Like tiny Roman candles, sparks rose from the small string of Christmas lights slung over the handrail leading to her front door. The overhead lights in her kitchen flashed before the entire house went dark.
“Fuckity, fuck, fuck! I’m not even allowed to have a few simple Christmas lights?” Since her husband abandoned her, Jennifer’s language had devolved into profanity connected by a few cogent thoughts. “Let’s move to Wyoming,” he had said. “It’s a pandemic. You’re working from home anyway. I can get a job in the oil fields. We can be close the mountains.” So, she followed him, and they settled into this ancient mobile home on a quarter-acre carved from vast ranch lands in the middle of proverbial nowhere. But before long, Jason packed his belongings and moved in with the former pole dancer he had met online before they even left Cleveland.
Jennifer bundled up, grabbed a flashlight, and went outside to investigate. Her ancient dog, Toby, followed her down the stairs. Despite howling winds, the air still smelled of melted plastic. Black soot covered the siding near the electrical outlet. To return power, she tried installing new fuses. No luck. She called her landlord and left a message. She called the electrical co-op and left a message.
Realizing she would be spending Christmas Eve—and probably Christmas—alone, in the dark, freezing cold, she momentarily contemplated gruesome suicide and revenge. She could use the hunting knife Jason left behind, carefully framing him for murder. But then Toby, still outside because he took so long to poop nowadays, barked. As she helped Toby climb the icy stairs, the feral cat (who lived under the trailer’s skirting) ran past them and into the mobile home.
She spent 15 minutes trying to find the cat and shoo him back outside before she gave up. Hoping the cat would figure out what to do, Jennifer filled a plastic storage box with a bag of play sand the former tenants had left behind.
Jennifer located her camping stove and lantern then improvised a one-pot, Christmas-themed dinner that she shared with Toby. She left a small dish on the countertop for the cat. To keep the pipes from freezing, Jennifer took some clay pots and votive candles to create small heaters—something she learned on Pinterest.
Finally, she changed into her long, woolen underwear and crawled inside the down sleeping bag she spread out on her bed. Lying in the dark, she contemplated never leaving that little cocoon; she could simply decide to let herself dehydrate, starve, and freeze to death. But then Toby, after three sad attempts, managed to join her on the bed. She covered him with a blanket. Then, before her mind could wander back to dark thoughts, she felt the cat alight near her feet then settle down, surrounding himself in parts of the down bag she wasn’t using.
Jennifer had planned to let her cell phone simply die, looking for now non-existent WIFI signal. After all, that tiny detail would add to the lurid story of her death as reported in the local newspaper. Instead, she reached over and switched it off. She had plenty of gas in the car and could charge it in the morning.
I wrote this piece of flash fiction on Christmas morning 2020. Inspired by a friend who said I could write a “short” story about my Christmas lights burning out, I gave myself 550 words and 2 hours to complete the work.