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The Rosebud (excerpt)
Every illumine thing hid in darkness. The blackout swept throughout the city like a disease of emptiness from which no one was immune. I looked up at the night sky from the office window and couldn’t even see the stars, or the moon. There was nothing, not even a falling satellite to signify that something had gone wrong in the world.
I never thought such a thing would have been possible, that the universe, or at least all visible machinations of it, could have just faded away without any fallout involved. It was like someone had just turned off the switch.
And it was gone.
I heard chairs spinning on their stalks, as people ebbed and flowed through doorways, pushing their way through the crowded darkness and panting with a maddening fever. Some people were trying to see things out of the office windows, but most were too alarmed to want to see the blackness that had graced the winter evening below.
The snow had been piled high in the streets, but it remained unseen and unlit by the absence of the streetlights. The only light inside the office came from the two candles that an older lady called Edna, had placed in front of the large windows of the office.
The faint, flickering light from the candles highlighted just how inaccessible the office floor had become, how silent the office seemed to fall once fear had bitten people’s excited tongues.
But of course there had to have been one voice to rise above the din of quietude, and that was Harold: a man of sixty-years of age and close to retirement. He wept like a little kid at first, pleading for salvation, pleading for hell to leave him alone, but even his cries were eventually silenced by the simple presence of Jacob by his side. I think everyone was pleased once he had quieted down, but then in the relative silence that followed, they had to contend with their own inner voices.
I saw Jacob approach me in the half-light that sat between candles. He placed his lips close to my ear and asked for me to follow him. Everyone else remained quiet, as if their lives were temporarily on pause, indifferent to the turning of the Earth and the spaces between us.
Not one of them followed us as we went out into the stairwell, and I think Jacob preferred it that way. I sensed he didn’t want to disturb the entire group, for he seemed much happier to leave them in their own separate terrors.
‘They don’t get it,’ he said as we felt our way along the wall, touching with the tips of our shoes to find our bearings.
I only nodded, for the darkness had taken my voice, but I felt he could see deep into my soul and sense my inner fears.
We continued to finger our way along the wall, feeling for the first step and the start of the railing. The air inside the darkness was no longer free moving. It felt like everything was frozen in place and our movement was against the world’s wishes.
To help us find our way in the darkness, we held hands as we moved along the railing. I occasionally knocked his foot, but the sound was muted and hollow.
I didn’t think the first flight of stairs would ever end. I counted every flight, knowing that there should have been at least twenty of them before we reached the ground floor. We didn’t say anything as we made our way down, but instead we let the darkness seep into us. When we did finally reached the last stairwell it didn’t feel like it was the true bottom, for it didn’t unburden me from the nightmare.
‘This is it then. I guess we better find the downstairs lobby,’ Jacob said coolly.
I held his shoulder as we edged along the wall towards where we remembered the door to be. The texture of the walls didn’t seem quite right, but then nothing seemed the same. I think Jacob sensed it too. Hollow sounds and tactile fingers were the only way to discover such a new and strange world.
And then a thought came to mind, ‘Jacob, why didn’t we take one of the candles from the office?’
‘And leave those people in even more darkness?’ He replied simply. I pinched his shoulder then, for I was annoyed that he had placed their need for the candle above our own. I saw us as explorers of a new world, and in that world nothing seemed right or wrong, but leaving the candle had annoyed me.
The door creaked on its hinges as we opened it up, but then once the sounds had hurried down the corridor, like sweeping dragons in flight, all that was left was an empty silence.
‘Is anyone there?’ I shouted, expecting to have found others congregating in the corridor that led to the lobby, but unless the silence was a message, there was no reply.
Once we had confirmed the lobby and corridor was empty, we felt the coldness closing in around us. I had felt the heat in the stairwell rising up like a demon phantom heading for the roof, but down on the bottom floor, it was as if all of the heat had been sucked out of the air. The only warmth I felt was from Jacob, but his skin was get- ting colder by the second. I visualized the foggy halos billowing from our panting mouths, unseen in the cold dark.
That is how I saw us, unseen but still existing, and in that thought I envied my work colleagues above. Their warmth would have warmed me much more than the faint brushes I felt of Jacob’s skin. I wondered if perhaps they knew the misery that was to follow us, and that was why they stayed where they were, sat around the two candles, like still bodies in a morgue.
‘Jacob where are we going?’ I asked.
He didn’t reply, as he was busy trying to imagine where the corridor ended, and whether we had already reached the lobby. It wasn’t until I heard the sound of four wooden legs momentarily being pushed over a marble-effect floor that I knew we had reached the chair where the guard normally sat.
‘We’re in the lobby now,’ Jacob said, though he whispered it through his teeth as if he was scared we were not alone.
‘We should find the exit,’ I whispered.
What I really meant by that statement was that I wanted to get outside, for I imagined by instinct that there would be light outside of the building, or at least some hint of it, and in my blindness I was frustrated and scared, emotions I could have always controlled in the past.
By reaching for a switch, I’d normally find light, by reaching for a candle in the darkness of a blackout, I would have been blessed with the faintest flickering version of it, and if all else failed, there would be the moon, or at least the faint outline of it trying to break through the clouds. But this was very different. Even though I craved the out- side and wanted to be away from the internal walls of the building, I also knew deep down inside that barring the candles, if any more could be found, none of those illumine things now existed.
The moon and the stars were gone, the streetlights had all failed, the backup generators across the entire city had not kicked in, batteries in cell phones were dead, lights on watches had failed, and car batteries must have been flat, for from the top of the building we had not seen any headlights roaming about in the darkness.
It seemed that every glimmer and glint associated with some kind of light source was gone. The waves of light, that used to be as common as the air we breathed, had simply become extinct in all things except the humble candle. In short it felt as if hell had clashed with heaven, and we were caught somewhere in between, experiencing the worst of both worlds.
‘What shall we do now?’ I asked.
‘Like you suggested, we find our way to the exit and get outside,’ he clutched hold of my hand and shook it as if to emphasize his point, ‘that’s at least how I dreamt it.’
I gripped his hand until I heard him whimper slightly under the strain.
‘What do you mean?’ I whispered. ‘Are you telling me you had a dream that this would happen?’
‘You don’t understand. I have dreamt of things my entire life, things that have come true over and over, from people dying, to important people being born. There are not many things that I haven’t conceived of in my dreams. It’s as if my dreams are the closed bud of a rose, and the truth is merely the opening of the flower, the reality sprung into life, a reality that was always there, a reality that was always going to happen unless the rosebud died.’
‘You mean you’re letting me think a thousand desperate thoughts about what has happened, and you knew all along?’
I could sense him shaking his head, or perhaps it was the strong inhalation and the desperate sound of his lungs expanding that made me aware of my mistake.
‘No!’ he said, ‘in my dream I saw this darkness, but in it there were glints of light, and the stars were shining, serving as a backdrop to the full moon. In my dream the world’s financial markets had crashed, and the Internet had been taken over by elite gangs. They had man- aged to take over the world’s economy.
‘That’s why I told you on the roof that there wasn’t enough paper. Imagine a world where criminals controlled the world’s electronic wealth. That’s why I accompanied you that day.
‘I had overheard people from your floor talking about your gam- bling addiction, and I figured if I had followed you I might just have stopped you from jumping, for I had an awful dream in which I was looking down at you from the top of the building. Your body had landed on a passing taxi and there was blood splattered everywhere. I knew, or at least I thought I knew, that your debts would have been meaningless in light of a world without money.’
I thumped the wall and felt my cold skin bruise in the darkness. ‘So why didn’t you alert someone, or do something to stop this from happening?’
‘Because the world wouldn’t listen, and not only that, I didn’t know how they would do it, I only knew that there was a possibility it could happen. But this isn’t exactly a financial meltdown, is it? No, this is something else entirely, something even more sinister.’
I slid down the wall I had been leaning up against until my buttocks touched the cold floor beneath me. ‘So you didn’t dream this scenario?’
‘Hell no, I didn’t dream this!’
I shook my head. ‘So the rosebud died.’
‘I guess so.’
We were silent for a while. The idea that he had dreamt of so many future truths seemed absurd to me at first, but in the thickening haze of my mind, and as the hours of unending darkness passed, I started to believe it might have been true. In a world cast into total darkness, it wasn’t hard to believe in the unimaginable, for that was just a word, and I realized in that darkness there was nothing so finite and absolute as to not be imagined.
As if everything else that had happened was not enough, I would soon find out that his presence would only accompany me for a few more seconds before he would be taken from my grip.
I felt him being pulled away by a force the likes of which I could never even imagine. All I could hear was his body sliding away from me.
Into dust, into obscurity, into silence, into darkness, were the short phrases that flashed through my mind.
P D Dawson has had his work published by Almond Press, Under the Bed, Beyond Imagination Literary Magazine, Earlyworks Press, Schlock! Webzine, and HCE: Here Comes Everyone Magazine. His stories have appeared in two books, both of which were published by Almond Press. One is Broken Worlds, a collection of dystopian stories, and the other, Apocalypse Chronicles, a collection of stories about the end of the world featuring his winning story “The Rosebud.”
The artwork featured with this story is by graphic artist and painter Allen Forrest, born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas.