Excerpt for Blackout: Book 0 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Blackout: Book 0


DBS Publishing LLC

Copyright 2017 by DBS Publishing LLC

Smashwords Edition



Chapter One


I looked over the side of the roller coaster as it climbed to the top of the first hill with a series of loud clacks. The night was dark and cold, but the theme park was lit up with fairy lights and neon arcade games below. The nippy breeze flirted with the hems of sweaters and blew hats off the heads of unsuspecting park guests. Soon, the seasonal theme park would close, as it would be too cold to run the rides, but for now, I could enjoy the brief view of Denver from one hundred feet above the ground. Screams built around me—some scared, others excited—as the first car of the coaster crested the top of the hill. I craned my neck, savoring the liberation of the sky, even if I was strapped into a padded harness, and put my hands up. My boyfriend, Jacob, reached up and linked our fingers together.

My stomach floated as the coaster careened downward at a steep angle, I let out an involuntary whoop of joy. The wind tore through my hair, freeing it from its messy bun. The air was so cold that my eyes streamed with tears. The coaster zoomed up into the first half of a cobra roll and hurtled down the other side before taking us upside down in a big loop. Jacob’s fingers tightened around mine as he brought our entwined hands down to grab the handle of his harness, a deep yell reverberating in his throat.

This was freedom, however fleeting. It was forgetting about the trivial issues in your life for ninety seconds of metal track at sixty-five miles per hour. It was letting the smell of cotton candy and turkey legs and funnel cakes rush by in quick succession to overwhelm your taste buds and make you momentarily forget about the whole unprocessed diet you so obsessively stuck to every day of your life. It was letting the sting of the wind strip the warmth from your pores and chill the tip of your nose in a way that made you feel more alive in that minute and a half than you had since the last time you got off this ride.

And then every light in the city extinguished itself, dousing the world with an inky-black blanket. The roller coaster rushed forward, but when it leveled off on the platform that was meant to slow it down before it glided into the next drop, the automatic brakes did not engage. It thundered on, diving into the dip with such intensity that it whipped the heads of its riders unceremoniously about on their necks. My heart drummed against my chest as we plunged into the darkness at a reckless pace, the black night pressing against my pupils. I squeezed Jacob’s hand in mine as the screams of pleasure turned to terror.


Earlier That Day


It was a cloudless morning, and the sky stretched out to either end of the city to blanket our little corner of the world. The end of October beckoned November in with pink cheeks, chapped lips, and leaves the color of fire. It was my favorite time of year. Summer was long gone, and winter was on its way. At dawn, I slid out of bed while Jacob was fast asleep, made a cup of coffee, wrapped a blanket around my shoulders, and sat in the creaky rocking chair on the fourth floor balcony of our apartment. I liked Denver best first thing in the morning. The people were slow to wake, and everything was quiet and calm. The sun cast a pale pink tint across the sleepy city like something out of a neon-colored eighties movie. On a clear day, the white-capped mountains layered themselves in hues of blue in a background that almost looked fake behind the buildings of downtown. Somewhere out there, my childhood memories flitted in and out of the trees, looking for a place to touch down. My mind wandered to meet with them sometimes, but I was never alone long enough to get lost in a land of the past.

“Georgie?”

I liked Jacob’s voice best first thing in the morning too. It was slow and rough with sleep. His enunciation slipped, the letters looser on his lips. It was a welcome change from his prim, polished daily manner of speaking. Jacob was born and bred into an upper-class family, and his staccato elocution was a product of private schools and international travel. Drowsiness leveled the playing field for us, and I savored the conversations whispered between yawns and stretches.

“Morning,” I said, drawing the blanket tighter around my shoulders as the wind swept the long violet hair on the left side of my head about.

Jacob shivered as his bare toes met the cold concrete of the balcony. His fingers combed through my tangle of hair, attempting to tame the wild purple locks, before he gave up and stroked the patch of baby-fine, white-blonde fuzz shaved close to my scalp on the other side of my head. The partial buzzcut and the wild color were products of an on-air dare for my talk radio show. I covered the same news stories and current events as the major networks, but the fact of the matter was that people our age, in their late twenties, needed an incentive to invest any amount of interest in politics and related matters. I hoped that the stunts I pulled on the show were enough to get listeners to tune in on their way to work or to at least check out my website later for more information. Jacob, however, wasn’t always a fan of my methods.

“It’s freezing out here,” he said, perching on the arm of the rocking chair.

I braced myself as the chair rolled backward and knocked against the sliding door. “I like it.”

“We’re both going to catch pneumonia. Come inside.”

The faintest shadow of golden scruff coated Jacob’s cheeks and chin. His dusty blond hair stood up at haphazard angles, not yet subdued by his morning ritual of mousse and gel. His eyes, the same creamy golden-brown color of my coffee, were partially hidden behind drooping lids, and his pink cheek bore an etching of the bed quilt’s lacy pattern. I smiled and cupped his face. Unrehearsed, he pressed his lips to my palm. His hand found mine, and he played with my fingers, warm from being wrapped around the hot mug of coffee.

“You’re not wearing your ring,” he said. “Where is it?”

“On the bedside table,” I told him. “I don’t wear it to sleep.”

“You don’t wear it ever.”

“That’s not true.”

“Do you not like it?” His lethargy quickly faded, and I wished there was a way to slow his route to alertness. “Is it not big enough?”

“No, no. It’s beautiful.”

I trailed my fingers down the side of his face. His ears were already pink with the cold, but his cheeks were pink with the mingling hues of pride and insecurity. The ring in question—my engagement ring—boasted a gigantic diamond, but I had never been the kind of girl to flaunt such a display of wealth to any of my friends. Most of my friends at the radio station were guys anyway. They didn’t know the difference between a real gemstone and cubic zirconia, and they didn’t care. Quite frankly, neither did I, but Jacob had presented the piece of jewelry with an air of triumph when he’d proposed, and to tell him that I preferred a less expected route of matrimonial symbolism might have wiped the jubilant grin right off of his face. Jacob came from a traditional family, and he followed the traditional rules, though I suspected that his father, rather than his freelance photojournalism career, had bought the ring. As far as size went, I couldn’t wait for the day I could exchange the conspicuous rock for a simple wedding band.

Jacob tilted my chin up to kiss me. “Are you sure? It’s not because you’re still mad about last night?”

My lips stiffened against his. I sipped my coffee instead. It had gone cold. “I’m not mad.”

“Really? Because you said—”

“I know what I said.”

“I just think that getting married in a church is the best way to please my parents,” he went on, clearing his throat. He flattened his hair to the best of his abilities, and his day-to-day demeanor rose to the surface. “I know you aren’t really religious, Georgie, but—”

The charming quiet of the morning hours had been broken, like tossing a boulder into a glass pond. I stood up from the rocking chair and went inside. “Can we not talk about this right now?”

The sliding door clicked shut as Jacob followed. I liked to keep it open to let the fresh, mountain-scented air flow in and out of the apartment, but he claimed that it was impractical to run the heat if I was going to let the warmth escape outside. In a few hours, the sun would be high enough to warm the apartment through the glass doors and windows, and it wouldn’t matter anyway. I didn’t understand why Jacob was so conscious of money. His father owned the building we lived in, so he didn’t pay rent or utilities. He had never scrounged a day in his life. He had never clipped coupons or swiped change out of a public fountain to buy a slice of pizza at a corner store. He had never siphoned gas from a parked vehicle in the middle of the night because he couldn’t afford to fill up his own tank. He also didn’t know that I had done all of those things and worse at some point in my life, but I wasn’t the one chiding the other for accidentally leaving the bathroom light on.

I put my mug in the microwave to rewarm the coffee and opened the fridge. I had a few minutes before I had to get ready to go into work, which meant I had just enough time to make myself a decent breakfast. I rifled through my materials. Eggs, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms—

“If you’re making omelets, can you leave out the mushrooms?” Jacob asked, straightening the ever-growing stack of newspapers on the island counter. “You know I don’t like them. Do you need all of these?”

I put the mushrooms back in the fridge. “Yes, I do. Please don’t touch them.”

He peered at a yellowing page. “This one is from three weeks ago. You can probably recycle it by now.”

I snatched the newspapers out of his hands, tapped them into straight lines, and placed them at the far corner of the island beyond his reach. “I need them to reference previous articles, which I’ve told you a hundred times.”

I felt his eyes on me as I heated a skillet over the stove and cracked a few eggs. “They’re piling up. About the wedding, though, we really do need to talk about it. Mom wanted a ceremony early next year, but Pippa’s going to pop in the next month or so, and she said she doesn’t want to look fat in the pictures. You’re still going to let her be a bridesmaid, right?”

The heat from the stove rose. Despite the chilly morning, sweat beaded at my temples. My cheeks reddened, and a drip of moisture rolled down my back between my shoulder blades. “Yes, of course your sister can be a bridesmaid, but we’ve only been engaged for a few months, babe. Besides, I wanted our wedding to be in the fall.”

“That’s, like, now,” Jacob said, confused. “This isn’t a shotgun wedding.”

“I meant next year.”

“That’s forever!”

“It’s one year.” I sprinkled salt and pepper over the sizzling eggs then gave the pan an experimental shuffle in preparation for the flip. The omelet slid easily across the smooth silver. “It gives us the time to figure everything out. Why are you in such a rush anyway?”

“Because I feel like you’re going to change your mind.”

I missed the catch. The omelet landed half in, half out of the pan, splitting in the middle. The eggs splattered against the pristine white tile of the kitchen floor. A piece of hot spinach plastered itself to the top of my bare foot. I hissed and shook it off then dumped the pan on the stove. “Fuck me. Seriously?”

Jacob blanched as he grabbed a roll of paper towels and knelt down to collect the ruined omelet. “I hate it when you swear.”

“Sorry. That’s your half, by the way. I’m late for work.”

Since there was no hope of saving the omelet, I scooped the rest of the eggs into a whole wheat tortilla, wrapped it up like a burrito, and shoved half of it into my mouth as I stripped out of my pajama pants and made a beeline for the bedroom.

“I thought Nate took over the morning show on Fridays,” Jacob called after me.

I pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweater. “He usually does,” I said, juggling the burrito as I laced up my boots. “But we hired a new intern, and Nate’s not a people person. I told him that I’d be there today. We’ve got a lot to cover.”

Jacob leaned against the door of the bedroom. A piece of scrambled egg was stuck to the back of his hand. “I was thinking that we could go to the park today to spend some time together. You’ve been so busy lately, I feel like I haven’t seen you in years.”

“You see me every night.”

“You know what I mean. Come on, I promise to get on the roller coasters with you since I know how much you like them.”

I tied off my laces and shoved them under the tongue of my boot so that they were invisible. I finished off the breakfast burrito in three humongous bites then stood in front of Jacob and put my hands on his shoulders. With my boots on, I was a good inch taller than him. He was a stocky guy, well-muscled but compact. That worked for me—I didn’t have to stretch to kiss him—but he took offense whenever I wore heels around him.

“I promised Nate that I’d come in today,” I said. “But what if we go to the park later? I always like it better at night anyway. Everything looks so pretty lit up. Here.” I picked up one of his cameras from the collection on his desk. “There’s a charity run downtown today to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis. You should cover it.”

He expertly flipped off the lense cap and raised the camera to snap a picture of me. “Those are generic photos. I want danger and intrigue. I want grit and trench warfare. I want the Hells Angels as security at the Altamont Free Concert, not sweaty people in garish tracksuits.”

“Be glad you’re not photographing trench warfare,” I said. “I hear typhus sucks.”

I smacked a kiss to his cheek and sidestepped him to get to the coat closet. Then I pulled on a denim jacket, straightened out the collar, and grabbed my keys from where they hung on the inside of the door.

“So what time tonight?” Jacob asked, following me through the kitchen. Somehow, he’d managed to wipe the egg from the floor, wash the frying pan, and put the dirty spatula in the dishwasher in the same time it had taken me to change my clothes. That was another thing that set us apart. Jacob was a neat freak, while I operated best within organized chaos.

“I don’t know. I have dinner plans with Nita that I’ll have to cancel.”

His shoulders slumped. “It’s fine. We can go another day.”

I shoved my phone and wallet into a messenger bag and slung it across my shoulders. Then I snaked my arms around Jacob’s neck and pulled him close. He always smelled like cinnamon and cloves when it got cold out, compared to his citrusy summer scents. “Nita’s easygoing. She’ll understand. I’ll text you when I’m on my way home, okay? And then we’ll go ride the roller coasters until you puke.”

“Now I’m having second thoughts.”

I grinned and kissed him goodbye. “Too late. See you later.”


A few blocks from the apartment, I realized that I had forgotten to put on my engagement ring once again. Jacob was probably in the bedroom, staring at the little ceramic cup on the bedside table that cradled my meager jewelry collection. Maybe he’d take a few photos of the ring, zoomed way in on the diamond, the focus on the gold band blurry to make the stone look as bare and lonely as possible. Or I was just being dramatic and he had already left the apartment to meet his buddies at the gym.

The radio station was about a thirty-minute walk from our building. The one thing I loved about living downtown was the lack of need for a car. I didn’t own one. Not only did I save on gas, but it was one less bill that I had to rely on Jacob’s parents to pitch in for. Offices, restaurants, bars, and gyms were all just a stroll away, and if I needed to get any farther, the bus and light rail systems worked like a charm. The city was so different from the wide open spaces of my youth, and while I sometimes found the tall buildings and fast pace alarming, I preferred it to the alienating silence of my previous life.

A gush of warm air made my cold nose and ears tingle as I pulled open the door to the station. It was a modest business, with just a control room, a studio, and a storeroom that doubled as our break room through the back. Nate sat at the desk in the control room, staring through the window into the studio. Kenny, our mild-mannered control technician who wore noise-canceling headphones at all times and spoke to no one ever, sat next to him. The on-air light flared red as the new intern, a girl I’d found at the local university who’d majored in broadcasting and dubbed herself Aphrodite, chattered away into the mic.

“Next we’ve got the new single from Walk the Moon,” she announced. “And when we return, Nate and Georgie join us for a discussion on gun control. This is QRX First Watch. Stay tuned, folks.”

The on-air light flickered off, and Aphrodite gave us a hesitant thumbs-up through the window. Nate returned the gesture with a smile so wide and startling that his cheeks looked as if they might crack. Then he flicked off his headphones and swiveled in his chair to look at me, his expression completely flat.

“She’s boring,” he declared.

“Talk-back’s on.”

Nate whirled around to check the button that transmitted sound from the control room to the studio. It was unlit. “That was mean.”

I chuckled, shrugged out of my jacket, and draped it over the spare chair. “Give her a chance. You weren’t exactly a prize when I recruited you either.”

“Excuse me?” he said with faux indignance. “Whose listener count doubled when I was added to the show?”

“So you pulled in a percentage of the male market. Big whoop.”

The door to the studio swung open, and Aphrodite stuck her head out. “Sorry to interrupt your little powwow, but the song’s almost over. The two of you should probably get in here.”

“Sure thing,” Nate said. The intern retreated, and he fixed me with an incredulous stare. “She’s been working here for five minutes, and she’s already bossing us around. I can’t deal. I know you’re a feminist, but—”

I flicked the shell of his ear. “Don’t even try to finish that sentence. Come on. Let’s get in there before our new boss fires us.”

We left Kenny to manage the controls and joined Aphrodite in the booth. Before I could sit down in front of the mic, she wrung my hand so fiercely that the bones in my wrist cracked.

“Georgie,” she said. “Nice to see you again. I love the hair! I always thought about dying mine purple, but it’s already red, so I’d have to bleach it and then dye it, and it would probably be a big mess and a waste of time. Did you shave the side yourself?”

“Nate did it actually,” I told her, settling into one of the plush red rolling chairs that we kept in the studio. He caught my eye across the table and made a face. “Have a seat, Aphrodite. Kenny’s got the countdown for us.”

Through the window, Kenny held up five fingers and put them away one by one. When the last one joined his fist, I leaned toward the pop filter.

“Gooooood morning, Denver, and welcome back to QRX First Watch,” I crooned into the mic, dropping my voice into a smoother, more personable version of its original. “I’m your host, Georgie Fitz, and joining us for today’s Dirty on the Thirty is our own Nate Vega, who you know and love—”

“What’s up, Denver?” Nate interjected.

“—and our new intern, Aphrodite,” I went on. “Before you call in, folks, she is not the Greek goddess of love and beauty in disguise. I already asked.”

“Sorry about that,” Aphrodite chimed in.

“The subject for today’s Dirty is gun control,” I said. “What with the unfortunate and tragic incidents that have occurred in the recent history of this country, the question remains: Should the average American have the power to purchase these weapons? Aphrodite, why don’t you start us off?”

Aphrodite cleared her throat. “Well, I’m a pacifist—”

Automatically, Nate groaned. “Here we go. There’s always one hippy-dippy peacemonger who thinks we can save the world with positive energy and chakra candles.”

Aphrodite pursed her lips, cocking her head and aiming a stare at Nate like a loaded gun. “If you’d let me finish. I’m a pacifist, but my motto has always been ‘Do no harm. Take no shit.’ That being said, gun control isn’t a question of banning all firearms like most people think. People should be allowed to protect their homes and families with a modest handgun, but when it comes to semi-automatic rifles, it’s a different story. The average American doesn’t need high power weapons.”

“When was America ever about ‘need?’” Nate countered. “We want guns, so we have them. I’d agree that the process of procuring high power weapons is a bit lax—”

“A bit?” Aphrodite repeated.

But there’s no point in banning rifles entirely,” Nate continued as if he hadn’t heard her.

“No point?” Aphrodite said. “What about preventing another mass shooting?”

“People are going to get their hands on guns no matter what,” Nate said. “Even if they have to go through illegal means. There might come a time when we really do need them, and I’d rather be safe than sorry. All I’m saying is that when the zombie apocalypse rolls around, I’d want that AR-15 to blow a few faces off.”

“Okay,” I said before Aphrodite could jump in again, her face reddening with rage. “Let’s take it back to examine these points one by one. Then we’ll take a few calls from our listeners.”


I left the station early, unable to take much more of Nate and Aphrodite’s bickering. While it was great to have representation for both sides of a debate, a lot of the useful information that I wanted to spread to the general public got lost in the heat of disagreement. Dirty on the Thirty was a segment that I’d specifically tailored for intelligent, opinionated conversations, and I didn’t want it to devolve into a verbal ping-pong match on par for drama with one of the various Real Housewives reality shows. Either Nate and Aphrodite needed to learn how to argue effectively, or they’d both be out of a job.

In the stairway of the apartment building, I ran into a short, olive-skinned woman with smooth black hair. I smacked my palm against my forehead. “Nita! Crap, I’m so sorry. I totally forgot to call you earlier. I have to cancel our dinner plans tonight.”

Nita was a few years younger than me, but as a first-year med student, she had more maturity and determination than most of my and Jacob’s mutual friends. She hoisted an armful of anatomy textbooks higher in her grasp and shrugged. “No big deal. I should put in some extra study time anyway. You got a hot date or something?”

“Yeah, actually,” I said. “Jacob’s got a night at the park planned.”

“Aw, are you going to share a funnel cake on the ferris wheel?”

“Hell no. I want my own funnel cake.”

Nita laughed, dislodging a binder from her grasp. It hit the floor and spat notes down the stairs. “Damn it.”

“I got it.” I trotted down the steps to collect the papers then tucked them back into the binder. “There you go.”

“Thanks,” she said, perching her books between her torso and the wall of the stairway. “Is everything okay with you and Jacob?”

“Of course. Why?”

“The walls are thin, Georgie.”

I chewed on my bottom lip, a nervous habit from childhood that I’d yet to kick. “You heard us yelling at each other last night.”

“I think the whole floor heard you.”

“Ugh.” I slumped against the wall, the safety handrail jutting into my side. “We keep arguing about stupid stuff. Last night’s fight started because he didn’t squeeze the toothpaste to the top of the tube.”

“What an animal.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I told her. “I love him, you know? But ever since we got engaged, I keep noticing more and more of his flaws. Then I think to myself, is this really the guy I want to be with for the rest of my life?”

“Well, divorce is one in two these days, so odds are it won’t be for the rest of your life.”

I looked up at her from the step below. “Usually, I’m all for the dry humor and sarcasm, but I need some rom-com level bridesmaid enthusiasm and reassurance from you right now.”

“Right. Sorry.” She shifted her stance, perched a hand on her hip, and pursed her lips in her best impression of a duck. “It’s just nerves, Georgiana! Don’t you worry. Jacob is such a wonderful guy. And he’s hot. And he’s conveniently rich.”

I rolled up a page from her notes and swatted her playfully over the head. “Not helping.”

She snatched the paper back and smoothed it out. “I’m kidding. Seriously, you and Jacob are good together. You’ve told me a million times that his quirks even yours out. You fell in love with him for a reason. Try to remember why.”

I sighed as I held the door to our floor open for Nita. “You’re right. If he’s being clingy, it usually means that he thinks I’m pulling away.”

“Are you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess we’ll find out tonight.”


In my book, it was a perfect night to spend at the park. The wind was chilly enough to justify the purchase of hot chocolate, but not so cold that it was miserable. Jacob and I held hands as we strolled through the park, smiling as little kids whacked moles and raced horses at the brightly lit arcade games. Their parents stood farther back, supervising at a distance. Most of them nursed a cheap beer. Overhead, the thrilling hoots and hollers of the roller coaster riders pierced the air. The lights were too bright to see the stars, but a radiant silver sliver of the crescent moon decorated the navy sky. We rode the merry-go-round and the tilt-a-whirl, playing like middle schoolers, but when we got on the ferris wheel and it took us above the bustling crowds where no one was watching, Jacob couldn’t help but take advantage of his captive audience.

“So you want a fall wedding.”

I kept my eyes trained on the horizon, trying to ignore the ominous creaking sounds that emanated from the swinging hinges of our pod. “It’s my favorite time of year. We could have the reception outside.”

“What is with you and the cold?” Jacob asked, trapping my knees between his. “An outdoor wedding in October? All of our guests would freeze.”

“It doesn’t have to be October,” I countered. “September would be nice too. Just as long as the leaves have already started to change. Those are the colors I want. And no one’s going to freeze. They make space heaters for a reason.”

“You want orange as your wedding color? My mother’s going to die.”

“This isn’t your mother’s wedding,” I said, a sharp edge to my tone. “And I didn’t say orange. I said fall colors. Hues that remind me of autumn. Red, gold, brown—”

Brown?

“Yes, brown.”

The ferris wheel jolted to a halt as our pod approached the top. We swung a little back and forth. I peered over the edge, but Jacob pushed me against the padded cushion. “Don’t do that.”

“Why not? It’s not like I’m going to jump.”

“It’s dangerous.”

“I laugh in the face of danger.”

“Okay, Simba,” Jacob countered. “But I like having you alive. Why the hell did we get on this thing? I hate heights.”

“You thought it would be romantic to kiss at the top.”

“I was wrong,” he said. “It smells like corn dogs up here.”

“Oh, sorry. That’s me.”

He cracked a grin at the joke as the ferris wheel lurched into motion again. As it rounded the top and floated toward the other side, Jacob traced the bones of my knee through my jeans.

“So,” he said tentatively. “Are you going to invite your parents?”

My spine stiffened. “What?”

“To the wedding,” Jacob clarified. “They should be there. It’s a huge step, Georgie. Don’t you think your parents ought to be around on the most important day of your life?”

The ferris wheel was a trap. It stopped and started to let people on and off at the bottom, the pace at which we neared the exit infinitely too slow. The rickety metal contraption wasn’t a fun romantic ride. It was a way for men to ensnare their girlfriends—sorry, fianceés—in order to talk about things that didn’t need to be addressed. Not now and not ever.

“How many times do I have to tell you?” I said. “I’m not in contact with my parents.”

“I haven’t even met them—”

“Because I don’t talk to them,” I told him as we bumped another space closer to the exit of the ride. “Why are you so caught up on this? Not everyone has a family like yours, Jacob.”

“I just think that this is a perfect opportunity to reach out to them,” he pressed. “Don’t you agree? It would be a gesture of decency—”

I clapped a hand over his mouth. “Stop. Okay? Just stop. I don’t speak to my parents for a reason. They will not be at our wedding. It’s not a discussion. It’s fact. Leave it alone.”

We finally bounced down to the platform below, and I jumped out so quickly that the ride attendant, a gangly boy with greasy black hair, had to steady the swinging pod so that Jacob could exit too.

“Hey.” Jacob caught me and spun me around in front of a stand selling snow cones. “I’m sorry, all right? Can we just have a nice evening for once? I feel like all we do is bicker with each other.”

“Because you keep bringing up things that make me want to fight with you,” I said, crossing my arms. “I don’t want to repeat myself once I’ve told you something.”

“I know,” he replied. “That’s my fault. I haven’t been listening to you.”

“No, you haven’t.”

A yell of joy echoed overhead as a roller coaster zoomed over top of us. Jacob glanced skyward and grinned. “Are you ready?”

“For what?” I asked.

“I promised you that I’d ride the coaster until I puked.” Jacob winked and coaxed my arms out of their taut positioning. There was that charm I loved, the brazen confidence that made me fall for him in the first place. “And I don’t break my promises.”


Chapter Two


My pulse raced as quickly as the coaster sped along the tracks. Something was terribly wrong. My head roared with the screams of our companions and the rumble of the wheels against the track. The power to the city was out as far as I could see, and the moon overhead wasn’t enough to illuminate our path. Without light, there was no telling which way we were headed next. We blasted through a corkscrew at top speed and hit another loop, but as the coaster train headed up the next hill, gravity worked its magic. The train slowed, coasting toward the top of the hill, but at the peak, we stopped and began to roll backward.

The shrill screams increased, and I crushed my eyes shut as the coaster reversed its route. Jacob let out a yell that tugged at my heartstrings. I had practically forced him to get on the ride. He had never been a fan of roller coasters, and now it was my fault that he was experiencing the one thing that he feared the most. Thankfully, the train lost momentum at a rapid pace. It rolled up the hill that we had just come from, switched direction, and rolled forward again. As it continued to trundle back and forth, the riders stopped screaming, until we finally came to rest in the valley between the hills.

I groped for Jacob in the darkness. “Babe, are you okay?”

I wasn’t the only one checking in on their loved ones. Worried murmurs broke out all along the coaster, filling the air with a buzz of concern. Some of the younger kids were crying. I strained to catch a sound from Jacob, anything that would let me know he was all right, but all I heard were the rapid shallow breaths of hyperventilation.

“Jacob,” I said firmly. My eyes started to adjust to the pitch black night. His ghostly fingers gripped the handles of his harness tightly enough to cut off the circulation. I pried open the hand closest to me. His fingers were freezing. “Jacob, breathe. Just breathe. Everything’s going to be okay.”

But panic had begun to set in on the train. Voices lifted into the air.

“Help! Help us!”

“We’re stuck!”

“I’m going to sue this place for everything they’re worth.”

“Don’t listen to them,” I ordered, tightening my grip on Jacob’s hand. “I’m sure it was just a fluke. The fire department will come and get us out soon, okay?” He stared straight ahead, gasping for air. “Jacob, I need you to talk to me. Look at me. Look at me!

When I pinched the skin on the back of his hand between my finger and forefinger, his head jerked in my direction, and he peered over the cumbersome neon-green harness. His eyes were impossibly wide, pupils blown so big that his irises looked black.

“Good,” I breathed. “Are you okay? Are you hurt? Your neck maybe?”

He shook his head.

“Good,” I said again. “Can you talk to me?”

His lips parted. A sprinkle of powdered sugar, left over from our indulgement in funnel cakes, dusted his top lip. His voice came out in a hoarse whisper. I leaned forward, struggling against my harness to catch his question.

“What the hell is happening?” he whispered.

It was the question on everybody’s mind. The world had gone dark but not silent. Crash after crash echoed from the nearby interstate, the crunch of fenders unmistakeable. People cried and yelled and spoke over one another. Other than that, everything else was eerily quiet. The whir of the theme park attractions had died off. The arcade games quit their eerie tinkly tunes. The buzz of the street lights was noticeably absent. Phones didn’t ring and car engines didn’t turn over. Above all, the cold black night pressed in on all sides.

“I have no idea,” I whispered back.

The worst part was the waiting. The minutes ticked by, and no one came out to tell us what was happening. It was the type of situation that warranted an announcement over the ride’s audio system, but the speakers perched over the tracks remained silent. I knew enough about roller coasters to know that we shouldn’t have stopped anywhere other than one of the block brake platforms stationed throughout the ride. The coaster was programmed to land on those platforms in case of damage or system failure. The fact that we were stuck at the bottom of the track was a bad sign. Something had completely fried the coaster’s system, and from the looks of things, it had fried the rest of Denver too. My phone was inaccessible, tucked securely into the back pocket of my jeans to keep it from flying away during the ride. In the row in front of us, another guest managed to wiggle his iPhone free, but when he pressed the home button, the screen remained blank.

“My phone’s not working,” he called out to the rest of the train.

“Mine either!”

“Same up here.”

“Does anyone have the time?” I asked, keeping a firm grip on Jacob’s hand to let him know I was still with him.

“My watch is dead,” someone called back. “Anyone else?”

“Mine’s out too.”

“It’s ten to eight,” another voice, light and young—a little boy’s maybe—floated up from the front of the train.

“Your watch works? How?”

“It was my grandfather’s,” the boy replied. “It’s old. Mechanic. No electronic components.”

No electronic components. The kid had been the first to realize it, or at least the first to say it out loud. Someone pointed into the black sky.

“Look!”

Everyone’s heads tipped upward. Behind the clouds, a white light mushroomed in the atmosphere and radiated outward. It was almost as if the heavens were opening up, the world gone dark to call attention to their presence, but in all of those stories, the angels never showed up before the ultimate destruction of everything on earth.

“It’s a solar flare!”

“It’s a bomb!”

“It’s a what?” Jacob asked, his voice trapped in an interminable whisper. The coaster had swept his golden hair away from his forehead. It stood straight up like a cartoon character’s. I would’ve giggled if the moment weren’t weighed down by the mysterious light in the sky.

“It’s not a bomb,” I said automatically, but the words felt heavy and wrong on my tongue, and a pang of guilt ricocheted across my conscience, the same way it always did when I told a lie. “It can’t be. We would have heard it.”

And because this wasn’t a world where bombs detonated while people were enjoying a pleasant evening at a theme park. This was Denver, where the Rocky Mountains met the sky, and the crisp air staved off the smell of exhaust in the city. This was First World America, where we lived in excess of material goods and relied on the country-wide grid to function from day to day.

I didn’t know how long it took for the light to subside. It could’ve been minutes or hours. The harness rubbed against my sweater, chafing the skin of my shoulders. A prickling began in both of my legs as the deep bucket seat restricted blood flow to my lower half. I wiggled my toes and straightened my legs, trying to get everything moving again. How long had we been sitting here? Someone should have done something by now. At the very least, the employees that ran the attraction should have updated us on the situation. Restlessness set in. The other guests grew uneasy, complaining and commiserating about our terrible luck. Next to me, Jacob was hauntingly quiet.

“Still with me?” I asked him, giving his hand another squeeze.

“Mm-hmm.” The whites of his eyes reflected the moon overhead. “How long do you think we’re going to be here for?” His tone was steadier than before. He was calmer now that there was no immediate danger other than being confined to the coaster, and his claustrophobia hadn’t kicked in full blast yet.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Probably a while if the power’s out everywhere.”

But another voice shouted at us from out of sight. “Hello! Is everyone okay?”

The entire train clamoured at once, shouting pleas for help. From the darkness, two park employees, dressed in silly patterned sweaters and khaki pants, approached the coaster. They were young—college students who probably worked at the park to make rent or pay tuition—and they definitely didn’t look like they had the ability to free all of us from the coaster’s locked harness system.

The first employee, a nimble young man with a scruffy ginger beard, set a ladder against the track, carefully climbed up, and stepped on the front car of the coaster so that we could all see him. He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Hi, everyone. I’m Dave. This is Hayley.” He gestured to the other employee, whose platinum blond hair served as a beacon in the moonlight as she waved. In her free hand, she held a sturdy metal bar shaped kind of like a tire iron. “We’re going to try and get you out of here.”

“What’s going on?” someone shouted.

“Where’s the fire department?” asked a deeper voice.

Dave waved his hands to settle the crowd. “We don’t know what happened either. From what we can tell, the whole city is out of power. A lot of the cars in the parking lot won’t start, so we’re guessing that the fire department can’t get here either. We don’t want to leave you in the coaster while we wait for them since we don’t know how long it will be, so we’re going to do this like a routine evacuation.”

“And we’re supposed to trust you?” Jacob asked, raising his voice for the first time since the coaster had failed.

Dave squinted toward the back row where we sat. “Sir, I can assure you that we’ve been trained to handle this sort of situation, and we routinely evacuate this ride without issue.”

“From one of the safety platforms,” I called. “What about from a random part of the track?”

“I have to admit this is a new one,” Dave acknowledged. “But it’s the same procedure. We have a tool that unlocks each row of harnesses manually, and we’re going to evacuate one row at a time. Hayley and I will help each of you down the ladder to the ground. Once we finish a row, we’ll escort those four people back to the loading area and come back for the others. It’s important that you follow our path exactly. There are a lot of dangerous components on the ground out here, and we don’t want anyone getting electrocuted if the power comes back on. There’s another train stuck at the beginning of the tracks that the other attendants are helping, so it’s just the two of us. It’s going to be slow going, folks, and I apologize in advance. Please just bear with us.”

“We’ve had word that the park’s medical team is making their rounds as quickly as possible,” Hayley added, shouting up at us from below the track. “Before we begin, does anyone on the train need emergency assistance?”

A general murmur reverberated through the crowd. I glanced over at Jacob, who now looked more aggravated at how long we had been sitting in the train than scared about the situation.

“You’re good, right?” I asked him. “You’re okay to wait?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Let the medics tend to the people who really need it. I can stick it out.”

“Are you sure?”

He tucked his chin to look at me over the bulky harness. “Georgie, I’m fine. Stop freaking out.”

“I’m freaking out because you were freaking out,” I reminded him.

“Well, stop.”

I rolled my eyes. Of course we were arguing again. Even in the midst of a city-wide blackout, we managed to find the ability to bitch at each other.

“All right,” Dave called. “We’re going to get started with row one. Everyone sit tight.”

“Like we have a choice,” Jacob muttered.

There was nothing to do but wait as Hayley handed the hefty tool bar mechanism up to Dave. He balanced along the edge of the track, his sneakers between the metal piping and the bottom of the coaster, and inched toward the first row, stepping carefully between the coaster’s wheels. Hayley supervised from below, moving the ladder to match his pace. The lowest part of the track was about ten feet from the ground, not high enough to cause a life-threatening injury, but if someone misstepped, it might mean a broken arm or leg. Dave seemed well aware of this. His gaze kept flickering toward the ground as if to check that Hayley was keeping up with the ladder. He leaned into the coaster as he reached the first row and bent out of sight with the tool bar.

“One, two, three,” he grunted, and with a pneumatic hiss, the first row of harnesses sprang free. The four guests, two teenagers and two adults, tried to stand up at the same time, but Dave waved them back in their seats. “One at time, please. We need to do this as safely as possible. Ma’am?”

He rested the toolbar against the coaster, leaned against the train to secure his footing, and offered his hand to the first woman seated in the row. She staggered to her feet, grasping Dave’s shoulder for balance. He helped her step over the lip of the coaster car and onto the waiting ladder then continued to hold her from above as Hayley coaxed her down from below. The woman’s hands shook as they left Dave’s shoulders.

“This is going to take forever,” I mumbled, watching as Dave encouraged the next guest out of his seat.

“They already told us that,” Jacob said.

“Yeah, but we could’ve sat in the front seat,” I countered. “I wanted to. If we had, we would’ve been the first ones off the coaster.”

“I don’t like the front,” he replied. “You have to wait longer, and it’s nerve wracking to ride up there. The back’s better.”

I tugged the seatbelt free of the harness. It dangled uselessly between my legs, which were now completely asleep. “The back’s rougher and faster.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is, because the front of the coaster pulls the back, which means there’s less resistance when you whip around the turns.” I sucked in my stomach and wiggled around, testing the space around the harness to see if I could free myself without Dave’s assistance. “Or has the ache in your neck not set in yet from the whiplash?”

“That’s from the lack of brakes. And I didn’t know you were suddenly an expert on physics,” Jacob fired back. “Is that what you do after you finish the morning show at the station? Because you sure as hell aren’t working on the radio.”

“It’s common sense,” I snapped. “And what’s that supposed to mean? Where else would I be other than the station?”

“Can the two of you shut up?”

I looked over at the seat at the end of our row, where a teenaged girl with heavy black eyeliner and fading green hair rewarded me with a dramatic sigh. She had been quiet for the duration of the unfortunate event. If I remembered correctly, she hadn’t let out so much as a whoop of excitement during that first drop.

“Excuse me?”

“Shut up,” she repeated, enunciating the P sound with an emphatic pop of her lips. “God, you two bitch more than my separated parents when the mortgage bill hits. It was bad enough that I had to stand behind you in line, but this is just straight-up torture.”

Thankfully, the seat between me and the girl was empty. No one else played witness to me and Jacob being chided by a teenager.

She pointed to the ring on my finger, which I had finally remembered to put on before we left for the park. “Please tell me that’s not from him.”

Jacob strained to get a look at what the girl was referring to. I stuttered and lowered my hand, but there was nowhere to hide the incriminating diamond.

“Honey,” the girl said, her tone dripping with condescension. “He’s clearly compensating for something.”

“How old are you?” I managed, acutely aware of Jacob’s stare.

“Old enough to know when two people shouldn’t get married.”

“You don’t know us.”

She rolled her eyes. “Thank Wonder Woman for that.”

I huffed and turned away from her, only to realize that Jacob was studying me with a glare as honed as a laser pointer. I faced front, pretending to monitor Dave’s progress. He had just freed the third row. The quartet waited on the ground with Hayley as he climbed down, and the group disappeared again to return to the attraction’s loading zone. There were eight rows to the coaster. The rescue process wasn’t quite halfway through. With a groan of frustration, I jiggled the harness. It moved a fraction of an inch up and down, making more of a racket rather than helping my case.

“Are you trying to break the ride?” Jacob asked with a wry turn of his lips. “It won’t get us out any faster.”

I pushed the harness up as far as it would go and attempted to worm out. “At least I’m trying.”

“What would you even do if you managed to get out?” he went on. “Jump to the ground? It’s a good ten feet.”

“Ten feet never hurt anyone.”

“Actually—”

“I’ve jumped from higher than that before.”

“Off a diving board and into a pool—”

Ahem!

We both looked over at the teenage girl, who pointedly picked at her polished black nails.

“What happened to shutting up?” she asked.

Jacob and I fell silent. I tipped my head back against the headrest, looking up at the sky. The strange mushroom of white light had dissipated, and now that the whole city had been extinguished, the stars blinked overhead in a myriad of patterns. As Dave and Hayley returned to continue the evacuation procedure, I lost myself in the constellations. There were stories written in the sky, legends and myths that most people read about in high school. I had learned about them earlier, studying them each night through a massive telescope as they became visible in our hemisphere. I remembered my first date with Jacob years ago. We had driven out to a park to have a picnic under the stars. After, we laid out on the blanket, cuddling together to stay warm, and watched the sky together.

“Which one’s your favorite?” Jacob had asked.

I considered my options before pointing to a cluster of stars. “There. Lyra. The harp.”

Jacob squinted up at it. “How come?”

“In Greek mythology, the harp belonged to Orpheus,” I’d explained. “He used it to play love songs for Eurydice, his bride. When she died, Orpheus couldn’t stand the loneliness, so he went to the underworld to bargain with Hades to get her back. Hades was so impressed with Orpheus’s music that he agreed to let Eurydice return to Earth.”

“So it was a happy story?”

“Not quite,” I said, nuzzling beneath Jacob’s strong chin. “Hades had one condition. Orpheus had to return to the upper world without ever looking back to check if Eurydice was following. Otherwise, Hades would take her back to the underworld. At first, Orpheus could hear her footsteps behind him, but then they faded as Hades led them through a pine grove. You can imagine what happened next.”

“Hades tricked him?”

“It wasn’t a trick,” I’d replied, musing over the story. “It was more of a test of faith. Anyway, Zeus placed the harp in the sky to honor Orpheus’s music and his love for Eurydice.”

Jacob pulled me closer. “Were there any Greek myths that ended happily?”

“Not many.”

Dave’s face popped up over the edge of our row, ending my jaunt through a simpler time in my relationship. The rest of the coaster had finally been unloaded. Dave fit the toolbar into a notch underneath the seats and asked, “Everyone ready?”

“Beyond ready,” Jacob answered.

“Here we go then. Hands up, heads back.”

The three of us obliged, and Dave heaved the toolbar into position with a grunt. The harnesses released at long last, floating upward to free us. I groaned and stretched then lifted my butt from the seat to get the blood flowing again. My legs felt as though they had a thousand pins stuck in them.

Dave helped Jacob out first. Jacob’s hatred of roller coasters fueled his efficiency. He had no trouble swinging one leg, then the other, over the edge of the car and stepping out onto the ladder. When I heard the soft swish of his boots in the grass, I breathed out a sigh of relief. Dave reappeared at my level.

“Ready to go, ma’am?”

At long last, I stood up, letting out an involuntary hiss as my wobbly legs crept and itched as the blood rushed back to my limbs. I made to step over the edge of the car but misjudged the distance, and my foot caught the underside of the coaster’s decorative accents, sending me sprawling forward into the open air.

No!” Jacob yelled. “Georgie!”

Dave made a wild grab as I tumbled past him, but the silky fabric of my sweater slipped from between his fingers. A panicked yell escaped from my lips as I hurtled headfirst toward the dark ground. Self-preservation instinct took over, and I tucked my chin into my chest, flipping myself as quickly as possible so that I wouldn’t land on my head. Less than a second later, I crashed into Jacob’s firm chest, his knees bent to absorb the impact, and we both fell to the grass, bruised but ultimately unharmed.

“Holy shit,” a voice said from above, and we both looked up to see the teenaged girl peering over the side of the coaster. “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Maybe you two really are meant for each other.”

Hayley knelt beside us, forgetting to hold the ladder steady. “Oh my God, are you okay?”

Jacob helped me shakily stand to my feet, running his hands along the lengths of my body to check for injuries. “Baby, is anything broken?”

Experimentally, I wiggled my fingers and toes. A sharp pang radiated through my left hand. My pinky finger jutted out at an unnatural angle. “Just a finger.”

Jacob brought my hand closer to his face for a better look. “Shit. Come on, let’s get you to First Aid.”

The teenager jumped from the last few rungs of the ladder, followed shortly by Dave, which signaled the end of the lengthy rescue mission. Dave immediately approached me. “I’m so sorry about that. It was all my fault. I should’ve had a better hand on you.”

“No, I misstepped,” I countered. “I don’t blame you at all.”

Dave patted me on the shoulder. “Even so, we should get someone to look at your finger.”

“No need.” I took a firm hold of my pinky finger with my uninjured hand, and with no more than a grimace, yanked the bone straight. I held it up for everyone to see. “All better. Just needs a splint.”

Jacob’s jaw dropped. “I can’t believe you just did that.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve broken a finger. Let’s get back.”

Hayley led us through the yard beneath the roller coaster, which loomed like a great mythical monster overhead. The teenager walked behind me, chattering away about Jacob’s heroic catch, and Dave brought up the rear. We were the last ones to climb up the rusty metal stairs to the loading platform. Everyone else had already left, and the queue house was empty. The track looked oddly vacant without a train to occupy it.

“What are we supposed to do now?” I asked.

“Go home,” Dave suggested. “There’s no point in staying. The whole park is down.” He pointed down the exit ramp of the loading platform. “Make a left out of the ride then a right at the ice cream stand. It’s a shortcut to get to the exit. We have to go help get people off of the other rides.”

We parted ways, thanking Dave and Hayley for their assistance. Then we followed the teenager out of the coaster’s queue building and into the rest of the park. Immediately, we were shunted in with the rest of the crowd heading for the exit. All around, people tapped their phones against their palms, urging them to turn on. What kind of power outage took out cells as well as landlines? I grabbed the back of Jacob’s jacket so that we wouldn’t get separated then instinctively reached for the girl.

“What are you doing?” she asked, tugging her hand free of mine.

“You shouldn’t be alone,” I said as the crowd jostled us along. “Is your mom here?”

She scoffed. “My mom? I’m not twelve. I have to go find my friends. Good luck, lady. Hope your shit works out.”

And then she disappeared into the swarm. I lost sight of her at once. In the darkness, everyone looked the same. I tightened my grip on Jacob’s jacket, pulled myself level with him, and linked my arm through his in a more secure grip. Someone bumped against me, jostling my broken finger, so I tucked it against my side as we made our way out to the parking lot.

The lot was a mess. Cars blocked the aisles, frozen in place on their way to the exit. Dads sat in the driver’s seats of their minivans with the doors open, coaxing keys into the ignition and muttering words of encouragement to the cold, silent engines, while their wives kept track of the kids. Some engines turned over, eliciting both cheers from their owners and groans from those who were less fortunate. There seemed to be a trend in which cars got started. They were all of an older variety, beaten-up clunkers driven by sixteen and seventeen year olds with fresh licenses. The shiny newer cars remained ironically taciturn, refusing to turn on as the few older cars navigated carefully around the cemetery of vehicles. However, when they reached the exit to the main road, they ran into another problem. The entire street was clogged with unmoving cars, some of which had run into each other. Drivers yelled at each other, at their phones, and at nothing at all to vent their frustration.


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