How long will society last without electricity? How long would you last?
What would you do to survive?
My work in progress is a unique trilogy that begins on the first day of baseball’s World Series, in the year 2022.
The books tell the story of a wife and husband struggling as society dissolves in the wake of a mysterious cataclysmic event.
Novel one explores the moral dilemmas faced by a mother trying to protect her child and survive in a world where every car, computer and electric device has mysteriously stopped working. As a woman of faith, she grapples with the ethical lines she must cross to protect her daughter and herself.
Book two is the same time frame, day by day, from the perspective of the husband. Nearly 600 miles from home, a man must decide what he’s willing to do to survive and make his way home to his wife and child. He finds his faith constantly challenged as he’s forced to make ethical compromises so he can see his family again.
The final novel alternates between their stories as they overcome challenges to find each other, and to build a future in a violent world they no longer recognize.
This is how the first novel begins:
Monday, October 24, 2022
I was on the toilet when I was plunged into silent darkness.
Grace, I thought. What has Grace done, now?
My phone was dead. I knew the battery was charged, but the phone wouldn’t turn on.
“Grace,” I said, opening the door. “What are you doing?”
“Playing. It’s dark.”
I finished up in the bathroom, but when I flushed, there wasn’t water pressure to re-fill the tank. There was also just a slow dribble of cold water from the faucet before it turned to air. The hot water flowed slowly.
Grace sat on the floor, surrounded by a card game.
“Playing,” she replied, engrossed. “Look,” she said, holding up a card, “circle. Blue circle.”
“That’s right,” I said, passing through the living room. “Can you find another blue circle?”
The power was out all over the house. It wasn’t just a single breaker.
We were looking forward to the first game of the World Series later. Mac and I planned to text as we watched together.
“TV.” Grace had stopped playing with her cards and was standing next to me. “Show.”
“No TV,” I said. “No show. Let’s go outside.”
“I want malk.”
“How about water, instead?”
“I want water.”
She’s easily pleased.
I retrieved her half full cup from the counter and out of habit, turned on the kitchen faucet to refill it. Dribbles of water and then air. There was no pressure on the waterline. I handed her the cup.
“What are you doing?”
“Mommy is using this dish cloth to tie the refrigerator door closed, so I don’t accidentally open it.”
“You open it by accident?”
“I don’t want to open it and let all the cold out.”
I lost power for nearly two weeks once during a hurricane and learned my lesson then.
The refrigerator and freezer would stay cold for at least 12-24 hrs. I wouldn’t thaw $50 worth of food for the sake of eating five dollars worth of ice cream before it melted.
“Let the cold out?”
“Come on, let’s get your shoes on and go outside.”
As we got ready I thought about the time the whole northeast lost power, years ago. half of New York City had to walk home. Just like many did on 9-11. I think the power outage was caused by some Canadian technician making a mistake. What was the problem today? How far did it reach?
Just our neighborhood? All over the Northeast?
I felt bad for people in the cities who relied on mass transit. Possibly millions of people in New York, Washington D.C., Boston, stuck in business districts, unable to get home, facing hours and hours of walking. I’d walked a lot when I was a kid, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had to walk a serious distance. As I tied my shoes, I wondered how many miles I’d walked around an amusement park, or the state fair. I smiled at the hardship so many feel at Christmas time, when they have to walk from the end of the crowded mall parking lot to the door.
I checked my phone again. Still dead. Without electricity I couldn’t recharge it. I plugged it into the laptop to boot it on and saw the laptop was dead. it wouldn’t turn on, either.
The laptop should have worked without electricity; it was plugged in and charged. It didn’t make any sense. A power outage was one thing, this was different. Strangely different.
“Outside,” Grace said, standing at the door.
“Let me get Daisy,” I said. “Do you want your stroller or your tricycle?”
I checked my phone again for news, and immediately felt ridiculous.
I was so used to accessing the world from the phone in my pocket, the sudden information blackout felt bizarre. I intentionally put my phone on the counter when I picked up Daisy’s leash.
Grace on her tricycle and the dog eager to explore, we walked for ten or fifteen minutes before I realized there was no traffic. Grace kept peddling into the street, but there were no cars. No sounds of traffic in the distance. Only the rough drone of generators scattered around the neighborhood.
I exchanged waves with neighbors I didn’t know, and several conversations with people I met for the first time.
Grace waved at a middle-aged couple raking leaves. Their teenage son carried the leaves in a wheelbarrow to the back yard. Perfectly coifed, and dressed like L.L. Bean models, the parents waved and smiled like we were long-time friends. The son had a charming, disarming smile and he made a special effort to wave to Grace.
The boy offered to give Grace a ride in the wheelbarrow, so I made small talk with the parents as she gleefully rolled around the yard. It was a picture perfect moment, if only my phone was working.
The weather was deceiving, and disquieting. It was a lovely late afternoon, sunny and clear. The air remained warm as the sun slowly painted the sky like Grace’s watercolors.
We weren’t supposed to lose power on a day like this. No ice, snow, wind or hurricanes to bring down delicate power lines. Power lines somewhere else, for that matter. By appearances, ours was a reasonably well-to-do neighborhood, which included buried utility lines. We were college educated, trained professionals and middle managers with well-mown lawns and flowerbeds.
We had an active homeowner’s association,, but Mac and I seldom attended events. We took Grace to the association Christmas party last year, so she could sit on Santa’s lap. Mac and I had a few close friends from college and graduate school, many names and faces from church, and we agreed the HOA would have to get along without us.
We walked to the subdivision’s clubhouse and back home, but we weren’t the only ones. It seemed like half the neighborhood was out in their yards, while the others were in the street with us. Bikers, skateboarders, walkers and even a roller skater, wandered around the neighborhood.
As we made our way home, our next door neighbors were grilling outside their open garage.
“Ya’ll out for a walk?” Bubba asked.
“Just a short one around the neighborhood,” I replied, as Grace ran up the driveway. “Is your water out?”
“Yours, too?” Bonnie said. She was holding the plate as Bubba speared the meat and dropped it onto the sizzling grill. “It’s really strange,” she said. “I can’t remember a time I lost power and the water went with it.” She looked around. “It’s never happened in this neighborhood.”
“It sounds like your generator is still working?”
“I’m running the freezer and the fridge with it,” he said. “My old radio turns on, but there’s nothing to listen to.”
“What do you mean, ‘nothing to listen to?’” I asked. “Stations aren’t broadcasting?”
“Nope, not a one,” he said. “There’s nothing there. Not a far off AM station, not the stations here in town. Nothing. Just static, across the dial.”
“Not even the emergency sound,” Bonnie added.
“What does that mean?”
“I have no idea,” he said, shrugging. “Something else strange— the cars don’t work.”
“What do you mean, ‘don’t work?’”
“Go check yours,” he said. “Maybe you’ll see. I hope not.”
I left Grace with Bonnie and retrieved my keys. Dead. No clicking. Nothing. Like the battery was drained.
“And it won’t turn over with the jumper,” Bubba said when I returned. The situation was unnerving.
“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Bonnie asked. “What about your phone?”
“It has a charge, it’s just not working.”
“No, your house phone?”
The age difference between us was showing.
“A land line? We don’t have one.”
“Oh. Well, ours is dead, too. No dial tone, no nothing.”
“The electricity, and the water, I can explain, maybe,” Bubba said as he turned the meat. “But the cars? That just doesn’t make any sense. None at all.”
We silently considered the situation.
“Ya’ll want to stay for dinner?” Bubba offered.
“Can I go get anything from our house?”
“Well, what are you thawing?” Bonnie asked.
“Nothing,” I said with a shrug. “I haven’t opened the refrigerator or the freezer yet. I’ll do it tomorrow morning.”
“That’s a good idea,” Bubba smiled. “Wished I’d thought of that before I opened the door. I just walked into the kitchen out of habit, and opened the fridge.” His ever-present smile helped take the edge off the situation.
“We’ll cook tonight and you can cook tomorrow,” Bonnie said. “If it lasts a few days, we may have to start eating our freezer food.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Bubba said, laughing.
We shared a chuckle that was more stressful than joyful and agreed Grace and I would return later.
Why is the water not working?
The whole subdivision was on county water and sewer. Was the water plant affected by the power outage? I couldn’t remember ever hearing of such a thing. Why wasn’t a back up generator working somewhere? It just didn’t make sense. Not on a such a beautiful day.
But it wasn’t just the electricity, it was everything electric. The car? Was it permanently broken? And my cell phone? The laptop?
How far was the impact? The region? The state? Multiple states? We were within a day’s drive of more than a quarter of the country’s population. Could hundreds of millions of people be affected?
And what about Mac? He was 600 miles away, in “Mashville.” Was his power out, too?
“What are you doing?”
Grace and Daisy looked on as I rearranged the storage shed. Attached to the house, it contained the water heater and years worth of stuff. Boxes of nothing I recognized. The shed needed more time to organize than I was willing to invest.
“I’m getting the grill.”
“I haven’t used it in the five years you’ve been alive.”
“What is it?”
“It’s for cooking outside.” I found the barbecue briquettes easy enough and found the starter fluid on a shelf with cans and plastic bottles of flammables.
Daisy’s tail wagged.
“Yes, cooking outside. Grilling food over a fire.”
“Fire’s hot,” she said solemnly. She’d learned her lesson with the door of the gas fireplace.
“Yes, it is.” I said. “So you’ll need to be careful with this grill. It gets very hot.”
She nodded, her brown eyes deeply serious, her brow furrowed.
“Come on,” I said, carrying the grill to the patio. I put the charcoal and fluid under the shelter of the porch nearby.
“What are you doing?”
I was carrying two large buckets of water I filled from the pool.
“It’s heavy,” she breathed, trying to lift one.
“Yeah, it is, but we need them for flushing.”
I left one downstairs, and carried the other to the master bath. With Mac in “Mashville,” Grace and I shared the same bathroom, and she was sleeping in our bed.
With every passing minute I expected power to return.
After dinner of sautéed frozen vegetables, pork chops, and scrambled eggs covered in cheese, we each had huge bowls of ice cream, despite the dropping temperature.
“I spent hours working on the truck and the car, and they’re both shot,” Bubba said, scrapping the bottom of a Neapolitan ice cream container. “The batteries have juice, but the electrical systems are done.”
“The batteries aren’t drained?” I asked. I was on my fourth Popsicle.
“So you can still use them?”
“To do what? Every electronic system is dead. I spent the afternoon trying figure out how to run the big fridge on batteries —”
“Not with what I have here,” he said, running his fingers through his crew cut. “I need some sort of power inverter to convert from DC batteries to AC. And even then, I don’t know how to charge the batteries. A solar charger would work, but where would I find that?”
“Don’t refrigerators have electronics?” I asked. “Do you think yours will work, even if you can power it?”
“Some refrigerators have computers in them,” he said. I thought of my phone, again. Leaving it on the kitchen counter seemed foreign and strange, carrying it was ridiculous.
“Ours was old enough not to have a computer,” he said. “Refrigerators are just small motors, and a little Freon. I need to do something, I gotta keep my medicine cold. I can syphon gas for weeks, to keep the generator running, if I need to,” he said. “I get six hours to the gallon. Longer than the medicine will last.” I later learned his calm demeanor was misleading.
“I’ll walk up to Southern State in the morning to see what they have, if they don’t have anything, I’ll walk up to Home Depot.”
“I have to go to CVS,” I said. “Can Grace and I go with you?”
“Daddy go to Mashville,” Grace said.
“That’s right,” I said quickly. “Daddy went to Nashville, and he’ll be back soon.”
I pointed at the sky, to change the subject. “Do you see the stars, Grace?”
“Um-hum,” she said, nodding.
The setting sun revealed an amazing display of stars.
“The good weather makes it weird, though,” Bubba said, shaking his head and patting Grace’s back.
“I know,” Bonnie said quickly. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?”
“Not like a storm, where there’s at least stuff to clean up,” he said. ”You expect to lose power during a storm.”
We talked as Grace fell asleep in Bubba’s arms.
Many times since, I’ve thought of that first night, when Bubba’s battery powered lantern kept the darkness at bay.