People rose up, angry and scared. Libraries were raided, books were stolen. But with no lights, it was hard to read.
Most of the books ended up burned in the streets, bathing everything in a hazy red glow.
That’s how every tragedy starts, right?
Day 4: The crash: It’s a miracle it took this long, but finally, the stock market crashes. Money loses all value. And we desperately search for an alternative currency. Something with value. Something real.
Day 5: The adaptation: Took us long enough, but finally, life settles into a post-apocalyptic rhythm. Still violence, still no word from the big guys in Washington (or from anyone, in any part of the world). That much hasn’t changed, and probably won’t for a while. But we have a routine. We wake up. We scavenge for batteries. We buy flashlights, conserve them, hoard them...
We have a routine, but we have no purpose.
Some people have a purpose. I heard there are people working to reinvent electricity. Build it up from scratch.
But a single spark isn’t enough to relight the fire.
Day 6: Yesterday, we heard the news.
The White House still had power.
They glowed like a light of salvation.
But there was one problem: the big guys don’t want to share their toys.
Just kidding. It’s not a matter of authority anymore. The White House has power, but there’s no one to use it. Washington is empty.
Above my paygrade. Everything is above my paygrade. I don’t get paid. And I haven’t found enough batteries to buy information. Not my problem.
I don’t care what happened to Washington. I’m too busy worrying about me.
Selfish? Old me would have thought so. Old me would have called me a selfish dick.
Old me died with the power. Old me died with my brother. There’s no trace of him left.
That brings us to today.
Today, I bought a flashlight.
And just in time.
Because today, the birds came.
Although I suppose they aren’t really birds. They look like birds.
But they flock to darkness.
As I sat in my dark house, trying to ignore the smell, I see the birds begin to run into my windows. Battering them down. Maybe they smell it too. The smell that comes from the kitchen.
The smell of death.
John died early enough that we could get him a proper burial.
Mom set the house on fire. When I doused the flames, using water from the melted ice in the fridge, she was a charred corpse. And that was only two days ago. Right as everyone else settled into a routine, Mom decided to end it.
And by then, it was too late to give anyone a proper anything. So I left her there. What choice did I have?
So I told myself that the birds were coming towards the smell, hoping for food. I couldn’t see them— it was too dark for that— but I could hear them, flapping their black wings and shrieking their black cries.
That’s how I knew they couldn’t be real birds. That sound, that horrible, horrible sound... it was less of a sound, even, more of a feeling. It was so loud that it became an overwhelming black, an all-consuming darkness.
I turned on my flashlight, hoping to catch a glimpse of their vile, twisted faces.
But as soon as the lights came on, the shrieks stopped. They stopped using their bodies as battering rams. They were nowhere in sight.
They were gone, vanquished by the light.
But I couldn’t keep the light on forever. I didn’t have the energy. I was out of batteries. But I’d keep it on. For now. At least keep it on at night. At night, when nightmares become real. At night, when darkness is everywhere.
Now I know why John was so afraid of the dark.
Maybe he knew. Maybe all along, he knew what was coming. He knew about the outage, he knew about the apocalypse, he knew about the birds. He always knew.
I should have listened to him. I should have been there.
I should have...
I woke up to a faint clicking sound.
It was the sound of my flashlight flickering.
“No,” I whisper. “No, no-no-no.” I grabbed the flashlight and shook it.
How long was I asleep? I don’t even remember nodding off? How could it be out of batteries? It’s only been a day! It’s too soon! Too soon!
With a final “churk” sound, the light is off, and the birds are back.
No... I can’t accept this. I won’t be torn apart by these monsters. These aliens. These demons. I can’t do it. I can already feel it, their beaks pushing into my stomach, shredding my entrails, gobbling up my lungs.
their wings beat in a steady rhythm. flap. flapflapfwap. over and over again please make it stop.
its only a matter of time before they get in here. i don’t even know if anyone can read this anymore. my handwriting is shaking and looping and scrabbling just like my mind. i guess that’s what i get for turning my suicide note into a memoir. its too long. i need to cut it short. there’s more i need to say, but there’s no time. no time at all.
it’s too late.
the birds are only moments from breaking in.
This past week of my life has been one suicide after another. Bit by bit.
Now, I’m making sure that chain ends. Ends with me.
This will be the last suicide I ever have to witness.
I pick up the match and sigh.
Electricity and fire are so different, yet so similar. Both make light. Both can burn you.
And both start with a single spark.