The Blackout

Written and illustrated by Pauli Kohberger

"Bob Sparker?" announced one of the cops through a megaphone. "We'd like you to come with us."

Bob looked back and forth, holding up his hands nervously. "What's this all about?" he asked, raising his voice.

"You're under arrest," pronounced the officer, "for organizing without a permit, blocking the flow of traffic, and theft of electricity from the Top Tier Electric Company. This blackout is your fault," he said. "You must disperse immediately!"

"But Mr. King said he would take care of the permits and all that," Bob protested. "He said everything would be fine!"

Jam threw out a hand to stop him from taking a step forward. "Don't," he said. "Something's not right here. They showed up way too quickly for this to be anything but a setup."

"But..." Bob lowered his hands a bit, visibly agitated. He looked back and forth, from Jam to the cops and then back again--and suddenly he bolted, running across the expanse towards the exit.

"Don't move!" shouted another cop, and Bob yelped as a rubber bullet careened off the bricks near his heels. He and Jam scrambled up and over the wrought-iron gate that surrounded the park, then kept running into the streets that made up the Diamond District.

The storefronts and neon signs were dark, and the only light came from the headlights of the cars parked along the street. The dense crowds that populated the upper level of the town were running from the park, and Bob grabbed Jam's hand as they disappeared into the crowd and turned a corner into a darkened alleyway.

The two paused there, panting and heaving, as the sirens of the police cars grew louder and then began to fade away. "What gives?" Bob asked helplessly, his hands on his knees as he struggled to calm himself. "What's going on?"

"I don't know," Jam panted, taking off his sunglasses and tucking them in his pocket. "I can't see a thing now that all the lights are out. Why would Mr. King send the cops after you, anyway? He doesn't need to do that."

"That's probably why he called Margie back," Bob lamented. "He probably didn't want her getting hurt..."

Jam looked up as the red and blue klaxons of a police car passed by the alleyway. "We gotta keep going," he said furtively, grabbing Bob's hand again. "This way."

The two wended their way through the streets and alleys of the city. The only light came from the headlights of the cars stopped haphazardly in the streets, their doors open, their drivers vacated. Distantly, the two could hear the sound of broken windows and yelling; but here, for some reason, there was an almost eerie emptiness.

"I thought it was a little weird that Mr. King would sign off on something like this," Jam said, mostly to try to keep his thoughts in order, "but I never thought he would send the cops after you, or stage something like a blackout. Do you think he had it planned the whole time?"

"I don't know," Bob lamented. He collapsed, sitting on a nearby milk crate and rubbing the bridge of his sizeable nose. "I can't...imagine him like that. He always treated me like family," he said, almost in tears. "Do you think there's some kind of mistake? Maybe the police..."

"He's always had them in his pocket," Jam explained. "Come on, we have to keep going. There's no telling what will happen if they catch us."

There was a wail of a distant siren, and both men pressed themselves against the shadows of the alleyway. The sound grew closer, and Jam relaxed as he saw that it was an ambulance that passed, and not a cop car.

But after a moment, the ambulance reversed, then stopped. A man hopped out of the back, in a first responder's uniform.

"Hey," he said, waving to Bob and Jam. "Psst. This way!"

Bob and Jam looked at each other, frozen. The man looked this way and that, then drew closer into the alleyway. He tilted the helmet up and lifted his phone, the light illuminating a face Bob had seen before.

"Sam!" Bob exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"I quit my job down below. I'm a first responder now." He turned to wave to the driver of the ambulance, and it sped off. He turned back to Bob and Jam. "Listen, you have to get out of here. There are riots breaking out all over the top tier of the city, and the talking heads on the radio are blaming you for them."

"Blaming me?" Bob echoed. "Why?"

"Top Tier Electric is saying you staged the festival as a way to nuke the town's power grid after you got suspended," Sam explained. "But that doesn't make any least, not to me."

He looked over his shoulder. "Come on," he said urgently. "I know a way you can get below."

Sam Gale led the other two to a set of doors that led downwards, like the doors of a storm cellar. "These are all over the city," he said. "They lead to the maintenance tunnels. You should be okay down there, at least for now."

Jam started to descend the stairs, and Bob grabbed the handrail and started to walk behind him. He looked up to see Sam Gale kneeling down on the street above. "You're not coming with us?" Bob asked.

"I can't," Sam replied, shaking his head. "I still need to do my job up here. But I knew I had to find you. Listen," he said, leaning in. "I'm not surprised Top Tier is trying to pin this on you. I used to work on the generators myself. Us workers know that there have been some problems for a long time now."

"Like what?"

"I don't know for sure. But the folks in the lower tiers have gone without power before," Sam said. "I think something really wrong is happening. Be careful."

"Okay. We will." Bob looked down, then back up at Sam Gale. "Thanks, Sam."

"No problem." He grinned. "Stay safe, Bob."

The two descended into the darkness, with only the lights of their cell phones to guide them down the stairs and ladders that led below. At one point, Bob leaned against the bottom rungs of one of the ladders, panting. "Sorry, I gotta take a break," he said. "I'm not really used to all this running and climbing."

"It's fine." Jam knelt down and pulled out a pocket radio. "I wanted to turn this on and have a listen, anyway. What on earth are they saying about you?"

He turned on the radio. It crackled, then came to life. "...Residents are encouraged to stay in their homes," said a voice. "The police are currently engaged in suppressing looting in the Pearl District and searching for the fugitive Robert Bianchi, better known by his stage name Bob Sparker."

Bob looked over, wiping his brow. His white hair clung to his forehead.

"Sparker spearheaded the ill-advised Electric Festival without authorization from Top Tier, according to representatives from the company," continued the reporter. "The draw in the city's resources has devastated the town, leading to tonight's blackout. Power is not expected to be restored until at least 72 hours from now..."

"72 hours?" Bob yelped. "That's crazy!"

"That doesn't make any sense," Jam said, frustrated. "The festival barely got off the ground before it went dark."

"Nothing about this makes any sense," Bob groaned. "I think we're gonna have to find Mr. King to get an explanation." He lifted his head, listening. " you hear that? That rumbling sound, like an earthquake?"

Jam tilted his head. There was a distant groaning, followed by a faint shaking sensation. "I don't think it's an earthquake," he said. "It keeps happening--I noticed it earlier too. It sounds too regular. It almost sounds like...a train?"

The rumbling grew louder and less distant as they kept descending. They walked through tunnels for what felt like hours, each twist and turn drawing them closer to the source of the sound. The tunnels were dark and damp, and Jam complained about it more than once--but mostly just to hear himself talk. Bob was unusually, uncharacteristically, silent.

Finally, they rounded a corner and, through a door, reached an odd area with a long, flat concrete platform next to a length of track. "Hey, there's a light here," Jam remarked, indicating a flickering bulb above him. "Why's that?"

"No idea." Bob leaned over, peering down the track, shining his cell phone's flashlight beam as far as it would go. "What is this place? It reminds me of a bus station."

"A train station," Jam corrected. "I've heard of these. I didn't think there were any in Electricopolis, though. I thought they were only used a long time ago, in some other places, far away."

"This whole thing feels like a ghost story," Bob remarked. "Hey, there's that sound again..."

This time, the rumbling grew louder and louder. Two dots of light appeared at the end of the darkness, then grew larger as they drew near. Bob leaned over, and Jam yanked him back as a subway train pulled in and slowly came to a halt. After a moment, its doors slid open.

The two glanced at each other. Wordlessly, they stepped on board.

To be continued...