I hardly felt anything. Our guests said, much later, they might have felt a little tingle to the air, but nothing more than that. The kids were too busy laughing over a movie on TV to notice. My wife, deep into a conversation over a medical bill fouled up by the insurance company, didn’t feel anything either.
It went dark.
Completely and utterly dark.
The first joke came from one of our dinner guests, a banker friend, who chided, “Maybe you forgot to pay the light bill.” A few chuckles all around.
I raised my hand, pointing my finger for emphasis, “I know where the candles are. I am prepared.”
By the time I made my way to the kitchen counter, my eyes had adjusted to the darkness a bit. I peeked out through the kitchen window. It seemed eerily dark outside. And still. No house lights. No street lights. A hint of moonlight.
I heard a couple of theories already floating in from the dining room.
“Lightning strike somewhere?”
“I heard of a squirrel one time climbed up on a transformer and got zapped. Made the whole town go dark for hours.”
I heard the kids complaining lightly that their movie had just gotten to the good part.
I found my stash of candles and made my way back out to the dining room. Five lighted candles gave the room enough light and coziness for the conversation to continue. Discussions over medical bills and kids activities changed to childhood memories of power outages. One of our guests poked her husband in the ribs and said, “Glad we’re here! We wouldn’t know where to find candles in our house.” Another guest chimed in that he wouldn’t care about candles or movies as long as his beer stayed cold. That reminded my wife that the cold items on the table should probably be put back into the refrigerator.
“I’ll help,” one of our friends offered. Turning to her husband, “Can you grab a couple of candles and light our way?”
Sometime right around then the thought entered into my mind for good. It had originally jumped in right off the bat but had been chased away in my efforts at getting the candles set up. Now it was back.
Politicians had talked of it, conspiracy theorists had pined on and on about getting ready for it, the general public had ignored it. I had made scant provisions.
I thought to myself that if this was the event, we were screwed. Why hadn’t I listened a little more to the “What if?” side of me and made better provisions?
I quietly grabbed my car keys, mumbled that I would be right back, and made my way to the door, which was open.
Sitting on the front stoop was Jack, one of our guests. In all the hubbub and conversation, I hadn’t noticed him leaving the room or going outside.
He didn’t turn to me or even look up. He just muttered something under his breath. His keys lay at his feet on the sidewalk.
“Jack, you okay?”
He spoke louder this time. “It’s over, John Wilson. She won’t start. None of ‘em will.”
‘What?” I feigned ignorance, as if somehow to quell my own fears beginning to well up.
“Go ahead and try.”
I looked over to my car parked in the driveway. The garage always managed to stay too full of stuff to park both of our cars in. My wife’s car, being the more valuable one, enjoyed the privilege. I walked resolutely, already in defeat, to my car. I reached to the remote door opener on my key chain. I hesitated and then pushed the button, waiting for the customary click of the doors unlocking. Nothing. I held the opener out and pointed it carefully toward the car. I clicked purposefully.
“It won’t start, John Wilson,” I heard Jack say. “None of ‘em will.”
I unlocked the front door with the key and got into my car. The dome light didn’t come on. I found the ignition switch, inserted the key, and turned it. Nothing.
I looked around at all of the neighbors’ houses, looking for a light, somewhere. One electric light still burning to allay my fears. Nothing.
I got out of the car, and looked at Jack. He was nodding at me, his mouth a grim line of resignation on his face. I glanced around again, looking for light. Nothing.
I stood still and bowed my head and closed my eyes. I had just realized how silent it was, and it had just registered with me that of course it would be silent. There would be no cars out on the roads, no motorcycles or trucks rumbling by, no jets flying overhead. Indeed, any jets that had been up in the sky would have already fallen down to the earth. Any crew member on board, every passenger unlucky enough to have been in flight at just that moment, anyone on the ground in the way of the crash sights, thousands of crash sights, all of them would already be dead. How many jets had slammed violently into the oceans? Perhaps some were still floating as debris, the dead within, awaiting the slippery sinking into the cold depths. No one would seek them out to bring them home.
I bowed my head and listened as intently as I could.
I had been through this scenario briefly in my mind before. Anyone in surgery would die on the table. The backup generators wouldn’t kick in. Not with this type of EMP. I reached for my knowledge on the subject. Solar or manmade? I couldn’t remember the various theories about which type would shut everything down. I was glad it was summer so we wouldn’t freeze in our own homes.
I heard some voices down the street. Down the dark street out there. Some folks were wondering aloud about the outage. Someone the other direction somewhere laughed. I wondered what was funny. I heard a door shut. Jack sighed loudly.
“Did you prepare for this?” he asked.
“No, not really,” I answered. “Thought about it… some.”
“Yeah, me too,” he scoffed a little. “Some.”
‘Jack?” His wife came out. “Jack, are you out here?”
I waved a little.
“Oh hi, John Wilson. What are you guys doing? Wow! it’s so dark, even out here! Must be some outage.”
“Yeah…” I agreed.
“We’re starting a game of pinochle. Need two more hands for six-handed. You guys want in? We found some more candles.” She held the door open.
“Oh yeah, John Wilson, I forgot… the water’s out too! How can that be?”
“Really?” I answered in faux surprise. “Wow, this is some outage. I don’t know.”
I glanced at Jack. He closed his eyes and shook his head gently. “Yeah, honey, we’ll be right in. Just give us a second.”
“Okay, sure,” she hesitated. “You guys okay?”
“Oh yeah,” I lied. “Fine.”
The door closed gently, and I walked over to Jack and offered my hand in a handshake. He looked at me. He looked at my hand and back at me.
“Let’s give them a few more hours, Jack, what do you say?”
He looked down.
“They’ll find out soon enough.”
He looked back up and reached out to my waiting hand and shook it.
“Might as well,” he agreed. “Might as well.”
On the way in I remembered how this would play out. Curiosity would lead to fear and anger and then disgust and then resignation and then desperation and then death. There would be a few, out away from the cities, who would make it. Relative to the masses, a few. Many had written on the progression of what would unfold. No fresh water, no groceries restocked on the quickly emptying shelves. No gasoline. No cars made after sometime in the 1970’s – the debate over exactly what year would now be settled – to run on the gasoline no longer available. No renewed prescriptions. After a few days, no police or fire protection. That’s when the chaos would start full-throttle. When the feral masses in the cities ran out of water and food, and ran out of places to steal it from. When no one around had anything to steal. When the migrations out into the countryside started. The violence.
John Wilson had no place – no relatives, no friends – out in the country to help him. Even if he did, it was too far to walk. His house lay precisely nine miles from the heart of the city. People everywhere. Thirsty, hungry, angry people. Even a martial force would not control a million such people.
He closed the door behind him and headed into the card game. He hesitated. Reaching back, he locked the door. For no reason.
Think of this… since the dawn of human history… Biblically, that’s roughly 6,000 years? – Since that time, electricity has only been harnessed for somewhat over 100 of those years. About 1/60th of human history. Yet cripple it now, take it away, and most of our civilization would crumble within weeks. The civilized, the tame, the finer things, the finer people… all would become feral. The important details of today, appointments, political arguments, what movie to see… no one would care any longer.
Perhaps, worst of all, no computers. No johnwilsonbach.com. Come to think of it, why are you reading this? Is there not something better to do with your time?