This is an excerpt from my new novel that will be coming out soon The Long Walk Home: EMP
I lit my solar lamp and was just about to check the stove.
“What the hell is that?” Jeb said, pointing at the lamp.
“It’s a solar lamp.”
“Why is it working?”
“Because it’s solar?” I said.
“But the EMP fried all that stuff. Why does yours work?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t even think about that before. I checked it when I took it out of my trunk at work that day and it was working.”
“So being in your trunk must have protected it in some way. Then maybe some of the stuff sitting out there in the trucks might still work too.”
“I have a bunch of stuff in that shipping container outside. All my camping gear is in there and so is the solar system I bought for this house.”
“If that still works, it will be a game-changer for all of us,” he said, grabbing me and swinging me around.
“I have two-way radios out there too,” I said. “We could talk to your mama and daddy from here if they still work.”
“Well, Hope, let’s go find the radios,” I said. I found the key to the shed and opened the door. Finding the tub with the radios fairly easily. Rick and I had a huge fight because I thoughtlessly packed them up when we could have used them during the moving process. I had come down here and gotten them, but he refused to use them so I had put them back.
“Wow, Hope. I really was blind about him,” I said, trying to shrug off the memory and the emotions that had come with it.
I pulled out one of the radios, said a prayer, and turned it on. It worked. Tears streamed down my face. “Thank you, God. Thank you that Rick had that fit and I put them back.”
I found the charger and Rick’s solar charger. I hooked it up and set it in the sun and it worked too.
I grabbed the other radio and checked on the chicks. Twelve still. Lucy seemed to be okay with them. “Hey Hope, let’s take this radio and charger over to John and Cindy’s,” I said, patting her head. “We will have to be quick though, it will be dark soon.”
I put everything in a backpack and we took off towards Cindy’s house. It was a beautiful day and other than the mud it was a pleasant walk. Hope, of course, had to splash through every mud puddle she saw and shake the extra off on me.
I didn’t think about how I looked when Cindy came to the door. “Oh my God, what happened to you? How badly are you hurt?”
I looked down at myself in confusion. “Oh, the mud, Hope shook that on me,” I said, laughing.
“You scared me so badly,” she said. “I couldn’t bear anyone else getting hurt right now.” Then tears started pouring down her face.
“Cindy, I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m so sorry. I found our radios and they still work and I was just so excited to bring one over,” I was hugging her, patting her back, and starting to cry myself.
When she had composed herself, she said, “Don’t be sorry. I haven’t allowed myself to cry since this whole thing started. I was overdue. Sorry, you had to be the one to deal with it.”
“Nothing to be sorry about, “ I said.
“Now what did you say about a radio?”
“Things that were in my trunk were still working. I don’t know why I didn’t connect the dots before but I went out to the shipping container I have for storage and found these radios and they still work too. I brought you a solar charger. Now we can communicate I hope. They have a pretty good range, when I get home I’ll call you and we can test it out.”
“Sophie, this will change everything. Have you tried the emergency channel yet?”
“No,” I said. “I wanted to be around other people when I did.”
“I understand that,” she said. “John’s getting better already, by the way. Meg marked his leg where the stripe was and it was gone back a quarter of an inch already.”
“More good news!”
“Try the emergency channel,” Cindy said.
I turned the radio on and changed it to the weather band. Static.
“I shouldn’t be disappointed, but I am,” she said.
“I’m kind of relieved that there is nothing in a way. I miss some things about life before, but not that many really.”
“The only thing I miss right now is emergency rooms and pharmacies.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, hugging her. “I have a solar system in the shipping container that was supposed to be for my house. If it still works, I want you and John to have it. I think it will do the most good here for all of us.”
“Sophie, we couldn’t take that. It’s too much.”
“Just think for a minute, if we can get your freezer working again what would that mean for all of us? Your house is the heart of this community and you should have it.”
“We will discuss it as a group, but I would hate to take something so precious.”
“Honestly Cindy, I don’t want it. I enjoy the peace and quiet.”
“We’ll talk about. Now I hate to rush you, but it will be dark soon and I can’t wait to see if the radios will work between the two houses. So git,” she said, laughing.
“I’m gone,” I said. “Let’s go, Hope.”
I was completely covered in mud by the time we got back and I didn’t have any water in the camp shower warming. “Cold shower it is. Thanks a lot, Hope.” She didn’t seem at all sorry.
I pulled out the radio and turned it on. “Cindy, I’m home. Can you hear me?”
I let go of the talk button and held my breath.
“Yes, yes, I hear you, Sophie!”
“Is Jeb back yet?” I asked, looking at the quickly setting sun.
“No, don’t worry though. Jeb and Sam can take care of each other and Meg was with them so they won’t do anything foolish.”
“I know,” I said.
“I’ll have him call you when he gets back. It’s so nice to be able to say that,” she said.
“It’s nice to hear too.”
I quickly changed and washed the mud off. Lucy was now the proud mama to twelve chicks. There was still one egg left. Then I went inside to wait. I made coffee and fixed myself something to eat. After I cleaned up from my meal, I went outside to check the chickens in the coop.
It had been full dark for nearly an hour when I finally heard his voice on the radio. “Sophie, are you there?”
“Yes, I’m here. Are you okay?”
“We are all fine. We hit the motherload at the drugstore, then went to another town nearby and did very well there too. I’ll be there as soon as I help unload everything.”
“See you then,” I said. I put the coffee on to reheat and waited.
Hope jumped up and ran to the door and so did I. “Sorry that took so long, but we found some good stuff that will save lives. Meg was literally jumping up and down,” he said, as he picked me up and swung me around.
“How is your dad?” I asked when I caught my breath.
“He is doing much better. The red streak is almost gone. Is there coffee?”
“Of course there is, do you want anything in it?”
“No, just coffee tonight.”
I poured two cups and handed him one. “I’m supposed to let Mama know I got here. Where’s the radio?”
“This is so nice,” I said, handing it to him.
“Hey Mama, I’m at Sophie’s,” he said.
“Thanks for letting us know. I can go to bed now. See you later,” she said.
“Good night, Mama,” he said. “I guess we can go to bed now too.”
“But I’m not tired,” I said.
“Good, cause neither am I,” he said with a wicked grin.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of a very busy hammer. I got up and dressed quickly and went outside. The outhouse was really spectacular. It was an A-frame with shingles. It looked like a mini Swiss chalet. The vents at the top were covered in a lacy trim.
“Is that what I think it is?” I asked.
“Yes, it is your new and much-improved outhouse,” he said, bowing.
“It has a proper door and hinges. How will I ever adjust to such new-fangled implements?”
“You are such a smart ass. But that’s one of my favorite things about you,” he said, hugging me.
“I can’t believe I slept through you doing all of this.”
“Most of it was already built, I just had Max deliver it this morning,” he said. “And I did wear you out last night.”
“Yes, sir, you did,” I said, blushing.
“And I intend to do it again tonight,” he said, kissing me. “Now go make breakfast while I finish up here.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, saluting.
“Get out of here you smart ass!” he said, laughing.
“Did Max take the chicks this morning?” I asked.
“Yeah, he told me to tell you that the last egg had hatched. He took Lucy too. Mama wanted her to help keep them warm.”
“That’s fine. I feel much better about your mama having them. I don’t know anything about keeping baby chicks alive without power.”
“How many were there?”
“Thirteen,” I said.
“Mama will be jumping up and down. She says we need one hundred more chickens. She had just had hers butchered for the winter when this happened. Most of it went bad because we couldn’t eat them all fast enough.”
“Well, I’ll go make breakfast now,” I said, kissing him.
“I’ll be in a few minutes,” he said.
We had settled in to eat breakfast and I asked, “Have you ever been married?”
“No, I came close once, but she didn’t want to live out here and I sure as hell didn’t want to move to Birmingham. So we called it off. I have had a few girlfriends since then, but no one special, until now.”
“I never dated very much. Rick’s family hated Tammy and basically told him they would disown him if he married her. He broke up with her and we started dating. I think he picked me because our parents hate each other. Maybe he thought they would reconsider Tammy. They gave us a house even though we eloped and screwed everyone out of their party. After a year of doing all the social stuff we were obligated to do in our small town, we bought this land and moved, pissed everyone off. Being rebels was all we had in common though, I see that now. We had talked about kids in the future, so when I realized I was pregnant I couldn’t wait to tell him. He tried to be excited, I thought he was just in shock and would come around. When I lost the baby, he couldn’t hide that he was happy and relieved. It was never the same after that,” I said, wiping the tears off my cheeks. “A few weeks later I answered the phone and a nurse asked to let him know that he missed his follow-up appointment for his vasectomy. I never told him I knew.”
I looked up at Jeb and he had tears in his eyes too. “I’m sorry, I’ve never told anyone that before. I didn’t mean to be a downer.”
“Don’t apologize. I want to know everything about you and I’m glad you told me that. I would be over the moon if we were to have a baby someday.”
I smiled at him and he kissed me.
“What about your parents? Would you like to go check on them?”
“They died last year during the pandemic,” I said.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“I have a brother, he is a lot older than me and we were never close. I can’t see him as the type to survive what happened. My dad used to take me camping, but my brother never wanted to go. I don’t think he knows the first thing about survival.”
“Well, I’m very glad that you found your way here. You’re not alone anymore.”
“Me too. Now let’s go see what goodies are in my shipping container to make our lives a little better.”
There were eight solar security lights, a dozen solar lanterns, several strings of solar party lights, a solar generator kit for camping, and the system that I had purchased for the house.
“The outhouse for sure gets one of these security lights,” I said.
Jeb laughed. “Sam is an electrician, so he can install the solar system for the house.”
“About that, I think that should go to your parents’ house. We can use the camping system here.”
“They have more room and if we can find a freezer that works think about how much that would mean to everyone. We have to think of ourselves as a community now and use our resources in a way to best help everyone.”
“You’re right. I may know where there is a freezer in a shipping container.”
“That system would have run everything here. Sam will know how much it can handle, but we may be able to have more than one freezer and a refrigerator.”
“Well, let’s keep two security lights and two of the lanterns and take the rest to Mama’s. I’ll call Mama right now and call a family dinner so we can discuss all this.”
“I’m going to set up the camping system and see if it charges and works.”
That night after dinner, Jeb laid out all the supplies we had found in my shipping container.
“Looks like Christmas came early,” Cindy said.
“Well, it’s much more than just this stuff. This means that things we find in trucks out on the highway will work, maybe too. This means we could possibly restore some of the comforts that we have lost. Sophie has a solar system that was supposed to be installed on her house and she would like us to install it here, for all of us to use. Sam will have to look at it and see what is possible, but we could have at least one freezer, a refrigerator, and maybe some other things too,” Jeb said.
“We couldn’t take that from you, Sophie,” John said.
“I have another system that I used for camping. I will keep that one. But we need to put our resources where they will do the most good and help the most people right now. Having that system here will do the most good for all of us,” I answered.
“All that is contingent on us finding appliances that are in trucks, correct?” Meg asked.
“I think I know where we can get some. The furniture store in Fayette had inventory stored in shipping containers behind the store. I don’t think finding new appliances will be an issue and I think we can do it relatively safely,” Jeb answered.
“Sam, do you think that you could use what Sophie has as a guide and make more of these systems?” Cindy asked.
“That’s possible if we can find the components. The parts shouldn’t be too hard to find and my boss kept all his inventory in shipping containers. He might even have a solar system or two in there. I’ll be over in the morning to get Sophie’s and get started trying to make it work if that’s okay?”
“I was hoping you would say that,” I said.
We walked home in the dark, aided by Hope and a solar lantern. “You seem sad, Soph,” Jeb said.
“I’m… I don’t know how to explain it. I have been so happy since the EMP. That sounds awful, I know. So many people died and that is horrifying. But I don’t miss TV or phones or traffic. I love the peace and quiet that we have and the life that we are building. Part of me wishes we hadn’t gotten all that stuff out of storage. I know that sounds crazy.”
“It doesn’t sound crazy. I feel that way too. But having the security of a freezer will be awesome.”
“I know. I just don’t want to end up right back where we were.”
“That’s why it was so easy for you to give it away,” he said.
“Yeah, but I still meant what I said about the greater good and all that.”
“I know you do. Now let’s go in and see if your camping system is charged.”
“It’s at about thirty percent, which isn’t bad for being almost dead,” I said. “Want some coffee?”
“Sure, I’ll start a pot,” he said.
“Nope, I have a coffee maker from my camping gear,” I said.
I plugged the coffee maker into the inverter. Filled it with water and added the coffee grounds, then flipped the switch and waited.
“Oh my God, I haven’t heard that sound in months,” Jeb said, once the air was filled with the gurgle of the coffee maker.
“I suddenly feel like Pandora opening her box,” I said. Hope walked over and laid her head on my lap, sensing my mood.
“You didn’t open that box, it was opened a very long time ago. I hope that we will use this gift to make our lives better,” he said, handing me a cup of coffee.
The coffee tasted bitter to me, but I didn’t say anything.