Aicha Zoubair

Jessica Bell

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day – The Blackout by Stephanie Erickson

5.

The next morning Molly got up and went to class, prepared to hear the groans from her Modern Poetry class for their late papers.  She usually punished them with half a letter grade for every class they were late, but she wasn’t sure what to do to compensate for her own lateness.  She thought if she could come up with a few options, like having class in the garden one day or letting them pick the next poem to discuss, and let them choose, they’d be happy. 

Her other classes held better prospects.  She was excited because the day brought discussions about Gulliver’s Travels in British Literature, and The Poisonwood Bible in Modern Fiction.  Save for the groaning from Modern Poetry, she expected it to be a pretty good day. 

It happened in the middle of Modern Fiction.  A student had asked what point Kingsolver was trying to make by sacrificing the family’s youngest child. 

“What could possibly be worth killing such an innocent character?” she asked.

“Well, what do you think?  Do you think the father is so taken by his ‘mission’ to ‘save’ the heathens in the Congo that his youngest is a fair sacrifice, as you put it?  What’s one life if it saves a handful of others?”   Molly had just said it to spur the discussion.  She often made extreme statements in class just to stir the pot and get a good discussion going.

She sat cross-legged on top of her desk looking at the rows of students as hands shot into the air.  She smiled and surveyed their faces.  Their expressions ranged from angry to mischievous.  Molly picked one that seemed undecided.  “Mia, what do you think?”

Before she could answer, the lights went out.  It wasn’t really all that dark, because the back wall had several windows on it, and for that she was thankful. 

“Um…OK.  Just a second here, let me poke my head into the hall and see if I can find out what the deal is,” Molly said as she got down off the desk.

The students whispered to each other as she walked to the door.  “Settle down.  I’m sure it’s just a power surge, and it’ll be back on before I can even find out what happened.” 

“My phone doesn’t work.  Does yours?”  A boy in the front row asked his neighbor.

It caught Molly’s attention.  “Is your battery dead?” she asked.

“No.  I left home with a full charge.” 

Other students began retrieving their phones.  The consensus was unanimous.  No one’s phone worked.  Molly took her phone out of her pocket to see, and to her surprise, it displayed nothing but a black screen. 

She frowned and continued on her journey to the door.  “I’ll find out what’s going on.  Just stay calm,” Molly assured them.  They all looked worried.

Teachers were beginning to poke their heads out of their doors, making similar inquiries about the outage.  No one seemed to know what was going on.  Normally, there would be an announcement or some sort of directive about what to do, but they’d never encountered this type of outage before. 

Molly ran to her office to grab her laptop and returned to the classroom.  By then the kids were getting a little panicky, letting their imaginations run away with them. 

“Why would the power and our phones be out?  What could possibly cause something like that?”

“How long do you think it’ll be out?”

“My mom said she thinks the apocalypse is coming.  She said the signs are all there.”

Another student burst out laughing.  “Your mom is crazy.”

Molly interrupted before a fight could break out.  “OK, enough.  The power will probably be back on soon.  The school has an emergency generator that should kick in any minute now.  Just let me get my laptop going, and I’ll see if I can get some information about it.”

“Dr. Bonham, if the power’s out, will you be able to get online?”

By then, Molly had already gotten her computer out and was trying to get it powered up.  “Oh, that’s a good point.  Probably not.” 

Then she noticed nothing was happening with her computer.  She held the power button down, with no response.  She waited a few moments and tried again.  Still nothing. 

“What on Earth…” Molly muttered.

“What’s wrong?” 

“Um…I’m not sure.  I can’t get my computer to come on.” 

“What should we do?  Can we go home?”

“I don’t know about that either.  The stairwells are dark, I don’t want there to be a stampede.  Just give me a minute to think about the options.” 

They weren’t prepared for something like this.  They knew exactly what to do for a tornado, a fire alarm, or an earthquake.  But this was new territory. 

There really was no reason not to continue with class.  The only things they were using were the lights, and it was plenty bright enough to continue the discussion without them.  However, the kids were rattled, and quite frankly so was Molly.  Continuing with the discussion seemed fruitless, but leaving right this second wasn’t a good option either. She didn’t want to put the students in an unsafe situation. 

“Let me run back to the department head’s office and see what he thinks.  You guys wait here until I get back, OK?”  Molly looked at them all, seeing the panic starting to bubble up.  “I mean it,” she said sternly.  She thought giving them a task, even if it was just sitting still, would help occupy their minds.

Molly caught up with Terry Longman in the hallway.  She looked at him and shrugged.  “Now what?” she asked.

His normally disheveled appearance looked a little more unruly in his stress.  His grey hair stood straight out and his tweed coat hung unevenly.  “I have no idea.  I’m telling the kids and teachers to stay put for now.  There are no lights in the stairwells, and I don’t want anyone getting trampled.  Let’s wait twenty minutes or so and see if it comes back.  If it doesn’t, we’ll let the classes go one room at a time to prevent a stampede.  So, since your class is at the far end of the building, they may be here a while.”

“No problem.  Just keep me posted.”

Molly stopped in Cindy’s room, knowing she had a rowdy group this time of day.  They were arguing with her about getting to leave.

“HEY!”  Molly hollered to get their attention.  They were immediately quiet.  “This is a professional environment, not a middle school.  Arguing is not tolerated.  You will stay put until Dr. Longman says you can go.  He’s making his rounds now, and he’s said if power is not restored in another twenty minutes or so, he will let everyone go home.  However, he doesn’t want any misconduct, so he’ll be letting classes go one room at a time.  Just sit tight.”

A unified groan went up.  “Hey, you’re supposed to be in this class right now anyway!  I don’t want to hear your complaints,” Molly said.

“Yeah, well I’m not sitting here any longer than I have to.  Class gets out at three, and I’m out of here at three,” declared an older student, dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt.  It was obvious that his silver chains, piercings, and long hair were meant to intimidate.  Molly was unfazed.

“You’ll do whatever the head of the department says you’ll do.  No questions about it.  This is considered an emergency situation, and for your own safety and the safety of others, you’ll stay put for now.  We’re not keeping you here forever, so just relax.” 

Cindy had that deer-in-headlights look.  Molly turned and put her hand on Cindy’s upper arm.  “Hey, straighten up.  These kids’ll eat you alive if you let them.  Don’t.  Terry said he’ll be letting classes go one at a time if the power’s not back in twenty minutes.  The process shouldn’t take too long, since there’s about ten rooms downstairs and ten up here, so just hold the fort for maybe an hour tops, OK?”

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Genre – Adult Fiction / Contemporary

Rating – PG13 (some strong language)

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