Everything went dark. The television turned off, the lights blacked out. The only illumination was from Ruby’s mobile where it lit up her face.
“Damn. Where’s a torch?” said mum.
“On your phone.”
“Torch. On your phone.”
“Really? Okay. Where’s my phone?”
“You had it when you spoke to Grandma. Just before Bake Off. It’ll be on the coffee table.”
Ruby swiped a finger down her own phone, clicked on the torch app and lit up the room. Her mum’s phone was exactly where she said it would be. She picked it up and turned its torch on.
“Hey”, said mum. “How did you know my password?”
“I don’t. You can use the torch without signing in.”
“I better find some candles.”
“Don’t you just have to reset the fuse or something?”
Mum went to the window and peered through the gap in the curtains.
“It’s not just us. The whole street is out.”
While her mum hunted for candles, Ruby searched for news on her phone.
“Mum. It’s the whole town. The power station is flooded.”
“Damn. That’ll mean no power for hours, or days even. We better turn our phones off to save the battery. Only turn it on when it is essential.”
“Everything on my phone is essential,” said Ruby.
“I’ll phone Grandma first. I don’t know what she’ll think. She’ll be so confused when the telly blacks out in the middle of Bake Off. I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts taking it apart and trying to fix it.”
“You won’t get through.”
“Cos she’s only got a landline. It needs to be plugged in. I told you we should have bought her a mobile for her birthday.”
“She wouldn’t know how to use one.”
“But it would be handy in a power cut.”
Mum walked to and fro across the room in the flickering candle light.
“I need to check on her,” said mum.
“I’ll go see her.”
Ruby flicked through a few more pages on her phone.
“Sorry mum. There’s no buses. Apparently they can’t operate because all the traffic lights are out. I’ll go. I can walk.”
“It’s so dark. You’ll get lost.”
“Satnav – duh. It still works in the dark, you know.”
“I’m not sure. You be careful. Stick to the main roads and don’t talk to any strangers.”
“Mum. I’m not a child anymore.”
“And ring me when you get there.”
Ruby collected her trademark red hoodie from her bedroom. She chose her second thickest one. The rain had stopped and it wasn’t that cold. She managed to dodge past her mum and avoid the hug and kiss.
Everything looked different without the street lights and the high street was revealed in all its shabbiness with no illuminated shop fronts.
Ruby mostly looked down at her mobile. Following its guidance, but also checking her social media and messaging friends about the powercut. Most of them were jealous that Ruby was allowed out. At seventeen there was still some parental control.
“You’ll not get down there.”
Ruby looked up. A young man with a long face and wild hair was pointing at the overflowing river that covered the road. The satnav obviously didn’t know about the flood. It wasn’t a problem. Ruby knew her way. She’d could go down Wood Lane and up Steep Street to the canal. Canals didn’t flood and she could simply follow the tow path to Grandma’s cottage. It was actually the shortest route.
“Quite something isn’t it?” said the man. “Especially with no lights. Look at that where it’s still. You can see the stars in it.”
Ruby moved nearer to the water’s edge. He was right. The backdrop was spectacular. She lifted her phone and snapped a selfie. It didn’t quite capture the full effect. She lifted her arm higher and tried again. She still didn’t manage to capture the stars.
“Hey. Pass your phone up and I can take it from here.”
Ruby gave the man a sceptical look.
“No you’re right to be careful. I’ve an idea.”
The man came down the steps and held out his own phone.
“You take my phone as a ransom. Go on. Look it’s a nice phone. Even better than yours so there’s no way I’m running off with yours and leaving mine behind.”
Ruby took his phone and handed over hers. The man ran up the stairs and directed her into position. It was a perfect snap. Ruby silhouette as a moody foreground with the stars and their reflections providing a halo behind her.
She thanked the man and posted the image to her social media.
“Can I get your tag?” asked the man.
Ruby nodded and flashed it across to his phone. She didn’t want to seem rude, but she wasn’t interested in him so sent her Hoodie101 tag, which was the one she never actually used.
“So where you heading? Your satnav seemed to be taking you to the middle of nowhere.”
“I’m going to check on my Grandma.”
“Does she live in a field or something?”
“It’s an old lock keepers cottage. By the canal.”
“Right. It’s pretty dark out there. Do you want me to walk with you?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, it’s pretty dark everywhere. I’ll manage.”
“Okay. But snap me if anything happens.”
The man ran back up the steps and off into the town centre. Ruby ascended the steps herself. Her social media pinged and her picture had already received more likes than anything she’d ever posted before. She looked back at the calm flood water with the river rushing by in the distance. She captured a few more images that she thought Grandma would like and then resumed her journey.
The ragged edges of the canal towpath made the night seem even darker but actually the path was the same as it would have been without a powercut. The wind had got stronger so Ruby raised her hood and pulled the strings tight under her chin.
Suddenly Ruby’s phone battery died. She looked up and saw some flickering light in the distance where Grandma’s house should be. Ruby started to run but soon tripped and grazed her knee as she fell and had to limp the rest of the way.
The flickering came from Grandma’s front room. It didn’t look as scary or out of control now that Ruby was close.
She lifted the latch and pushed, but the door didn’t budge.
“Who’s there?” shouted someone through the locked door.
“It’s me. Ruby.”
The door opened to reveal a frightening figure. It had a big head, huge ears, massive dark sunken eyes and one large fire-red tooth.
The tooth moved to the side and suddenly Ruby could see her Grandma wrapped up warmly in a scarf and ear muffs and holding a red hot poker.
“Ruby dear. Look at you. Come sit yourself down and get warm by the fire. I’ll make you a nice cup of hot chocolate. Goodness me that’s a big rip in your trousers and look at your knee. You’ll need a plaster on that.”
Ruby was soon comfortably sipping hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows. She looked around at Grandma’s cottage, lit by candles hung inside glass lamps, with a fire in the kitchen range heating Grandma’s extra large kettle.
Suddenly a beeper went off and Grandma jumped up.
“Perfect timing. Let’s have hot buttered scones fresh from the oven. I’m so glad you came.”
“Grandma, why was your door locked? You don’t usually lock it.”
“Oh that. There was this strange man. I didn’t like the look of him. Had hair down to here and shifty eyes. He said he was just checking I was alright on my own. You should have seen his face when I lifted the red hot poker out of the fire. I waved it around in front of him while I told him that I didn’t have time to talk to him because I was busy cooking for my large family who were about to arrive. He soon ran off.”
“Oh. I wonder if it is the guy I met on my way. He seemed dodgy.”
“We should phone your mum and let her know you’re here safely. I must say I’m surprised she let you come all this way after dark.”
“We can’t. My phone has died.”
“Oh dear. Let’s plug it in and get it charged up again.”
“Grandma. Have you forgotten there’s a powercut?”
“The powercut. That’s why I came to check on you.”
“There’s no powercut.”
“That’s why are all the lights out.”
Grandma flicked a switch and the electric light burst into life.
“But the whole town has no power.”
“My power comes along the canal. I don’t think it’s connected to town.”
“So why the candles?”
“Its cosy don’t you think?”
Ruby looked around. “I think it is the cosiest place in the world.”
“I’ll phone your mum.”
Grandma picked up her landline and was soon chatting reassuringly to Ruby’s mum. Ruby lay back and the warmth of the fire and comfort of the chair soon meant she dozed off.
She woke to hear Grandma and her mum still chatting. Slowly she opened her eyes and saw her mum sitting opposite her.
“Hey sleepy. If you’re tired you can go up to bed. We’re staying with Grandma until the power is back on. I’ve brought a bag for you. Hope I’ve got everything. It’s mostly hoodies.”
“How did you get here?”
“Grandma ordered me a taxi from your phone.”
“Don’t worry. She’s left some money there to cover it.”
“But mum. How did she know my password?”
Ruby and her mum turned to look at Grandma who was busy repairing a broken stool. Grandma looked up and smiled. She licked her forefinger and held it out while making a hissing sound.
Grandma never explained and it was several years later that Ruby suddenly realised what Grandma had done. Phones could be unlocked with fingerprint recognition and she had slept right through it.