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The Flashlight People

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"The phone crazies own the days; when the stars come out, that's us. We're like vampires. We've been banished to the night. Up close we know each other because we can still talk; at a little distance we can be pretty sure of each other by the packs we wear and the guns more and more of us carry; but at a distance, the one sure sign is the waving flashlight beam. Three days ago we not only ruled the earth, we had survivor's guilt about all the other species we'd wiped out in our climb to the nirvana of round-the-clock cable news and microwave popcorn. Now we're the Flashlight People."

-Cell, Stephen King

Riddell me this: what's white and red all over?

Answer: you haven't been paying close attention.

Everything

(is eventual)

mutates. It's how it works. Survival means you adapt and grasp and fuck and cut and grab and pray the world doesn't move on and leave you behind.

Which is the other half of the riddle: if the world's moving on to hell in a nicely lined hand basket, do you want to move with it? Let us know if you figure it out. Operators are standing by.

Just pick up the phone.

Give us a call.

The Pulse didn't stop, but the wires went down and the power went out. Nothing's perfect, and government work is about as far from perfect as it gets, as anyone would tell you. (Or would have told you when there was such a thing as a government.). It didn't take nearly as long as it should have, if the system had worked as it was meant, but for once it was nice to know tax dollars had been wasted.

No more way to hurt anyone, they thought, which was something. (And no way to turn someone back was the other half, for the few who made a guess and took a chance, but there weren't so many as all that anyway.) But maybe things were on their way back to normal, they thought. They hoped.

It was a nice hope.

The Pulse knew. Pulse always knew what was coming, and if ears weren't an option, the Pulse could adapt.

The Pulse wanted form, the Pulse wanted soul, the Pulse wanted to get through however it could. The Pulse wanted to seep into to those rivers and rapids that made up the human brains that birthed the Pulse itself in the beginning. The Pulse wanted to tear it down and build it up again into something shiny and new.

The Pulse could adapt.

So it did.

It wasn't so hard as anyone (if there'd been anyone left alive to think on it) would have thought, and the smartest of the dead would have seen it clearly. If you can learn to ice skate, you can learn to rollerblade. If you can move one way, you can take those skills and apply them in another.

If you knew how to use ears as a door, it wasn't hard at all to figure out how to use eyes.

They'd traveled by night. That meant flashlights and torch lights and any kind of light there was, so you didn't trip on your own two feet. The Flashlight People, even after the batteries ran out and there weren't so many actual flashlights left.

The first days, you started to hear warnings. Something coming

(a change in the wind)

from the west that no one understood.

It wasn't many days after that when half of those used to be normals left weren't so much left anymore and weren't so much normal, and the rest had taken to wearing dark glasses if there was a need to be out at all.

That was three months ago.

Maybe. If that. You're not sure at all. Time's stopped mattering, really. There's no day anymore to measure things by.

The idea of destroying your own eyes is terrifying, you think.

The world shuts down. You are limited and lost. And you're never going to see the light at the end of the tunnel to find your way out again.

It hurts like a motherfucker. And it's not just the pain--that hurts, and never mistake it for anything other than that. You're going to stab your own eyes out--it's becoming a ritual, in a way, to do it yourself. (You don't know it, but in a year, when people are fucking enough to have children again, it'll be done for them instead. Open your eyes, little boy, and let's take them from you. You get to keep your soul, though. We hope you find the trade worth it. There are no refunds.) And it's not even the physical pain that's the most terrifying thing, though there's no doubt in your mind (you've heard the screams) that it's going to hurt that way. It's that you're doing this to yourself. The eyes are the window to the soul, and you're going to knock the baseball through to keep the soul unseen. That there are no more options beyond something as fucked up as this.

That's all you can think, as you stand there in the dark (pitch black, no light at all, because any light's dangerous, and you were one of the ones who started to hide when the flashlights were the first to harm, when the electric bulbs shone and drove the others mad, before even the sun was a threat) with the stone.

You're about to stab your own eyes out.

Go blind or go mad.

It's a hell of a choice, and the thing is (the thing, like there's one thing, like there's been a moment since the Pulse went out that you can think on just one thing at a moment instead of your mind always racing) that once you do, there's no going back.

But then that, after all, you think--think as you take a breath and shove the stone in and let that breath out in a shriek that could crack the heavens (before there's a hand muffling your mouth, because you never know who's listening or from where)--as you hear that sound of membrane bursting (and you hear it, as much as feel, that way the fluid rushes out and it never should, never ever, and you broke the wall your own damned self) you think to yourself, but then--not going back is just life and then you're passing out.

It's the only blessing God's got any interest in giving any of you anymore.

And the one thing everyone that's left knows is that you take whatever the hell you can get.

Riddell me this: what's white and red all over?

Answer: who the hell can tell anymore?