Power Failure

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

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They encountered no traffic at all, and no one followed them.  They’d left the crazy Mutt and Jeff couple far behind.  For ten minutes or so Dan simply responded to Gloria’s commands,  which she delivered in a sure, but robotic voice.  But as the adrenaline surge in his veins dissipated, as the rush of escape from that unholy hell subsided, he realized that nothing made any sense, including Gloria’s role in that bizarre, aborted abduction.

“You are Gloria Redmond, are you not?”


“I’m Dan Roberts.  This isn’t the way we were supposed to meet, but it will have to do.”  He forced a lame chuckle.

“Left here,” Gloria said.  “Then watch the sharp curve.  It’s dark and dangerous.”

Dan turned.  The blackness became like a soupy fog, and even his headlights failed to penetrate more than a few yards ahead.  He couldn’t see the dashboard lights any longer.  “You weren’t kidding about the dark,” he said, slowing down to a crawl.  He tried to make small talk to lighten their spirits, but she didn’t respond at all.  She seemed but a shadow now, sitting beside him, mute, shapeless, motionless.  She seem to diminish as they drove, as if the night were obliterating her.  The darkness seemed to take on its own persona, as if it were orchestrating some grand and secret transmogrification behind a veil of blackness.

How much farther was it, anyway?  It seemed that they had been driving for hours.  He’d stopped trying to chat with Gloria.  Her silence became part of the impenetrable darkness and soured his mood.  He followed the twists and turns in the road, and it occurred to him that they hadn’t come across a fork or junction for a long time.  The road just seemed to meander endlessly through this dark eternity.

“Almost there,” Gloria said suddenly, the first she’d spoken in some time.  Her voice sounded distant, adding to his impression of her dwindling significance.  He had to resist the temptation to reach over and touch her, just to reassure himself that she was still there.

“Turn right here, onto the access road,” Gloria said.

How did she know?  He drove blindly, with Gloria as his radar.  The gloom felt like syrup, as if his car were struggling just to plow through it.  He slowed down even more.  “I’m sorry,” he said, in almost a whisper.  “I just can’t see anything.”

“We’re in the parking lot now,” Gloria said.  “Just a bit further.  Okay.  Here we are.”

It was all wrong, he knew now.  He was inside a black hole, trapped.  He stopped the car.  What happened to the emergency lights?  Where were the stars in the sky?  He was completely baffled.   “Jesus,” he said.  “I still can’t see a thing.  How did you find the way?  Do you think you can find your car in this soup?”

“I told you I got a ride from my friend,” she said, in an eerily familiar squeaky tone.

Dan jumped in surprise.  His heart took off at a wild, thundering gallop.  Where had he heard that before?  He had the craziest sensation that Gloria was no longer there, that someone else had taken her place, someone he knew, when there was a sudden burst of light, and he had to shut his eyes against the glare.  “What the hell?” he said, then opened his eyes slowly.  The power had come back on.  He looked over at Gloria, and then uttered an unmanly shriek as he recognized Hazel Finley’s squat, chunky body sitting next to him, feet dangling over the edge of the seat.

She wriggled herself around so that she faced him and smiled.  “Whew!” she said.  “So, where are we going now?”

A momentary, terrifying paralysis took over.  He was utterly helpless to respond to this blasphemous, twisted shredding of reality, but some inner resilience enabled him to play out the rest of this macabre hand as a matter of self preservation and sanity.  He drove up to the north end where he’d begun this madcap adventure.

“Won’t your friend be coming to pick you up?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, just in case Rafer stood me up.  I forgot.  I guess it is getting late.”

Dan nodded but looked straight ahead, hoping against hope that this nightmare was coming to an end.  He suppressed a whoop of joy as Hazel opened the door and maneuvered herself out onto the tarmac.  “Thanks for the ride,” she said as she slammed the door.   He waited a moment.  She seemed to fade into the bright lights, and he took that as a good sign.  Then he gunned it.  In seconds, he was driving down the exit road and onto the highway home.

He had a lot of e-mail to delete later.  Then he’d go to bed, to sleep.  In the morning, if he were lucky, there would be nothing left of Gloria Redmond on his computer, nor anywhere in the cosmos, if, indeed, she had ever existed.  He hoped there would be nothing left of this night but a vague recollection of a wild, surreal dream.

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Russell H. Krauss served as an actuary for a national life insurance company, the last thirteen years as senior vice president and chief actuary, and then established his own software and actuarial consulting practice. He is now retired and lives in Nampa, Idaho, and maintains a second home in the mountain resort town of McCall, Idaho. He keeps busy writing software, fiction, and commentary.