Strangely unsettled by a simple ten minute powercut, I go out to reassure myself that all has indeed returned to normal. On the path between the dimly lit buildings, light and shade seem oddly exaggerated. The long shadows cast by a melancholy yellow moon seem to thicken and close around me along with a growing awareness that something is not quite right.
No sound. No movement. The birds, so agitated earlier, are silent. Of the skittish geckos who normally break cover and dart ahead of me like anxious autumn leaves, there is no sign, not a startled glance, not a flicker. Nothing.
I remind myself to breathe. Relax. I move towards more open ground, and pause, puzzled.
I register twisted, angular shapes; green hearts and dessicated stems. What has happened to the plants?
Open ground at last. I sigh noisily, but relief drains away as I notice the lights. Someone has laid out a runway on the football pitch. What on earth is going on? You surely couldn't land a plane here? So who are the lights for? And who laid them?
Suddenly dry-mouthed I see more lights, red this time. I give myself a mental shake: it's the radio mast! I'll be wrestling with my own shadow at this rate. But then again; I pause and look carefully. No. Radio mast on my left. And two distinct horizontal arrays, over there, beyond the trees. They seem to be hovering. Are they coming or going?
I look round nervously, half-expecting to see a Hollywood-style alien containment team. I don't know what to do, whether to head for the mall or run for home. There's a young couple in the middle of the football pitch. Almost babbling with relief I rush towards them, only to slow down, hesitate, and finally stop several paces away, my words turning to dust in my mouth.
They haven't moved. They don't react in any way to the sight of this absurd woman running towards them. I take in their frozen angular shapes. The hands they've thrown up in vain defensive gestures do not mask the terror in their eyes.
What happened here? Where is everyone? Where are the joggers, the kids escaping from homework, the strolling grandparents, the maids following eight-year-olds who've begged one last bike-ride before bed?
There is no-one else, only unpleasant amorphous patterns on the road, strange dry tide marks with still-damp edges that gleam dully, suggesting something newly melted, vapourised.
Feeling isolated, and yet surrounded, confined, observed, I look over my shoulder. The man and woman remain, petrified. By fear.
But of what? I notice something I missed before: a cordoned area. The petrified couple are no more than fifty metres away, their eyes fixed on - on nothing! Just some red and white tape and some plastic cones and an empty space. There is nothing there!
But the grass is matted, the soil wet, churned, compacted. Something has been here, something so terrifying that not a single bird, animal or insect has remained within screaming distance. Why am I thinking about screaming?
A low moan comes from somewhere, and wearily I realise that my arms are wrapped around my body, and my face is wet. I swallow, striving for control, my mind racing through treacle, reaching for some kind of rational explanation. What happened here, in the darkness of our 'powercut'? Who, or what, has been here? The darkness lasted no more than ten minutes: how did the authorities react so fast? Was it 'the authorities'? And if so, what are the implications?
My feet move without my direction, and stop beside strange tracks in the sand. Something, or someone, has been dragged or wheeled to a tall green double gate in a high wall. The gate is bolted.
Stencilled on the wall in green are words and numbers, a reference number.
What is this place? Who, or what, is inside? Where is everybody? What is the secret of
Suddenly, I cannot stand it anymore. I turn and run, trying not to imagine watchful eyes, someone detailed to overtake and detain me. There must be someone else left!
I head for the most crowded place I can think of, finally plunging through the doors of the mall, my heart hammering in my chest, lungs burning, the stitch in my side hideously clenched. I subside breathless, half-hysterical, against the cool broad base of a pillar, under the nose of a bemused security guard. Another human being!
And more - dozens of normal people doing their normal shopping, and not even noticing the lunatic beside the pillar. Oh thank you thank you thank you. I must be nuts, paranoid, to scare myself to death over nothing. I need to get more sleep, do yoga, stop watching conspiracy films.
Dizzy with relief and self-reproach, I don't at first notice someone standing directly in front of me, but I sense that I am being studied. I look up and my heart seems to implode in my chest. I was right after all. And we're doomed.
P.S. Thanks to complete strangers Fadi and Sumaiyah for 'looking terrified' for my camera. That was fun! :D