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Fiction Speculative

No one really thought about how reliant we were on electricity. How the world would fall apart if the electrical grid was taken out.

And how easy it would be to do that.

When I say no one thought about it, that's a small lie. There were some people who thought about it, quite a lot actually. Survivalist enthusiasts that got laughed off as crazy or paranoid. The same people who hoarded food in their basements and clutched their guns like a Southern grandma clutched her Bible at church. They thought about the power grid. Despite how society might have seen their mental state, those people were acutely aware of what could happen to most major countries if we lost power for any major length of time.

It doesn't matter how paranoid you are if you're right.

Powerful people thought about it, too. People high up in the government, those whose job it was to worry. People who knew about all the safety plans in place in case of any number of disasters, and who knew how fragile those plans were. Certain people in the governments of any given country reliant on electricity spent quite a lot of their time thinking about the electrical grid, about what could and would go wrong.

There's no amount of worrying that can account for everything that can go wrong.

So there were people who talked about it. People who thought about it, worried about it, planned for the inevitable. But we didn't. The average person never gave a thought to what would happen without electricity, not until we were without it. A storm rolls through and knocks the power out for a few hours or days and everyone realizes how fragile everything is, how we don't know how to function without our fridges or phones or electric furnaces.

But then it comes back, like it always does, and we forgot.

How easily we forget. Humans don't like to remember things that make us uncomfortable. Women forget the pain of childbirth soon after it's over, because if they remembered most would never give birth again. Survivors of traumatic experiences can forget whole events or even people if their mind can't handle remembering them. Forgetting is a useful tool, a way to keep from losing our minds over things we can't control.

But some things need to be remembered. Some things shouldn't be forgotten, no matter how painful or uncomfortable they are.

It started small.

A power plant in North Dakota went down. It didn't supply power anywhere important, mostly small towns and rural schools. A couple manufacturing plants, making outdoor recreational vehicles and furnaces and windows, had to halt production for the day. There was some worry about the missile silos, some of which held dangerous nuclear weapons, but they had their own back-up power and weren't an immediate worry.

School let out early for the day when it became clear power wouldn't be back soon. Children chatted excitedly on the busses while staff whispered in the lounges. One student, a senior on the edge of graduating and entering the world, sat in the back with a pit of worry forming in their stomach. Their parents had talked about this, they'd seen the movies, they'd heard the whispered discussions. They knew how badly this could spiral out of control. How easily. 

When people look back, it seems obvious now. That one small plant in the middle of a mostly empty state should have raised alarms, should have made people worry.

That it might have been a test.

A day later, New York City lost power. Sixteen minutes later DC went dark, then L.A. eight minutes later. One by one, all of the major cities fell, like monolithic dominoes on the world stage, the ground shaking with each one.

It wasn't just America, either. Canada and Mexico both went dark at almost the same time. It was visible from space once night fell, the bright dots across the continent winking out, no more than fireflies to the astronauts that started to wonder how they get home if home no longer has power.

We don't know much about what happened after that, though. Once America lost power, we had outside contact for a while, long enough to find out what happened to Canada and Mexico. Then everything went dark, in more ways than just the lights being out.

Humanity does awful things in the dark, when we think no one can see our sins. When it became obvious the darkness was going to last much, much longer than anyone had assumed, things got bad.

Sometimes it gets hard to remember what it was like, before. Sometimes I lay awake at night, trying to remember what the hum of the fridge sounded like, or how easy it was to just flip a switch if I wanted light. I regret it now, taking it all for granted. I miss music the most, I think. Some people still have music, manual record players and battery-operated CD players, but most of us don't. They're a luxury now, right alongside those survival flashlights you crank up or battery-operated power tools. Sometimes I think I'd kill just to have a stand mixer back.

The stars are beautiful in the darkness, though. So much brighter than they ever were before.

There are kids now that don't know what electricity is. They know in theory, obviously. There's still schools, although they look more like something out of Little House on the Prairie than anything I attended. They learn about the past, what it was like before the darkness. About the wars and violence that most people assume lead to the power going out, this time for good. About the machines that built the world, big hulking hunks of metal that spewed out noxious fumes and pumped out things for people to buy at alarming and unsustainable rates. Cars that seemed to fly down the road and planes that literally flew across the skies. Toys that lit up and made noise, that talked back to you. Televisions and computers and cellphones. Long-dead factories and desolate airports and empty malls are field trips, chances to get a glimpse into the world their parents lived in.

No one really knows what happened. People have theories, obviously. People always have theories, even about things that don't need theories. Most people assume it was some sort of terrorist attack, but there are others that think it was scientific. The Earth rising up and finally striking down humans, taking away one of our greatest tools for harming it.

I don't think anyone actually cares about the how anymore. Or even the why, really. It's just something to talk about, something to keep our minds off the growing fear that creeps at the edges of our minds bit-by-bit, day-by-day.

Most of us don't care. We just want to survive.

February 09, 2023 15:39

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1 comment

Wendy Kaminski
13:31 Feb 14, 2023

Great story, C! You have really managed to convey an eerie feeling in this piece, and it maintained throughout. I loved the final paragraph about the point at which people just don't care about the root causes anymore, or can't even remember them. I also really enjoyed the entire paragraph about humans and forgetting, particularly your final sentence: "Forgetting is a useful tool, a way to keep from losing our minds over things we can't control." Thanks for the incredibly thought-provoking and unsettling piece this week - and welcome to Reedsy!


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