One evening in late August, a power outage struck across the entire city of Buffalo. Now this probably wouldn’t bother most people, however, I am terrified of the dark. This fear is recent; I never seemed to be troubled in childhood by this phobia, but something happened a while back, and since then, I haven’t been able to handle the dark. The sun had begun to set about ten minutes prior to the blackout, making matters a bit more interesting. I was on the roof of my apartment building having a glass of rum–the good kind from South America, Guyana, to be specific–taking a break from my computer after struggling with an extended bout of writer’s block. Looking out onto the business district with the few tall buildings touching the sky, only to see the lights go out suddenly and swiftly, was a peculiar sight. A strange quilt of confusion and anxiety fell onto the city. Three floors down at street level, the chaos began.
Waves of horns and puncturing profanities from driver to driver echoed up and down Elmwood Avenue. The already narrow street was getting thinner by the second, with traffic continuing to fill the gaps and create a jam in every direction. For some reason, the city seemed to rapidly fall into a chaotic state. Usually people are calm for awhile when the power goes out, right? Until the darkness comes.
Furious tempers continued to rise as traffic stood jammed between Lafayette and Allen. From the safety of my rooftop, I took another swig of rum.
I hoped the lights would pop back on any moment–like most power outages–but when this thought crossed my mind, the idea traveled with the companion of dread. Dark thoughts immediately ensued. Something was amiss. It felt as if all the close calls I had encountered in life up until this point were novice at best. Whatever was coming to me in these strange sensations was something I could not control. I felt like I was about to be in danger.
To be honest, I shouldn’t even be drinking. My doctor prescribed me antidepressants a few months ago, and I was specifically instructed “Do not mix with alcohol.” Oops.. Maybe the new darkness that covered the city was a metaphor for the coming end of my life. Maybe I had been away from my computer for too long, liberally drinking my rum with hopes it would clear my foggy mind.
I grabbed the bottle and headed downstairs to my apartment. In the stairwell, the shouting and arguing from the street fell mute.
The tan colored walls of my apartment now looked grey from lack of light. The vibrant blue area rug from Ellen in Seattle lay black on the floor. The sunset was nearly complete, leaving everything without light. I walked across the room and opened the window. The noise below echoed throughout the eerie apartment. I took my shoes off at the door and began curling my toes on the aforementioned rug to relieve stress.
The studio apartment I called home was set up rather simply. To the right of the door was a small “hallway” leading to the bathroom. Nothing special, but people always ask where the bathroom is, so there you go. Beside my bed was a nightstand with my light and alarm clock both blackened from the outage. At the foot of my bed, sitting in the opposite corner of the room looking out onto the street, was my desk. On top of the wooden sanctuary lay dozens of unfinished stories scattered around an uncharged computer. I used to have my window blocked by my nightstand, but you never know when you’re going to need another way out if the shit hits the fan.
I reached into the large third drawer of my cluttered desk and started feeling around for the hidden skinny white candles. Most of them were still in the box; they came in at the bottom of the deep drawer. A few had come out, somehow, resting in the back corner.
I took the candles out and placed them into their stands throughout my apartment. I placed one in the bathroom on the back of the toilet, three on the countertop in the kitchen, one on my desk, and the last on the nightstand. Two were left over as extras. Their dim glow attempted to illuminate my apartment, but produced only enough light to barely navigate around without stubbing your toe.
Headlights cut through the growing darkness. Horns repeated and shouts continued. I stepped away from the window and sat down at my messy desk. For a moment, I was relieved to be away from the madness below. To my advantage, I was surrounded with unfinished stories and finally had the time to complete them. I eagerly picked up my pen and thumbed through a stack of papers. After arriving at a page from a distant story of yesteryear, I began to re-read what was written when there was a faint knock at my door.
There’s something eerie about knocks at your door when the lights are out. I was buzzed from the rum and felt more annoyed than afraid.
“Who is it?”
A sigh of irritation released into the darkened apartment. Sheepishly, I went over to the door and looked through the peephole.
“Who’d you say it was?”
“Mandy! Your neighbor from across the hall. Amanda Nye.”
“Mandy, I’m terribly sorry, I seemed to have lost power and cannot find the door. I was looking for a flashlight when you knocked.”
“Everyone lost power. Can you please let me in? I’m frightened of the dark.”
“I’m frightened too. I lit some candles, but I’ve decided to sleep instead. Do you have any candles?” I asked.
“No. I have a flashlight, but the batteries are weak. What if someone breaks into the building to rob us?!” She replied.
“I don’t have much to steal. Plus, wouldn’t you want to try and protect your things?”
“Just open the door, Reid! I have some of that rum you like.”
Mandy was smart, she knew how to get my attention. But I wanted to write. I didn’t want to drink more and entertain my neighbor of two years with stories she’s already heard. Still, what was I to do? Locks clicked open and the doorknob was turned. Standing in the shadow was Mandy with a dimly lit flashlight pointing at her shoes. She smiled and sauntered across the threshold.
“I like what you’ve done with the place,” she said.
An obnoxiously forced laugh escaped her mouth in an attempt to divert my direct sarcasm. She propped herself up on the countertop, her back leaning against the cabinet. I shut the door and headed back over to my desk. The thought occurred to me as I sat down; I needed more candles. These would probably burn out by midnight, and who knows how long the power could potentially be out.
“Do you think the corner store is still open?” I asked.
“What do you need?”
“Well, we could get you some new batteries, and I could see if they have candles.”
“They don’t have candles at a convenience store. Unless you want birthday candles,” she joked.
A moment passed before Mandy spoke up again.
“I haven’t seen Lyz around lately. Where’s she been?”
“Lyz and I broke up. She went back to Albany,” I said.
Silence. A spasm of nerves suddenly circulated my body from head to toe. I had felt uneasy earlier, but this was different. Physically speaking Amanda stood silently, propped up by the cabinet, but mentally she never left her apartment to cross the threshold into mine.
Enough light was produced from the candles on the island countertop to show the pale complexion of my neighbor’s face. Maybe she was afraid of the dark, I thought. It looked like she had been crying. Her face was flush, mascara soaked into her cheeks; her strawberry hair unkempt and tangled.
“Are you okay, Amanda?”
“Why?!” she snapped. “Do I not look okay?!”
Her response was violently intimidating. Aside from the power mysteriously shutting off, my widowed neighbor began to frighten me in my own safe place. These walls were my barracks; my shield from the world, but now an edgy young woman shared my space due to my choice of letting her in. I had to let her in; I owed it to her. Mandy had been through a tremendous amount of emotional destruction this past year.
A year prior to today’s unexplained outage, in August of 2018, Amanda Nye’s fiancé Martin was killed in a motorcycle accident on the back roads of Niagara County. According to the Deputies that were on the scene:
“Sometime after midnight, Martin Nye was riding Westbound from the town of Wilson back to Buffalo on his ‘95 BMW Cruiser when a drunk driver heading in the other direction swerved into the opposite lane. Authorities speculate that he attempted to avoid the collision, but didn’t react fast enough and was hit head-on. He was launched over the vehicle as his bike fell beneath the tires. The force of the collision sent him flying nearly 45 feet from the crash. First responders declared him dead on the scene.”
The police notified Amanda early that morning, and as I was told, the wails of sobs
could be heard for hours on end throughout our building.
You see, Martin and Amanda met by chance, as many lovers do, but their passion for each other was immeasurable. Having heard the story a few times in the last two years of residency in our comfortable building, I was a particular fan of how the quiet Martin and the spastic Amanda came to fall in love with each other.
The tale began a few years ago, during the end of the first years of Barack Obama’s administration. Both Amanda and Martin were walking out on Allen Street with no knowledge of the others existence. Amanda was with her boyfriend at the time, Jacob, and his friends. Martin, who had just moved into the Elmwood apartment building, was out celebrating his 23rd birthday with a few friends. Coincidentally, the two ended up at the Allen Street Jailhouse (ASJ) on the corner of Allen, across from the newly-built theater. There they sat on opposite ends of the bar, too preoccupied with their own worlds. Fate soon intervened, bringing the two young lovers together.
Martin walked up to the bar and ordered five shots of tequila for his friends. At that same moment, Amanda and Jacob were heading toward the door, arguing loudly. Jacob began pulling on her arm. Amanda hollered in pain, but Jacob kept pulling her through the crowd. Onlookers began to notice, but didn’t react. That is, until they reached where Martin was. Martin confronted Jacob, noticing the fear and pain in Amanda’s lively blue eyes. Initially Jacob told him to “piss off,” and attempted to push through the crowd. Martin stepped away from the bar standing tall as he blocked the door. Jacob hollered “Move you son of a bitch! Or I’ll make you.” As Martin saw the right hook coming, the bar slowed down. In some reiterations of the tale, Martin claimed he could hear the flies buzzing around, drinking up as many spill opportunities as possible. He amazingly dodged the right hook by leaning back into the door and reacted with a left jab combo into a gut-busting stomach punch. Jacob fell limp to the ground. Amanda was free of his grasp. For a brief moment, “as the flies buzzed,” Martin and Amanda looked into each other’s eyes and that was it; love at first sight. When the bouncers came over to intervene, Amanda smirked, now standing beside Martin, telling the bouncers “he was pulling me, this guy told him to stop, he swung and missed, this guy knocked him on his ass!” In every retelling of the tale, the bouncers laugh, Amanda and Martin laugh, and even Jacob laughs, but in reality, the bouncers actually picked him up and threw him out the front door. After he hit the ground, the larger bouncer scolded him “didn’t your mother teach you anything?!” The rest is history, I guess.
All of that doesn’t matter right now. Well, it doesn’t. The pressing matter at hand was that the widowed neighbor from across the hall had schemed her way into my apartment while the city was experiencing a random blackout and now teetering on the brink of what seems to be a mental breakdown.
“What time is it?” I spoke up breaking the familiar silence.
“Why does that matter?”
“Don’t you care about the time?”
“What good will knowing the time do? Time hasn’t moved since Martin died.”
“….Uh, well, with all this darkness I’m sure we could both use some sleep. Not together. Obviously. In our respected quarters, ya know? Might as well catch up.” I tried to divert from her heavy comment, but my attempt was weak.
The bright blue light of her phone illuminated her face quickly as she read the time before shoving the phone into her back pocket.
“That’s pretty late. We may have to call it an evening here, Amanda. If I had extra candles I’d give you some, but I’m sure the power will be back on by morning. “
She laughed. But it wasn’t her usual cackle that I’ve heard so many times over the last few years. This laugh was almost manic. It was as if she was physically transforming before my eyes without twitching a muscle, but the sound escaping became an ominous laugh.
We stood at a standstill for another hour or so. Just as I had initially predicted, the candles were starting to shrink to an alarmingly small size. Still, Amanda remained silent in my apartment. I wanted to get rid of her, but I was hesitant on how to approach the situation. I leaned myself up next to the open window. The rage from earlier had fallen quiet. There was noise, but the sounds were too far off to make full sense of.
Time continued to pass. Now it must have been just after 1 am. My candles were nearly out. The last bits of light started dwindling to a flicker from what remained of the wicks. No explanation ever came about what happened or when the lights may come back on, and there was still a few hours before sunrise.
Amanda spoke up randomly after sitting in unabridged silence for the last hour.
“Do you know what happened to my Martin?”
I cleared my throat. I was beginning to get nervous. Her tone had shifted completely. I figured she wanted to talk about it, so I lied about knowing the details.
“ No. I do not.”
“Ha. That’s funny. You of all people should know. Do you know what today is?”
“Amanda, I think you should go back to your apartment and get some rest. We’ve been up all night.”
“The police had no problem telling me. At the time I never thought to ask, but as the months dragged by I began to wonder about some details. Like the fact that you were unaccounted for when Martin died, and didn’t show up until a few days later. And when you finally showed up, you looked nervous and pale if I’m not mistaken, like you had seen a ghost.”
Ice formed in my veins sending a chilling breeze down my back. A temporary paralysis overcame my body and I froze in place. Amanda slowly started to creep around the apartment to each candle. I forced myself to blink, but all I could see was the creature in the desert. The monster I had encountered exactly one year ago on Highway 160. Yee Nal dooshi; the skinwalker.
That night on the highway, one year ago, is the sole reason why I’m afraid of the dark. I fell deep into drinking and smoking pot to block out the terror I felt after. Now, all at once, the fear was seeping back into my memories.
“What’s the matter, Reid? Are the memories starting to come back?”
Sweet Jesus! How could she know about that damn monster? I had never spoken of it to anyone other than my counselor Janine, and not even aloud to myself on a drunken afternoon. Or when I would be sitting with a blank page mocking me until words were written between its margins. I fought hard to form words. My jaw was clenched tightly shut. I forced my mouth open.
“A…Amanda. You…you should go back to your apartment. Please.”
“Why’s that, Reid?” she asked, approaching the candle on the counter.
Sticking her index finger and thumb in her mouth, she slowly pressed the flame out. Now there were only six left burning: the bathroom, two on the island, one on the coffee table, two on the shelves, and one next to me, on my desk.
“What are you doing? Get out of here!” I shrieked.
Amanda pressed her fingers on the island candles, pinching them out of flames. My familiar apartment was becoming consumed by darkness. The mood had catapulted in the worst possible direction. Dread filled the air, coupled with a dash of insanity. Tssssssssst. The bathroom candle was gone. My vision was adjusting, when I heard, in a very deranged and violent voice, “A black Ford F One-Fifty killed Martin! Who drives a Ford F150, Reid? You!”
Tssssssssssssst. The first shelf candle was no longer burning.
“What?” I asked rubbing my eyes, fighting the tiredness. The uneasy feeling in my stomach was still lingering. Perhaps it was just the prolonged lack of electricity; a feat I hadn’t faced since my early teens, but this was worrisome. Every time I glanced over to Mandy, a jolt of dread electrified my body. I shouldn’t have let her in. Something was wrong. The tension had built up throughout the night where light from the candles could not reach. Amanda knew my answer – she trolled for my response.
I cleared my throat and took a final drink of my favorite South American rum.
Mandy’s tone shifted back toward violence and anger. She began slowly inching toward me.
“The city losing power is nothing. I’ve been living in darkness for three hundred and sixty-five days, Reid. Ever since Martin was taken from me! All of my lights of joy and happiness dimmed down to non-existence! I know you didn’t want to let me in when I knocked earlier. I know you don’t care for me! That’s too bad, I liked you, Reid.”
As she neared, I arose from my desk and edged toward the window. The flickering candlelight displayed a deranged look on her face. Her eyes were wide with aggression, face stone cold and determined with menace I didn’t want to inquire about. I glanced down and saw that she was tightly gripping a knife. Amanda crept closer.
“You said you were terrified of the dark, Reid. Why?…it’s not…that…BAD! AHHH!”
She released a hellish scream and lunged toward me. The fury in her eyes, she was hell bent on stabbing me to death in a fit of rage only resulted from misinformation and complete coincidence. I had no other choice; I jumped out of the window, three floors down, into the darkness.