Light is a Funny Thing

Light is a funny thing. I’d never thought about it before. I don’t suppose anyone did. Ellen tells me to forget it and be happy for what I’ve got. We are the lucky ones she says. I find that hard to believe, as I struggle to live like she does. To learn and think and survive like she does. It’s hard to learn when you can’t see.

Yes, light is a funny thing. A precious thing. Light, the giver of life. It enveloped us and nurtured us as we went about our little lives. Even in the night it was lurking slowly; a pressing comfort against our sleeping eyelids, creeping up on us through cracks in the curtains from the street lamps outside. Starlight and moonlight smiled on us and in daytime the sun swathed us with its shining cloak of gold. Electricity sped and twisted through every tiny corner of the planet; its sparks fuelling light bulbs and strip lights, neon and spots. Fake daylight in every city and town and village. Fake daylight to fool our nature in every situation. Light of every colour and hue seeping from TVs and screens of every shape and size. Such an ever present phenonmena that we became immune to its presence. Immune to its importance.

Yes, light is a funny thing, because we were so used to it we forgot it was there and I, for one, never questioned what things might be like if it were to ever disappear.

Of course, a few of us knew. A few souls in the world who had lost light, or never knew it in the first place.

The blind.

We used to think of the blind as people with an affliction. Some kind of disability we would perhaps secretly pity, for we were the lucky ones. Or so we thought. The ones who could experience colour and beauty and know the wonder of the world for what it truly was.

How naive we were. Naive to miss their talents.

It happened slowly. At first most just carried on with their lives. Or tried to. Where I lived it happened in the dead of night, so the surprise was to wake up without the certainty of the dawn. I hadn’t met Ellen then. I had a wife and a job and I thought my life would be happy and ordinary, like lives were supposed to be. Perhaps we would have kids soon. Perhaps a nice holiday in the Caribbean. Maybe next year, maybe the year after, if we saved enough pennies. A life of maybes. Now it’s a life of ’if onlys’. Now I’m not so good at looking forward, though Ellen says I should try.

It was back in the days of power that the sun went out. We endeavoured to continue with our pointless lives and pointless jobs in the harsh fake light of electricity, and governments foolishly claimed that life would go on as normal. That there would be a solution if we just trusted them.

Endless scientists appeared on the news and chat shows explaining their latest theory. The sun, they said, was still generating heat, but some strange chemical reaction, perhaps within its core, had switched off the light. The moon, they said, couldn’t be seen because its light was merely reflected sunlight. It must still be there even if they couldn’t detect it.

But that couldn’t explain why there were no stars. Yet more scientists talked of some strange ’Coriolis barrier’ between the Earth and the rest of the universe, blocking out the light, but there was no proof of this. No shimmer of the velvet curtain in space that had come to damn us could be seen with any telescope, let alone the naked eye. Fruitless arguments about the cause with no real explanation and no solution. All those centuries of science and thought came down to empty ideas lost in the void.

People scratching on in the dark, as if to pretend that it couldn’t really be happening; surely someone would turn the lights back on soon? People struggling foolishly on while all around them fell apart.

Religious groups gathered in their millions across the globe, holding up flaming torches to the dead black sky. Praying to appease whichever god or alien race we had displeased. My wife, bless her, went down that path, after only a few months. She left me a note saying she was going to pray; pray for the light at Stonehenge of all places. I couldn’t believe it; thought she was mad. It was the first day I didn’t bother going to the office, just sat in my lonely armchair, clutching her note and crying. What was the point in processing insurance claims when the world was ending? I never saw her again after that. I wonder if she made it.

Slowly the chaos of the dark began to take over. Planes crashing, ships sinking, riots and suicides.

And wars. So many wars in the dark.

Food and water were running out; the most precious of our resources. Money and gold mean nothing if there is no food. People starving is always a recipe for disaster and one by one the governments fell, like dominoes flicked over by the finger of fate.

And then the times got darker still.

With no food in their bellies, soldiers abandoned their posts, police left their beats. Workers deserting their jobs to find other ways to feed their children. Power stations neglected and soon the lights began to go out. Everyone fighting for food.

I’m ashamed to say I fought too, just to fill my belly. You heard of cannibalism and saw the death in the light of a hundred flames. Fist fights, knives and gunfire. Murders over the last few tins of beans in the supermarket.

That’s when I met Ellen. I was lying in the gutter spitting blood outside the supermarket. Lying in the blackness crying, not really knowing if my eyes were open or closed. Bloody mouth and teeth gone; hit in the face with an iron bar for the torch I was carrying. Pointless really because the batteries wouldn’t last forever. Nothing lasts forever.

She heard me coughing and sensed my sobs. I’ve asked her several times since why she bothered to stop for me; to help me. She just laughs and says she liked my eyes and thought I was attractive. She likes a joke. In reality she is the attractive one, even though she’s never seen it; never seen her red hair. If anyone radiates light it is her. She is the best of humanity. She reminded me of it. And that’s why I love her.

I love her because she saved me. I love her because she has the advantage in this world of darkness. And most of all I love her because in the darkest of dark days she still had the optimism to have a plan.

Five years ago she saved me. Five years, not that time means much in an eternity of night.

She saved me. And it’s because of her I have the luxury to write this little history by candlelight. Yes, we have candles and generators and of course there is always fire. But we use these flashes of light sparingly, for the light is dangerous. Light can mean death now too.

The eyes adjust after years of dark. Any tiniest spark is like the brightest beacon attracting anyone with eyes to see, like moths to a flame. Anyone left scrabbling about in the abyss of blackness. And we don’t want to attract anyone. Not until we are sure we can truly defend our hilltop hideout.

Twenty two of us hiding up a hill in the dark.

Twenty two of us, and I am the odd one out. Now I am the afflicted one. Ellen knew the people that would cope the best; she chose them well. People like her, used to feeling their way through life. People with heightened senses; hearing, touch, taste and smell make the world now. For me that’s hard to learn.

At first she led me; baby-steps. Led me by the hand, showed me how to use a stick to gauge my steps, felt my face with her fingers and taught me to measure distance by sound. Led me until I could just about stand on my own two feet. I still constantly bump into things but she says I’m getting better.

We breed goats and cows which seem to be adjusting to the dark and we are experimenting with growing crops, though it’s risky to expose them to light, even if it is only for ten or twenty minutes a day.

We know it’s a precarious existence. We know there are still some roaming gangs, though they are becoming rare. Roaming gangs with vehicles and weapons and big searchlights. Roaming gangs intent on violence as a means of survival; their humanity stripped back by the scouring darkness.

And that’s my job. I am the eyes to spot if they are coming. I sit in my tower for hours scanning the void until it hurts and I feel the oily blackness seeping into my brain. At least I can be useful, but I can’t help but think I’ll be an anachronism soon.

Eventually, we know, they will die out. The gangs and stragglers that are left will slowly perish as the batteries, fuel and food become harder to find. They will starve or kill each other. They will become extinct because the only way to survive is to evolve. They are people like me, and people like me find it hard to evolve. We are the last of our kind.

Ellen and the others are more optimistic. They say the world is for them now. In the land of darkness the blind man is king. Ellen says it will be second nature for our children. The dark will hold no fear for them. I hope I get to see them. For them light will truly be a rare and funny thing…

© 2014 Simon Poore


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