The sun rises above the mountains around 8am, burning off the remaining clouds, to shine bright against the clear sky. Spring in Ohio brings hot days and chilly nights, and some of the most enjoyable weather in the country. Today it would bring something altogether unexpected. Undetected by most people going about their day, the surface of the sun shoots a solar flare larger than any in recorded history. Cruising through space at over 300,000 kilometers per second, earth was in the path of a solar storm in little over 8 minutes.
I opened the windows and allowed the fresh air to blow through my house as warm temperatures carried out the winter blues. Bird songs and the occasional howling of wind followed behind. Time seemed to slow down for a moment. The din of nature represented the only signs of life at the moment. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. It’s a moment I didn’t want to end. All the lights were off, the TV was silent and the phone sat muted. I might be alive in the 1800s if not for a truck on the highway in the distance. To the west, I saw clouds moving in, which explained the increase in warm air blowing around. In about three hours the kids would be home and I’d have to leave for work. Times like this, I wished I were a writer who made a living at home.
Turning back to grab my coffee, I checked the microwave and saw 8:08am, then it went blank. Out of habit I reached for my phone, but it had no signal. The air blowing by became warmer, and for a moment, the light shone brighter. What is going on? For a moment the sky outside cast an odd, orangish hue, and then, as quickly as it came, it went back to normal. I couldn’t think, for the life of me, what just happened. I walked around testing lights and the TV when an unusual sound came to my ears. It was almost unnoticeable, but I’m sure I heard it. I couldn’t identify what it was but I almost think I should have known that sound.
With everything electric dead. I went to the basement, and checked the breaker box. The main was on but no power. We lived on the outside of town so it wasn’t impossible we had a power outage, but everything being dead didn’t seem right. I grabbed my keys and went to the garage. The engine started but the radio was all static. Habits are kind of strange because when you are used to doing things the same way all the time and now nothing works alarms start going off in your mind. I decided I should go to town to check on my wife and kids.
I hit the garage door button but it didn’t move. “Damn it!” I had to go out and manually lift the door. Pulling out my car I hit the garage door button again and cursed even louder. This was going to be a long day if I kept this up. I can remember being a kid and living like this but that was so long ago. Modern technology has spoiled us. As I drove to town I thought about how we used to wait for someone to call from a landline or just wait to show up. Well, this sucks. I’m not used to that anymore.
The radio was silent as I scanned between stations. My car still ran, and I couldn’t get over it. Why couldn’t I hear any news? My mind raced about what could have happened. The news often reported we had a delicate power system, and it was ripe for a terrorist attack. Did someone actually attack? I’d read about EMP blasts from nuclear bombs, but I don’t think my car would have worked if that had happened. Could it have been something from the sun? I ran every scenario I could imagine through my mind as I headed toward town.
I passed a car, with the driver still at the wheel, stopped dead in the center of the road. He looked at me and gave me the finger. I looked at him and gave it right back as I drove down the road. My car is fairly new, why was his car dead? With his attitude, that'll be his problem? I decided not to stop until I found Keri and the kids and got them home. The closer I got to town the worse things looked. People were out of cars yelling and screaming at those whose cars still worked. More arguments by car accidents and stalled vehicles made things worse. It took a moment to realize the police were there as I noticed cop cars had no flashing lights. The police were getting all kinds of hell from every direction. I drove down a side street and passed up all that mess.
It was still calm along the side streets. People talked and kids played. No TV’s or computers left time for everyone to get to know each other. I guess the power outage couldn’t be that bad. It did remind me of my childhood. I grew up in the 80’s and it wasn’t all that bad.
My wife Keri, worked at a law firm and met me at the door as I walked in.“Hey babe, what’s going on?” I asked.
“I really don’t know. We’ve been without power and I tried to call, but our phones are dead. How did you get here?” she asked.
“My car works fine. I have power, but the radio doesn’t work,” I told her.
“I haven’t even checked my car. Why wouldn’t it work?” she asked.
“I really don’t know what’s going on but cars are stalled everywhere, and most of the electricity is off.”
“They’re talking about releasing everyone until tomorrow. Hopefully, the power will be back on by then.” said Keri.
As I started to tell her what I’d been thinking on the way in. A man burst into the door screaming and out of breath.
“We need help,” he cried.
“What! What is it?” I asked.
“There’s been a plane crash just outside of town. There’s people everywhere and they need our help,” he shouted.
Keri and I looked at each other and I told her to get the kids and I’ll go see what I can do to help. She kissed me and I left. I had a bad feeling about leaving her and I almost went back but the guy kept shouting so I went with him.
We pulled up to the field where the plane lay sprawled out and burning. People ran everywhere trying to grab bodies and search for survivors. Too many were trapped in the crash by the heat of the flames. It clicked in my mind the sound I’d heard earlier must have been the plane crash. It wasn’t the biggest plane but it left a big dent in the field and I didn’t see very many survivors. Looks like the pilots tried to make a wheels up landing and skid a long way before they tumbled and rolled. The plane broke apart and large pieces were everywhere. Searchers walked around the field looking for anyone who flew out as the plane broke apart. So many bodies and so much devastation it didn’t seem real. The guy who got me and a couple others ran into the field to carry people to his car. I don’t think I’ll ever close my eyes without seeing that plane crash.
We ran back and forth all day as a few more vehicles helped people to the hospital. Most cars never returned as they ran out of gas or went home to deal with their own emergencies. The afternoon the rain came, and helped put out some of the fires. By evening anyone left was dead as the fires smoldered. I left on foot with two other guys and headed home.
“I don’t suppose you know what happened, do you John?” asked Rick. I looked at him, then back at the road.
“Something like this is an EMP or a solar flare. My guess it came from the sun. Did you see the sky change color yesterday?”
“I did,” said Miguel. “I damn near ran off the road. I wasn’t paying attention when the sky turned a different color. All I could do was stare at it.”
“I didn’t see anything, I was in the house,” said Rick.
“I was just checking the time when it went blank. The sky turned orange and blue. It could have been an explosion, but it doesn’t add up.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rick.
“An EMP by a nuclear blast will wipe out all power. Unless your stuff is protected by a faraday cage, its trash. My car worked. It’s not that old, and I had it in the garage. I guess the building was enough to protect it. For all I know, most cars left outside might work after they get the battery changed.”
“What about electric or hybrid cars?” asked Miguel.
“I’m not sure. Unless they were under sufficient cover, they might not work.”
“So the sun did this to us?” asked Rick.
“That’s my guess. I’m no expert, but I’m a huge book nerd. I’ve read about this kind of thing happening. It’s the new trope in writing.”
“What’s a trope?” asked Rick.
“It’s like the popular stories people read for a few years. You remember when people were all excited about vampires and werewolves a few years ago? Then it died out?”
“Oh, right? I don’t miss vampire movies.” said Rick.
“So, anyway, it’s called a trope.”
“Sounds like dope.” said Miguel. We all laughed. We were so tired everything was funny.
We made it back to town and sat on a wall outside the post office. The rain must have pushed everyone inside because the streets were empty. Stalled cars still sat in the road. I saw a truck speeding towards the hospital several blocks down. It looks like today’s emergencies were still ongoing.
“Do you think we should go to the hospital and see what’s going on?” asked Miguel.
“Honestly, I think they’ve got their hands full. Not likely they’d want us to get in the way.” said Rick.
I agreed and we decided to sit a little longer, then head home. The only thing I wanted more than sleep was food. I slid to my feet and said to the others. “Looks like we’re near a gas station. Let’s see if we can get something to eat.”
Rick and Miguel agree, and I help them to their feet. Pain coursed through our legs as we made our way down the street. Walking around the last building, broken windows stared back at us like hollow eyes. The gas station had been robbed of everything in sight.
“That doesn’t look good,” said Rick. “I wonder if there’s anything left.”
“Not likely,” I said.
“Who would do this? It’s not been a full day yet and people are looting.” said Miguel.
“I hate to say it, but until the power comes back, it’s gonna be survival of the fittest.”
Miguel and Rick looked at me uncertainly. “You mean, this could go on for a long time?” said Rick.
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions but depending on how many electronics survived or where on earth this affected. It could be several months, even years.”
This wasn’t the news either of them were expecting. How did I tell them this was a TEOTWAWKI event? TEOTWAWKI in survival speak is an acronym for “The End Of The World As We Know It.” I hoped I was wrong. We might get back on our feet again but it was going to take a long time and even then, things would never truly be the same. I set my hope on the reality we still had several cars running. I’d hoped for a concerted effort, and we would have more. Although communications and pretty much everything reliant on electricity would be offline for a while. There’s a chance that technology could bring us back.
“So, we could live like this for years?” asked Rick. His voice betrayed his confusion.
“Think of it like this, the entire town, maybe the entire country, has been sent into the 1800s, but we have all our modern technology. All we have to do is get things running again.”
“I have no skills outside of a computer, John. What is a guy like me going to do to survive the next few years?” asked Miguel.
I didn’t know what to tell him. Sure, he could plant a garden, but it takes weeks for a crop to grow. He might have stuff saved up, but how long would it last? The same questions I’m asking myself right now.
“Miguel, do you have a family?” I asked. He nodded and said he had a wife and daughter. “Rick, how about you?” He was an older man and his kids were grown and now it’s just he and his wife. I sighed heavily and told them what I understood.
“From here on out, don’t expect a lot of help from the government. If any. You might get lucky with a few local organizations, but survival is all you. Find your family and friends. If several you can band together, you will have a better chance of survival. Do not, and I can’t say this enough, do not go it alone. Food, water and shelter are your primary needs. After that replenishing those items is paramount. Give me your addresses. I’ll go home and check on my family. I have a wife and 2 kids to check on. I’ll meet up with you in a few days.”
Each man reached for their phones and then realized they were useless. No one carried paper and pencil anymore. After grabbing some trash to write on, we each did the best we could to use a fingernail to scratch in our addresses. We confirmed what we had and went our separate ways with a promise to meet up again.
The thing about living in a small town is, you get used to how long it takes to drive from one location to the next. A few miles take a few minutes by car. Walking just sucks. I kept hoping I’d see Keri and the kids driving down the road looking for me. By late evening, I just wanted to crawl into a ball and sleep for a week. I had a few miles to go until I was on the road headed to my house. The whole time I was walking, I didn’t see a single person. All the outdoor conversations were gone. I imagined that not only had the power gone out, but aliens had kidnapped the town. The place was dead.
I looked over my shoulder several times, wondering if I should have stayed with Miguel and Rick. Maybe it wasn’t too late, but I didn’t want to abandon my family because I felt uneasy. These guys would need help. I didn’t want to think about it until I got home. They would be alright and so would I. This all happened so fast. I’m tired and a little paranoid.
As I reached the turnoff to my road, I was trying to imagine how I could both eat and sleep at the same time. I had this internal dialogue over and over on which would be more important. Eat or sleep? Maybe I would let Keri do the thinking for me. She would know what to do. I’m glad she stayed home, but I’m kind of bummed she didn’t come looking for me. Then I worried about her and the kids. I had two boys, Aden and Jase. They were 10 and 11. I could only guess they were driving their mother crazy without their cell phones glued to their hands. I’d either come home to a calm house or chaos.
The walk up my driveway was the most energy I had left, and even then I was dragging my feet. I was surprised not to see my car in the driveway. It’s possible she parked it in the garage, but the house looked quiet. What I mean is, how a house has an energy about it when it’s occupied. Tonight it just looked oddly quiet. I got to the house and grabbed the knob. It was locked. I knocked at the door and called Keri and the boys. We always kept the blinds closed so I couldn’t really see inside. It’s moments like this you kick yourself for the habits you have. I knocked harder and louder on the door and even went to the window. Still nothing. Walking around back, I hoped they were there and didn’t hear me, I found the yard empty. Most windows were just high enough I couldn’t see inside. I walked on the back deck and peeked in the sliding glass door. Finally, there was enough room to see past the curtain. Moonlight helped me see the thing I feared most.
Through the window I saw the legs of a man laying on the floor in the kitchen, his big boots leaving footprints on the carpet. I jumped to action and began ponding on the door. Kicking and screaming for Keri and the boys, I didn’t know what to do. I jumped over the rail and went to a basement window and kicked it open. Climbing through, I ran upstairs to the kitchen. I didn’t recognize the man in the shadows, but he was dead. I felt his pulse and his skin was cold. It looked like he’d been dead for a few hours. I ran through the house looking for everyone, but they were gone. Where would I start looking?