Change 1. to make the form, nature, content, future
course etc. of something different from what it is or
what it would be if left alone:
“The powers out,” Tom said in a quiet voice, his head still on the pillow. His words were just loud enough to echo off the bare walls.
“How do you know, it’s still dark.” His wife replied a moment later in a tired, muffled tone from under the covers beside him.
He sat up slowly and looked around in the darkness, the rustling of the sheets sounded louder than normal and that it was unusually dark.
“The alarm clock isn’t on and the annoying floodlights aren’t shining in our window from the building next door.” He flopped his head back down onto the pillow, now he was awake, and she knew it.
“Who cares, it’s Friday and we don’t have to get up until we feel like it.” Her tranquil, sleepy voice trailed off and she pulled the blankets tighter around herself and curled up into a ball, leaving him half exposed to the cool morning air. Tom laid there for a while and stared into the darkness toward the ceiling, then let out a heavy sigh.
“The ceiling fans not on either, I don’t hear it clicking.” He said, then strummed his fingers against his chilled, bare chest, knowing that he was talking to himself now.
“The powers definitely out.” He took one of his hands and waved it in front of his face, moved it back and forth and tried to see it, then chuckled to himself.
“So dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face.” He said. Staring into this unusual darkness, his mind wandered until it landed on something relevant to the lack of power. He remembered that they had just gone shopping yesterday and the refrigerator was full of food, so he took a mental inventory.
“If the powers out, that means that all of the food we just bought is getting warm.” He paused for a response that never came.
“Mmm, warm milk and corn flakes, my favorite.” He said with a tinge of sarcasm, but he still got no reaction. He played with his hand again, this time flipping it over and trying to see the back of it.
“I bet the lettuce is already wilting.” He looked in her direction but she just ignored him.
“Yummy, yummy, wilted salad with warm blue cheese dressing and those little bacon flavored croutons. I think I’ll have seconds.” As he licked his lips and slapped them together a foot connected with his shin.
“Ouch!” He yelled, exaggerating the pain as he grabbed his leg with both hands and rubbed it while turning away from her to protect his vital areas.
“If you’re so damn worried then get up and do something and stop annoying me.” She snapped at him, then grabbed an extra handful of covers and pulled them tighter, leaving him completely exposed to the chill of the morning air.
“You would think that after five years she would be used to me annoying her every morning, well, not every morning.” He thought, “If I did it every morning she would have smothered me with my own pillow by now.” For a moment he considered grabbing the covers and pulling with all of his might, but the thought passed the instant he remembered the last time he pushed his luck that far, the couch was a lonely place.
Instead, he decided to get up and focus on the problem at hand. He rolled out of bed and fumbled around in the dark for something to wear. He liked to keep his sweat pants within arm’s reach, but she insisted on putting them back in his dresser each morning when she made the bed, so he just wandered around in his boxers.
When he opened the door to their bedroom, the pitch dark curtain of night extended through the whole apartment. Normally, there was a faint glow of blue and green light directly ahead in the living room, that’s where all of their gadgets and chargers were plugged in and stored on a shelf under the TV.
As he tried to get his bearing in the total darkness, his knee connected with one of the chairs in the dining room, a bright flash of light pulsed in his eyes as the pain sped to his brain.
“Son of a…” He cut himself off before he finished his sentence.
“Be careful you don’t trip on one of the chairs.” He heard from the bedroom, she almost sounded concerned and he knew she happy he was getting some payback for him waking her up so early.
“Thanks for the warning, though it was a little late.” He said as he bent down and rubbed his other leg. He couldn’t see her, but he knew there was a smile on her face.
Tom felt around blindly for a wall so he could make his way to the pantry off the kitchen where the flashlight was kept. He ran his hand along the edge of the counter, then through the air until it connected with the door. Inside, a powerful smell of bleach from the laundry collided with his nostrils.
“Damn, I never noticed that before.” He said as he covered his nose. Fumbling about the shelves in the dark, his hand finally found the rubber handle of the flashlight. When he pushed the button there was a loud “Click”, but the room remained dark. He tried turning it on and off a few times and then banging it against his palm to no avail.
“Stupid batteries, I could swear I just put new ones in this thing last month.” He said aloud, then took a mental inventory of their apartment. He remembered there were some candles in the draw next to the stove, but where were the matches? He thought for a moment and recalled putting them in the small valet on his dresser. Since the candles were closer, he made his way from the closet to the kitchen, and then ran his hand along the wall until he found the counter.
“This must be what it feels like to be blind.” He said as he felt about for the correct draw. When he finally found it, he rooted around for a candle.
“Bingo.” He said as he took one of the long, slender table candles and held it in the air. “I wonder if it’s a red one or a white one.” He searched the draw again, hoping to find a stray pack of matches. To his amazement there was a small box of stick matches pushed into the back along with what felt like some pipe cleaners and a rubber eraser.
“Another bingo for me” He said as he lit a match, “it’s white.” He exclaimed as he put the small flame to the wick and watched it grow. Tom was amazed by the amount of light a single candle could produce in total darkness. He looked around the kitchen and noticed how everything seemed to absorb the light of the candle instead of reflecting it; he also noticed that it didn’t travel far from the candle.
“I never realized how dark it could get around here.” He said as he held the candle up and looked around on top of the fridge for a proper candle holder. He thought about asking Bella where she had put it, but followed his thought to conclusion and envisioned the wrath he would unleash from his sleeping wife, so he decided to use one of her saucers instead.
He grabbed one of Bella’s good saucers, tilted the candle over and let a few drops of hot white wax build up in the center of it. Then he pushed the butt end of the candle into the hot wax before it cooled.
“Instant candle holder.” He said , pleased with his ability to improvise. As he slowly walked around their tiny apartment he kept a finger on the tall candle to steady it.
“We don’t need to burn the place down.” He said as he watched the light from the flickering candle jump across the few pictures they had hanging on the walls, and the mirror in the corner of the room didn’t reflect as much of the light back at him like he thought it would.
The lack of power coupled with the eerie silence of the early morning, with not so much as the sound of a garbage truck to be heard, gave Tom an uneasy feeling. He went to the window and pushed the curtains aside. The light from his candle bounced off the inside of the window and back into the room, making it look even darker out.
The full moon was far into the western sky at this hour in the morning. The faint glow it cast over the tops of the buildings barely illuminated the ground. From his second floor apartment he could normally see four or five of his neighbors' front doors lit up with a single, yellow bulb. He strained his eyes to find one, anywhere, but none of them were lit.
“Well, at least it’s not just our building that has no power.” He said as he walked to the bedroom. His hand was cupped around the flame and its warmth brought to his attention the coolness of the morning air. He grabbed the first piece of clothing that he saw, which was his wife’s bathrobe hanging from the rocking chair in the corner of the room.
He pulled it over his shoulders and tied it loosely around his waist, the sleeves covered no more than his elbows and its length didn’t leave much up to the imagination, though it was thick and warm. In late September the morning air was chilly in the small New Mexico town where they lived.
Tom slipped his feet into a pair of tall, black boots that were near the front door and walked carefully down the stairs and around the building, shielding the dancing flame from the breeze. The grass had been mowed the day before and the fresh cut smell still lingered. When his eyes scanned the small courtyard that wrapped around the corner in front of his building, every window was dark.
He stood and listened for a moment, expecting to hear something, anything, but the silence was just as thick as the darkness.
He tried to hear the usual early morning traffic he was so accustomed to, but it wasn’t there, nothing was there. Not the sound of a car or motorcycle or even a delivery truck could he heard no matter how hard he put his hand to his ear or how far he leaned forward.
There was no way for him to measure the passing of time except to watch the beads of wax run down the length of the tall candle and pool in the saucer. Before he knew it the seconds had turned into minutes and the wax was now a half inch thick around the base of the candle.
He walked further around the building and into the parking lot, his boots now wet with the morning dew from traipsing through the grass. The windows that came into view were just as dark as the ones he had already seen, with not so much as the multicolored flicker of someone watching the morning news on their oversized flat screen.
He stood there in his wife’s bathrobe and what looked like a pair of combat boots gazing around at all of the windows and listening, for anything. Minutes passed and there was still not as much as a rumble off in the distance or the slamming of a car door. Now he was sure that something was wrong, very wrong.
“What the hell?” He said out loud as he ran his fingers through his hair and looked around again. Tom started thinking, trying to figure out what the source of the problem could be, the power was out and there was no traffic on the roads when there should be. The power outage could be easily accounted for but the lack of traffic puzzled him. So he stood there in the dark, holding a candle attached to a saucer because the flashlight batteries were dead, wearing his wife’s robe and a pair of combat boots, contemplating the unknown.
After a short while he decided to walk toward the entrance of the development and investigate further, being careful as he went not to let the candle go out. Every window he passed was dark and the only sound he heard was the echoing of his own footsteps off the rows of cars on either side of the parking lot.
The community he lived in was gated and encircled with a six foot high masonry wall that was painted the same sandy brown color as most of the buildings it protected. When he got to the large metal gate he looked through at the road. It was just as dark as all the windows with not so much as a street lamp shining in the distance. He listened more intently now, leaning his ear through the bars and toward the road, he still heard nothing.
“What the hell, where is everyone?” He asked himself, now having confirmed the lack of traffic. “I don’t think it’s a holiday, maybe they closed the state and no one told us.” When he looked down at his candle; it was a quarter of the way gone already and there was a liquid puddle of wax just touching the edge of the saucer.
“Better not get any on her robe; she’ll have a cow if I do.” He said as he held the candle over the grass and poured off the liquid wax.
He turned and started walking back toward his apartment, still trying to figure out what exactly was going on, then decided to go around the far side of his building so he could check the units on the other side of the parking lot.
As he walked, his eye caught a dim light moving in the window of a first floor unit on the far side of the parking lot.
“Finally.” He said, his pace quickening. Tom knew the people that lived in that unit; the young couple were expecting their first child in a few months. Paul was a Chef in an upscale restaurant and normally started his day very early, preparing for the breakfast crowd. Every time he had seen him, he was wearing a clean, white cooking jacket with his sleeves neatly rolled up to just above his elbows and carrying a fancy case with his knives in it.
Tom looked in the window from a distance and could tell that the light wasn’t coming from a lamp or a flashlight because it was too soft and not all that bright, he thought it must’ve been a candle as well. He looked down at the candle to make sure he wasn’t getting any wax on her robe, when he looked back up, the light was gone. He stopped dead in his tracks, looking from window to window to spot the light again.
“Ok, I know I’m not hallucinating, at least I think I’m not.” He puzzled, then decided to return home, but this time he walked a different way. Instead of going around the front of his building he followed the winding sidewalk that went around the back. He looked at every window he passed; hoping to spot another light in one of them, but each was as dark as the next.
When he got back to his own stairs he paused for a moment, putting a hand to his ear again he tried once more to hear something, but it was as quiet as a graveyard at midnight except for the sound of his breathing.
He went back inside and his mind turned to more practical matters. After setting the candle on the counter, he opened the door to his refrigerator just enough to stick his hand in.
“It’s still cold; the power hasn’t been out for very long.” He said to himself, then closed the door.
There was a glass door off the back of the living room which opened onto a small balcony that overlooked the courtyard. He took his candle and went outside, then sat in one of the white, wicker chairs that were neatly arranged around a small glass table. While he watched the orange and yellow flame leaning over in the breeze, he thought about what he’d seen, and hadn’t seen. Where was everyone?
Before long he got the urge for a cup of coffee and without thinking he went back inside and reached for his cup. When he realized that without power his coffee maker wasn’t going to work, he chastised himself, “Dumb ass.” His mind scurried about trying to solve the dilemma, but realized that he had an electric stove as well.
“Son of a bitch,” he said, then remembered his old white gas camping stove that was packed away in the closet. So by candle light, before the sun rose and wearing his wife’s robe he rummaged through all of the things they had tucked away in the small storage closet that was just outside his front door. After a few minutes of searching, he found it.
“And there it is.” He said with a sense of satisfaction. After shaking from side to side to make sure there was fuel in it, he spent a moment putting the closet back in order, then brought it into the kitchen and set it on the top of the stove.
After he pumped it up to pressurize the fuel, he looked around the kitchen. He’d never really thought about it before but everything was electric, the stove, microwave, coffee maker, refrigerator, the little night light next to the cabinet, even his can opener. He set it down and turned a little red handle to start the gas flowing. The stove hissed and the sweet smell of fuel wafted into the air.
He took the matches from his pocket and lit the gas, which exploded into a miniature fireball in front of his face with a loud “Whoosh”. For a second, the room was lit up from corner to corner and he was blinded by the bright flash. The faint smell of burning hair overtook his senses, but when he opened his eyes, a steady, blue flame was jetting up from the little stove.
Tom adjusted the flame, found a small pot and went to the sink to fill it with water. When he turned the handle, he saw that the water pressure wasn’t what it should be.
“The pumping station must be on backup power.” He reasoned as he waited for the pot to fill, and added this piece to the puzzle.
While his water boiled he decided to get dressed, the heat was also electric and he felt a chill wearing just her bathrobe. Quietly, he opened the bedroom door. He tried not to make a sound when he stepped into the room and reached for his top drawer, but when he slid it open, the sleeping monster awoke.
“Why are you making so much noise, the sun’s not even up yet?” He looked over at her and froze like a deer in the headlights, he was caught. Slowly he turned away from his dresser and inched his way toward the door, leaving his clothes behind.
“You’re dreaming, this isn’t real. Go back to sleep.” He whispered, then closed the door to her lair and let out a deep sigh. “That was close.” By the time he got away his water had reached a rolling boil. After cinching up the robe, he tied it tighter around his waist, then rubbed his hands together over the camp stove.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” He said to himself as he reached for a jar of instant coffee. By this time the candle had burned more than half of the way down so he retrieved another from the drawer and set it on the counter so it was within reach in case he needed it.
He took his coffee into the living room and sat on the couch. Since the clock on the console by the TV and the one on microwave were both dark, he rubbed his wrist and thought about where he left his watch the night before. Fortunately, he remembered leaving it on the kitchen counter and not on his dresser where he usually left it. When he picked it up, the face was blank. He pushed a button on the side, but nothing happened.
“That’s great.” He said to himself, “The battery on my watch is dead too.” He banged it against his palm a few times but nothing happened.
Again he sat on the couch and watched the candle flicker back and forth, casting irregular shadows on the far wall and listened to the sound of his own breathing. He couldn’t remember the last time it had been so quiet with not so much as the song of the birds to be heard.
He watched the flame for a long time, mesmerized by its erratic movement in the darkness. When he finally looked up, he realized that the first light of day began to brighten all of his windows.
“It’s about time.” He said, then made another cup of coffee for himself and went out onto the balcony to watch the sunrise. He had just sat down when he heard an angry voice yelling, it echoed around the courtyard making it difficult for him to determine where it was coming from.
“I guess someone else realized the power’s out.” He said as he picked up his candle and coffee cup, then went out to investigate. The sky was tinted with shades of deep purple as the steep rays of the morning sun lit the undersides of the dense clouds. It was just light enough for him to see without the aid of the candle but he brought it with him, just in case. He had to listen for the voice again to locate the source, but it didn’t take long.
“That’s just great,” he heard from over in the parking lot. He knew who it was by the sound of the loud voice rumbled through the quiet courtyard. It was Paul, probably off to work. He went over to where Paul parked his car, next to one of the garages. It was a small, black, two door convertible with faded paint and badly in need of new tires. In the dim light, he could just make out that the hood was open and Paul was standing next to the driver’s door with his elbows on the roof.
“What’s the problem?” Tom asked as he approached the car. When he got next to Paul he took a sip from his steaming cup. Paul’s eyes locked on the coffee and he forgot for a moment about the problem at hand.
“How’d ya make coffee if the powers out all over the complex?” His envy came through in each word as he spoke.
“What, Oh this,” Tom said as he held the cup in the air. “I just broke out my camping stove and heated some water. What’s up with your car?” He asked as he took another drink, this time he slowly tilted the cup to his lips and after a long sip, he let out an “Ah” as he watched Paul’s eyes follow his every move.
“The damn thing won’t start, it’s stone dead. I turn the key and it doesn’t even make that clicking sound ya hear when the battery’s almost drained.”
Tom looked under the hood, “Hop in and hit the starter, lemme hear it.” Paul sat in the driver’s seat and fumbled to find the key in the dark. When he turned it, not a sound came from under the hood. “Yup, you were right, it’s stone dead. Lemme go get my keys and I’ll give you a jump.”
“Thanks man, I appreciate it.” As Tom turned to leave, Paul called to him, “Could I trouble you for some coffee, I don’t have any camping gear?”
“You want a doughnut too, how about a croissant with butter?” Tom said over his shoulder as he walked, and then shook his head slowly until he was out of Paul’s sight. He returned ten minutes later with his keys in one hand and a coffee mug shaped like a moose in the other, one of its antlers was formed into the handle.
“I hope ya like it black.” Tom said as he handed the ceramic Moose to Paul, and then walked over to his own car.
“Thanks man!” Paul said as he wrapped the fingers of both hands around the cup. It was only then that he noticed Toms attire. “Everybody’s different I guess,” he said to himself as he looked at the cup in his hands and took a sip.
He didn’t known Tom very well, he’d only moved in with his wife six months ago and he never told him where they moved from. Tom was pleasant enough to talk to, though he was a bit of a smart ass with his comments that seemed to come from a never ending list of sarcastic comebacks, and he was always willing to lend a hand to anyone in need. He had seen Tom carrying groceries for one of the older women that lived around the corner, watched him tires and fixed cars, helped people move and dog sit for others, and here he was, offering to jump start a car before sunrise.
“What the hell!” Tom shouted, “Come on ya piece uh junk.” He got out and popped the hood. “Mines dead too,” He yelled across the parking lot to Paul as he stuck his head under the hood, trying to direct the light of the candle with his hand.
Paul got nervous; he didn’t want to be late for work because he couldn’t afford to lose his job. His wife Erin was expecting their first child in three months and if he was lucky the insurance from this job would kick in before the baby came. He went back inside to call work and let them know he had car trouble, hoping to avert a catastrophe for himself. When he got inside and found his cellular phone, it was as dead as his car.
“Damn, I must have forgotten to charge the fringing thing. That’s just great, the boss is gonna be pissed.” He said as he banged the phone on the edge of the table. The man that he worked for, Mr. Sutton, was as strict as a Nun about being punctual. He could remember him firing one of the kitchen staff for coming in late only twice in six months. Paul started to panic, “Now what am I gonna do?”
Tom checked everything he could, but there was no obvious reason why his car didn’t start. He scratched his head, looked around at all of the darkened windows and thought about his car. Was there a connection? Then he listened to the deafening silence, which started to break as he heard the sound of the first morning songbirds.
Paul came back out with his phone in his hand. “I forgot to charge it last night.” He said as he held it up in the air. “Would it be too much to ask if I could borrow yours? I gotta call my boss and let him know I’m havin car trouble.
“Sure thing,” Tom replied, “I’ll have to borrow my wife’s, I don’t have one of my own.”
“What, wha da ya mean you don’t have one of your own? Everyone has a phone.” Paul said in utter amazement. Tom shrugged his shoulders, “Everyone but me I guess.” He replied, then turned and walked away, the chill in the air quickening his pace.
Back inside his unit he found Bella’s phone, it was jut as dead as the car. When he came out to tell Paul, he wasn’t by his car anymore. Tom looked around and it only took a moment to locate him. He was standing across the parking lot, down a ways, talking with a woman.
“Wife’s home pregnant and you’re already chatting up another woman, you dirty dog.” He said to himself as he walked the length of the parking lot to where they were standing. When he got close enough, he could hear their conversation.
“…and I have no way of knowing what time it is. My flight is at seven and I’m supposed to be there an hour early.”
“Well, maybe the power’ll come back on soon.” Paul said to the distraught woman in an effort to ease her mind. By the look on her face, it didn’t work. He watched her eyes shift past him and stop on something that caused her brow to wrinkle. When he turned to look at what had caught her eye, he saw Tom, still wearing a woman’s bathrobe and a pair of boots, carrying a candle in one hand and a cell phone in the other.
“I guess that’s enough to turn someone’s head.” He thought, and then said “Oh, here’s Tom, maybe his phone works.” After tucking the phone in his pocket, Tom put his fist in the air and pointed his thumb down.
“She didn’t charge hers either, I can’t help ya, sorry.” He looked at the suitcase sitting on the ground next to the young woman as she began to speak again.
“The people I rented the Condominium from didn’t have a flashlight anywhere. Lucky for me I remembered seeing some tea lights on the shelf in the bathroom. I felt around in the dark trying to find them and I had to take my shower by candlelight, which was actually quite nice, but the water wasn’t hot enough.”
“You don’t have a ride to the airport?” Tom asked her, trying to get up to speed with what was going on.
“She said it wouldn’t start, its stone dead, just like ours.” Paul interjected.
“What about your phone?” Tom asked her next.
“She said it was plugged in all night but it doesn’t work either.” Paul said before she could open her mouth. Tom shot him a look as if to say “She can answer for herself.”
“Too many coincidences,” Tom thought. “There’s something going on that’s affected three cars, three phones and my watch thus far. The power’s out here, across the street and who knows where else. It has to out as far as the pumping station because there’s not much water pressure, and did either of you notice that there’s no traffic on the roads?”
“What? What do you mean there’s no traffic?” Paul said with surprise in his voice as he looked toward the concrete wall that separated their complex from the road.
“If you’d stop talking and just listen for a second.” Tom said in a curt voice as he waved the candle in the air, spilling hot wax on the ground in front of him. He put his hand to his ear, leaned way over and exaggerated his gesture. Now they were focused on the wall. “You don’t hear anything because there’s no traffic.”
They were all quiet for a moment, Paul and the woman expected to hear something, but they never did.
“You’re right, I don’t hear anything, not even one of those loud motorcycles that come by here all the time.” The woman said. Tom realized that he didn’t know her name, it was apparent that Paul’s etiquette was lacking so he introduced himself.
“I’m Tom by the way.” He said to her as he extended his hand.
“This is Devon.” Paul jumped in again and Tom shot him another look.
“Dude, I’m sure she can answer for herself. Keep it up and I’m not gonna share my coffee with you anymore.” He turned his attention back to Devon, “It’s nice to meet you and my apologies for my neighbor, his wife’s expecting their fir baby and he gets nervous around other women.” He said as he shook her hand gently, taking pleasure in bursting Paul’s balloon.
Devon turned her attention to Tom, “Do you know any way I can get to the airport? If I don’t catch my flight I’m going to miss my nephew’s birthday party tomorrow and that would break his little heart.” She spoke faster as she continued, “He’s going to be five and I’m supposed to take my sister for his cake, since she can’t afford it I told her I would buy him a lovely one decorated like Thomas the train, that’s his favorite character.”
He wracked his brain for an answer, but reality gave him only one, she wasn’t going anywhere. When he looked in her eyes, they said more to him than a thousand words could. Tom wanted to help her, that was his weak spot, anyone that needed help. It always had been. She’s stranded in a place where she doesn’t know anyone and she feels trapped. She has things to do and places to be, but she’s not in control of her life at the moment.Knowing there was nothing else he could do for them, Tom decided to investigate further.
“I’m going to look around some more, if ya find out anything bang on my door, Paul knows where I live.” He turned and walked away, already thinking of where to look next.