I was one of the lucky ones. When the lights appeared in the sky and robbed the sight of most of the world's population, I was hundreds of feet underground. The local Sheriff had called me in to help look for a bunch of women that had gone missing while on a caving expedition. We never did find any trace of them.
The descent had been tricky and we had wasted a lot of time trying to find a way past a recent cave-in. That alone had prompted a near endless argument about whether we shouldn't high-tail it back up straight away. Longfellow was spooked the whole time we were down there, kept on telling me he had a bad feeling. He always does. He's the brake that Gomez and I need sometimes or we'd just go throwing our dumb selves into every stupid, dangerous situation there is. When we got back to the surface it was late and the light show must have passed.
First thing we heard was a god-awful, keening moan that set the hair on the back of my neck up stiffer than a wedding dick. As I was pulling myself out of my rig, my torch illuminated the Sheriff crawling about on his hands and knees. Just as I freed myself he got to his feet again, took a few steps and stumbled back to the ground. I ran over to help him and he clutched at me, took a grip on my arm like a vice.
"I can't see!" he yelled at me, then in a calmer voice he asked, "Who is that? You've got to get me to a hospital."
Longfellow was out of his gear right after me. "I'm out of here, man," he said. "I've got to get to my family. Something ain't right."
He took off in his car straight away. Gomez helped me get the Sheriff calmed down and into my truck, but I could tell Longfellow had spooked him. "Go on, get home now," I told him.
I never saw my two buddies again.
I debated whether to take the Sheriff to the local clinic, or all the way out to the hospital. I figured it would be best to get him seen by somebody with proper training as quickly as possible so I headed for the clinic. Even if there was no-one on duty this late, I knew Doctor MacManus lived close by and he'd have skinned me if he thought I'd let him sleep while the Sheriff needed help. The decision to head for the clinic probably saved my life.
The Sheriff was mostly lucid now, except for when he just moaned and thumped at his legs with his big, balled-up fists, like he was angry at himself for being blind. I'd heard about the light show everyone was getting all giddy for, but it hadn't seemed like any big whoop. Me and the boys had spent upwards of two years, back in our dim and distant youth, in Fairbanks, Alaska, working some at the gold mine just so we could say we'd done it, and we'd seen our share of the Aurora Borealis. Judging from how the world had been cut off at the knees, I guess the solar lights had been a bigger deal than we reckoned, but I can't say I'm sorry to have missed them.
There wasn't another car on the road, but that wasn't so unusual until we hit the outskirts of town and then it just got eerie. I pulled up a good distance from the clinic, plain freaked out by what I was seeing. It was like some scene out of Dawn of the Dead, with all them folks clamoring to squeeze through the doorway. They were tugging and pulling at each other, some where outright attempting to throttle one another. I had them lit up in my high beams but no-one turned to look, and the racket they were making must have drowned out the sound of my engine as I came to a stop. The door of the clinic had been clean pulled out of the frame and there were no lights on inside. Those lucky bastards that managed to bully and fight their way inside were probably getting slowly crushed to death in there.
"Why've we stopped?" the Sheriff asked me. He had his hands on my arm again, fingers digging into my flesh.
"Calm yourself, Sheriff," I said. "Looks like a few other folks have got that same temporary blindness, and they're getting a little crazy. I'm gonna walk you over to Doc MacManus' house, but you gotta promise me you'll keep quiet."
"Sure, sure," he said. I never heard that man sound so pitiful. He looked lost as I got out of my side of the truck and by the time I was round to let him out he already looked near panicked to death. He signed with relief when he could get his hooks back into my poor bruised arm again. I fished a hand torch out of the bed of the truck to light the way.
"Now remember, Sheriff," I said. "You promise to keep hushed, okay?" He just grunted and gave me an impatient tug at my arm like I was an uppity guide-dog.
We hadn't gone two dozen yards, just to the point where we were closest to the clinic as we skirted past it, when the Sheriff, speaking loud enough so he could be heard over the rumble of the mob, asked me, "Are there any other people about that can still see?"
I shushed him, and he must of gotten the point because he looked suitably embarrassed.
I played my torch across the seething crowd of people, but as far as I could tell most of them hadn't heard and all I saw were their backs. All except for one fellow with a thin, feral face, dressed in nothing but underpants, an inside-out jacket and a pair of cowboy boots. He was turning his head left and right in our direction, like he was ready to gauge where we were if we made another sound. I hurried the hell up, dragging the Sheriff along behind me. I checked behind us several times on the way to the doc's house, but we weren't being followed as far as I could see.
There was a light on in the front room of MacManus' house when we got there. I banged on his front door, but when I saw the light go out a few seconds later, I thought he might be trying to lie low. Then a couple of seconds later the hall light went on, but the door didn't open.
"Who is it?" It was the doctor, shouting at us. I told him who it was, and that I had the sheriff with me. When I told him I could still see he quickly opened the door.
I was shocked, and saddened to find that he was also blind. He led the way into the front room, turning off the hallway light as he left and flicking on the switch as he entered the other room, arm stretching out instinctively to do it from years of habit. He peeled the Sheriff off me and settled him on to the couch. I started to tell him what had happened with us but he interrupted me. "I need you to do something for me," he said. "Tabby is down the cellar. Got all confused after the lights, and took a fall down the steps. Can you check on her?"
"Sure," I said. "But-"
"I know how she is." He squeezed my hand. "I've already been down there, but I have to be sure. You understand?"
I found my way to the cellar, turned on the light and took my second descent of the day. She was lying at the bottom of the steps. It was obvious from the twist in her neck that she was dead, but I checked for a pulse anyway. The doc's wife, Tabitha, had been an imposing woman, inclined to scolding but thoroughly decent through and through. I stayed there a little while, hunkered down by her body, trying to put some words together into a prayer for her.
I didn't know what to tell the doc when I got back up, but he seemed to understand just fine from my silence. "You turn the lights out down there?" he asked. "She was real particular about the lights." I hadn't, but I told him that I had.
With the benefit of my sight, he had me answer a bunch of questions about him and the sheriff, having me shine the light in their eyes and report back what happened. He wracked his brain thinking of tests he could perform but there just wasn't much that could be done here in his home and there was no way we could go to the clinic.
"It's gone crazy all over, son," he said. "The TV was saying nearly everyone has been affected. It's not working now. I think the cable is out, and I can't find her damn radio. You've got to get over to ARH, find out what's happening."
"He's not leaving me here," the Sheriff said. "He's gotta take us with him." He reached out for me but grabbed MacManus' arm by mistake. Regardless, it seemed to settle him a little.
"Don't be crazy, Buck," the doctor said. "We'll just slow him down. You'll come right back here with help, won't you, son?"
"Of course," I said. "But the clinic was bad, the hospital is going to be even worse."
"Don't you worry," the sheriff said. "Folk are basically decent. They'll have settled down by the time you get there."
He hadn't seen the scramble at the clinic, but I didn't see any benefit in educating him. "I guess so," I said. "I'll head over there now." Before I left, I went back to the cellar and turned off the light. The doc was there in the hall to see me out, so to speak. He didn't say anything but he must have known what I'd done and he seemed to appreciate it.
As I left the doc's house I got knocked over. I was lying on my back with somebody on top. I hadn't even had a chance to turn on my torch but it was in my hand so I used it to swipe at whoever it was.
"I got him! I got him!" he was shouting, so there must have been more than one of them. I flicked on the torch and could see if was the ferret-faced guy from the clinic. Now I could see his face I hit him a stiff blow on the side of the head with the torch and rolled him off me. Just as I was getting to my feet a grizzly in a human suit came weaving towards me, arms outstretched, head swivelling side to side like he was motor-boating invisible titties. I ducked around him easy and shoved him on top of the weasel, then planted my boot in the side of head, leaving him out cold as his pal struggled for air under his enormous belly.
There were sounds from the doc's house now and the Sheriff was out shouting something I couldn't quite make out. He had his gun in his hand and his hollering was getting higher pitched and more animalistic with every second. I wanted to tell him I was okay, but, honestly, I was frightened he'd put a bullet in me before he realised who it was.
I ran half the way back to my truck, only slowing down as I got to the clinic. The Sheriff had been right, after a fashion. The scramble was over, but it looked like half the mob that had been fighting their way in were lying dead, either inside or right in front of the clinic. The rest were drifting about and I had to dodge past them to get to the truck.
Once I was back behind the wheel, I couldn't get the images of the riot outside the clinic out of my head every time I thought about having to go over to the hospital. I switched the radio on, anxiously twisting the volume knob down so I could just about hear. I scanned up and down the wavelengths. It was still mostly music, running on automated systems this late at night, everything pre-programmed with nobody but a security guard actually manning the station. Every so often I heard a human voice, but they were all reporting the chaos, the madness. Nobody had an explanation. Nobody was telling me what I should do.
Something banged on the glass beside me. Something else slapped against the passenger side window. I turned the high beams back on. They must have heard the radio anyway, because there was a crowd gathering around me. I jammed on my door lock and was reaching over to the passenger side when it opened. It was someone I knew, my insurance agent Jeff Harrington, but I didn't recognise the face behind him, or the face behind that.
"Can you see?" Jeff begged. "Please, you have to help me."
All I could say was, "Sorry!" I drove my fist into his face, again and again until he fell backwards and I could get the door shut and locked. I blared my horn, but the press of hands and faces on the truck just kept getting worse. I made my decision. There was no way in hell I was going to the hospital to get drowned in a sea of desperate people. I threw the truck into gear and tried to blank out the thought of what I was bumping over as I reversed out of there as fast as I could go.
I headed straight to the big out of town mall. I was going to need provisions. Food, fuel, camping equipment, and guns. Lots of guns.
My initial plan had been simple, to wait it out until some kind of normality returned. But it never did. It was around two weeks later that the reports began coming in about the triffids. I couldn't believe it at first, thought it was a sick joke. Were they seriously telling me I should be worried about a bunch of plants we sweated for gasoline? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I had had friends back in Fairbanks who had swore blind we'd regret the day we ever started using plants for fuel, when there was still tens of thousands of square miles of Alaska we hadn't raped for oil yet. Admittedly that was not a universal point of view.
We all knew that Big Oil had lied to us every chance they got, so why would the triffoil companies be any different? Maybe triffids really were deadly, and they'd been keeping us in the dark all this time.
I was safe where I was for now, up in the mountains, but I figured somewhere with a healthy stretch of desert would be the best place to keep the killer plants at bay. Arizona sounded like a safe spot, but since I was going to be travelling clean across country I might as well stop off in California and see if my grand-folks had made it. Mom was dead, and dad was a mystery. I had lost track of my sister years ago. Gramps and Grammy were all the family I had left. Or might have left. I owed it to them to find out if they were still alive.
I went back to the mall to re-supply. Somebody had been getting organized there and had begun to systematically strip away food and other goods. I toyed with the idea of waiting around to see if anyone showed up but there was no telling how I'd be greeted so I took what I needed and hit the road.
In the weeks that followed I saw a whole lot I wish I could forget. Like sighted children on leashes leading around groups of hard-faced, blind adults. One time I saw a group of triffids use their stingers to whip a man into something unrecognisable as human, and another time I saw a mob of blind men overwhelm a lone triffid, tearing it to pieces with their bare hands and eating what they wrenched free until there was nothing left of it.
I was treated fairly and politely at a Nation of Islan compound, but after we had traded goods and gossip I was firmly sent on my way because of the color of my skin, though none but a handful there could see it. Still preferable to the countless times I was chased away with rifle fire by white trash warlords.
And so, eventually, I reached California, and like I had expected all along, there was no sign of my grand-parents at their home. No sign of anyone for miles around in fact. The fire that had claimed the neighborhood had been a big one. There was no way to tell if they had gotten away and no way for me to pick up their trail even if they had. I decided to set off for Arizona, after finding another mall to grab supplies.
It was at the mall that I found Roddy, lying under a stack of fifty pound sacks of flour, looking like Casper the friendly, if somewhat pissed-off, ghost.
I was wary at first. I'd seen too many traps like this, baited with an injured person and with a gang of cut-throats ready to jump on you when your guard was down. But, damn, Roddy just looked pathetically happy to see me.
We made our introductions as I helped him up. He'd climbed up to reach for something at the top of the racks when he slipped, bringing the flour down on top of him. He must have banged his head, knocked himself unconscious and was just coming round when I found him. He'd managed to sprain his ankle pretty bad, but I didn't think it was broken. When I asked him where he was staying, so I could take him there, that's when he got cagey.
"I've been helping some of the blind," he said. "Just been doing what I can, you know?"
"Sure," I said, wondering what his angle was. Was he trying to make me feel guilty?
"It's been pretty hard most of the time," he said, then he giggled. Honest to God, giggled.
"Roddy, dude, I'll help you get back home, if you ever get round to telling me where it is, but I can't stick around to help you with a bunch of blind guys. It's every man for himself, and if you had any sense you'd-"
"Hear me out!" he said. "I've picked a good bunch. There were so many, I had to be selective. Kandy was a nurse, and so was JoJo. Tina's dad taught her everything about being a mechanic. Grace has a masters degree in science. Kim is a black belt, and Tiffany used to be a cop."
"Roddy, did you pick them all because just because they're chicks?" I asked.
He waved his hands at me. "Of course not. I told you, they all have skills. There are millions of ordinary women out there. I wanted smart, funny women... and there was the other thing..."
"What other thing?"
"Whoever I was going to take in, needed to be... well, they had to have really big boobs."
I was flabbergasted, but all I could do was laugh.
Roddy grabbed my wrist and shook it. "Hey, come on man, I needed some criteria to narrow down my selection."
"Okay, Roddy," I said. "I'm real happy for you, but what do you need my help for? Sounds like you have a pretty sweet set-up."
"It's too much, buddy. I've shot for the moon and hit the Sun. Come back with me and, you know, help me keep the girls occupied."
I had just been thinking that my trip West had been a bust, and now this. "Just how big is big, Roddy?"
"Are you kidding me, man? This is California. We're talking monster titties, my friend."
I did the sums in my head. "So... three each?"
He winked at me. "Six each, pal."
Suddenly Arizona wasn't looking so good.