By Derek Kagemann
His ankles itched, but mosquitoes were a symptom of summer. He lit another citronella candle. The thick, black wick kindled slowly and fizzled as it burned.
A young woman watched him from the steps of the neighboring apartment complex. She was an economy smoker who savored each slow draw right down to the filter. He had seen her at the pharmacy, paying out of pocket with a shaky hand. She scratched her arms, but mosquitoes did not bite on that side of the block.
As with any other night, they stared without speaking. She unfolded a yard chair and lazed in the glow of a guttering tiki torch. He lay on a sleeping bag and lorded over his mason jars of paraffin wax. A sea of darkness spanned the distance between them.
He cracked his knuckles, flexed his shoulders, and gnawed his cuticles until his fingers bled. After all of that, he still opted for two generous swigs of ouzo before powering on his smartphone. He texted an acquaintance overseas and despaired when he received nothing in return. The battery was at 10%. A pop-up alert prompted him to connect a charger. He dismissed the notification and queued up the default map application.
He typed in his address. A red tag transfixed his location, one of two tiny gray circles on an otherwise black page. The screen refreshed, and the adjacent patch of gray was gone. He saw that the tiki torch had gone out. The cherry ember of her cigarette lingered for the span of a breath, and then she, too, was gone. Darkness consumed her place on the map.
His candles were nearly spent. The wax was thick with dirt, pollen, and the fragmented husks of dead insects. He scratched his ankles out of habit. There were no bugs. There was no wind to tousle the hair on his legs.
Only yesterday, the map had been a sparse constellation of gray circles dotting the black expanse. They had all faded away. He cradled the phone in his cupped hands, basking in the glow of the texting app. A pop-up alerted him that he had less than 5% of his battery life remaining. He flung messages into the digital void as his candles were extinguished…
thirty seconds remaining.