Horror Science Fiction flash fiction 1950s Sci-Fi Horror

When the Lights Go On

By Aeryn Rudel · Jun 3, 2019
991 words · 4-minute reading time

Photo by Johannes Plenio via Unsplash.

From the author: A new source of energy extracts a terrible price from a small town.


We don’t turn on the lights in Moore, Idaho.

The men from the plant said we’re imagining things. They accused us of mass hysteria because the light they provide comes from the same power that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

I’ve been to Arco, a few miles north of us. They were the first, and they don’t turn on their lights either. They use fireplaces and gas lanterns too, like it’s 1855 instead of 1955. Of course, the government and the men from the plant don’t believe Arco either. They don't believe the energy coursing through the wires, shining around us, into us, does what we say it does.

We’ll have to show them.

Moore's entire population, all one hundred and fifty people, have gathered inside the pristine white walls of the church. They are silent, even the children sit quiet and still next to their parents. Hope and light have gone out of Moore. Only darkness and fear remain.

A gas lantern burns on Pastor Lewis’ podium, the only light in the church. Strings of bulbs hang from the ceiling overhead, but we won’t turn them on until we have to. It doesn’t take long once we switch on the lights.

There is a knock on the church doors, and Pastor Lewis nods to me. “Sheriff, if you would.”

I walk to the wide double doors and open them. Outside stand two men in black suits and two more in those crazy space suits the men at the plant wear. The black suits are here in case we’re crazy; the space suits in case we’re not.

“Sheriff Norris?” one of the black-suited men says, his smile so bright it too might be powered by a nuclear reactor.

“That’s me.”

“I’m Agent Sims; this is Agent Daniels.” He nods to the other black suit. “We’ve brought the experts you requested.”

“Good, come on in."

The four men step inside the church and everyone cranes their necks to get a look.

“Welcome, Gentlemen,” Pastor Lewis says. “We appreciate you making the trip.”

Agent Sims points to the space suits. “These men will detect any anomalies with the power you’re getting from the reactor. We’d like to put your fears to rest.

“That’s all we’re asking,” I say.

Agent Sims frowns. “Kind of dark in here. Can we turn on the lights?”

The fear in the room is immediate. We all know what must come next. We don’t want it this way, but what options were left to us? Only when we stopped using the lights, stopped participating in their experiment, did the men from the plant agree to come and see. Now there’s no turning back.

Pastor Lewis nods at me again, and I move to the light switch near the door.

“Well?” Agent Sims says.

“Look, Mister,” I say. “I know you think we’re a bunch of yokels afraid of your new technology. That's not it. There’s something wrong with the power that comes from that plant.”

Agent Daniels speaks for the first time. “There’s nothing wrong with science and progress.”

“Not usually,” I concede then turn to address the town. “Everyone move away from the wall. Just like we practiced.”

People move to the west side of the church beneath the big windows there, leaving the east wall a blank white canvas. We’ve done this a couple of times, and I know where the light will hit.

Agent Sims watches all this with a smirk. He’s amused. That won’t last.

“Agent Sims,” I tell him. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt. When I turn on the lights, you need to be ready.”

His eyes narrow. “Ready for what, Sherriff?”

“To run.”

I flick the switch.

The lights overhead flare to life, and the town's shadows appear on the east wall. They are static, unmoving, and too dark, as if the light has burned them into the stucco. I once saw a picture of Hiroshima after the bomb, of shadows scorched into the sidewalks and sides of buildings. The shadows in the church are like that. At first.

“I don’t understand.” Agent Sims is looking at me not at the wall.

“What the fuck?” The other fed, Agent Daniels, has seen them. The shadows that are not shadows. They flicker and writhe in the bright glow of nuclear power. No one in the church has moved.

“It’s a trick.” Agent Sims’ voice shakes. He’s seen them too. “What are you people playing at here?”

“You’ve seen. Now go. Please.” They don’t listen, and I know what happens now. They have to be convinced.

The shadows in Hiroshima were imprints, created and then wiped out in the blast. In Moore and in Arco, the energy has suffuses our bodies and souls in a slow trickle. It has done us no visible harm, but our shadows are alive and hungry.

One of the men in space suits screams. He was too close to the wall. Slithering tendrils of darkness coil around his body and pull. He comes apart in a spray of blood, adding crimson to the roiling black.

Agent Daniels pulls his pistol and gets off two shots, thunderously loud inside the church. The shadows grab him too, hoist him aloft, and tear to pieces.

Agent Sims runs, dragging the second space suit behind him. I flick the switch as the men from the plant head for the door, and for a heartbeat too long the shadows remain. I am seized with the terrible notion they no longer need the lights, but the black shapes tumbling and writhing on the wall fade as darkness fills the church.

Someone weeps, but there are no cries of disgust or outrage over the two dead men. We’ve seen worse.

Pastor Lewis breaks the silence after a few moments. “Will they believe us now?”

I lean against the wall, suddenly exhausted. “I hope to god they do. The lights go on in Butte City next week.”

This story originally appeared in The Arcanist .


Data?1560354300
Aeryn Rudel

Aeryn Rudel writes horror, science fiction, fantasy, and crime, pretty much in that order.