Sarah looked up at the sky. It was gray just like it had been for the last month. When the power went out everything changed.
She was only seven years old, but she knew things were bad. Very bad. Her parents were always whispering and her older brother James hadn’t said a word since the blackout. Whenever Sarah asked what was going on, her mom and dad would say things like “Nothing you have to worry about, Sarah” or “It’ll be over soon.”
Sarah knew they were lying. And very wrong.
People wandered around, lost without power. No more television. No more technology. Smartphones died after a few days with no way of charging them. The lucky ones with backup generators kept their power on for a bit longer, but eventually those died too. People panicked, siphoned gas from vehicles, and tried to use pumps at the gas station forgetting that modern setups relied on electricity and their backups were also defunct now.
Food and water were still okay, except for perishables, but the markets hadn’t been completely raided yet for their dried, canned, and bottled goods. It seemed that more people were worried about their devices, though, than the fact that eventually the food would be gone.
Sarah played outside in the playground near her house. There were a few other kids from her class there swinging on swings and climbing the monkey bars. She and her playmates were the only ones who’d found something to pass the time. Occasionally moms brought their younger kids, and while the preschool and kindergarteners seemed fine, the mothers shook and paced. They had no phones to poke at while their kids played and it seemed to affect them on a deep level.
Today only the kids were there. It was as if the parents gave up and just let their little ones do what made them happy.
Sarah climbed up to the top of the tallest slide for the fifth time. Even though she was getting bored with the playground, it was better than being around her family lately.
That’s when she saw him.
He hid behind one of the bigger trees at the edge of the park, and when he noticed Sarah’s gaze, he ran. From what she could see, he wasn’t more than 12 or 13 years old, but he was dressed strangely for his age. Sarah swore he wore a suit, but he moved so quickly she couldn’t be sure.
Sarah slid down the slide and walked toward the tree line, hoping to find the strange boy hiding behind another tree. The other kids didn’t seem to notice her leaving and with no adults around no one stopped her.
Sarah reached the spot where she first saw the boy watching the playground. She touched the trunk of the tree on which he had leaned. It felt hot but only where his body touched the bark. Something shifted in the corner of her eye and when she turned to catch it, there was nothing there but a sheet of paper nailed to an opposite tree.
It read, “It starts now. Are you ready?”