City-Wide Blackout of ’96
In the summer of ninety-six, the blackout was worse than the bad weather.
The storm came from the lake-front, and the lightning that went with it slammed trees that downed power lines left and right. We were a small, poor town somewhere in the slush, sticks, and shit of the wet season. We only called ourselves a city to attract more citizens. There were a thousand power problems in the area, and the rolling storms made repairs all the more difficult. Other customers came first.
Watching the rain became a quickly learned hobby. There was nothing else to do, other than read the old books in our attic. Water came down in even sheets, and it flooded the already decrepit lawns of our block with old bicycles, beer cans, and broken glass. Sometimes it was fun to watch the grass drown under the weight of it. Depending on the time of day and tide, most of the ‘city’ was completely submerged.
I was twenty-five years old; a young father with a toddler and wife who acted the same age. All of us lived with my parents, then, on Bay Street. We argued a lot. Dad would say –
“Is this covered by insurance?”
And my wife, Mary, would tell him to ask them himself. There wasn’t much money in the bank, and barely enough food left thawing out in the fridge. But we made ends meet. That’s what Dad said. There was always someone out there who had it way worse.
He was right. On the first night without power, the first child was taken.
Ben Piccolo was eight years old, and our neighbor. If there was one word to describe the kid, it was moxie. Every snowstorm, Ben would gather up a crew of his classmates and go around the neighborhood offering to shovel snow for twenty bucks.
Mrs. Piccolo had put Ben to bed at ten. He sat at the window sill and watched the rain, like he had done any time there was a storm. The kids were hoping for school to be cancelled, you see. There was never any reason to suspect anything suspicious or sinister in our small town.
But the next morning, he was gone.
The Piccolos, with the local police always in tow, did not understand it.
Early the next morning, Mrs. Piccolo shouted her story in the streets, in the pouring rain… searching out any shopkeeper or poor passerby who would stop and listen to her sorrows.
“Someone took my son!” she would say, soaked to the bones and looking all the more psychotic.
The cops did their best, but we were not a big town. In fact, referring to the police as a whole meant only three people in particular that lived within the limits. Their resources were stretched as it is, and with big maple trees blocking most of the roads, there wasn’t a whole lot that could be done in the way of reinforcements.
Only one thing was certain, and that was Ben had to be close, even still. The only way out of the city was sixty miles of woods.
“Are your babies safe?” Mrs. Picolo would ask the town-square, in a haunting tone. “How do you know your baby is safe when my Ben is missing!”
We didn’t seriously ask ourselves that question until the second night, when another kid was taken.
We were officially flooded at that point.
Transportation outside of the house was made impossible. The lake had overflowed, and that turned our shitty little city into the Venice of the Northeast. People shouted details of the case from window to window. Only folks that kept a canoe or something for the lake in their basement were able to leave their homes at all. The police had one, and the three of them patrolled the blocks in shifts.
They claimed to be a mile down the road when Richard Renna went missing at six A.M. the second morning.
Richard was seven. The rumor was that he got into an argument with his parents the night of his disappearance. It was the boy’s birthday, and he wanted to go to a friend’s house to play. But the treacherous conditions made it impossible for the Rennas to get him there safely, and they nixed the whole idea. Richard threw a tantrum, and was sent up to bed at ten to watch the storm from his windowsill.
On the third morning, the rain still came. Mr. and Mrs. Renna joined the Piccolos in their campaigns to find their children.
The whole thing was an absurdity. Four parents stuck together on one canoe, while the police waddled along in another. My wife nagged me incessantly to join them. Soon my mother was in on the gig, and she convinced my father to take the old single-engine out of the shed. In retrospect, I should have stayed home and protected my son. Before we left that night, we had a very bad fight.
Matthew wanted to play out in the storm.
He had never seen the water stacked up so high. It was like a swimming pool sitting in our backyard. At first, Mary was going to let him off easy. She only told the kid she didn’t want him tracking mud in the house. But after a tantrum, she screamed at him, really laying in all the stress of the damage and shit the weather had caused our already cash-strapped small family. She sent him to bed early, at six, and stayed downstairs with my mom playing Pinochle, or some shit. I didn’t say a thing.
The rain was at it’s worst on the third night. It was as if the storm was circling us.
The power company promised to have someone there in the morning. Road crews had made their way through the biggest of Maples blocking the main road, but had not managed to move it. The latest wave of wind had sent them home early, and as dark fell on the third night, we were still left without electricity.
At seven, the three of our canoes converged in the town-square.
My father and I were in one, the parents overcrowded into another, and all three policemen in the last. They were grateful for the help, and set up a strategy where each of us would patrol the three neighborhoods in the city. Each group got a radio so they could call for backup if they needed it. Our boat took Bay Street, the police were on Boylan, and the parents took Broad.
Most of the night and early morning was spent sitting and waiting.
The water was only three or four feet deep in most parts, but it still managed to conceal a whole lot of sins. To pass the hours, I would sit and watch as buckets of it dropped, and wondered what diseases, branches, or electrical shocks sat underneath.
We were not seasoned seamen, so it was not exactly a shock that we burned through our boat fuel in the first few hours.
We argued about that quietly for the better part of an hour. But we had managed to pack a couple paddles, and with the water as shallow as it was, were able to push off the concrete and gravel streets underneath fairly easily.
It was on our second round with the paddles that we heard the first sounds, sharply at Six A.M.
Tap, Tap, Tap
“Come out, Matty”
The voice was hollow. It had to be from a few houses away. But even through the horrible, howling wind I heard that motherfucker say the name of my son.
I was hysterical. The next few seconds were critical. I knew that ahead of everything else. The water was cold, but not cold enough to freeze. It was shallow, but not shallow enough to stand. My father didn’t stop me when I started to swim. The last thing he said before I rounded the corner of Bay Street was to the radio.
“There’s been a sighting!!”
I saw him before my father.
Standing at the peak of a broad, balanced canoe was a man dressed neatly in a black mask, hood and robes. He looked relaxed, even in the rain, with a hand rested on his hip while he tapped patiently on the glass window of my house.
Seated with their legs crossed in the back of the canoe were both boys, Brian Piccolo and Richard Renna.
But they were asleep, or at least, they were not moving. I shouted to them from down the block, but the lapping, putrid water and rain got in my mouth and made me gag. My voice was indistinguishable from the sapping of trees in the wind.
I watched helplessly when the windowsill of my home on Bay Street opened up wide.
In a second, I saw my son Matt lean outside to see what was happening.
As if on response to the open window, the hooded figure kicked into life and gestured widely to the seated children behind him.
Like a showman thanking his orchestra.
They didn’t move, confirming my suspicion that they were asleep. Then the man raised a gloved hand, with elongated and curved endings that suggested unkempt nails, and gestured with his fingers.
And then he pointed at Matt.
It was like a scene from a play. Matthew nodded emphatically, and started to climb from the windowsill, shimmying his little body through the break with ease.
I screamed through the water, jumping and waving and doing anything I could to push myself further through the oncoming waves. In the hysteria, my leg caught the bumper of an old Buick. Blood started to fill the water around me.
But I kept screaming.
It seemed the sound of my voice had no effect on any of them. They were entranced, like they were acting out their lines and I was just the observant in the theater. Matthew got into the boat slowly, moving his little legs over the older, un-moving children already seated. He nearly fell overboard when he did, but the hooded figure reached out an arm and caught him in a dramatically overprotective way.
When Matthew got to the back of the boat, he plopped himself down on the final seat and sat with his legs cross.
On cue, the man turned his back to the front of the six-foot-canoe and raised both his arms. The boat started to move.
I lost control of any control left in that moment. I splashed and screamed, making any noises that could possibly draw attention to myself and keep them in the area. The entire thing felt like an eternity, but had only lasted a couple minutes.
The man standing on top of the small boat kept his back turned and arms up through it all. Their boat moved effortlessly through the floodwater, as if guided by some unattached or out-of-sight and soundless engine.
In moments, they were a hundred yards away and out into the woods.
Sometime after that I heard the panicked paddles of my father, and the whinnying engine of the police boat in the distance. Before I lost consciousness, I could have sworn my son turned back.
When he did, his eyes were red.
The doctors, and police, have since assured me the red eyes were a symptom of my sickness at the time.
I woke up in a hospital bed two days after the storm. In addition to the massive blood loss, the exposure to the lake water gave me sepsis, which needed to be treated out of town. They kept me sedated for my own safety. By the time I was conscious, the floodwater had receded, leaving the towns filth waterlogged and on full display.
But nobody ever found our boys.
Today is the twenty-second anniversary of his disappearance, and I am still looking for my son, Matthew.
The Piccolos, Rennas, and myself have organized a world-wide organization responsible for tracking similar abductions. We are asking folks with similar stories to please come forward, without fear of reprisal.