Until the Lights Come Back On

Submitted into Contest #184 in response to: Set your story during a complete city or nation-wide blackout.... view prompt


Adventure Contemporary Fiction

Ahh, the first cup of the day. Always the best. I pull up my seat to the desk and begin working on book three of my series, G-Is for String. I've been lazy lately, with the cold weather and gray skies numbing my brain. It's time to rev up the action and create more tension between Tina and her ex- boyfriend, Jake.

The last scene I wrote left them in a bar parking lot, Tina hiding behind the building watching the plot thicken after Jake's wife found him making out with another woman at a cozy table in the back of the place. Gee, I wonder how his wife knew where he was?

When he stormed out to drive away two tires disconnected and fell off his truck, leaving him dragging an axel and stuck in the lot, courtesy of Tina's handy work. He didn't have a choice but to accept his wife's gracious offer to drive him home. well deserved pain for the man who had caused Tina so much pain.

I loaded up the coffee cup once more and savored it as I opened up my Word program, ready to pile on the hurt.

'"What the hell is wrong with you?" Jake's wife screamed in his ear as she lead footed her new mini-van down the highway to home, "We have a baby on the way and you're still running around? You're unbelievable!"

"Shut the fuck up, Bree. I can't even stand to hear your voice anymore. Why do you think I'm still running around?"

"I don't know, Jake, educate me on why I'm always the last one you think to take care of."

"Take care of? Take care of? You don't need me to take care of you, you spoiled bitch. Mommy and daddy do a good enough job of making me feel like I'm an accessory. If I left you tomorrow you wouldn't even notice..'

What the hell? 'Tap, tap, tap'. Shit. Dang it. We live twenty miles away from five power plants and we get more power outages than anyone else I know. Black screen of death for a writer. I might die. I checked my pulse. Nope. Still here. I have such good ideas this morning too. I could write them in my notebook but there is something magical about ideas flowing from my brain and out through my quick fingers on a keyboard.

Son of a gun. It's freezing out too. The last temperature I saw on my computer screen was -3 degrees. So much for the furnace. I went out to the kitchen and lit the stove burners with a match, hoping that would offset the lack of heat from the furnace until they got things up and running again. Turning the faucets on a slow drip all around the house to keep the water on, I checked the driveway, hoping Hal had returned from his morning trip to see what the stores had.

Hal had recently retired and still felt the hollowness of having nowhere to go every day. That's the same hollowness that I've always lived with and wouldn't trade it for anything. I love being home, writing in solitude. His hollow is my nirvana.

Good heavens, this means I might have to keep busy by cleaning the house. The damned maid hasn’t been here in years- oh, that’s right. We don’t have a maid. My least favorite activity- cleaning. Can’t vacuum. Can’t run the dishwasher. That’s two chores I can’ t do today, thank God. Laundry? Nope. Good, good. I suppose I could clean the kitchen counters off and empty the trash cans. Damn.

Counters scrubbed; trash cans emptied. I could clean the bathrooms, but Hal did a much better job of that than I did. I’ll just wait for him. Fortunately, I had two clocks in the house that didn’t need electricity, so I checked on the time, 11:05 AM. Usually Hal returned about this time from his morning run.

I pulled out my newest hobby, watercolor paints. My daughter gave me a new set for Christmas, and it looked as though this was its lucky day. Setting up the water, towels and other painting necessities on the dining room table I amused myself for a while, while drinking my now lukewarm coffee, which I could have heated up on the stove, but didn’t think of it. Nice, Water lilies tutorial. Used to watching Youtube tutorials for painting lessons, it seemed odd to be using a book to figure out my newest passion.

The light was dim in the dining room and it wasn’t likely to get better, as snow began falling from the gray clouds hovering over our little town. My paintings were becoming murky from the lack of light, so I put them away for when the lights came back on. The clock in the kitchen read 12:30AM and still no Hal. I fired up my kindle, which still had 85% power, and snuggled into a blanket on the sofa to read until Hal made it home.

If you’re now wondering why I didn’t just get my cell phone and call him, well, I’m anti-cell phone. I don’t even like the regular house phone and often just turn the annoying buzzing to mute. If I want to speak with someone I will call them. The thought of having an annoying phone call every two minutes with a cell phone attached to my ass was horrific to me. No, thank you. I live at home. I work at home. All I needed was a home phone.

We live within commuting distance to two military bases, so the sight of black hawk helicopters traveling over our rooftop was not unfamiliar to me. However, the sight of ten black hawk helicopters speeding low over our town surprised me. Wondering if it had anything to do with the electricity being out I stepped out into the frigid air for a better look.

Down the highway that intersected our town rolled a dozen Humvees from the local Reservist Armory that was about ten miles away from us. They were headed in the same direction as the helicopters. Something was going on. Where was Hal?

Up and down our street people were standing out on their front porches, watching the parade go by. I strolled across the road to my neighbor, Bonnie’s and asked if she knew what was going on.

“Oh, my God, those two Chinese weather balloons weren’t really weather balloons. They had devices in them to mess with our electrical grid. All over the East Coast and the West Coast electricity is off and they don’t know how long before they can repair the damage,” She said as she was waving her cell phone around, frantically looking for a good signal.

“Wow, are those Humvees and helicopters going to the power plants? Do you think?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe. I suppose if there’s a threat to our power grid, the plants might be next. This is terrible!”

“Hal went out for his morning run to the store and he’s been gone an awfully long time. I'm worried he didn’t get his gas tank filled before the power outage hit. Can I trouble you for a ride into town in case he’s stuck?”

“Absolutely. Better than sitting around wondering what the hell is going to happen next. Grab a coat I’ll come get you.”

I ran home and bundled up, grabbing the blanket off my sofa, just in case- who knows. I didn’t know either. I just did it without even thinking. In a few minutes Bonnie’s old Honda pulled up in front of the house and I hopped into it on a trot.

“Where does Hal usually go when he does his morning run?”

“He always goes to Wally World and stops at the gas station across the street before he heads home. We should keep our eyes open for him along the way in case he ran out of gas.”

As we were driving down the highway to the city where Hal was shopping, a Prius drove by and a fellow with purple hair and a nose ring gave us the finger. Bonnie and I just looked at each other and cracked up.

“You laugh now- wait until you realize you can’t charge your toy car when you get home, asshole!” I yelled out the open window at the little car that was puttering along, trying to climb the slick hill.

“Oh, yes, let’s make everything depend upon electricity. That will make everyone’s lives so much easier and safer…not,” moaned Bonnie.

“I know. I had to turn the stove burners on to keep the house above freezing this morning. Uh, oh.”

“Uh, oh, what, Tina?”

“Uh, oh, I forgot to turn them off when I left.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be back in no time,” Bonnie promised.

As we got nearer to the city we saw Hal standing in the snow pile at the side of the road next to our dead Ford. Yep, just as I had expected, Hal waited too long to fill up and the pumps were dead. He wasn’t the only one. Up and down the highway, now that we were closer to the city there were at least half a dozen other vehicles haphazardly parked alongside the road. Some of the drivers were out of their cars trying to find a cell signal they could reach. Others were sitting forlornly in their vehicles, waiting on help.

All I had to offer was one measly blanket, but when Bonnie pulled over next to Hal I ran with the blanket and asked who had kids in the car. One lady answered ‘yes’, so I handed it to her and promised we would try to find gas somewhere and come back for everyone, as she bundled her kids in the back seat with the blanket.

On the ride back home Hal told us what he had learned at the shopping center, which was pretty much what Bonnie had found out before her cell signal went down. The seemingly innocent Chinese weather balloons were not so innocent, and despite the Pentagon’s urging to shoot them down over the past several days, the president had ignored their advice and told everyone to calm down.

One of our neighbors had farm equipment and always kept diesel fuel and extra gasoline in drums on his property. We stopped by and asked his wife if they could spare some for people who had gotten stuck on the highway going into the city, and to help us get our car back home.

Usually a sweet lady, she closed the door in our faces and said, “We need all our gasoline for the farm vehicles to keep the cattle fed. If we start giving away our fuel we’ll have nothing left and our cows will die. I’m sorry, but people will have to take care of themselves.”

That was that. So much for neighbors helping neighbors. Wait until she asked for my peach pie recipe again. No way. Figure it out yourself, woman.

It was up to the police to help out the stranded motorists and I had to trust the system. Although I felt badly not being able to keep our promise, Bonnie couldn’t afford to drive all over the place right now either.

When Hal and I got home I checked the burners and everything was safe. Hal went out and read the meter on the tank. We had 60% fuel left, which should last us at least a month if all we burned was the stove top. Not that I thought we’d really be facing a month without electricity. It was good information to have though.

Then, Hal took an inventory of our cupboards, making a list of items we could stock up on when we somehow got our vehicle off the road. That was another problem. Were they going to impound the abandoned vehicles? How much would that cost? Most of our cash was in the bank, waiting for us to withdraw it with the ATM or a debit card at stores.

The more intertwined we became with online this and online that, the more I realized we’d been duped into trusting an untrustworthy system. Electricity was bound into our survival, just as fire was bound into early man’s survival. No electricity- no life as we knew it.

In other words, until the lights came back on we were screwed, and not with an electric screwdriver.

February 04, 2023 18:23

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Viga Boland
20:41 Feb 11, 2023

That was a great read. Timely too. And the questions you pose, well yes, something to think about for sure. By the way, did I mention your writing style? Really good. You’re my kind of writer i.e nice balance of narrative to dialogue, humor and seriousness. Adding you to my follows and looking forward to reading more in the future.


Jeanne Kiesinger
23:12 Feb 11, 2023

Thank you. Just telling a story without the funny voices!


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Wendy Kaminski
23:36 Feb 04, 2023

Your end line just nailed this, Jeanne! What a lot of fun, too - I really enjoyed your narrator's snarky tone. I'm going to refer to that in the future as "peach-pie sassy!" lol :) Some favorite lines: - The damned maid hasn’t been here in years- oh, that’s right. We don’t have a maid. - “You laugh now- wait until you realize you can’t charge your toy car when you get home, asshole!” LOL Also: “Oh, my God, those two Chinese weather balloons weren’t really weather balloons. They had devices in them to mess with our electrical grid." - what ...


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