Candles burned on the tables. One in the kitchen, one in the living room on the coffee table, and another beside the couch.
Bernie, Megan, and their son Julian milled about in the silence of the fuel-less world.
It all ran out years ago, and people still lived in the cities despite the lack of heat. Local forests had been clear-cut with no thought put into the long term.
But the family did their evening things. Julian did his coloring books. Megan read by the fire. Bernie paced, sometimes stopping to look out the window.
He watched the town square of Salem Massachusetts. From their third floor apartment it was a good layout.
Bernie’s footsteps. Megan’s page turning. Julian’s coloring. This went on while the family waited for sleep to find them.
The square was silent. Still. The gallows were nothing more than a silhouette against the moonlight.
Bernie watched, and his hand moved to his mouth. He bit at his nails. They were difficult to get at, as he had done this most of the time after it all ran out.
“Would you stop that?” Megan said.
Her book was down. All of her attention was on her husband.
Bernie looked back, refusing to take his fingers away from his teeth.
“I heard about another hanging. It might happen tonight,” He said through his teeth.
Julian’s coloring stopped. The boy stared into space. Fear wore on his face.
Megan got up and moved over to Julian, stroking her son’s head.
“Will you stop this? You’re making everyone sick,” she groaned.
“I worked for oil and gas, Megan,” Bernie croaked.
“Yes. I know. But why do you have to do this in front of Julian? You’re driving him crazy,” she scolded him.
“What if they find out? It won’t matter if I knew it was all going away. I didn’t. I didn’t know about how much was left. I didn’t know,” Bernie yelled in a whisper.
“Stop it!” Megan spat.
Julian leaned into his mother. He grabbed at her and she hugged him from the side.
“Jesus Christ, Bernie. Calm down,” Megan said.
Bernie’s face dropped. His eyes widened.
“The candles! Put them out! Now!” he grabbed at the one closest to him.
He blew that one out and ran to the other two. Megan watched in confusion. The apartment went dark.
“What is going on?” she asked.
“They’re here. They have someone!” he whispered.
The light of torches touched its edges into the window of the third floor apartment. Megan got up, leaving Julian on the couch.
After he protested, she herded him next to her legs as she watched out the window.
A group of people walked around a singular man. He was in a suit.
The practice was that you were hanged in the clothes you wore when you worked for oil and gas.
The people had been worked into fervor by local religious fanatics to hate anyone who took the last of “everyone’s lifeblood” from the earth.
“It’s Vern. My old boss,” Bernie stuttered behind his teeth.
Megan shot a glance at her husband and then back at the man in the suit.
She had met him at Christmas parties. He seemed like a decent person.
They walked him up the steps of the gallows, placed the noose around his neck, and then someone from the crowd separated themselves.
She placed a torch into a sconce, leaving it off to one side as she addressed the crowd.
The window was open, and Megan knew she would be able to hear the woman. Her hand went to the window but Bernie stopped her.
“Don’t bring attention up here. Go to the other side of the apartment if you have to ignore it,” he whispered.
Megan gave him a look of defiance, and turned back to the square.
“People of Salem. This man raked in money while draining the earth dry of its blood. He gave it to others, warning no one,” the woman orated.
Her clothes were akin to drapes. Overly large sleeves fell halfway down her torso. She belonged to a splinter of some new hate-filled religion.
“Vern here had his wife run around doing errands. Buying food. Talking to everyone. He hoped that everyone would forget about his role in the misery we all face in this, The Exsanguinated Earth.”
Light cheers came from the torch-bearing crowd.
“Do I get any last words?” Vern yelled from behind the woman.
She said something to him that Megan could not hear. Vern did not react to it.
“He will be hanged for his treasonous, malignant, betrayal of the human race,” she yelled.
More cheers came, this time hands were raised.
“Vern! Do you have any last words?” she flourished a bit, stepping to the side to reveal him to the crowd.
People shouted from the crowd.
“Don’t let him speak!”
“Hang him now!”
“Let him speak!” the woman interrupted them.
The crowd simmered down.
Vern took a step towards the crowd.
The woman pulled the switch. Vern fell through the trapdoor.
Megan instinctively grabbed for Julian at the third floor apartment. Bernie dropped to the floor, sliding his back against the wall.
Whoops and hollers came from the crowd.
Megan did not look.
“Jesus Christ. They didn’t even let him apologize!” Bernie whispered.
Megan stared in to the darkness, her brain running circles, trying to think of anything to say.
Julius moaned. It was the beginning of his crying.
“Shhhh. It’s okay. It’s alright. It’s not us. We’re fine. We’re fine,” Megan cooed.
The family listened as the crowd threw things at Vern’s body. They marched away after a time. Their torchlight faded from the apartment, leaving it as dark the night.
“We have to leave,” Megan said to her husband, “We have to go.”