The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

Blackout by Alan Watson



As she crossed by the threshold of the top of the stairs, Emily saw the shadow creeper out of the corner of her eye. Thinking there might be enough light from the bedroom to keep him at bay, she bent down to pick up a non-existent something from the floor. She knew not to look in his direction or he’d break into a run. His strength was the element of surprise, and he’d much rather sneak up and pounce on you than lose a footrace. The shadow creeper started its ascent; there wasn’t enough light to keep him at bay. She flipped on the hall light, and as quick as the light flooded the stairs, the shadow retreated into some unknown, dark downstairs corner.

It had been months since she’d last seen the creature she had dubbed the shadow creeper. Always when she was alone; always in the dark; always when she was at her most vulnerable. It’s why she slept with a light on at night. So many times the creeper had been so close…one time she woke up with it towering over her, ready to consume her. A quick lunge for the light switch got her out of that one. She would never make that mistake again. Now she always had a light on when she slept and a generator outside in case the power ever failed.

She continued on with the original reason for this late night walk, the bathroom. She flipped on the light in the bathroom but didn’t close the door. She lived alone, so why not keep it open in case the creeper darted into a corner or one of the adjoining rooms? She looked up at the row of Hollywood lights above her bathroom mirror. No shadows here; those lights bathed each nook and cranny in that bathroom so that not even a cockroach had a chance of going unnoticed! Just as she was thinking how great it would be to have all of the rooms in her house just as illuminated, one of the lights flickered. One of those flickers where you can’t tell if it was real

or if you just blinked too slow and perceived it.

Somewhere down the street, one of the neighborhood teenagers crawls out from the now mangled car that he had borrowed from his parents earlier. Maybe if he hadn’t had that last one for the road, he’d have been able to navigate the street he had been down a thousand times without hitting the electrical box. He looks around and notices that one side of the street has lost power – that’s Emily’s side of the street. He swears off alcohol forever…again.

The prolonged flickering made Emily painfully aware that she wasn’t imagining the flicker. She could almost hear the creeper outside the bathroom door licking its lips with anticipation – maybe it was just electrical sounds, but in her mind she was imagining a long, black tongue running across slimy lips as a smile spread across the thing’s face; that’s assuming it had a face. She had never really seen its face except that one time it almost got her, and somehow she couldn’t actually remember what it looked like. Then the final flicker came…then darkness. She knew it would waste no time coming for her. Just as she saw 4 black fingers through the darkness grasping the door, the generator kicked in with a loud click and then the hum of a motor. The lights flickered again, this time in reverse as the generator resuscitated the light. She sat there breathing heavily; even in the mere seconds that there was no light the sweat had already begun to trickle down her forehead, and she just needed a minute to catch her breath. Click…BOOM! The sudden burst of the generator was too much for the circuits…all of them either tripped or exploded and left Emily in complete darkness. This time there wasn’t going to be any escape; there was no working light switch to lunge for. Emily closed her eyes; all she could hear was the sound of her own breathing. After a few seconds, she held her breath and listened…it was like she hadn’t stopped breathing…the shadow creeper was breathing in time with her. She exhaled as she shut her eyes even tighter and awaited the inevitable….