Jac didn’t know how long he had lived in the hill but he figured he had been there since before the lights went out. During those early days, he would limp up the path at dusk using a walking stick to take some of the weight off his injured leg. When he finally stumbled out from the woods and into the high meadow he would gratefully sit his bony ass on the cold ground and gaze out over the city below as darkness fell. His mind would settle as he listened to the low hum of traffic as it rose up and he’d watch the wisps of mist drift past, rolling down from the mountain top into the urban landscape below.
As the sun sank behind the spiny hills in the far west and the darkness enveloped the city he would count each street light as it flickered on. He would listen so intently that he learned to measure the sound of the traffic and he’d know when it began to ease up as the workers arrived home, parked their cars in front of their rickety gray wooden homes and trudged inside to eat their dinner and settle on the couch to blink at the flickering lights of their televisions. Sometimes he would hear a dog bark or a mother shout to call her children home for their nightly bath. And sometimes he would hear the whiney sound of a motorcycle as it revved its engine and sped along the ring road coming closer and then fading into the distance.
While he watched from the hill Jac found it easier to think about the time when he was a boy and had lived in his own small wooden house with his mother and his orange cat with the one blue eye and the one green eye. He would remember, but he forbade himself from weaving the story of his simple childhood together not because it made him sad, but because the weft threads that ran over and under the warp threads didn’t lead to a place where he found himself sitting all by his lonesome on the top of a hill.
One night he noticed that there were fewer lights on than the night before. And sure as shoot’n, the next night he counted fewer still and then eventually he could see that whole chunks of the city had begun to go dark. The hum of the traffic changed too. It was no longer steady and reassuring, but began to vibrate with a frenetic energy; he could hear engines racing, tires screeching and car doors slamming. He could hear shouting. There was panic in the calls of the mothers as they searched for their children and the dogs’ barks were short and insistent and filled with alarm.
Finally, the night came when he climbed up the hill and all of the lights in the houses and buildings had gone out. He could still see the lights of cars but they were not headlights. On that rainy night Jac sat on the hill and watched as long lines of red tail lights from the ass-end of cars snaked their way south and away from the pitch black city.
Image source: Arthur Rackham