Black Black

*It was just after 8:00 PM yesterday evening when all the lights went out.

A very bad storm had blown through; there were warnings in the usual places about it, but I suspect that many people in town were like me in that they stared into the glaring, hazy sun of the afternoon just passed and figured that no rain was likely to show. It was close to 100 degrees, and humid, but it didn't look like rain.

And it wasn't really raining for all that long. Only about ten minutes of howling winds, whipping the drops into a horizontal trajectory, lightning leaping from cloud to ground. It hit something; it only took about half the brief storm's length for the power to blow out.

At first, I wondered if it was just my building, or maybe my sector of the building. I've been known to occasionally blow a fuse, forcing my landlord to haul himself over and unlock the cellar door so I could reach the fuse box. He's got the only key. There used to be another guy -- two other guys, now that I think of it -- but that's all gone now.

So I ventured outside. There was still some light in the sky, so it was easy going. I walked up to one of the main drags, and I could see people pouring out into the street from restaurants and businesses; there was nothing more to do inside, although I saw that one of the eateries had lit candles all over, and people were laughing from within. Most people were laughing, really. The rain had stopped, at least.

As I made my way down the street, I realized that one of the local fairground car shows had spilled out into some kind of demonstration on the other main street. Maybe a parade; it wasn't a parade then, since nobody was moving. The entire street was blocked off by flares and police officers, and for blocks and blocks there was nothing but shining Corvettes, and people milling around. Some of the people had clearly spilled out of the nearby bar, and all of a local hotel's diners were sitting on its patio, drinks in hand. I snaked through the unmoving cars. It was getting dark, and long lines of moving, less beautiful cars were rolling through side streets, their headlights already like lightning balls for the lack of street lamps or sunlight.

It was still hot. Still humid. I got back to my apartment, which was now very black. No air conditioning. I used my cell phone as a flashlight to make my way around, and called my mother, to let her know where the storm was going. She suggested I get out of town for a while; find a bookstore that's open until 11:00, just kill time where it's cool and light, and maybe things'll be fixed by the time I get back.

I did one smart thing when I got in my car. I planned out my side-street route. I would press through the housing development, and make my way out by the highway exit through the super shopping center. Driving was nervous. It was all dark by then, and cars were in long lines down every street, the main drag still clogged with classics. I'd occasionally catch a red sparkle of a flare out of the corner of my eye, marking off a portal toward the main street as off limits.

Sometimes, when I was younger, I'd experience a sense of subtle fear when standing next to something very large and immobile, as if behemoth architecture possessed a sleeping and awful soul, which might sense my little presence at an unknown second and rumble the whole artifice toward me. Not kill me, or crush me; it would just move, and that simple violation of expectation would drive me mad, as a child reared to trust in natural rules.

I got that feeling, driving through the black parking lot. The massive buildings were all asleep. The colony of lamps were dead. There were not many stars through the cotton clouds, and the buildings were too far away for texture, so all I could see above the flicker of headlights zipping earthbound were inky geometries set against the endless black of space. Unseen, rising blocks of solid night, which could hurt you if you ran into them. And if you didn't run into them, you'd keeping moving until you ran out of air; that is the character of slumbering environment.

But I didn't quite feel a serious plume of eerie panic rise, even if only temporarily, until I got out on the highway, and realized how much I'd internalized the map of electricity that formed the typical nighttime landscape. Now, it was only dim, emergency lights and the occasional loneliness of the backup generator. I could see in front of me -- there were too many cars around to prevent that -- but the land seemed foreign and threatening; we imprint our own persona onto landscapes, both through tangible roads and manmade landmarks, and the personal paths we take every day, known only to us. Such ruin of those paths, such a large swathe of nighttime - it was like I could not trust my own body, which obviously there is no way out of.

I saw the storm far off, to the north. Flashes of lightning from shoulder to shoulder in the clouds.

I didn't get to the first bookstore I chose. The storm had done its work well. I got off the highway onto the uptown shopping strip, and the whole end of the street was blocked by police cars. There were lights on my side, but behind the police there was only endless black space. Nothing to be seen but a hundred headlights buzzing to escape, being waved sharply onto side roads. It was like they'd crawled from outer space. There was nothing behind them. Nothing.

But eeriness didn't affect me for long. I sat at a gas station for a while, with all of its nice lights. A lot of the cars from out in the blackness didn't stop there, like the wash of nothing kept them moving. Huh. I got back on the highway, and drove south a little ways, and found a different bookstore, this one lit. In its schematic, cataloged rows I felt a certain salve absorb into my brain. It's only dark out there, that's all. Look! Look at the maps, which are the rows of books! You walked them a hundred times. You know where everything is. You don't even work here! That is the post-cartographer, post-internalized life, in sum.

I felt odd, but at least I didn't buy anything.

When I got home, there were still no lights. The power wouldn't be back until after midnight. I didn't look for the fancy cars, but there wasn't a lot of traffic on the streets anymore.

My apartment was hot. I opened a window, but it didn't do much. I turned on my battery-powered radio as I laid down in bed, pointing the antenna up toward the ceiling and pressing the bottom against my chest. Nobody had news updates on the town. Nothing to say.

I found a station playing some kind of space music, and I tried to sleep, but I didn't do well.