Streetlights

DUSKAT DUSK THEY COME ALIVE. Or rather, I bring them to life. Every night, as I open each of their little hatch doors with the hook at the end of my lighting spar, I imagine them bowing slightly, offering their waxen hearts for me to relight so they may carry on with their duties. If you have walked down President’s Way, then you know their helpful gaze. Of course to them you are no different than the surreys that glide down the broad street like debutantes down a grand staircase. I’ve always admired that of my sentries: their easy way with people. How they give each citizen a gift and allow them to keep it even after the people ignore them and pass into the care of one of their brethren. No jealousy lies between the posts, only slabs of sidewalk. They are as comfortable in their role as the city’s night watchmen as I am in being their keeper.

DUSKSince the very night I finished my schooling years ago, I have walked to the department an hour before twilight, surrendered a plaid coat of one size or another to the gray embrace of a locker, inspected and maintained my spar; and then, when satisfied, lit its wick and walked the streets of my neighborhood nudging my charges awake. My friends call me The Peacock, after the olden bird—long extinct—that, to impress a mate, unfurled a bright tapestry of feathers behind its head. But I am not as proud a man as all that; I only want to do good for my children, my wife, my friends. That is what is important.

DUSKThe other night, about halfway through my rounds, I came across a policeman—a novice, judging by his triangular cap—hunkering at the base of a lamppost near the yawning garage door of the firehouse. The novice seemed very sure of himself for someone so young . . . nimble, determined; I decided to watch him for a while before I approached.

DUSKHe held wire cutters in his left hand, and in his right I saw black wires that led into the post’s casing—you may not know, but those wires feed lecktricks to the bulb atop each of the streetlights. They’re used so infrequently I often forget that they’re there myself. Government workers, like that novice, have lecktrick devices, but they know about as much as I do on the subject of how lecktricks work. Few people are allowed to know about the science nowadays: the sons of the rich, certainly, a few poor young men who stumbled upon a secret of the President’s. In my time as lamplighter, I have only met two workers who’ve learned. One of them told me that in olden years people had many lecktrick machines in their homes, they watched them after supper—although I can’t imagine what a lecktrick would do to keep people’s attentions for too long—they used them in the afternoons to plow the fields, they even had lecktricks to wake them up in the mornings. Just imagine that: a lecktrick that shook you plum out of your bed! Ah, but the novice. . .

DUSKRemembering my duties, I checked the top of the post to verify that no warning box hung over the avenue. None did. That was good; no one would perish because of malfunction. As eerie as I find the boxes’ green, yellow, and red lights when they shine during Superstorms, I know we’d suffer greatly without them.

DUSK“You…novice. What are you doing there?” I said. The shine from the man’s cutters blinked out of sight.

DUSK“Hello, Uncle Jessop, hello.” It was Fowler, my niece’s husband. He had shaved his dark beard into a V since I last saw him; its point pinched his chin, its arms slashed across both cheeks. It stretched and shrunk as he spoke, “I was wondering when you’d be about. I saw a rat scurry into this post. I was looking for it just now. I felt it necessary to make sure nothing was severed inside. Since I know this is your route, I wanted to tell you.” He pulled out his police-issued selfone and tapped the face of it, apparently to report the damage to his sheriff. I knelt at the foot of the post. Fowler offered me more excuses, but his words floated above my bare scalp.

DUSKNothing was cut, but the insulation around the wires was indeed nibbled away. The shreds were not the fine dust I am used to seeing whenever rats have made work of the wires—it was coarser, like the size of sleet that falls in May during Alninyo years. I looked up after I asked him about his wire cutters, sensing that my words had not found any ears.

DUSKI was right; my nephew was gone.

 

This story is very much inspired by Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous novel All the Light We Cannot See. I highly recommend it. Also, this is my practice writing genre stories for the upcoming NYCMidnight short fiction contest.

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13 Replies to “Streetlights”

  1. Me thinks this is not out of your comfort zone at all – it certainly made me feel very comfortably immersed in this world you have created. Your usual magic is imbued within the letters and the formations of sentences. If this is out of your CZ, I would love to see you do it more. Your lamplight is shining merrily through the mist, enticing me onwards.

  2. I really like this! It felt like a Dickens character got sucked into a China Mieville world. The use of misspelled words to create the world worked well.

  3. The language you use to indicate the alternate reality is perfect. That detail about the plaid coats made me smile and stuck with me.

  4. I think this was a very interesting story indeed! I have done NYC Midnight for past couple of years, and still debating on doing the Short Story Challenge (a little low on funds for it, since it’s nearly $90 for me over here). Best of luck for you on it!

  5. You pulled my into this dystopian place. I liked how you made the old campaigner profession seem new, and technology ancient with those little word evolution touches like “lectrick”. Methinks all is not well in this world!

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