In the disorienting gloom

Updated: Jun 2




A half-moon hung over Bell Street, Coburg, casting a little light over the rooftops of quaint, old stand-alone houses and terrace-style homes. Behind them, guttered laneways lay ominously dark and lifeless, walled in and cut off. On the other side of the houses, streetlights edged the road and footpaths. A cat scurried rapidly across the street as though pursued. There was nobody in pursuit.


Somewhere north, the dark stone walls of Pentridge Prison drank in the scant light like a hungry void. Nearby, on Sydney Road, a lone figure toiled along the silent footpath like a shadow. His was a hunched, drifting shadow that did not emanate any sense of purpose besides the commitment to moving forward, one step at a time, to get someplace unknown. On a winter’s night like this, there was hardly anyone in the street save for this lone figure, passed by sporadic cars and slow, trundling trams.


At half-past nine, the streetlights went out. The road was swallowed in darkness. For a moment, in the disorienting gloom, there were no silent shopfronts, no road or footpath. The shadowy wanderer vanished. Maybe he stopped, confused, in his tracks and gazed into the void, trying to understand what had occurred. Maybe he disintegrated into the darkness and was gone forever, like a faded puff of smoke.


Then a car whizzed by and its lights momentarily illuminated the scene, showing that the figure was still there, walking beside the road with the same dogged steps. Indeed, he had progressed slightly in his path as though light or no light made no difference to his lonely pilgrimage. The car vanished into the abyss, taking its light with it.


Around the corner, Bell Street stretched out dark and silent. The only light now was that gleaming half-moon. An adjusting eye might slowly pick out shapes in the darkness. A tree, a few parallel-parked cars, bins out by the curb.


Behind a picket fence, inside a terraced house, an elderly couple was snoozing in armchairs. They did not notice the moment that the soft lamp flickered out and the TV switched off. One of them started slightly as the lighting changed, but quickly fell back to sleep.


In another house, further along, a mother was stacking the dishwasher. Her children were in bed and she had been enjoying the tranquil evening. It was her time to sit down with a cup of tea and a book. When the lights went out, she was holding a glass over the open dishwasher drawer. The shock made her drop the glass and she gasped, then was relieved to hear the glass land with a thud rather than a smash. It had only fallen a few centimetres and did not hit anything on the way down. She paused to get her bearings, then straightened and followed the benchtop with her hands, making her way to the kitchen door. There, she reached instinctively for the light and then rolled her eyes when nothing changed. She stood there, wondering if there were candles somewhere at the back of a cupboard, and if so, how she would find them.


In a larger house, five students were gathered around a table, drinking beer and playing cards. The sudden darkness cut them off, mid-conversation. They were interested but not concerned. One stood up unsteadily, groping for the wall, trying to remember where the fuse box was located, guessing at a possible cause. The others laughed and carried on, unable to play cards for the moment but now with a new topic to discuss and bond over. Soon there was a bet on how long the lights would be out for, and phones were brought out to keep track of time.


In a small house with a beautiful garden, a family was watching a movie. Two parents and their three teenaged children were sitting huddled between cushions and blankets, clutching popcorn and leaning forward in their seats. When the TV died, there was a collective groan of dismay. With the lights already off, it was thought to be a case of a sat-on remote control. Someone yelled and punched a pillow. Someone blindly kicked over a bowl of popcorn by accident. Hands searched under cushions for the remote. Buttons were mashed. Light switches were flicked. Darkness prevailed.


In a studio unit, an international student, far from home, was brushing his teeth in the tiny bathroom. He was looking at his face in the mirror, contemplating his appearance. He had his mother’s eyes and his father’s chin. When the lights went out, he thought he saw the outline of his face still imprinted in the darkness. He stood there at the basin, holding his toothbrush, still thinking of his parents. A moment later, he felt for the tap, turned it on to rinse out his mouth, and slowly found his way out of the bathroom. With his toe, he found the edge of a chest of drawers and took a deep breath in, wincing from the pain. He fell onto his bed and lay there for a moment, staring up into the darkness. Then he took his phone from his pocket and held it up to see the time. The light from the screen lit up part of his face in the obscurity. He saw that he had a full battery. He decided to call home. After a minute, he heard his mother’s voice and, in the darkness, he felt safe.


On Bell Street and Sydney Road, some twenty minutes later, the lights flickered back on. There was no sound to mark the moment, no indication that any living souls had observed the change in the environment. Simply an illumination of the darkened street. The half-moon cast its pale glow over the roofs and treetops. On Sydney Road, much further along than before, a dark shadow wandered. He was unaffected, having carried on through the gloom, going who knows where.

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