The batteries bulge at the seams when inserted into your flashlight, as though filled with flesh or bubblegum. There’s no satisfying click of connection- only a sense that they don’t belong in such a device, and that any more pressure would cause them to burst. “Do not squeeze,” reads the mostly-black label in seven different languages. This warning is printed next to a cartoonish silhouette vomiting some sort of jagged fluid.
You bought a pack of twelve such batteries from a local grocery importer, who was carrying them despite their illegality. To avoid any difficulties regarding customs, the owner was keeping them behind the counter, further obscured by several bags of salmiak that he was certain nobody would bother to purchase. “I don’t understand why you’d want them,” the owner confessed. “They’re useless- ruin everything they touch.”
You’d heard that there were still warehouses full of them somewhere out in Poland, mostly within a few miles of where the new lightning first arrived. It was a rather unusual species of electricity; they say that it didn’t strike so much as slither. Each electron was wrapped in a thick, cellular wall and chewed through the metal it traversed like a femtoscale termite. Within a few days of its emergence, the world’s power lines were dripping with liquid sparks.
You turn on the flashlight. It seems to be working fine for a few seconds, but the handle grows hot in your hands. The light that it produces isn’t expanding outward as a cone, but wilting after a few meters and bending towards the floor. The entirety of the beam is turning gray, darkening rapidly. By the time you’ve turned it off, part of the lens has already melted, and something black is dripping from the glass.
You’ve often wondered about the days before everything ran on alkaline, when firelight was seen as primitive and the buildings had veins. After many years of feeling nostalgia for an era that you never knew, there’s something soothing about being able to hold its death in the palm of your hand.