When The Lights Went Out

Prologue

Present Day Santiago

At 11:05pm on Tuesday 22nd, every single light in the city went out.

The skyscrapers were left like undulating black waves besides mountains which loomed like a monstrous carcass upon the earth. Above them, the sky pressed down heavily, lit by the eerie glow of the moon, and for one brief, fleeting second there was only silence as the city collectively took a breath and looked around with fearful eyes.

Fernanda was one of them. At nineteen years old, she was streetwise and worldly enough to handle herself in a crisis. Her brothers always told her so – if anything she was almost too sure of herself, they said. So when the city became enveloped in darkness she pulled herself up strong, threw back her head and laughed.

¨What is going on now?! There is always something up in this city! Just use your phone, guys.¨

She turned to her friends who were lit up by the moon´s trail, and pulled her phone out of her bag. ¨See?¨ She pressed the buttons but nothing happened.  Now she felt a small sliver of panic run down her spine. To be without light was one thing, but without her phone?

¨Mine isn´t working either,¨ Hernan said and one by one the small group of 4 friends came to the same conclusion.

¨Well this is just bizaare¨ Paula whispered and huddled closer to Hernan, ¨what do you think is going on?¨

¨I´ll tell you what is going on. The end of the world, that´s what! ¨ Chortled Diego and grinned at Fernanda.

¨Are you scared, little girl¨ He said to her and now Fernanda laughed.

¨I am not as scared as you will be in a minute if you call me that again!¨ She retorted then reached for the papers.  ¨Come on, let´s smoke before this gets really boring¨

¨I like the sound of that plan¨ agreed Diego, passing her a lighter.

As Fernanda sucked in and felt the first sharpness of the smoke pass down her throat, she felt a momentary fear.  Moments later that fear was gone, replaced by a warmth that lit her whole body and soothed around her mind like soft feathers.

And then the ground moved.

Hernan let out a small shriek and Paula dropped to the floor. It stopped. And then it began again, swift jerks broken by a vibration that seemed to shake them from the inside out.  The air was filled with the sound of car horns, buildings rattling, and people screaming.

¨It´s not stopping!¨ Hernan cried out as the ground heaved.

And then it did. But now the moon shone down with a yellow tint, it´s trail growing thinner as the air seem to choke with dust. And then the light disappeared completely.

¨What´s happening? What is happening?!¨ Paula grasped in the dark and found Fernanda´s hand, gripping it tightly.

¨Take it easy, Paula, it´s just an earthquake,¨ Fernanda soothed but Paula was trembling.

¨Why did all the lights go out first? Where´s the moon gone? What is going ON?¨

¨Be quiet Paula¨¨Diego hissed but before anyone could say anything the ground shook again, this time knocking all four of them to the ground. They lay in the darkness, one arm covering their heads and the other clutching the person beside them, white knuckled.

There was so much screaming. Everywhere people were crying, pleading with the heavens, begging for help but all the time surrounded by blackness. The ground swayed for minutes with shocking force, creaking and breaking around them.

Just as suddenly as it had begun, the earthquake stopped. Then Fernanda felt her hands and then her knees get wet.

¨Oh my god where´s this water come from – run!!¨ She cried, pulling her friends up off the ground.

¨Fernanda wait! I can´t see anything!¨ Paula cried but Fernanda dragged her along.

¨Do not let go of my hand Paula!¨ She bellowed and the two of them ran forwards until they could no longer feel water below them.

¨Fernanda where is Hernan? Hernan! Oh my god, Hernan!¨ Paula screamed but there was no room for her voice when the whole city was screaming.

Fernanda flicked her lighter but once she did she almost wished she hadn´t. Cars were upturned, powerpoles lay strewn upon the ground, and everywhere she saw people covered with blood.

¨Fernanda!¨ Diego appeared beside them and Paula grabbed his shoulders.

¨Where is Hernan?!¨ She shrieked.

¨¨I don´t know! I thought he was with you! I could see as much as you could,¨ Diego said and Paula shook him.

¨You´e a liar Diego Alvarez! A filthy liar. I know who you are – I know who your family are and I Know where you´re from. You´ve always hated Hernan and I bet you left him on the ground calling out for help!¨

Fernanda pushed Paula from Diego.

¨Paula what are you saying?! Calm down – don´t retaliate Diego, we have bigger problems. Look we have to find a safe place, go higher up, find some shelter in case it happens again¨¨Fernanda cautioned as Diego glared at Paula.

¨Yeah, right. You´re right. We need to help each other. But you, Paula, you cuica bitch, need to know that the second all this is over you will be apologizing to me and to my famiy – ¨

¨No I won´t! They are drug addicts and thieves, and I don´t trust you¨ Paula spat at him and Fernanda shoved Diego away just as he raised his hand.

¨What is wrong with you two? Stop this! There´s a hill over there and I´m going up it. Sort out your stupid issues later. I´m sorry, we can´t go back for Hernan because we can´t see and its pandemonium out there, look. Come on let´s go¨ Fernanda pushed past them and began walking towards the hill that she could make out only by the stream of lighters already lighting a path upwards.

Suddenly it began to rain, great droplets of ice that seemed to stick to them like tar. Walking became hard. They were all shivering. They plodded upwards, falling forwards, backwards, walking with a hundred others with flickering lighters that strained against the wind and rain from beneath jackets.

Halfway up the hill they found a large tree with a large crowd beneath it. Fernanda, Paula and Diego dropped to the ground and huddled together with their teeth chattering like glass shards.

¨I´m telling you, I saw this video on the internet. This guy was talking about exactly this. Some guy broke into a government base and put all this footage on the internet. It was up for 2 hours before it disappeared. They can do this. It´s them!¨ Someone was saying.

¨It´s climate change¨ someone interrupted and there were shouts of yes.

¨It´s the South American plates causing a monster earthquake. This has all happened before¨ someone else countered.

¨It´s our punishment for being bad Catholics!¨ Another voice wailed and there were whimpers.

Paula was crying.

¨My mother. My family. Oh my god – our house!¨ She sobbed and Diego snorted.

¨Seriously your thinking of your house right now?¨ He said and Paula glared at him.

¨At least I have a house. At least my parents work. At least I care about something – anything – that is not myself! At least I´m not as selfish as you¨ She cried between clenched teeth and Diego stood up.

¨If you were anyone else I would hit you in the face,¨ Diego whispered, ¨I will remember this, Paula¨ and he walked away.

¨Where are you going? You coward! You selfish coward!¨ Paula screamed after him then buried her head in her arms.

Fernanda stared after Diego, then at Paula.

¨What is going on Paula?¨ She asked and Paula sighed.

¨I swore I would never tell anyone. I didn´t want anyone to know because it was so … so stupid.¨ She took a deep breath. ¨Diego and I slept together after Nano´s party and then one thing kind of led to another and next thing I know we are seeing each other. But I didn´t want anyone to know, because of how my family are, you know what I mean? So anyway, we were creeping around, lying to everyone and it just became too much. One night we went to the park but my father followed us. He went crazy. He told Diego he wasn´t good enough to date his daughter and that he had to leave me alone. And Diego … Diego just did it. He just said goodbye. He just didn´t care enough to stand up to my family – to admit to his own family – who he wanted to be with. So we broke up. We fought a lot. And now tonight is the first night I´ve seen him since all that.¨

Fernanda took a deep breath.

¨Geez Paula. That is heavy. And Hernan?¨

¨Hernan asked me out a few weeks ago. I said yes. He´s a good guy – exactly the kind of guy my family would love, incidentally,¨ Paula sniffed, ¨Diego hates his guts and always has. You know what Diego is like.¨

Fernanda nodded. She did know, since Diego was her cousin and all.

¨I´m sorry – ¨She started but she was cut off by a cry.

¨What is that?¨ She whispered as a ray of moonlight appeared from the sky and shone downward to touch the tip of the Sky Constanera building, a colossal skyscraper that dominated the city skyline. The building seemed to glow as if with a red fire, while around it the other buildings shone. A buzzing filled the air and then the ground shook. A horrific sound filled the air, a deep boom that seemed to pulse from the earth itself. Seconds later and everything was gone, a huge chasm in the earth that swallowed the buildings whole. The only thing left was that huge tower, now with a green tint.

Fernanda couldn´t breathe. She couldn´t seem to open her eyes wide enough. Her tongue seemed to fill her mouth. She couldn´t feel her body except for the pounding of her heart.

So much noise.

She couldn´t look away, couldn´t look to her friend who had fainted on the ground, or find her feet as Diego pushed her aside to reach for Paula. Her eyes filled with tears that pricked like icicles – her body was ice.  And then a sudden lightning bolt hit the sky, lighting people´s faces that were contorted with terror.

Suddenly there came a strange sound. Like the clashing of swords but similar to the pounding of footsteps or hoofbeats.  There was a flash and the world went white. Fernanda found herself falling, falling, falling but never reaching the ground …

*

1541

Fernanda woke up.

Chapter 1 continued here  …

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Santiago Poems

Anatomy of Santiago

What is a city?

Santiago has a heartbeat

It beats beneath our feet

It thuds from the hill of Renca

To the tops of La Reina.

It pumps a stream of cars

Through arteries of tar

Clogged are the paths around

With road, train or bus.

The dogs know the city best

Sentinels through unrest

And calm; they weather each storm

Both happy and forlorn.

The labourers are the hands

That toil upon the land

At dawn the market calls

Moving until nightfall.

Offices are ears to the call

Of the markets: it’s rise and fall

Always busy, never done

Stresslines visible by midday sun.

The trees deeply breathe

Soaking up with their leaves

A mouthpiece that speaks warnings

The bark hides its calling.

The mountains are the soul

The city but a bowl

A cup for them to drink

Until the sun sinks

They’ll still be silent there

Stretching thin and all laid back

Until The city is a body that is no more

And another rises up from the floor.

Would I?

If mountains spoke to me

Would I understand them?

They’ve stood at depths below the sea and looked above beyond me.

If a bird spoke to me

What would I say?

I’ve never soared upon the wind nor seen the dawn begin.

If sand spoke to me

Would I comprehend?

I’ll never age so gracefully nor share space so peacefully.

If you spoke to me

Would I want to listen?

Though we share the same lifestart we walk a path apart.

Chile: A Poem

In Chile there are condors, cold waters on the shores

There are vines reaching wide and tales of ominous folklore.

There are rocks that don’t know rain beneath a canopy of stars

that shine from one corner to another, 2653 miles apart.

Volcanoes gaze over lakes, themselves watched by a mountain range

that stretches like wispy hair across a map tainted with bloodstains.

How lush is Chile’s country! It’s bursting from the seams

with melons the size of children, and daily bread, eggs and cream.

 

Santiago is a bloated whale beached in the sea between,

the spawn of Chinese Whispers and born of its many dreams.

The mountains bleeding snow, watching from the start

above people erecting fences, just barbed-wire tips apart.

 

 

 

Red: A Short Story

I have always loved to write. It is the only thing I really know how to do, and the only thing that defines me from someone else. My goal with this blog is to one day turn it into a book – the ultimate of ultimates for a nerd like me – and maybe one day be able to provide for my family just by writing words on a page.

Below is a story completely unrelated to Chile, except the fact that I wrote it here. It is a little bit dark, but I hope that it strikes a cord with someone.  Enjoy!

R e d

They say that you always remember your firsts.

I remember the first time I saw my brother Charlie. He was only a few hours old, with matted brown hair and skin that seemed too stretched for his bones. I was scared of him at first until my mother placed him in my arms, and he scrunched up his face with a little sigh. At that moment I knew I was a big sister for life, and my heart melted.

I remember the first time the men came as well. I was eight and standing in the kitchen watching my mother peel potatoes. Suddenly my mother gave a little exclamation and ran out the door. I could hear her speaking angrily with people outside but I was more fascinated by the small droplets of blood she’d left behind in the sink. They swirled around and mixed with the potato skins, seeping deeper and deeper until the bright colours had all but disappeared.

‘Go to your room Jenny,” she told me after, and I was shocked to see how her eyes had changed. My mother always had beautiful eyes – so deep and grey like fairy pools – but I remember how empty they had looked then, and the emptiness scared me. I ran from her, and scooped Charlie up into my arms, and together we hid under my bed with our blankets and pillows stuffed around the edges. There were many strange noises that afternoon, and when my father came home I heard my parents arguing. It wasn’t to be the last time.

I also remember the first time I saw the flowers. Beautiful, they were. I woke up one morning and all the fields around our house were covered in tiny red buds, as though the sky had bled. Charlie and I raced outside, laughing as we picked up handfuls of flowers and threw them in the air. We had a dog then too, named Bilbo. He was jumping around us, barking, bringing us sticks to throw and covering us in slobber. My parents watched us from the house, and I remember that my father put his arm around my mother and for a second they looked almost happy.

Life went on as normal. I went to school and learnt about far-away lands, such as the pyramids of Egypt (my favourite), and about not so far-away places such as the City, and about things I didn’t care about much, such as Money and War. It seemed like all we ever heard about in those days were those three things. Dates came and went. School holidays. My birthday. Then all of a sudden it was Charlie’s sixth birthday and we were so excited because we got to have a party. I created all kinds of games for us to play and helped mum pick out a cake shaped like Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Bakery. I remember this moment because she used a new card to pay for it. It was silver and I watched its reflection bounce off the store windows. Charlie loved that cake, and after he’d blown out all the candles we all went to play outside amongst the red flowers with our cousins. I remember my Uncle Joe talking to my father, all quiet like, when my mother went to the kitchen to bring out the sausage rolls.

“Have they told you what they’re doing yet?” He asked and I could see my father stiffen.

“They would never tell us Joe, but they’re keeping the roof over our heads and food on our table – otherwise we’d be out on the street.”

“Don’t say that – you know that you and your family are always welcome at my house if times get tough.”

“Times are tough for everyone now, aren’t they? But I trust in them and for once things are ok. Plus, if we can’t trust our own government, who can we trust? And the flowers are real pretty, like, the kids love ‘em.”

I remember my Uncle Joe’s sad smile.

“They sure are.” He said, and then my mother was back, laughing with my Auntie Caro. Her eyes were shining – big grey orbs like the moon – and her cheeks were rosy and filled with a hundred smiles.

The scream came from nowhere. I remember it rising up and up; I could almost see it in the air, red and pointed like wire, curling around us all with its jagged edges.

It was Bethany, my eleven year old cousin. She came running up, too upset to form words. She pointed wildly to the hedge that encased the property, her face reddening and bloating like a balloon. Uncle Joe went to the hedge, and emerged a few seconds later with a darkened face and told the children to keep away. I remember his look to my father, and the pure shock I saw there, and then I don’t remember anything else but Charlie’s high-pitched wail, “But Mummy – where is Bilbo???”

The men came a few times after that. The first time Charlie and I stayed upstairs in the fort we’d built out of chairs and sheets. My mother did not read us a story that night.

The second time my parents sent us to stay at Uncle Joe’s. I loved being at his house, it was always so cosy and full of laughter, probably because of all the children. We played Scrabble, watched a movie, even ate McDonalds! It was so different to life at my house, with its creaky floors, empty cupboards and shrieking windows. Even Charlie slept the whole night through, a nice respite from his regular nightly scream.

It was around this time that I came home to find the table filled with wrapped presents. I hold onto this memory tightly, as I remember the look of joy on Charlie’s face. He danced around the table, leaving a trail of coloured paper behind him. The presents were not the only surprise. That night we sat in front of a shiny new fireplace – our faces lit up by its glowing tendrils – and dunked chocolate biscuits into steaming cups of hot cocoa. It was bliss. We always went to bed cosy and warm then after. Uncle Joe and Aunt Caro came over more often then. One time I ran to her with a big bouquet of red flowers that I’d spent hours collecting. The flowers spread all around our house and across all the neighboring fields. What I loved was that every flower seemed different, and the further I went from home the darker and more unusual each flower became. It was almost as if they growing, evolving, mutating with each step that I took.

“Here Auntie, here! I’ve made you a present!” I cried and presented them to her. She took them hesitantly and exchanged a look I didn’t understand with my Uncle.

“Smell them! Aren’t they lovely? I’ve never smelt such lovely flowers in all my life before!” I sang and waited expectantly. She smiled and leant forward to inhale quickly.

“Mmm they certainly are beautiful, Evangeline. Aren’t I so lucky to have a niece like you! Now how about you show me that picture Mum says you’ve been drawing?”

I nodded and led her by the hand to the lounge. But no matter how much we laughed and talked that night, I couldn’t quite shake a feeling of tension. Dad and Joe disappeared many times that night, they sat out on the deck while Dad smoked cigarettes, a habit he had taken up with a passion, much to the chagrin of my mother.   I went to bed before they left, and next morning, when I left for school I saw a bunch of red flowers, tied with a black bow, upside down in the rubbish heap.

The final time that I remember the men coming to our house, my parents were no longer speaking to each other. The atmosphere was thick with tension – if you could slice through the air with a knife it would have shattered into a million pieces. There were two men in black suits – I remember this because I’d never seen a real live person wearing a suit before. They both had sunglasses and briefcases that they had to type a number into to open. They sat at the dining room table with my father, whose face was haggard from losing so much weight, while my mother poured them all cups of tea and ground her teeth. I watched through a tiny crack in the door as my father signed paper after paper, and then shake their hands when they went to leave. The moment the front door closed my mother started crying and I remember her words like it was yesterday .

“Why did this happen to us Jim? How could this happen to good people?” She sobbed, and my father held her so stiffly as though she was made of wood.

“It will be alright Vivian. The scientists will know how to fix this. They will slow down – they will stop – the plants from growing. They won’t hurt anyone anymore, I promise you.” I waited to hear more but at that moment Charlie appeared next to me, with a look of panic because his face was covered in blood. I took him to the bathroom and began to tidy him up, and his voice shook as he told me he was scared.

“Don’t be scared Charlie-bum” I told him, “do you remember the magic ladder song?” He nodded and we began singing it together. We’d made up the song a few years before when the factory had closed, and people had just suddenly become sad.

“Where does the ladder go? To the land of pharaohs. And where do we climb next? To see Tyrannarasauras Rex!” We sang it together, giggling as all the red was wiped off of Charlie’s face. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t a nose bleed, and that it was his eyes and ears that were leaking.

*

I remember so many firsts. I remember so many lasts. I remember saying goodbye to Charlie. I remember the day the school closed. I remember us driving away, and the last time I ever saw our house. The flowers were stretching everywhere around us, as far as the eye could see, moving in the breeze like an army of red soldiers. It had looked pretty once. Then, as we drove away, they appeared to tower over the car, and the further we went the blacker their colour became.   We travelled for hours – each town emptier and grimmer than the last – until finally we reached the mountains. When the car finally stopped, I got out. All I could see was the view around me. There were colours of every description – the blue of the sea, the bright yellow of the sun, the trees were a million shades of green – it is beautiful to behold. I see a whole new world – and at last, there is no more red.

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