A small trickle of water running down my forehead woke me up and for a moment, I felt too dizzy to even move. I just sat back, my eyes closed, focusing on nothing but the chilling ribbon on my face.
A great boom of thunder startled me onto my knees. I’d never liked thunderstorms, and lucky for me, they were commonplace in these equatorial parts of the world. I counted on leaving this ghost-town before the storm had broken, but now I was in the center of it, blinking at its tempestuous darkness.
My stomach dropped when I realised my eyes had been open for the past few minutes.
It took far too long for me to understand what had happened. “It must be night,” I thought. In places like this, the nighttime was opaque darkness. “But there’s no way it could be that late!”
Rough winds rattled the ancient windows as I fumbled for a light. Eventually my shaking fingers found the button and I pressed it, hard. Nothing. No clock face, no light. It was at last beginning to sink in.
My eyes had gone out again. ‘Damn it,’ I thought, starting to shake. ‘This is the last thing I need right now!’ My throat hurt for breathing. Judging by the tingling numbness of my cheeks, I suspected that to a passerby I must look like a ghost.
Another boom of thunder rattled what was left of the windows. I clutched my head and whimpered. ‘Why now? Why did it have to be now?’ No matter how many times I spoke, my voice was lost in the storm.
What a mercy it was that this blindness wouldn’t last. I only had to wait ten minutes. Then, my sight would return.
‘Ten minutes. Ten minutes.’ I swallowed, hoping to soothe my dry throat but it didn’t help. I said it again.
That mercy became a mantra. After all, this had happened before. No more than twice a month, but somehow, to me, it may as well have been every day. That didn’t matter now, though. I only needed to wait for it to be over.
‘Ten minutes. Ten minutes’ I mumbled, stumbling over the words. My tongue felt like lead. My hair was plastered across my scalp, the chill of rainwater only making the shivers worse.
I had to move, find somewhere dry. At least until the storm passed..
‘Ten minutes. Ten minutes.’
I took care as I crawled through the factory, too unsure to stand, too scared of slicing one of my hands on some of the old machinery. They were splayed out, searching for anything that felt like a door, itching a for handle to turn or push down.
The town was called Sweetlandia and it had been dedicated to the creation of sweets and chocolate, once upon a time. Even now I could smell it, the stale sweetness of fermented cocoa bean bleeding from the walls like a haze.
I had always been amazed by the idea of it, a settlement of factories dedicated to something that could be made in one. I remembered reading speculations that each factory was dedicated to one kind of treat. One for chocolates, one for boiled sweets… The list went on.
No one knew a lot about Sweetlandia, and now it was about to be demolished. It was a shame that I had never tried to find out its secrets before. Now, I was walking blindly through them. It seemed ironic.
I made a mental note to go through them again when my sight returned.
‘Just ten minutes,’ I croaked.
I remembered I was in the chocolate factory, full of great vats and conveyer belts and rusty nozzles. Before I’d fallen I’d seen an industrialist’s dream: great cogs for anything that had once moved, stirring chocolate, changing angles, opening doors.
It looked like it could’ve been automated, and I’d thought it incredible, like something out of a children’s story. Now, the rusted teeth and eroded walkways transformed into a twisted nightmare, distorted by the darkness.
I kept shuffling forwards for what seemed like hours, always feeling like I was seconds from falling. I was lost as I crept through the darkness, every next step a ridge, a rock, a crevasse – my imagination was unlimited by logic, every second inventing a tree root or some other obstacle ahead of me, all ripe for making me trip.
Another wall. My hands splayed across it as I searched for something that felt like a door. It felt rough, every inch of plaster seeming to be laced with cracks. On a dry day I might have felt dust on my palms, but in this storm? Like me, it found no shelter from the weather and was washed away.
I found it odd that in this wall I felt a kind of heat, like life not quite snuffed out. The place hadn’t been used in years – it should be stone cold!
The same warmth was upon the back of my neck as well. Part of my hoped for a phantom fireplace, but it felt closer to a summer breeze. ‘Just my imagination, I’ll bet,’ I muttered, returning my focus to the wall.
I felt metal under my fingers and thought of rusty daggers. I imagined them scattered about, inches from my skin. Maybe someone was stood in front of me, holding one? No, that was ridiculous. The surface was smooth and solid. My fingers dragged across the metal, searching for a handle.
‘Yes!’ I’d found one, but felt more like a lever than a doorknob. There was the summer breeze again, curling around my neck like a scarf. Part of me felt as though it was angling my head, focusing on the lever in my hand.
It felt more important than anything than I could even think of. I blamed these thoughts on my desperation for a dry room and yanked it down.
I yelped at the sudden heat and wrenched my hand away, squeezing my eyes shut and covering my ears as an unbearable hum grew in volume until it resonated deep in my skull.
written by Jenny Steiert, January 2014