We arrived in Apollo Bay on Friday with two dogs, shitloads of food ‘just in case’ and big talk of moving to a beach house just like this and just spending our lives writing and walking on the beach and sitting on the verandah with cups of tea watching storms roll in over the bay. So we unpacked and we explored, we ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ and did the whole ‘we could live here forever’ and ‘let’s run away from our lives’ thing. We went to the beach and explored – ran and splashed and kicked sand. We cooked dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen with million dollar views just for washing up.
That night I napped on the couch – too exhausted to make it to bed while Anita watched Rage. Around 2.00 am she shook me awake. The power had gone out. It gets very, very dark in the country. Black; not grey with murky shadows, but black. No streetlights from the next suburb or comforting aura of light.
I found my cigarette lighter and we crept through the house on a quest for candles. Your average cigarette lighter barely throws out enough light to explore a familiar house with well-trodden paths around the furniture. It seldom gives enough light for two scared girls in an unfamiliar house. We couldn't find candles anywhere and the lighter was getting too hot to hold. The dogs were sensing our fear and running crazy rings around us.
Then Anita remembered reading about a 24-hour servo – we could buy candles, maybe even a torch. We opened the back door and Geronimo bolted. Still with only the lighter to guide us, we locked the back door – of course we needed to use the key to lock it and tried making our way, warily, to the car, when we heard a voice. We froze, hearts lurching. A voice called out, asking who was there and I replied, shaky-voiced “Us.” Like that meant anything. Still it was an answer, an acknowledgement we meant no harm.
I ran for the car, fumbled the keys into the ignition and turned on the lights. Light, beautiful light.
The boy answered quakily. In the light from the car we could see he was some young guy on his way home, probably from the pub, and just as scared as us. No crazed pyscho-killer.
We drove to the servo discussing candles and torches and maybe even a peppermint Aero bar for comfort. We felt buoyant with our fast thinking in this time of crisis. Just to see the light and feel the human contact of the servo would be enough for us; the consolation of the man-made.
The servo was shut.
Nothing in Apollo Bay was open. The streetlights along the main street were on, but the whole town was dead. It was then that we fully realised that this is the country. It might be nice to dream about living in a beach house away from the city but there are no 24 hour supermarkets, there are no 7 elevens, no 24 hour bottleshops. Nothing to support a nocturnal life. Just us, a few feeble streetlights and a sleeping town. Outside that are all the ghosts and ghouls and bogeymen that the constant light of the city keeps at bay.
We had several options. Going back to the shack and dealing with the darkness wasn’t one of them. We could head down the Great Ocean Road toward Lorne, but the Great Ocean Road is steep and windy and not the drive you want in the middle of the night and we couldn’t be sure anything would be open in Lorne anyway. Another option was heading through the Otways to Colac. Colac has a Macdonald’s, that means, using middle of the night logic, that Colac might have a 7 eleven with living, breathing life. But we had driven down that way and the road through the Otways was windier and steeper than the Great Ocean Road. We decided to go the other direction - towards Warrambool - to see if there was anything there.
First thing was to go back and get the dogs, because we felt guilty about deserting them. We bundled them into the car and headed off down the road. The road started off ok, but got narrower and narrower and windier, like something out of Blair Witch Project. I was terrified that the car would break down, horror movie style. The road was too narrow and too windy for us to turn around. We hadn’t seen another car since we left the shack but I wasn’t going to risk some local rounding the corner at breakneck speed while I was at point two of a three point turn. And the whole time the dogs were jumping and climbing around the car. Finally we got to a place where we could turn back safely. But where to now? We didn't want to go back to our shack because the power was still off and it seemed like every road out of town was an obstacle.
We returned to Apollo Bay. We made crazy plans like going to the emergency medical centre and faking illness because they had lights and probably even coffee -- we had bolted so fast we didn't take anything but keys and cigarettes and cash. We were too scared to go back for the diet coke because the house was so very dark.
There is a visitor’s centre in the middle of town that was well lit up. We parked within its lightspan and let the dogs out to run on the beach. That was fine for a while. We laid the seats back in the car and tried to find a local radio station. Then those lights flickered and went out. We screamed and shrieked, ready to leave the dogs and just bolt. Then the lights came back on.
It was about 4.30 and the servo didn't open until 6.00. We weren't sure what time sunrise was and I only had one cigarette left. The only other human being we could be sure was alive was the woman mopping shop floors. It was a desolate moment indeed. We called the dogs back to the car went to check the shack (the shack was outside Apollo Bay, on the other side of this big hill so you couldn't see it from the main part of town). If the power wasn’t on then we would return to this light spot and try to sleep in the car until sun up.
We got over the hill and saw pinpricks of light dotting the darkness. Not wanting to jinx ourselves we took a deep breath. We didn’t say anything but we were almost crying in relief. As we drove up the road, our shack was lit up like a Christmas tree – the most jubilant and celebratory Christmas tree I have ever seen.
We screamed, this time with delight, and swore we would never take electricity for granted ever again. Of course, I walked in and found candles sitting on the cupboard near the back door (stupid place for them -- everyone knows you put candles in the kitchen drawers). So we watched the end of Rage and went to bed, able to sleep now we had light.