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Power Cut

The power went out just as the serial killer raised his axe. Patrick swore under his breath before heaving himself up from the sofa with a sigh.

       He shuffled through the house, hands outstretched and waving in front of him in the darkness as if he’d forgotten where the hallway walls were. He mumbled as he went, cursing the electric company and their latest bout of incompetence. Even if the TV picked up his movie from where it cut out it won’t be the same. The atmosphere had gone.

       His flailing arms finally found their mark. His hands fumbled over the cabinet, looking for the correct handle to pull. When at last he found it, he pulled at the drawer. It opened a fraction before it jammed. He jiggled the handle in frustration, wriggling the drawer open millimetres at a time. He slipped his hand in, relieved to find it had opened just enough to rummage through the items inside.

       A lighter. A pen. A squishy item he could not identify. He didn’t want to think too much about what that could be. A torch. Yes. That’s what he was looking for.

       Pleased with his success, Patrick hastily pulled out the torch, forgetting the drawer was still not fully open. The rough edges of the old drawer tore at his hand, leaving a sprinkling of splinters in his palm.

       Yelping, he dropped the torch. It bounced along the tiled floor, flickering to life as it went. Patrick followed it down the hall with widened eyes. He only had one and would be alone in the dark if it broke.

       The torch came to rest opposite the open lounge door. With a grateful sigh, Patrick moved towards the stream of light.

       Using the wall to keep his balance, he bent over to retrieve the only light source in the house. As his hand clasped the torch, he saw a pair of boots before him. He stilled as he realised - they were not his boots. Then one of them moved.

Patrick began to retreat down the hall, his eyes fixed on those mysterious black boots. He willed his hand to stop shaking. The shuddering light from the torch was evidence that his hand would not comply. He squeezed his hand tighter, wincing as the forgotten splinters in his hand dug further in.

       With a voice he hoped sounded authoritative, he shouted, “Whoever you are...I... I know you are there!” He cringed at the cliché, but nothing else came to mind.

       “Get out before I call the police,” he added.

       The boots did not move.

       With more force, Patrick tried again, “GET OUT of my HOUSE NOW!”

       This time, the boots did move. Slowly. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Down the hall towards Patrick.

       He knew he should run. At the very least, raise the torch to see who was in his home. Who was moving towards him. But no matter how much his mind screamed at him to move, his body would not. He was frozen.

       The intruder stopped toe-to-toe with Patrick. He felt the stranger’s breath tickle his beard. The smell of wet earth drifted up his nose.

       He heard a click, and a second light appeared. The stranger had a torch identical to his. The man, because Patrick was sure this bulk of a person must be a man, lifted the light to shine upon their abutted faces.

       Patrick squinted at the flood of light. He blinked and blinked again to adjust to the view in front of him. The man. Not just any man, he realised. It was him. From the dishevelled grey beard to the hard grey eyes.

       He studied the face in front of him carefully in disbelief. It was remarkable. It was impossible. How was he here? What did he want? So many questions ran through Patrick’s mind he could not decide which one to ask first. 

Before he could find the words he wanted to say, his father spoke.

       “Hello, Patrick. It has been a long time,” he said.

       He was right; it had been a long time—almost 20 years. Patrick marvelled at that. Twenty years went by both so fast and so incredibly slowly. Twenty years and he realised he had nothing to say to his father except,

       “How are you here? Am I dreaming?”

       His father smiled, “No, you are very much awake. I am here because I needed to see you. To warn you.”

       Patrick’s face contorted in confusion. “But… but… you’re dead. This is impossible.”

       “It is not impossible on a night like this. You know this to be true.”

       There were stories of course, of the whispers of magic that linger in this world. How the magic can accumulate in some places, on some nights, if there is a strong enough will. But Patrick did not believe such stories. And yet here he was, talking to the deceased. Maybe the isolation had finally driven him mad.

       Patrick’s father grabbed his arms and pulled him into a tight embrace.

      “Oh, son. How I have missed you,” he whispers into his ear. “I wish this was the only reason for my visit. To hug you. To tell you I love you. I should have told you more when I was still alive.”

       Patrick’s eyes lined with silver as his father’s words settled over him.

       “I love you too, father.”

      His father broke the embrace but only to lean back and look at him. He studied him for what felt like hours.

       “I should have come sooner. Look at you!”

       Patrick looked down at himself. He has looked better, sure, but he has certainly looked worse. He couldn’t help but feel offended by this apparition. After all, he could look worse. He could look dead.

       “You do look dead, my son!”

       Patrick’s eyes widened, “How did you hear my thoughts?”

       “There is no time to explain what I can and cannot do. The powers that brought me here are both limited and unreliable and I must warn you while I can.”

       “Warn me of what father?”

Patrick’s father hesitated. He was breaking so many rules just by being there, by speaking with his living son. Telling him about his neighbour and the darkness in her heart could cause unforeseen chaos. But he had to tell him before it was too late.

       “Your disagreements over the years. The fence. The tree. The big bin mix-up of 2018.” He pauses to give his son a pointed look before adding, “Yes, I have been watching you. But now her cat has been missing for days. She blames you, and she’s out for blood.”

      Patrick considers his father’s warning, choosing to ignore the idea of him watching all these years, for now at least. He tries to take it seriously but can’t help the bark of a laugh that falls from his mouth.

      “Oh, that old busybody, I’m not afraid of her. And her cat is fine. He sleeps in my barn. He’d rather stay in that dilapidated old building than share a house with her.”

       “Patrick,” he shouts, “you must listen! I would not have come all this way if it was not important. She is dangerous. Now, take this.”

       He hands Patrick his torch before adding, “You are going to need it.”

       His father fades into the darkness, leaving Patrick alone, a torch in both hands. His torch flickered and then blinked out completely. He wondered how his father knew he’d need another. He supposed in the same way he knew what he was thinking—the strange, unexplainable magic of this night.

       He moved to the front door and pulled on his old boots, intending to find and return the missing cat before Bea, his neighbour, carried out her plan.

           

       Patrick moved through the overgrown grass quickly, crouching down to avoid detection despite the obvious stream of light from his torch giving him away. He reached the barn and pulled open the door.

       There stood Bea, waiting for him, an axe in her hand.

Patrick gave her a small nod and a grunt in greeting before walking straight past her. He scanned the barn with his torch, determined to find the cat without succumbing to the usual here kitty kitty.

       Bea stood at the open barn door in shock. Had he really just walked past her? Simply ignored the fury on her face, the axe in her hand. To look for her cat? Her anger bubbled over. She turned and threw the axe towards the torchlight.

       The axe flew through the air. Bea watched it turn over and over; time slowed as it approached its target. And missed. Barely.

       Patrick swung the light towards Bea.

“What the… BEA! What do you think you are doing?” he shouted.

       She put her hands on her hips. “Killing you, of course!” She pauses, then adds, “Nothing else seems to get your attention!”

       He was puzzled. She is doing this for attention?

       “What on Earth do you mean? I talk to you every day. I can’t get rid of you!”

       She seemed to flinch at his words. “I didn’t realise you wanted rid of me.”

       Something tightened in his chest when he saw what looked like hurt flash across her face.

       “Well, clearly not as much as you want rid of me.” He smiled at her then, but she did not smile back. She couldn’t see his face, he realised.

       He stepped towards her whilst asking, “Is it safe to approach, or do you have a knife hidden somewhere as well?”

       She looked at her feet. He wondered what she was thinking, what brought her here. Hate, that was obvious. But there was something else; he could feel it.

       “It’s safe,” she mumbled. “I’m sorry, I just… I just… didn’t know what else to do.”

       He came face to face with her, the torch shining up between them as if they were sharing ghost stories.

       “What do you mean?” he asked.

       She shrugged. “I don’t know. We fight. You infuriate me. And then… that’s it. I don’t know.”

        He reached out for her hand. “I think I do, Bea. Maybe it’s time to bury the hatchet so to speak?”

       He looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. How beautiful, how sad. How much she needed a friend. Needed him.

       “No thanks,” she said as she revealed the knife hidden at her back and plunged it into his shoulder. “The only hatchet I will bury is one in your heart.”

       She strolled out of the barn as Patrick clutched his shoulder and fell to his knees. You already have, he thought.

       You already have.

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