Around here, the streets are dark in the middle of the night, and I mean dark. Only the most treacherous corners receive the half-hearted orange honor of an operational street light. The pavement, fresh and black, winds and the trees encroach, except where the woods unfold to an unexpected cranberry bog, which can actually seem darker than woods on a moonless night. The trees justify a certain obscurity, hugging close as though to cover travelers in the event of falling stars, but the bogs – they have no reason to be dark. They are dark by choice.
On such a night – bough-framed, overcast – I find myself traveling home from the parsonage in Marshfield, my sights narrowed by hours of colonizing the Catan board. Suddenly the darkness gets much, much darker: my headlights are out. A stunning and inconvenient coincidence, to lose both at once, but I’m nearly home, so I switch on my high beams, figuring to replace the other ones in the morning.
The bright bulbs flare to life and flicker out. The street has gone truly lightless now: no glancing beams on the forest’s underbelly, no flicker of red as my Honda makes eye contact with the tail lights of a street-parked car, not a porch light or driveway lantern left burning for a son or daughter coming home late from a friend’s or a spouse on his way back from drinks at the bar after work. A car snails into view over a rise, as blind as my own. We pass as though glued to an automatic sidewalk: slow, parallel, trading confusion and fear in an accidental glance before averting our eyes and rolling on.
The street where I live, unmarked and void of street lights even on an ordinary night, almost slides past, tucked in the shadows, out of sight, but I make the turn. Our farmer’s porch is shrouded in spider-webs as though no one has swept in a century. A clear path leads to the kitchen door, but I get stuck in a web and can’t pull free. What spider, I panic, could have spun a web so big and so strong? It must have been huge. Huge enough to eat me for a bedtime snack when it got home.
I can think of no worse way to die, so I start screaming. A minute later my mom comes out of the kitchen and peels me loose, dragging me inside and locking up. The webs and their architects are no surprise to her – since the power went out some time ago, the family has grown used to living with the eight-legged creatures of night. The outage, though, is localized to our neighborhood: a bird’s eye view shows the car I passed earlier crossing the town line, flickering to light and to life.