Buford Ellington Warrick had been an electric man for thirty years and never, never, in all his days with the power company, had he ever met a customer whom he disliked more than Mr. Jacobson on the 1400 block ofYancey Park Road.
The man was a basket case. Elderly and frail, he had moved to town five years ago and looked so bad that everyone was surprised when another year would go by and he was still alive and kicking. Mr. Jacobson claimed he was retiring in his old hometown, but none of the old-timers could recall every hearing of him, and the two Jacobson households wouldn’t claim any relation. Everyone figured he had the wrong town. You see, Mr. Jacobson’s memory was rather poor.
Mr. Jacobson was known to forget to take in his mail for days. He forgot to take in his cat. Sometimes he forgot to get dressed in the morning and could be seen driving around town in his pajamas, a stocking cap on his head flapping in the breeze. He forgot to pay his bills.
Like the electric bill. And that’s where Mr. Jacobson’s and Warrick’s worlds collided.
Every two or three or four months, Warrick would get a call from the branch office to disconnect Jacobson’s power. Warrick would do so. Usually within the next few days he’d get a call to hook it back up again. And so it went.
A year of this went on. Jacobson was the joke of the company, and Warrick was the man they always called out to do the dirty work.
Then one day Warrick nearly got his head blow off.
* * *
The call came early. Jacobson again. Warrick was out there by eight o’clock in the morning. He parked his truck in the alley out back and walked up to the meter.
“What are you doing?” screamed a voice from above him.
Warrick sighed and glanced up. Jacobson was leaning out of a second floor window, a scowl on his face. He had no shirt on and his body was glaring white, ribs pushing tight under his skin. He was a frightful sight that stopped Warrick dead in his tracks. Jacobson looked wild.
“Get away! Get off my property!” the man shrieked.
“Uh, sir,” Warrick began, tucking his thumbs nervously into his expanded waistband. “I’m from the power company and—“
“I paid them God damn it!”
“According to our records,” Warrick said patiently as he glanced at his clipboard, “the last payment was—“
“Get… the… hell… off… MY… PROPERTY!” Jacobson spat each word out, getting more and more shrill after each one. Spittle flew from his lips. His gray eyes bulged so alarmingly that Warrick would not have been too surprised if they’d popped out of the man’s head and flown halfway across the backyard. As it was, relatively up close and in person, Warrick doubted the sanity of the man. Something was definitely wrong in his head.
Sweat broke out across the electric man’s brow.
“Mr. Jacobson, I’ve got my instructions. If you have a problem, you need to take it up with the office.”
“Another step and I’ll make you regret it,” said Jacobson, his voice suddenly low, nearly a whisper.
If he had meant to intimidate Warrick he went about it in the wrong way. Warrick was a fun-loving kind of guy, but he didn’t like threats. Not at all.
Warrick pointed a large finger at Jacobson. “Don’t threaten me, old man,” he growled.
“Eeeeeeeargh! Yaaaaaaaaherrrrr!” Jacobson shrieked, and fell back away from the window. Warrick heard a loud crashing sound from above, and after a brief pause, several more. A plate flew out of the window as Jacobson resumed his wordless screams.
“Jesus,” Warrick muttered, and went to the power box. Just as he was about to cut the power though, he heard that unmistakable clicking sound from above and, looking up slowly, found his gaze locking with the wrong end of a rifle.
Fear and anger drenched in adrenaline fought their way around his insides, causing instant indigestion. Not that Warrick really gave a damn right now. He wanted to live long enough to worry about things like that.
“Okay, Mr. Jacobson. I won’t turn off your power.”
“You’re darn straight you won’t. Especially if I shoot you dead right now, Mr. Smartass.”
Suddenly Warrick’s brown worksuit seemed a little too tight and a little too hot. Sweat trickled down his nose.
“Y-you wouldn’t want to do that, sir. You’d go to jail.”
“No,” Jacobson said, suddenly sounding weirdly sober and sane. “No, I wouldn’t. I’d plead insanity. I’d qualify, don’t you think?” He grinned and winked at Warrick. “Couple years in a plush institution, and then out, slick as a whistle. At my age, they wouldn’t keep me long. Small price to pay for the exquisite death of a grade… A… asshole.”
The old man began to chuckle, then rose to a cackle, which suddenly turned into a coughing fit. The gun bounced around in his hands and Warrick had a horrible vision flash through his mind – whoopsie, accidentally pulled the trigger and BOOM!
Warrick’s stomach crawled, his eyes locked on the gun.
Jacobson continued to cough. To hack. He sounded like he was strangling on something. The old man’s wrinkles seemed to deepen in his face, his mouth open and twisted, his eyes clamped shut.
Maybe he’ll die, thought Warrick, or cough himself right out of the window that Jacobson now seemed to be leaning out of farther than was safe.
Or maybe I should run, and no sooner than his mind thought the thought than his feet took up the command and he made a dash towards his truck.
“Augh-ck-ck-ck-ck-ck-ck!” came the cry from above, and Warrick glanced over his shoulder. Jacobson threw both hands to his face, letting the gun fall out the window. It struck the ground below and went off. Warrick dove to the ground as the gun spat its thunder and prayed that somehow the bullet wouldn’t find him.
The explosion echoed and was gone. Then everything was quiet. Warrick uncovered his head and looked up.
The window was empty. The old man wasn’t there.
Warrick climbed into his truck and started it up, in case Jacobson returned with something else. His work clothes clung to him like a wetsuit now. His heart pumping hard in his chest Warrick, who had never looked down the barrel at Death before, sat poised to gun the gas pedal at the least sign of Jacobson.
Ten minutes passed, and nothing seemed to stir from inside. Warrick glanced at the electric box, then at the window. His breathing had slowed. A minute more passed and he felt a trickle of sweat scamper down his back.
Warrick grinned suddenly. Fuck it, I’ve got a job to do.
Climbing out of the truck without even looking up, Warrick went over to the power box and turned off Mr. Jacobson’s power.
* * *
Warrick never said anything about the incident with the gun, and no one seemed to have reported it, because three days passed and he hadn’t heard anything. Warrick went about his business, and wondered when he’d be called to turn Jacobson’s power back on.
The next day—four days after the gun incident—Warrick was called back toYancey Park Road… but not to Jacobson’s house.
* * *
“1406 and 1410?” he verified with his dispatcher. He was parked on the street, double-checking the addresses.
“Yep, 10-4. Both of ‘em,” said the dispatcher after a pause.
“Did they give reason why?”
“Dunno. It is not our’s to wonder why, but to do that which must be done. Or something like that. Get going and let me finish my breakfast!”
Warrick went down the alley and parked the truck behind the house to the right of Jacobson’s. 1406 was next door to Jacobson. 1410 was on the other side. Were the people moving or something? It had to be tough being neighbors with the old man, but Warrick didn’t see any “For Sale” signs out front. He got out of his truck and began walking towards the power box when a familiar voice froze him.
“Good morning to you,” Jacobson said.
Warrick slowly turned and saw the old man leaning out of his window, smoking a pipe. He heard some classical music coming from inside.
“Uh, good morning,” Warrick replied guardedly.
“You look strangely familiar. Do I know you?” Jacobson eyes were bright, sane. He studied Warrick curiously.
What a memory, thought Warrick. He shoots at me and doesn’t even remember it. “I work for the power company.”
“Obvious,” said Jacobson, gesturing towards his truck with his pipe.
“I disconnected your power a few days ago.”
Jacobson chuckled. “Then you must not have done a very thorough job young man, because I have power.” He withdrew from the window back inside, and after a moment the music grew to booming levels, the pounding piano chased by a chorus of strings. Jacobson popped his head back out the window. “And the power… it sounds wonderful, wouldn’t you agree?”
Warrick just stared as the old man laughed and disappeared back into the house. I know I turned that off. He walked to Jacobson’s box and checked the meter. It wasn’t running.
A crooked smile suddenly crossed Warrick’s face. The old man was playing games. He damn sure remembered the other day. He must be running off a mini-generator or some other power supply. That was fine—you couldn’t live like that forever. Sooner or later, Jacobson would need to have his power turned back on, and Warrick would make sure it was very, very late in the day before he was able to get around to it.
Warrick cut the power at 1406, went and did 1410, and drove away with music trailing behind him.
Loud… powerful music.
* * *
That night Warrick went out with a few of his buddies. They bowled a few games, and then visited the local tavern. Warrick got pleasantly shit-faced, and around 2 a.m. he left to head home.
* * *
On a whim, he drove downYancey Park Roadand pulled to a stop in front of Jacobson’s house, flanked by 1406 and 1410. He turned off his car and got out of it, staring at the houses.
1406’s front porch light was shining. Jacobson’s was dark except for the bathroom light. And at 1410 almost every light was on in the house: there was a party going on.
Warrick leaned against his car, shaking his head. The alcohol made his face feel heavy. He couldn’t think straight—all his thoughts were going around and around in a vicious circle. What… the… hell?
Finally he thought of something. He spun on his heel, nearly lost his balance, and then stumbled back into his car. Within thirty seconds he was in the back alley. He walked up to 1410’s power box and checked it.
The meter was still. There was no juice running through this.
“The fuck?” he muttered.
He heard a woman’s laugh and turned around. The party at 1410 had spilled into the back yard. After a moment’s consideration, he walked through the party-goers and went up to the back door.
“What’s up?” asked a young man with long brown hair who was sitting on the doorstep. He was smiling but was looking at him curiously. Warrick was quite a few years older than this crowd.
“Do you live here?” Warrick asked, though his alcohol-thick tongue probably mangled the words just a bit.
No matter though—the young man’s ears were also thick with alcohol, so it translated just fine. He jerked his thumb towards the inside. “Naw. John and Linda are in there somewhere. Hold it,” he said, cocking his head and listening. Then he nodded. “Yeah, Linda’s playing the guitar and singing, I think they’re in the living room.”
The young man stood up and opened the door. “Go on in, grab a beer.”
Warrick walked past and into the kitchen. A half dozen people stood around, drinking margaritas. The electric lights were on and bright. A man had the fridge open and was retrieving a cold beer as it hummed. A woman turned on the blender to make another batch of frozen drinks. A small radio plugged into the wall by the sink played some of that new alternative rock music.
Following the guitar strumming, Warrick made his way to the living room. The air was thick with smoke and people were lounging in every conceivable spot, listening to the woman sitting cross-legged on the coffee table, playing and singing. He walked up to her and pulled her hand away from the guitar.
“Hey!” she said, pulling her hand back.
“Where are you getting your power?”
“I got the power,” someone said behind him, and someone else laughed.
Linda looked at him, her eyes glazed and red-rimmed. Some of the smoke in the room wasn’t from tobacco. Then she smiled. “With love.”
Warrick just gaped at her. What the fuck was she talking about?
“Love lights,” she hummed, and began to strum the strings.
“Love don’t run refrigerators!” Warrick hissed. His head hurt—he should have been in bed by now, and the smoke stung his eyes.
She laughed and plucked a tune on the guitar. “Love… love don’t run refrigerators. Love… love don’t run ‘em… no… no way…” Her voice was soft and sweet.
Warrick grabbed her hand again, but this time she did not pull away. She locked her eyes with his. “Listen, we got a better offer. Now either get yourself a beer, take a toke, sit down and have some fun… or get the fuck out of my house.” She said it with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
Warrick backed out of the room and made a beeline out of the house and to the dark safety of his car. He sat there for ten minutes as the throbbing in his head slowed down, eyes closed, taking deep breaths. Then he drove back around to the street. He parked in front of 1406 and stared at the porch light, letting its image burn into his head. That can’t happen, he thought savagely. There’s no power!
He looked at the rest of the house… and then his attention was drawn towards the basement window when he caught a brief flash of light. Staring at that window a few minutes longer, and he saw it again.
Warrick got out of his car and nearly fell over. His head buzzed and throbbed as he walked quickly to the window and peered inside.
It was too dark to really see anything at first, and he could make out nothing more than some shadowy shapes. Then, there was another flash of light—to the left—and Warrick strained to see what it was, but then it was dark again. Warrick muttered darkly to himself, but kept his sight lined up where the flash had come from.
Warrick could see the circuit breaker panel. The light flash came from what was hanging from the wires leading to it.
In the brief flash of light, Warrick made out what appeared to be something… alive. A creature twisted and pulled out of shape, clinging to the wires with hands and feet. The light came from what looked like light ripples of electricity running over the body and wires it clung to. The creature jerked and writhed, then the light was gone.
“Shit…” Warrick said, stunned.
The creature flared again, and this time its face was visible. The thing was staring right at Warrick with Jacobson’s face, only the face was pulled and stretched out, distorted, and crackling with sparks.
Warrick jumped back and then the window went dark… but a voice called out to him.
“Do I know you?”
* * *
Warrick sat in his car and shivered for twenty minutes. The buzz had quickly high-tailed it after that sight, leaving his brain almost too clear and sharp… but his body still demanded to be drunk, to be either stupid or asleep. Warrick wished for the same, but…
What the hell was that?
Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement in Jacobson’s bathroom window. That creature couldn’t have been Jacobson, could it? He watched the window for a minute, and then finally saw a thin figure slowly pass by. The feature’s were Jacobson’s, but human. Normal.
The bathroom light turned off. In the window next to it, another light came on.
Where was this power coming from? Did all three houses have a little electric monster that ran their appliances? Warrick suddenly envisioned another stretched out Jacobson critter, hanging from the wires under the house, jerking and dancing with power as the old man read a book by a lamp on the side table and smoked his pipe.
Warrick got out of his car and went up to Jacobson’s front door. His finger hovered over the doorbell button, which glowed softly with light. Then he balled his hand into a fist and instead pounded on the door.
After pounding three more times, the hall light blazed and the door opened.
“What’s going on here?” Jacobson asked, angry. “Do you realize the time?”
Suddenly, Warrick felt foolish. Could the old man smell beer on him? He hesitated.
Jacobson scrutinized him, his gaze going from Warrick’s head all the way down to his toes. His eyebrows came together, thinking.
“Um—“ Warrick began.
“Do I know you?” Jacobson asked.
Warrick felt a wicked chill rush through him, and he fought a suddenly strong urge to run screaming from the front door. Somehow he stood his ground. “I talked to you today.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I did,” Warrick said. “I work for the power company.”
Jacobson frowned. “Was there a problem?”
“Yes. I cut your power off days ago.”
“That’s ridiculous. My power works fine.”
“Yeah, that’s what you told me today. Well, yesterday actually, now.”
Jacobson squinted at him and took a step forward. Warrick took an involuntary step back. “I really can’t recall talking with you today… but you do seem very familiar for some reason.”
Jacobson took another step forward and Warrick somehow managed to stand his ground. He took a deep breath.
“Could I come in?” Warrick asked suddenly. “I’d like to check your lines in the basement.”
Jacobson gaped at him in astonishment. “What? At this hour–?”
“I need to check,” Warrick said, pleading. “I need… I need to see.”
“Well…” Jacobson studied him a minute, his eyes wide. He looked out at the road, then glanced next door at the party-goers and scowled. “Well… I’m already up, so I suppose so. Make it fast.”
Warrick followed the old man into the kitchen, going to the basement door. The steps leading down were steep. “Watch your step now,” Jacobson said. “The light will be at the bottom on the left. Just reach out and you’ll feel the string.”
Warrick stared down the stairs. The light from the kitchen didn’t illuminate nearly as much before being devoured by the darkness. He suddenly didn’t want to see at all.
Jacobson made an impatient sigh. “Well, go on!”
“It’s… really dark.” The urge to run was strong.
“Well then… shed some light, son.”
Warrick somehow made his feet take that first step, then the second, and then he kept going. Jacobson stayed at the top of the stairs, moving into the doorway, which of course made it even darker. Warrick reached the bottom and groped around for the pull string. He couldn’t find it.
He waved his hand around in the dark. Damn it, where was it? He took a step to the left and reached—
His hand brushed something warm and rough, something that moved under his fingers and he yelled, jumping back and losing his footing. He banged his ankle into something metal and unyielding, and yelped in pain.
“Are you okay?” called Jacobson from above. The old man came slowly down the stairs, reached out and grabbed the string, turning on the light.
The bulb flared, and the creature that was there did too, crackling with electricity. It hung onto a power line junction right near the light, and it scowled at Warrick with its weird, twisted face.
“Oh dear,” said Jacobson, his voice quivering as he stared at the creature. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh, oh, oh, oh—“
Warrick jumped back away from it as Jacobson babbled next to him. The creature looked like Jacobson, only just skin with no bones, with no meat, just a sack charged with energy, and a face full of fury.
“You!” it hissed, and swung and jerked and jived under the cable. The basement light dimmed, and then flared bright. Too bright.
“Oh dear,” said Jacobson, then a long sigh drew from his lips. He looked over to Warrick. “I think… I think that’s your fault. A very bad memory, it seems. Of you?”
“Grade… A… asshole!” said the creature. The lights flickered.
Warrick stared, looking from Jacobson to the creature, from the man to the horrible caricature. “What are you talking about?”
“You said we talked before. Did you make me angry? I don’t remember, but he sure does.”
“ASSHOLE!” barked the creature. It bounced and swayed as if its feet and hands were glued to the spot.
Jacobson let out a wracking cough.
Warrick squeezed his eyes shut, his head was pounding, nothing made sense. He opened his eyes again, hopeful… but everything was the same. The insanity was the same.
Jacobson tried to speak, but went into another coughing fit. The creature howled and jerked, and the basement light flickered like a strobe. “Things have changed,” Jacobson said after drawing a ragged breath. “My memories are big, too big for my little head, and I can’t keep all of them in—“
The old man suddenly doubled over and began making a deep, strangling sound.
“Grade… A… asshole!” the creature shrieked.
Jacobson straightened violently, his hand clutching at his throat. The little bit of hair on his head was standing straight up. “It hurts!” he cried out through clenched teeth. And then a horrible sound ripped out of his throat and his mouth opened wide as a cloud of sparks and smoke poured out.
Warrick stared at the cloud as it whirled in the air, glowing and pulsing with life. He barely noticed as Jacobson staggered to his feet and stumbled back up the stairs. The sparks and smoke began to form into a shape, another creature, only this one was smaller, nothing more than a shrunken head resembling Jacobson with tiny wisps of hands and feet. Its eyes rolled towards Warrick.
“You should go,” it said in a tiny, squeaky voice. “I am.” With a popping sound, it zipped up the stairs.
“Electric man…” called the creature still hanging from the power wires.
Warrick looked at it, saw it grinning at him, its leathery, long face cracked in a hideous smile. “Looks like I’m the electric man now, huh?”
The creature flared bright. Warrick didn’t need to see the light bulb shimmering to tell the fuses were going to blow. He could smell it in the air.
He ran for the stairs.
The bulb exploded and he heard the crackle of circuits frying… and the loud grunt of pleasure – or pain – from the creature in the sudden darkness.
“Oh, you can’t leave now…” said the creature but Warrick was up the stairs, despite the searing pain in his ankle, stumbling but flying up out of the dark on sheer force of will. He slammed the door shut, then bolted to the front of the house, out the door—
Jacobson was sitting on the step, sobbing.
“Why can’t I remember? What’s happening to me?”
The steps were narrow and Warrick couldn’t get past him. He briefly thought about trying to leap over the old man but was fairly sure that would likely lead to some manner of broken bones.
“Excuse me…” he said.
Jacobson let out a startled scream, jumping up and spinning around to face him. His eyes were wide, panicked. “Who are you? What are you doing in my house?”
Warrick was about to say something, but there was sound behind him, a sudden heat on the back of his leg, and then there was this terrible pain coursing through his body. Working with electricity, Warrick had experienced bad shocks before but this, this was so much more powerful, more awful… he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move… and suddenly he was looking down at himself, dressed in his workman brown uniform, and he was so goddamn angry—
* * *
Warrick woke up, confused and breathing heavy. He couldn’t remember the nightmare, but he knew it was terrible. He was drenched in sweat, stinking, and his head was pounding.
He sat up, looking at the clock. It said 7:15… but for some reason he didn’t know if it was 7 in the morning or 7 in the evening. The lamp on the bedside table was on. Wasn’t he supposed to go bowling with his buddies?
Classical music played quietly on the radio on his dresser. Classical music? He hated classical music…
The light flickered.