In the bedroom stood a large bed. The blue heavy blankets were pulled straight and crisp less over the bed, the pillows neatly arranged and fluffed up. Either because the owner hadn’t been home, either because the owner had risen early and made the bed. The black carpet with golden thread circle patterns lay in front of the bed glistening in the early morning light that shone in through the window. The polished wooden floor reflected the room vaguely without distracting from the beautiful darker patterns. Next to the window, there was a small antique looking table and on it was an obsidian tapered vase that contained a few red roses stood. The velvet red window drapes were tied together with golden ropes that played golden shimmers on the drapes from the sunlight that reflected on it. Through the paned glass window, an impressive view spread out in front of it, showing all the highlights of Exeter framed by two big leafless trees that stood in front of the house.
Behind the paned window, a balcony with wrought iron balustrade could be seen. On the balcony stood several terracotta pots with some struggling bushy plants that clearly had trouble to keep their green in the winter and yellow spots were visible within them.
At the side of the bed there was a mahogany nightstand and on it was a stylish lamp that had a black base that tapered gently up to a small black stem. On the top of the stem white opaque glass was mounted giving it a chalice shape. Around the rim of the opaque glass on top, a black band with figures could be seen, and in the opaque glass transparent figures of people dancing could be discerned.
In front of the lamp, there was a small radio with a dark wooden casing. In the corner of the time display, a battery icon was blinking, indicating it was running off emergency battery power. As it jumped one minute forward a click could be heard, a light static noise, a pop and then a jingle could be heard.
This is radio 360 with your host Aston Leary, bringing you the latest updates on what has happened last night. It is now ten AM exactly and boy did we have a night. We are running a skeleton crew here whilst we are waiting for other staff members to get here. We will forgo on the playing of music for now, to be able to give you a real-time report on what has happened and is happening.
For those that somehow slept through the entirety of last night, lucky you, the entire country was blinded and deafened. We haven’t gotten word yet if this was an attack of unprecedented magnitude. What we do know is that people were unable to hear and see from roughly half-past eight PM last night until a quarter to nine AM this morning.
We have reports that cameras and microphones continued to work and have recorded like normal, leaving the leading theory that this might have been a sophisticated attack of an unknown method. It is yet unknown which group or nation is responsible for it.
Due to the sudden nature of the darkness that settled over the country the damage was massive. Almost all airplanes that were underway in the air near Exeter have crashed in some way or another. The towers weren’t able to give directions, causing aircraft to crash into another or to crash in their automatic landing due to other aircraft stalled or crashed on the runway. We are lucky that we have a relatively small airport without many flight movements, reports are trickling in from London where half the city is burning with the crashed aircraft.
It is suspected that the aircraft crashes also took out a few power lines causing a destabilization of the power grid. There are widespread intermittent outages, the authorities are working hard to restore power so people can warm their houses. People are advised to stay indoors and to keep doors and windows closed and to dress warmly.
The mobile phone network is mostly down, with most of the cell towers having used up their emergency power reserves last night when the power cut out. It may be that the cell tower in your area still functions but may give up at any moment unless power is restored. It is advised you use a landline connection for your communications. For those who have VOIP telephone connections, they might be down and not be able to redirect your call if your provider is in a blackout area. The advice is to directly connect your telephone to your landline if that is the case. 999 can always be reached even if you don’t have a landline provider. Please be patient when calling, the lines are overwhelmed with people trying to contact loved ones or 999. When you get a busy tone to try again in five minutes and try to refrain from contacting loved ones to give people a chance to reach emergency services.
The major motorways and smaller roads are almost all blocked by cars and trailers that crashed as the darkness settled upon the country. A lot of people have died as the result of the complications of their injuries and no help arriving for the entire night. Emergency services are busy rescuing the people that still live from their cars, the military has been called into service and they are busy with freeing up the roads leading to the hospitals.
If there is not an urgent emergency why you need to leave your house it is recommended that you stay home and wait until the roads are cleared.
This is just in: There are a few big fires spread around the city, especially where the fire department cannot reach due to the blocked roads. If you live in Alphington, Heavitree, Pinhoe or Topsham it is advised that you evacuate the area and move away from the fire. The fire is expected to grow uncontrolled through these regions and the smoke caused by the fires may be lethal when inhaled in large quantities. Take warm clothes and blankets and your identification documents with you as you evacuate your house to ward off the cold. Move in an orderly fashion and lend a helping hand to the disabled and elderly if it does not pose a risk to you or those around you. Police officers are on the way but may not arrive shortly as they need to cross the distance on foot. Be safe out there and Godspeed.
Jacob unbuckled his seatbelt, opened the door and stepped out of the car and looked ahead. If he had had sunglasses on he would have taken them off slowly.
The road in front of them was blocked with the largest pile-up he had ever seen. Several cars hard burned out, others lay flipped on the side of the road, track marks deep in the dirt where they had skidded to a halt. People sat in groups dressing each other's wounds or taking care to the best of their abilities for those who were stuck in their cars. Other people were scavenging food and first aid kids from the cars. The sound of glass shattering resounded intermittently as a new car window was broken to gain access to the contents.
Cries and groans could be heard from various cars where people were trapped in the cars and crows were cawing from the roofs of the cars and the trees on the side of the road, occasionally scared away by people with sticks or cloths only to return when the humans had moved on to the next murder cawing under each other that sounded like a cackling laugh as to mock the futile attempt of the humans to chase them away.
Stunned at the massive display of destruction and suffering in front of him Jacob was lost for words. They had driven away from the parking lot without issues and had made their way to the A39, but before long their progress had been hampered by cars that had crashed into trees or into each other. They had stopped to offer help, but some cars had been abandoned and others had no injuries and were swapping insurance details or just sitting together waiting to get a signal on their telephones.
They had exchanged stories of the last night, leaving out the detail they had opened the door that had seemingly started this all. All the people had told basically the same story. They were driving a normal sixty miles when suddenly everything went dark and they couldn’t see anything and their car crashed into something. Some had attempted to come to a controlled stop, trying to remember the road in front of them only to be crashed into from the back.
But the pile-up that lay in front of them was of a different magnitude, it seemed to extend as far as the eye could see. There was no way they could get past it with their car. The entire road and the side of the road was filled with cars and car parts that had flown away upon impact. Several blackened husks of what once had been cars stood scattered between the other cars. Other cars had been beaten up from all sides and could hardly be recognized as a car anymore. But most cars had only crumpled in the front and back but were largely recognizable. Walking in between the cars would be impossible without climbing over the crashed cars.
A little further a livestock trailer had fallen over spreading out a trail of dead pigs and blood where it had fallen. Around it wounded and unharmed pigs walked around snorting or biting each other, where a couple of unharmed pigs would bite down on those with more obvious wounds. Some pigs were gathered together eating the entrails of a pig that had burst open somehow with an intermittent angry snort at a crow that dared to come closer.
Paula had gotten out at her side too and eyed Jacob with guilt behind her eyes that spoke without words “We caused this.” Jacob tore his eyes from the carnage in front of him and eyed the rest of the blocked road.
“What shall we do now? Do you want to wait here until the roads are cleared?”
Paula looked at the pile-up in front of them and the back to from where they came and then to the people who were sitting together. She looked back again and sighed.
“We might just as well get back to Tintagel and see if we can get a bed and breakfast there.”
Jacob raised an eyebrow at the unexpected suggestion.
“Why would we want to go back there? I’d rather put as much distance as possible between us and that place.”
Paula sighed again, eyed a group of people that were gathered around a car and were discussing something with great intensity going off the many moving arms and shaking heads, and then looked at him with sad eyes.
“I don’t know… maybe a way to fix this, to undo this. I just feel like it’s the right thing to do, and to get away from this.”
Paula gestured to the display of misery in front of them and eyed him uncertainly.
“In Tintagel there weren’t so many crashes, nor so many hurt people. I just can’t bear the look of this Jacob.”
Tears were brimming behind her eyes, but she held the tears back and looked at him with some kind of resolve as if she had made up her mind. Paula opened the door and put one foot in the car before she continued quietly, avoiding his eyes.
“And there is the practical reason. This pile-up will not be cleared today or even tomorrow. We’d better get a room now before other people get the same idea.”
She got in the car and closed the door behind her leaving Jacob standing there alone, overviewing the massive damage he had caused by opening that shadow door.
When they had left the cave they had thought that only they had suffered that blinding darkness and deafness in the cave for whatever reason. The shock had been big when they had found out that it had extended even further than the cave. But the sheer magnitude of what had happened only started to settle in now as he saw the long line of suffering in front of him.
How many people had died in the long night? How many people had suffered for hours before dying, pinched between metal, unable to scream for help, feeling their life slowly slipping away with no help coming. Dying in silence and darkness, all alone. How many children were hurt in this? How many cars crushed by trailers? How many people had burned to death? How many wounded were still trapped and alive?
A crow cawed loudly overhead and Jacob looked at a murder of crows flying above them. He watched as the crows congregated at a car, which had gone off the road and had flipped over several times by the look of it, ending on it’s back. The influx of new crows caused the ones gathered already at the side of the car to fly up momentarily, revealing the body of a little girl with blonde hair which was staring eyeless up at the sky. Her neck was in a strange angle, little peck marks covered her face and her lips were all but gone revealing small white teeth in a seemingly angry snarl at the sky above. The crows had made room for the newcomers and they hid the girl from sight again only showing a black feathery moving mass covering that spot.
The image of the girl lying there staring up at the sky was imprinted on his retina. He would never be able to forget that image.
Jacob looked at the door at his side and put his hand on it. His eyes fell onto the people that had been discussing earlier, helping someone out of the car they had gathered at. The person they were helping had clearly broken an arm and both legs as they stood in weird angles. He wanted to shout that they shouldn’t move him as to not make his injuries worse but no words would leave his lips, he just stood there watching, unable to act. He wanted to help them get the innocent injured people out but he couldn’t. He wasn’t strong enough.
He pulled the door handle and the door opened with a click. He let go of the door and it swung slowly open on his own as his hand left the door and swung powerless at his side. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the unconscious man that was being carried by four people and the weird bungling motion his limbs made. The arm was swollen and had a dark blue color that went over into red, where the break was the arm had an odd angle that made Jacob feel queasy and he rubbed his own arm at that spot unconsciously. He could see the bone pushing against the swollen meat under the dark colored skin.
He got in the car and sat down and buckled himself up, the click of his seatbelt made him wince slightly. He grabbed the door and closed it softly making it close properly with an extra tug, which was confirmed by the light on the dashboard that indicated an open door turning off.
He cast his eyes to Paula and saw understanding in her eyes. He nodded and she turned on the car and put it in reverse.
They had returned to Tintagel and managed to get a room at the King Arthurs Arms which looked out over at the large parking lot beside it. The off white drapes framing the large window had little copper and brown squares scattered over it. The paned window was covered by a net curtain that diffused the daylight throughout the room. The room itself contained an old upholstered chair with a faded red flower print on it with pale blue leaves, multiple black wooden beams in the ceiling, a television mounted on the wall in a corner, light-colored wooden desk and cabinets, and a large mirror was mounted over the desk.
There was a single two-person bed in the room, a dark brown bed runner with black leaf motif covering the bed with white blankets. From the ceiling, an old style flowery ceiling lamp clashed with the modern sleek reading lights framing the bed.
With the power outage and little cash on they had on them they had worried about being unable to pay for lodging. When they explained their dilemma to the head barman, a balding man with short hair and glasses, he had asked them if they had a credit card. Paula had a university credit card which she presented. The head barman had opened a dusty drawer and retrieved a credit card imprinter from below a pile of other things. After putting it on the desk and checking if it still worked he had made an imprint of the credit card which Paula had to sign. After he had meticulously verified her signature with the one on the back of her credit card and on her identity card, he had shown them to their room.
Jason sat on the bed, looking out at the sky over the parking lot. The sky was gray with blue streaks through it where the sun did it’s best to shine through, in a constant battle with the clouds for access to the earth. The sound of the shower could be heard through the closed bathroom door. Paula had retreated without saying much to the bathroom before. He had sat down on the bed they would have to share unsure of what to do now.
He let the events of last night and this morning pass in his mind trying to make sense of what had happened. He was fairly sure he was at fault by opening that shadow door and letting that darkness out of whatever had been locked behind it. He had no idea how far that shadow had spread. Had it encompassed only this area? The entire country? The entire world? He didn’t know. Without power and internet, he couldn’t check the impact his actions had caused.
He stood up and walked to the window and pulled the net curtain to the side. He leaned on the windowsill and looked at the people walking over the street that led through Tintagel. He wouldn’t be able to tell anyone what he had done. People would want to have justice for the injuries and people lost. But he wasn’t willing to pay the price that would entail. They would probably reinstate capital punishment for his case. How many people had been injured and had died? thousands? hundreds of thousands? Had the crows started on them already as they had on that girl that had broken her neck? Looking with a grim lipless smile at the heavens with unseen eyes? Would she haunt him asking him why he had opened that door?
He would have to carry this secret with him. He would have to convince Paula to keep the secret as well, also for her own security. He hoped she would listen to him.
A sudden thought chilled him to the bone. Would the darkness return tonight when the sun had set? Would they need to live through it again? Or had this been a one-off event?
Jacob’s hands gripped the windowsill edge and his knuckles started to turn white.
“Grant me strength.”
He whispered quietly to no-one in particular, but the terror and desperation he had felt last night were clearly audible in his words. The words seemed to hang in the air, unwilling to leave, staying within the room. The words seemed to reverberate in the room, stretching the moment before they would be forced to leave. It was as if they were reaching for something, searching for a rope that would bind them in their place, but the words found no proper hold anywhere. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, the words grew louder and started to resonate throughout the entire room enlarging and shrinking it at the same time. Jacob felt something tugging at him from all sides as if it wanted to stretch and pull him along with the room.
The moment was broken by the sound of the shower being turned off. Jacob let out a sigh and slumped over for a moment and let his head rest against the window. The cold glass felt soothing against his sweaty forehead.
Jacob wiped his neck with his hand and then eyed the layer of sweat that was glistening on his hand with a frown. He was drenched in sweat, dark spots gathering under his armpits.
What had just happened? Was it the stress of last night and this morning making him hallucinate?
He fell into the chair evoking a groan from and an irritated poing from some spring in it. He would need to take a shower too, and find some new clothes too. These would reek horribly in a couple of hours.
Jacob bent forward and let his head rest in his hands feeling ready to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. His heart hurt horribly and he felt confused and powerless by it all. Why did this have to happen to him? Why had he accepted Paula’s offer? Why did he have to see that girl lying there, being eaten by crows? Her eyes would never look up at the sky again in wonder. Her mouth would never form a laugh again. Her family wouldn’t even be able to do an open casket funeral due to how horrifying she would look when the crows were ready with her.
That’s how Paula found him as she stepped out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her head and bathrobe hiding her figure, naked legs sticking out from under the white bathrobe. The flaking red nail polish on her toenails stood out in stark contrast against her pale skin.
She walked over to Jacob and put a hand on his shoulder and rubbed it gently. They found comfort in each other without using words, the knowledge of each other that they couldn’t really speak of the horrible guilt.
They walked through the castle ruins in the afternoon, a chilling wind catching their breath away before it could form a misty cloud. The sun was setting in the afternoon sky, painting the castle in warm yellow hues, but it would still be an hour before it would turn dark. Jacob had put his hands deep in his coat pockets, and Paula was wearing black gloves and bore a pensive look on her face, not really registering the environment they were walking through.
They had spent the morning just sitting there and processing what they had experienced. Jacob had used the shower after Paula had been done and then they had talked long into the afternoon about what they had experienced and seen, and they had found comfort in each other's understanding. After they had a cold lunch because the power was still out they had gone on into Tintagel and tried to buy some clothes, but none of the shops had had an imprinter as the inn had, and they didn’t have enough cash on hand to be able to buy enough for both of them. After asking around they got pointed to a thrift store and they were able to pick up a change of clothes with the cash they had on hand.
They had returned to the hotel to change into the new clothes and had put the old ones in a laundry bag for the washing service of the inn for when the power would return.
And now they had ended up in their new clothes and coats that still bore the traces of mud and algae from last night in the ruins after just walking around through Tintagel.
They stood there in the cold wind overlooking the ocean, feeling how the cold seeped slowly deeper into their bodies. They wouldn’t be able to stay for long, they had to walk back to the inn before it got dark, in case that darkness would return.
Jacob sighed and leaned against an old stone wall that once had been a castle.
“What will we do if that darkness we released will return every night?”
“I don’t know. Just live through it?”
Jacob eyed Paula. She seemed to lack the enthusiasm and fire she had displayed yesterday. He put his arm around her and pulled her a bit closer. He could feel her stiffen up before letting him pull her closer, but then she put her arm around his waist.
“We got through last night in one piece. We can survive another night if one comes.”
Paula nodded and eyed in the direction where the cave was. His eyes had been drawn to that spot too, wondering if the next night would be a repeat of this night.
“Want to go back to the Inn?”
“No, not yet. Can we move to over there so we can look at the cave entrance?”
She gestured to a pair of staircases that led down the cliff side. Jacob didn’t really feel like looking at that cave again, but he couldn’t come up with a valid reason to say no so he just nodded.
When they arrived at the spot where Paula had indicated they stood there and just eyed the cave entrance. The water raced towards it with every wave and then receded after splashing into a white spray against the rocks, in an eternal struggle to reclaim the land it had given up in millennia past.
Paula snuggled up against him and he automatically put his hand around her shoulders again. It felt familiar and good to do so, after the night they had lived through together.
“Do you think this had anything to do with that story of Nimue and Merlin?”
Jacob thought for a moment about it and then shook his head.
“I don’t know. What makes you say that?”
“Well, Nimue locked Merlin up in that cave according to the story. Maybe it was a metaphor for whatever was locked up in that cave?”
“Maybe. It would be a valid theory, but how does one lock up darkness in a cave and create a shadow door?”
“I don’t know… but we did experience the same things in that cave. I’m just trying to find a sort of explanation for what we experienced.”
Paula sighed and looked at the cave again. Jacob didn’t know what to say so he stood there silently, his fingers rubbing Paula’s coat gently. He looked at the cave and his mind wandered back to that moment when he had said those words that didn’t seem to leave the room. Had that been a hallucination, a daydream intensified by stress?
He tried to recollect that feeling as it had happened. The stretching and pulling sensation. What had that felt like?
Jacob closed his eyes and focused on analyzing that memory. He felt that in a day of strange occurrences, this experience was one that warranted an investigation. Maybe it had been something important, something that could help explain the darkness that had occupied the night.
After a few moments, he gave up the attempt to recollect that feeling he had experienced that morning and opened his eyes again. He looked at Paula who was still staring at the cave with a pensive look on her face. He looked at the cave and eyed the waves crashing at it. The spray flying through the sky, catching the sunlight in beautiful glistening beauty before falling back in the violent waters and becoming white foam that would be dragged away by the current.
Jacob frowned, there was something in that cave, but he couldn’t see it properly. He focussed and tried to see what it was that had drawn his attention. It was as if something was flowing out of the cave, but there was nothing there except the water. Yet every bit of spray that was at the cave mouth seemed to spray that bit higher, and sparkle shone more intense, or so it appeared.
Jacob shook his head and looked at his watch. It was a little bit more than a half hour to sundown. He let go of Paula and eyed the stairs behind them.
“We should go if we want to make it back before sundown.”
“Okay. I could use a hot tea anyways.”
That night there wasn’t an impenetrable darkness blanketing everything. Many people had been worried that it would return and stayed at home because of it, seeking comfort with family and friends. Maybe sighs of relief could be heard throughout the night that the darkness had not returned, and even so many cries could be heard from the people who had lost loved ones in the night before, unable to sleep from grief. The roads were still filled with cars with dead inhabitants, military and volunteers working hard to clear the roads, assisted by huge floodlights. Bodies were loaded on trucks and hauled to freshly dug mass burial grounds where they were dumped in a pit lined with huge plastic sheets.
Cars were pushed to the side of the road freeing up a single track of road that could be used later by emergency workers to get to their destination. Civilian traffic was blocked by the military and only authorized vehicles were allowed.
When the waning moon rose and illuminated the cave nothing special could be seen with ordinary eyes. But there was something happening in that ancient cave that humans called Merlin's cave. An ancient curse had been broken on an impossible night, where a full moon would fall on a winter solstice with people of the old blood present when the moon would hit the seal to break the curse. The curse that should have protected mankind was broken and the access to the source of life had been opened a little bit. Now a little steady stream of life force flowed from the creak that had been opened by the old blood.
It flowed back in a dry and arid world, where life was just a shadow of its former luster and variety. A world tamed and conquered by humans, a world dominated by fire, unable to resist the human might and ingenuity. A world without wonder and rejuvenation, that tired itself out in a never-ending cycle of destruction.
The stream flowed on, seeking out life and filling it slowly. Once in ages past, it had raged around the world in unbridled power. But this world had used up all lifeforce that was in it after access to the source was locked away, and the world was slowly burning the last remaining scraps up. With every plant and species disappearing the world grew poorer and poorer in life force, the dead numerous in numbers fallen to human might. The life force didn’t care about all this. It was a mindless force of nature that just needed to flow, to pierce its way through every bit of the world as it had always done.
When the shadow door, that had served as a seal, had been opened and the life force returning to the world, it had triggered an ancient forgotten gods blessing for his followers, that would cause the world to darken forever, unless people would make a fire that could stand the night to summon the sun back. It had been a game of sorts in ancient times, giving a night of revelry for his followers and a chance to cull the dreadful human population, lest they grow too powerful. Because it had been a godly blessing it hadn’t required much life force to return to full strength, but in the last few centuries there hadn’t been enough of that to be able to cause full darkness as the god had originally intended. Throughout the years the night had grown lighter and lighter until people started to forget about it, as they forgot about everything else except in myths and legends, and even those changed in character and meaning until even those represented something different from what it once had held.
Steadily the force flowed out of the created opening replenishing the world ever so slowly with its life-giving power. A handful of creatures stirred ever so slightly in their slumber tickled by the return of the life force, but it was not enough to re-awaken them, with the exception of one small creature where people had built a fire on its back. When it had stirred its core had pulled in the weak power that had been imbued the fire to be able to shed its resting state.
A new era would arrive on this world dominated by steel and fire, and things would change for those who inhabited it. For good or for worse, the life force didn’t care, because it could not think. It just wanted to permeate everything and give life to all who needed it so it flowed on seeking to fill the world once more.
Support "When hell freezes over"
I decided to try my hand at writing the story I had rolling around in my head for twenty years. English isn't my native language so some obvious errors might occur in my story but I hope that the readers will be forgiving.
If not, nobody forces you to read my mangled English. I recommend you read the wandering inn instead if my English bothers you. :-)
Attribution: The cave picture in the book cover is made by Stanislav Sedov and is licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ This picture was modified from the original with an overlaid moon and sea picture to be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ssedov/26342569905 The photographer has no affiliation to Tschallacka nor can be held accountable for the use of this picture the way as it is here.