Lights Out #4
I tripped and felt my jeans rip over the knee. When my fingers came away from the graze, there was bright, red blood on their tips. A man in a long coat bent down, put his hand under my arm and lifted me onto my feet.
‘Hope you had a nice trip.’ He said with a chuckle. ‘Have you hurt yourself?’
‘No, I’m alright, thank you.’
The man continued walking and I picked up my grocery bags. Each held two large bottles of water and their weight was dragging at my shoulders. I had been running because I wanted to get home quickly and not have to carry them anymore.
Nothing came out of the taps after the power went out. I think that was what changed things and I am sure you will agree. When people realised that water and food would not be coming to them, they began to think about how they could get it. A great many walked to places where food and water were kept. You probably remember the names of those places, but I forgot long ago.
We never thought about the ones who could not or would not walk. They were not us. If we were walking then they should have been walking. But they stayed around the bottoms of the towers and terraces, standing in doorways and on steps, watching us go out into the city.
I did not wonder why they were watching me go to collect water. There was no television, no radio and no internet. It seemed to me that there must be nothing left to do except go to collect water or watch other people do it. I wonder if you were one of the ones who thought to ask when the watchers would be going. If you were, perhaps you ran before the rest of us fell. Perhaps you stayed to see what would happen. You might have been watching the watchers to see what they would bring you.
My legs were aching almost as badly as my arms by the time I caught sight of the flat. I could see my father and the rest of my family standing at the window. They were three floors up and, with a sudden sickening feeling, I remembered that I still had a hundred steps waiting for me. But my father’s wave filled me with warmth. I knew they were thirsty and that they would be grateful to me for volunteering the first shift.
‘Isn’t that my water?’ A stranger asked.
At first, I thought it might be the man who had helped me stand before. But he was not wearing the same coat and his hair was different. Still, it was only an honest mistake. There were hundreds of people milling around in the street, watching hundreds more carry food and water past them. Someone was bound to lose something.
‘No, this is mine. I fetched it myself.’ I replied.
‘You fetched it for me. Give it.’ He said.
I could not understand what he was saying. We had never met before as far as I could remember. There was no reason for me to fetch him water. It seemed like he had mistaken me for someone else. Everyone’s memory seemed to be going. Other people were trying to snatch the handles of plastic shopping bags from the walkers. Small fights were beginning to break out around me. There was a man with a bat. You remember the bats we used to hit balls with, hardened wood with smooth sides.
He swung the bat and the walker fell beneath a hail of clawing fingers and kicking feet. I understood then what was happening. It was not just that I understood I was being robbed. You remember the moment it started going wrong and you realised that there was no safety in numbers. We were not in it together; it was every one animal fighting for its own survival.
Perhaps you were one of those who ran back to their families after the crowd ripped itself apart and found that all the water had been spilled. I wonder how many friends and family members you watched grow sick and hungry, how many times you were beaten and robbed before you left them.
I ran away as soon as the first walker fell. My legs did not stop moving until I was out of the city and, by some miracle, I was still holding onto one bottle of precious water. Of course I felt guilt, more guilt than you can imagine. I could neither look at nor speak to another person for more than a week. It was as if every face I passed accused me of leaving my family to die.
But they did know. Every person who stumbled breathless out of the city and walked alone into the wilderness had left everyone else behind in order to save themselves. There was no other way to survive, but it was no way to live.
Find the first in this short story sequence here.
You can read another short story here.
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