The world went dark on July 20.
Fortunate for my family and I, we still had some of our garden left. By the time the supermarket shelves were ransacked and the riots hit, we’d gathered four twenty-gallon buckets of tomatoes, seventy cucumbers, four dozen banana peppers, ten plump bells, and nine watermelons. We wasted no time dragging it all inside; we knew it wouldn’t be long till the riots overflowed from the city and came our way. They’d sweep through, a wall of greed and disorder, and ravage our land.
Phones were down for the few who still had landlines, and cells were inoperable for loss of signal, which meant no 911. (Criminals...were acutely aware of this.) I took plenty issue with the notion of being inevitably robbed without recourse, but in times like these you kinda’ had to suck it up. We were thirty miles from any police station. Smith and Wesson was our only fallback.
This was social anaphylaxis, an allergic recoil from the sting of primitivity. And like anaphylaxis I figured it would eventually subside.
Scariest were those who depended on technology like a lifeline. We didn’t have news to tell of the suicides. I would’ve been afraid to ask anyway.
A week in and you had stray influencers wandering the streets, lost and despaired, looking like something the cat coughed up.
And I wondered. Had we fallen so far as a species that survival hinged on something as recent as electricity? I kept telling myself how two-hundred years ago there was no such amenity, and the residents endured just fine.
My mind kept circling back to a show I used to watch. Dr. Stone.
A mysterious flash of light leaves humanity petrified, and a handful of humans awaken 3,700 years later to a world devoid of modern means, reminiscent of a Stone Age. Aided by the supergenius Senku, they have to start over from scratch, meaning relearning everything from agriculture to architecture to the reinvention of more luxurious articles like automobiles, phones and cola. I loved that show; I just never thought I’d have to live it. Had I known this was coming I would’ve taken notes. But the extent of my note-taking was when I’d recorded the ingredients for cola on my Pages app. Which was now out of commission. Bruh.
Maybe I don’t really have room to judge the technologically bereaved.
The Stone World residents had it a bit tougher, I’d dare to say. At least we still had standing civilization, skyscrapers, cars. We had battery powered fans; we just lacked a way to charge the batteries.
What ground my gears was knowing all the writing I had logged away on my Pages app. All I knew was, when signals were restored my work better not’ve been lost. I probably had over three-hundred documents.
My anger dissipated a little when imagining the scope of effects brought about. Hospitals would be in trouble. Generators could only get them so far. And what about winter when farming was an impossibility? Hunting would have to suffice, but with the population so high could wildlife really sustain us all? I chose to be hopeful. It was really all I could do.
TV made this look easy.
There was an Amish commune a little ways from our farm. Dad bought wood from them regularly, so we had something of a rapport. Three months in we drove out to see if there was any wood left they could sell us. Winter was coming and our furnace supply was lower than usual. We’d had to start using it early for the cold nights. I met Isaiah out by the barns and he looked nothing like what I’d remembered. He was always so jovial for our wood runs, a man with a countenance of steel. But all the while he was explaining to us, he looked so beat down. He said some outsiders had hit their commune about a month back, and killed a couple of their men. The looters made off with as much as they could carry.
Fear does things to people. Things you can’t really explain. More than just fight or flight, these things hardly ever make sense. Perhaps it’s a narcissistic, impatient, nearsighted drive that fuels it. Why vie for cordial discourse when violence could get you so much further so much faster?
Isaiah told us the names of the dead. A few of them I’d known.
One of them was only a year older than me.
They could only spare a quarter-load of wood, but we were grateful. Isaiah refused money.
Dad gave him a gun and told him to protect his family. Reluctantly, he nodded and took it.
Driving back in our family pickup, I watched the sky. It looked so dreary anymore.
Again my mind circled back to Dr. Stone. Just a few of the petrified had been revived, and even then they managed to find conflict. Enemies were quickly made, and a war eventually followed.
The first thing I heard was the sound of shattering glass. The window at my right shoulder exploded. Dad gunned it but we didn’t make it far. A loud popping noise sent us rolling, ground turning to sky. Next thing I knew, I was in a ditch, about a hundred feet from the truck. I could hardly feel my body, my mouth tasted like copper, and my sight was barely clear enough to make out the faces eclipsing my periphery.
“She alive?” a gruff male voice called.
“Yeah, looks like it,” another replied. “What about the old man?”
“He ain’t moving. Big dent in his head. I’d say he’s a lost cause.”
“I got ’is wallet. He only had about seventy bucks.”
“You think she’s got anything on her?”
“Na. I don’t see no jewelry. And she looks about fifteen, so forget cash...”
“Wanna’ check? I mean, what would it hurt?”
By then, all I could see was black.
I felt myself being rolled over.
“Nothing... Told you.”
“She looks pretty bad, man. You didn’t tell me it would go like this.”
“Well, how could I have known?”
“So what, we just leave her here?”
“You got a better idea? Wanna’ take her to a hospital?” Sarcasm. Even concussed I understood that much.
“What, you feeling guilty now? If you don’t wanna’ leave her then be a man and just put her out of her misery.”
Silence. He’s thinking about it. I don’t know how I can tell, but I can.
“I can’t... I’ve never actually shot someone...”
His voice...he sounds so young.
“Fine. Just leave her. We’re moving out, though. I ain’t sittin’ around nursing some stranger’s kid till dark.”
Footsteps. The grass is rustling. They’re leaving.
I hear a click, and with a fresh fear I realize he’s made his decision.
I hear the first fraction of a gunshot.
Then I hear nothing.
Thy will be done
In the last days before the Apocalypse, even the most advanced piece of human technology had a rather rudimentary fix-it: shut down, unplug, count to 20, re-plug, restart. (Depending on the equipment, a swift kick was also known to serve a purpose. Although repair may have been a secondary consideration in that case.)
And what is the earth and all life upon it if not the greatest piece of advanced programming and engineering ever developed: Consider the systemic intricacies of every living creature or plant, the water that covers the earth, the precise balance of the air that sustains life, along with the universe at large with our sun, the stars, the moon...With humankind as the pinnacle of that creative genius.
Sadly, at that time, humanity seemed to be careening, free-falling, towards a period reminiscent of the Dark Ages with all the ills of that time magnified by advances in communication that allowed truths and lies to be traded indiscriminately in seconds rather than days or weeks or months; modernized by the new ways people had learned to torture and kill one another; twisted by new and old reasons to justify killing; and, an incredible sense of Me and Mine Now, with scant attention to the larger community, little effort to think deeply, see all sides of any issue of contention, endeavor to cooperate, compromise, effect a meeting of minds. Pray.
This turbulence of human existence was reflected in the natural world. Globally, there were an unprecedented number of floods and fires, hurricanes and earthquakes, deadly illnesses and disease, indeed, more natural disasters than had ever been documented in history. A clear indication to many that the end was near. A “shutdown-restart” at the global level was on the horizon.
Just like in the time of Noah.
That day, the last or the first, depending on your perspective, it was as if the earth had one, centrally located breaker box which someone found and flipped the main switch from "on" to "off." The unnatural hum to which we had grown accustomed, indeed, that no one realized was there until it wasn't, ceased, and with it life as it had been ground to a definitive halt.
And, in that moment, life began anew; or, perhaps, returned, to a simpler time.
Wherever an electrical current once ran - including generators and the potential-laden battery - it ran no longer. The silence was deafening, but only for a moment. It was quickly drowned out by the symphonic sounds of terror that echoed across the globe.
One would have been forgiven if one had thought Judgement Day had arrived and that the flames of hell were licking their way towards the multitude of nonbelievers and faithless. That's how it sounded, unnatural and frightening, to those of us who lived in places that were not much more than a name on a map, havens really, surrounded as we were by God's green earth. (I don't know about other places, but around here, the resurgence of Life has been obvious: the green is greener, the air is clearer, and the creatures populating the lakes and woods are multitudinous. The handiwork of God is magnificent to behold.)
According to what we learned over time, millions died within minutes as all the equipment in
hospitals around the world ceased to function. The hiss of ventilation units transformed into the gasp and wheeze of imminent death. Myriad minor (and major) surgeries ended in tragedy as surgeons were plunged into darkness mid-slice. Patients receiving life-saving treatments while linked to miracle working machines for any number of curable or at least treatable illnesses perished within hours.
Within days, those stuck in elevators died either from suffocation, or at the bottom of the shaft if the metal box crashed, or when they themselves fell trying to climb out to safety.
As if safety was within their reach.
When the lights went out and emergency automatic stay-in-place locking systems were activated, prisoners were stuck in their last location - a cell, solitary confinement, a bathroom, a conjugal visiting room (in those few places that still allowed such things) - or, if they were in the Yard, climbing over no-longer-electrified fences to freedom (if they weren't shot down first by guards barricaded in towers). Without food or water, and confined with armed
guards (who did not equal even one one hundredth of the incarcerated population), who boasted a cache of ammunition limited to what they carried, the stench of death was strong within weeks.
As it was in the gyms and spas of the select few, where automation trapped wealthy clients in tanning beds, hydro chambers, saunas and steam rooms.
People were trampled trying to escape stalled subway cars in the pitch black of the subterranean tunnels, or even the elevated trains whose backdrop was now a city of shadows.
The streets of cities across the world, particularly what was called the developed world, were plunged into unrelieved darkness and all the hidden evils unleashed as moral compasses stuttered in the face of a fear and desperation that had been simmering for decades, and a skewed survival instinct long incapable of valuing the health and well-being of an entire community over that of a single individual.
There were numerous accidents on the streets and highways, followed by an explosion of untempered road rage as people desperately tried to reach their destinations in the hope that the nightmare was a mere blip on the grid.
They were not so blessed.
Supermarkets within 48 hours, superstores and malls within a week or two were emptied, with little hope of the shelves being restocked.
Emergency services were quickly incapable of offering assistance since hospitals were permanently dark and the only means of communication was word of mouth. Fortunately, we do have the written word and the pony express was reactivated eventually, but such communication requires patience and is not terribly effective in crises of such epic proportions.
First aid centers were set up swiftly around the major cities by forethinking medical personnel, but supplies were limited and finite, of course, with no means of rapid replenishment. A hot commodity. A much coveted commodity. As it turned out, something to fight for. To kill for. To die for.
Those of us in more rural areas were accustomed to making do with what we had. We were, as we continue to be, more self-sufficient. And more importantly, we never lost sight of that which truly matters.
Living closer to nature (and further from the cities), Grandpa and I were among the fortunate ones. We always had a full pantry, plenty of candles and an outdoor stove with wood up to the rafters in the shed and more to be had in the forest surrounding our land. Grandpa loved to fish in the lake up the road by that ancient oak. He wasn't a hunting man, but could fell a deer, a bear or a man, with ease, if the situation required it. And, of course, I always had a garden. That along with our berry bushes and apple and peach trees was plenty for us. I must say I do miss ice, though.
The delivery system in gas stations ceased to function so cars, buses, trucks, and trains became obsolete very quickly. Ships became floating tombs as GPS systems stopped working and they ran out of gas before docking anywhere. The technologically-advanced oxygen supply systems on submarines ensured immediate suffocation for all on board the sinking hulks of useless metal.
And airplanes? The lack of functioning air, communication and aviation systems aboard the planes meant certain death for all of those in flight at the moment electricity became extinct around the world. As if that were not enough, planes became bombs as they fell out of the sky onto the unsuspecting populations on the ground, wiping out thousands if not millions of people unlucky enough to find themselves on a busy flight route. Mass travel by air or sea has yet to be revived. One day, perhaps.
Or, perhaps not. The world that was once touted as so small, so interconnected, has grown vast once again, and with it, praise be, God's place in it.
As for us, Grandpa had the foresight to convert the back garage into a barn and to buy a couple of horses, some chickens and goats in cash before anyone realized paper money wasn't worth spit. (The plastic kind lost functionality when the lights went out, of course.) Banks closed temporarily, then indefinitely, and ultimately forever since no one could access any information (or bank accounts) at all. As time passed, people began to barter goods and services so that only that which was truly needed to survive had value.
In the blink of an eye, the high were made low.
We who lived in places city dwellers had heretofore deemed backwards or uncivilized, fared better and so it is we who have helped tilt the world back into the light: the small, self-sufficient, God-fearing communities, connected with others of like mind, helping the survivors, the abandoned, the lost find their way in this new - albeit old - way of being.
Before the Apocalypse, so many were too accustomed to immediate gratification of all their wants and needs, to obtain every piece of information sought in the time it took to type a query, that it was a challenge to begin life anew, as it were, reverting to life as one imagines it had been before electricity started humanity on the road to perdition.
The rhythm of life has slowed such that people are more in tune with the world around them, rising with the sun, making an effort to care for the land and animals that feed them, or nurturing skills that might permit them to be useful to those that might feed or clothe them.
Nurturing their relationships with each other.
Since news travels slowly, could be people are joining up, trying to create a new government and such. As long as they keep to themselves, makes no difference to us. We're fine here in our little town. Better even. No nonsense from beyond to influence our young, turn their heads to sin.
Every now and again some bedraggled refugee from nowhere passes through town, occasionally bringing a bit of news from elsewhere. We always send them on their way, though. Strangers, you know. Sometimes they leave with a basket of produce and a jar of my homemade raspberry preserves.
Sometimes, they leave running, hands as empty as their souls.
God's will be done.
I felt the cylinder slide into my hands. Hard, cold, dense. It was small, too small, but I’d have to make do. I paid good money for this.
“That’ll be six double-A’s,” says the hooded man.
I fork over the batteries. The last of my stash. If this flashlight ran out of light, I’d have no way to replace it. No way to replace the batteries, no way to buy another one.
Our economy used to be powered by money. That’s why most of us leaped at the change when Zenith began.
Zenith, a nonprofit electricity company. Providing free energy to everyone, everywhere. It took a while for us to accept it, too afraid of a catch.
But there was no catch.
Or so we thought, until that Halloween when all the lights went out.
At first, we thought it was a joke. We wondered why none of the houses in our neighborhood had lights. Why no one was giving us candy.
Yes, 16 is a little old for Halloween. At least, some people think so. In my opinion, you’re never too old for free candy and gory costumes.
It was the first nice Halloween we’d had since 2029. Most of our Halloweens here are brutally cold. Rain, snow, sleet, hail. The whole shabang. One year, we even had graupel. That was the year I learned what the world “graupel” meant.
Four years of horrible weather. So in 2033, when sun and mild temperatures came together to create the perfect day, I figured everyone would be out on Halloween.
But all the lights were off. No one sat on their porches. And I didn’t know why until me and my brother John got home, discouraged and annoyed.
That’s when Mom told us what happened.
“Luke, John, come into the living room.”
For the first time in my life, the TV wasn’t running. My mom always had the TV running in the background; she said it helped her focus. I think she just liked watching General Hospital reruns and Family Feud.
But today, it was off; as were all the lights.
Not just here. Everywhere. Even from countries like China, electricity was out. The company of Zenith, which powered our world, had simply vanished overnight, leaving us in darkness.
My brother John was afraid of the dark. At 15, he constantly got made fun of for it. Once the power went out...
He couldn’t handle it. Three days after the blackout, he committed suicide.
It only took a week for the monopoly to begin.
Day 1: The panic. We waited for government officials to respond, to find a solution, to help us.
Day 2: The death: almost everything with a battery died. Phones, computers, even flashlights. Everything, in total sync. Almost as if it were planned.
But that’s crazy talk. I can’t afford to think like that. I have to keep living. Keep surviving.
I have to stay sane.
Day 3: The riots: People rose up, angry and scared. Libraries were raided, books were stolen. But with no lights, it was hard to read.
Most of the books ended up burned in the streets, bathing everything in a hazy red glow.
That’s how every tragedy starts, right?
Day 4: The crash: It’s a miracle it took this long, but finally, the stock market crashes. Money loses all value. And we desperately search for an alternative currency. Something with value. Something real.
Day 5: The adaptation: Took us long enough, but finally, life settles into a post-apocalyptic rhythm. Still violence, still no word from the big guys in Washington (or from anyone, in any part of the world). That much hasn’t changed, and probably won’t for a while. But we have a routine. We wake up. We scavenge for batteries. We buy flashlights, conserve them, hoard them...
We have a routine, but we have no purpose.
Some people have a purpose. I heard there are people working to reinvent electricity. Build it up from scratch.
But a single spark isn’t enough to relight the fire.
Day 6: Yesterday, we heard the news.
The White House still had power.
They glowed like a light of salvation.
But there was one problem: the big guys don’t want to share their toys.
Just kidding. It’s not a matter of authority anymore. The White House has power, but there’s no one to use it. Washington is empty.
Above my paygrade. Everything is above my paygrade. I don’t get paid. And I haven’t found enough batteries to buy information. Not my problem.
I don’t care what happened to Washington. I’m too busy worrying about me.
Selfish? Old me would have thought so. Old me would have called me a selfish dick.
Old me died with the power. Old me died with my brother. There’s no trace of him left.
That brings us to today.
Today, I bought a flashlight.
And just in time.
Because today, the birds came.
Although I suppose they aren’t really birds. They look like birds.
But they flock to darkness.
As I sat in my dark house, trying to ignore the smell, I see the birds begin to run into my windows. Battering them down. Maybe they smell it too. The smell that comes from the kitchen.
The smell of death.
John died early enough that we could get him a proper burial.
Mom set the house on fire. When I doused the flames, using water from the melted ice in the fridge, she was a charred corpse. And that was only two days ago. Right as everyone else settled into a routine, Mom decided to end it.
And by then, it was too late to give anyone a proper anything. So I left her there. What choice did I have?
So I told myself that the birds were coming towards the smell, hoping for food. I couldn’t see them— it was too dark for that— but I could hear them, flapping their black wings and shrieking their black cries.
That’s how I knew they couldn’t be real birds. That sound, that horrible, horrible sound... it was less of a sound, even, more of a feeling. It was so loud that it became an overwhelming black, an all-consuming darkness.
I turned on my flashlight, hoping to catch a glimpse of their vile, twisted faces.
But as soon as the lights came on, the shrieks stopped. They stopped using their bodies as battering rams. They were nowhere in sight.
They were gone, vanquished by the light.
But I couldn’t keep the light on forever. I didn’t have the energy. I was out of batteries. But I’d keep it on. For now. At least keep it on at night. At night, when nightmares become real. At night, when darkness is everywhere.
Now I know why John was so afraid of the dark.
Maybe he knew. Maybe all along, he knew what was coming. He knew about the outage, he knew about the apocalypse, he knew about the birds. He always knew.
I should have listened to him. I should have been there.
I should have...
I woke up to a faint clicking sound.
It was the sound of my flashlight flickering.
“No,” I whisper. “No, no-no-no.” I grabbed the flashlight and shook it.
How long was I asleep? I don’t even remember nodding off? How could it be out of batteries? It’s only been a day! It’s too soon! Too soon!
With a final “churk” sound, the light is off, and the birds are back.
No... I can’t accept this. I won’t be torn apart by these monsters. These aliens. These demons. I can’t do it. I can already feel it, their beaks pushing into my stomach, shredding my entrails, gobbling up my lungs.
their wings beat in a steady rhythm. flap. flapflapfwap. over and over again please make it stop.
its only a matter of time before they get in here. i don’t even know if anyone can read this anymore. my handwriting is shaking and looping and scrabbling just like my mind. i guess that’s what i get for turning my suicide note into a memoir. its too long. i need to cut it short. there’s more i need to say, but there’s no time. no time at all.
it’s too late.
the birds are only moments from breaking in.
This past week of my life has been one suicide after another. Bit by bit.
Now, I’m making sure that chain ends. Ends with me.
This will be the last suicide I ever have to witness.
I pick up the match and sigh.
Electricity and fire are so different, yet so similar. Both make light. Both can burn you.
And both start with a single spark.
I panted like a dog. This was too taxing.
My lungs were running out of oxygen with every breath.
How long was I supposed to blow to make sure the fire would start? Why was I put in charge to light the fire- again? Why couldn’t Mom or Dad do it? Or better yet Lungowe or Shalaulwa? Better still, not one of my siblings, but maybe my older Kaka (Grandparent) P. He was great at not only knowing how to make a grand fire, he could also chop down enough firewood to last at least a week.
I continued to struggle and finally realized why. The wood was wet. Using wet wood to start a fire- my goodness- one would think after all this time of doing this, ever since the government sent an official alert on the radio that there would be no power, I would be a pro by now. I stared into the sky and at that moment my Tata (Father) walked outside through the kitchen door and spotted me. He shook his head and sighed.
Hearing the sound of the familiar sound of worry, I rose to my feet from my crouching post and tried to explain why I had stopped trying to light the fire. My father laughed and saw the state I was in. My braids were all in a tight mess. I had no time to fix it because I had to light the fire.
Dad waved his hand motioning me to step aside. He grabbed some wood from yesterday’s pile and formed a sort of jenga like pattern with it.
He picked up some dry branches and twigs- then slid these into the spaces and middle sections of the large logs. And pulled out some newspaper from the one he had under his arm, placing it into the perfect pile of sticks that I had such a hard time to still place in such a manner. He pulled out a lighter from his left pocket of his blue jean jacket.
I gazed at the fire and watched as it seemed to bloom like a flower once the pile of logs, and sticks was lit. He must be a fire bender. I must have not inherited his fire bending genes, and that could be the reason why I suck at lighting fires. Hmm, maybe I am- mmm...an earth bender..I do not have a problem with making stuff out of mud.
My siblings were in the kitchen. I heard them singing songs with Mom. Their voices in a sweet harmony:
O kachembele kozwa momu nganda telela
Kabaza kwimba kozwa awa tamuzanda kutelela toteleli
Basika babo kutola muchembele momu.
As soon as my Tata had the fire going, my Mom brought the pot ready to start dinner going. I smiled seeing her beautiful wide smile. My siblings followed behind her like little ducklings moving in a formation- my young sister, followed by our little brother (who is actually the tallest one).
Once dinner was ready we all gathered around the table, ready to dig in and enjoy the meal. The lighting we had at the table glowed warmly from the candles that were made to be strong and built to burn brightly even in the darkest hours.
Later as we prepared to head to bed, each person with a candle in hand making their way to their room, I leaned closer to my Ima (Mother) and asked her when electricty would most liekly be back. She looked at me and smiled- with a smile that even the Baroch painters would have longed to paint and have it framed, and replied, “Anizibi, mwanake.” (I am not sure my child).
How true. She did not know when it would be back.
None of us did. We wondered if it ever wiould.
As I drifted to the land of dreams, a sort of quick and easy song that is kind of familair popped into my head...
999 Days without power
No Hulu or Amazon...for
I would have to teach this one to my siblings and Mom. This would become our anthem for each day without power.
Views From A Dark Road
Dusk died a quiet death this Saturday, Oct. 7. Night fell so quietly, and so unseasonably warm that I heard a songbird from my foxhole, something I would have hardly noticed except that it has become such a rarity.
The civil war is in it’s fourth and bloodiest year. The fighting has ground down to a standoff, both sides being solidly entrenched. The Liberals are divided, having retained their strongholds in the Northeast and Southwest, but their divided states and leaderships cause them trouble in coordinating their attacks. The Conservatives, meanwhile, are forced to defend two extended fronts, east and west, but enjoy the advantages of concerted leadership, and shorter interior lines, along with highways and railroads that allow for quick troop movements.
Initially there seemed to be no agenda, but what began as almost larkful, not-so-peaceful protestations morphed into a shadowy game of insurgency and technology that eroded all trust between the two sides, and which itself quickly dissipated into a traditional war of olden times; brutal and bloody. Air superiority is now a thing of the past. Relatively harmless spy drones are occasionally seen, but few planes and still fewer airports survived the riots of the pre-war years. Those airplanes that did survive were quickly dispatched during the espionage raids which both sides carried out ever-so-frequently and successfully at the outbreak of actual war. That done, nothing was left the combatants but to duke it out.
The initial flickering of lights happened shortly after dark, early in the night of October 7th, only adding to the quiet after dusk. It was not the first time the opposing armies had found themselves in darkness, but there was a different feel to it this time, a dismal finality. Most hoped that it was only the Russians playing their silly grid games again, or the Chinese, but the uncertainty of it set the combatant’s nerves on edge. That uncertainty soon exposed itself with scattered firing, harmless sounding “pops” which put an end to the quiet along the lines. Jumpy nerves and accumulated hatred quickly escalated the fire. Naturally, the amplified peal of small arms fire ignited the heavy fuse of artillery. Frantic front line leaders called upon jittery rear echelon commanders for support, and then for more again as their well established trenchlines crumbled into chaos. Reserve troops were rushed in, sparking even more firing until the steady rattle of small arms became one long, continuous roll of deadly thunder. The action was close, the contending sides having moved within throwing distance of one another, so close that your former neighbor’s hate-filled eyes looked into your own as you pulled your trigger. From space Russian and Chinese cosmonauts watched the meandering, glittering lines below and reported them as being much brighter than normal. In a flash the quiet night was astorm in flashed lightning, peeled thunder, and raining lead, followed by heated, deadly winds which raced into the wakes of every bloody, man-made tempest.
Such fighting was not uncommon, so no one was aware in the moment, but America was currently engaged in the battle of battles. Within the firing, screaming, whistling, and bursting of shells veteran men, women, and children fought, killed, and died along two seperate and distinct lines, both of those lines stretching for hundreds of miles in length. The “California Line” is roughly that, while the “Eastern Front” extends from Michigan and Ohio down through West Virginia, East Tennessee, and along Virginia’s southern border. Within a matter of hours hundreds of thousands of Americans had fallen in the fighting along both fronts. Grown weary of war the two sides, Red and Blue, were fully aware that the only way to end the stalemate was through victory. The majority of combatants no longer cared which side achieved it, so long as it would end. Perhaps this would be the battle, they prayed. Perhaps there would be a break-through tonight. Perhaps this time it would all be over, and everyone could go back to homes that no longer existed. It was with this prayer that the two sides had at it once more. Berserk in their lust to end it, the combatants threw fear aside in their desperate charges, and in so doing died in wave after human wave.
The midnight hour came, tolling a new and different song. Unbeknownst to the duped soldiers, or their duped generals, it was the politicians who brought on the end. With the coming of a new day keys were turned, and buttons punched. All the soldiers could know at the end was that at 1:03am Sunday, October 8, great and horrendous fireballs burst forth from the heavens, shredding the dark blanket of night with fiery tails, and ear-piercing shrieks. Fighting along the lines came to an immediate standstill as the last human beings on Earth gazed star-struck at the awe-inspiring sight of a midnight sky showering down with missiles enough to wipe out thrice the Earth’s population.
With their final thoughts the doomed combatants looked heavenward and wondered; American? Chinese? Russian? Angelic? Did it matter?
Even in the future, especially in war, it is movement that catches the eye. In this case movement reflected in the light of raining death; unusual, unexpected movement. A doe had somehow survived the steely storm inside the “no man’s land” between the two armies. The poor thing’s head hung heavily, it’s wide, panic-filled eyes slung between splayed legs. Overhead the missiles rained closer, and closer. I ran to her, God’s simple creature, and placed my hand upon her trembling head, as though to calm the frightened thing from the horrors of this preview of hell... as if one such as I could.
“It will be all right,“ I lied to the frightened deer. “It will be all right.” Together we stood with eyes wide from wonder right up to the final flash, when I ushered my innocent friend into an entirely new and full-fledged hell, one imagined by God, and wrought in league with man upon us all.
August 25, 2021
The Day the World Went Dark
I always imagined writing by candlelight to be more romantic - the stuff of Jane Austen novels or Brugghen’s paintings. But the reality is much more tedious and grim. As I sit with my journal fanned out in front of me, the flame flickers in the lenses of my glasses, and I’m reminded that their blue light coating is now completely useless. I squint one eye to see the letters more clearly on the page, and wonder how long something like this can last. I feel mostly numb. After the COVID pandemic, apocalyptic events have lost their novelty. Plus, we knew this one was coming, even if it did arrive six months ahead of schedule.
I remember the first time I saw a commercial that featured actors with masks on, and the first time I saw ads online for “fashionable” face coverings with embellishments and accessories. It was in those moments that I felt something stir in the pit of my stomach. I pictured every world-ending movie I’d ever seen (Cotagion, 28 Days Later, World War Z, The Road...I could go on) and remembered thinking it was so strange that the people in them seemed to simply adjust to the world as it crumbled around them. So to say it was unnerving at first to see COVID normalized in media is an understatement.
Eventually though, I joined the ranks of movie characters, moving through a new way of life with a regularity that still scares me if I think too long about it. Roving packs of bandits and hardcore survivalists don’t seem like just the stuff of films anymore, what with throwdown fights over toilet paper and folks going to the grocery store in hazmat suits being an everyday reality just a few short months ago. I hate the phrase “the new normal,” but maybe it’s become so ubiquitous for a reason. And this is the only explanation I have for why I feel so empty now. Nearly everything has lost its shock value to me at this point.
Depending on how long this blackout lasts, I’m sure a new kind of panic will set in. But for now, I will enjoy the quiet.
August 26, 2021
The Day After Darkness Fell
When the world’s power went out, it sounded like when your electricty gets cut in a storm, but amplified a million times over. It made such a loud whir it created its own wind that blew through town, as if the nearby buildings had all collapsed at once. But the night didn’t suddenly become silent as you might have imagined. Instead, there were car screeches and crashes in the distance as traffic and street lights blinked out. Police and ambulance sirens howling as they sped to help the injurred and tried to stop looting. The woosh of airplanes nosediving in the sky as their pilots tried desperately to relight engines. And, of course, there was screaming. People stranded in the streets, enveloped by a darkness so total, many wondered if they’d suddenly gone blind before thinking to look up toward the sky. Thankfully, the stars still burned.
After some hours, the noises of chaos died down, and we settled into a kind of quiet that felt like being beneath a heavy blanket. Eerie at first, it sent goosebumps along the nape of my neck. But eventually, I felt held by it. Like I could take a deeper breath than any I’d had in the past two years. There’s something profound about only being able to hear cicadas and tree leaves rustling in the night. As I laid staring at the ceiling, I imagined travelling back to a simpler time and smiled before dozing off.
The fantasy and calm would be short-lived.
August 27, 2021
The Day the President Spoke
And on the third day, the lord God said let them find their battery powered radios, and they did. Since the darkness came, Dan and I have been searching desperately for our camping radio in the heat of our old attic and, at last, we found it nestled in a box between two ratty sleeping bags, a hand-drawn version of our wedding seating chart and a pile of old Stephen King novels.
When we switched it on, the static startled us after so much quiet. “REMEMBER ME? TECHNOLOGY?!” it seemed to shout, putting us both on edge. I did indeed remember, but with varying levels of fondness as we listened from one hour to the next.
“This is WHYY in Philadelphia, reporting to you on Friday, August 27, the third day of the global blackout. In the next half hour, President Biden will give a speech from a secure location within the White House. Until then, more from NASA’s leading solar physicist...”
A woman with a soothing pubic radio voice explained that within the last decade, U.S. solar physicists had indentified the features most useful for predicting solar flares. They then fed their data into a machine so that it could learn to identify those same features. This is how we came to know a major blackout-inducing solar flare was on the horizon in the first place. The problem, she said, was that they had only been able to get information from the solar surface. It was like trying to predict Earth’s weather from temperature alone, without considering things like wind and cloud cover. They hadn’t yet gotten to the next step, which would be to incorporate data from the sun’s atmosphere, and this explained why their estimated timing for the flare was so off-base.
As I listened, I seethed inside thinking about how we’d procastinated on buying a generator for this exact moment. Instead, we’d bought countless throw pillows and rugs and wallpapers as we got bored with the house. We’d wanted a change, but obviously nothing this dramatic. In any event, it was too dangerous to venture out to find a generator now.
I was lost in these thoughts of self-pity when the cooing of the soft-spoken scientist was abruptly cut off.
“I’m sorry doctor, but it sounds like the President is about to address the nation. Let’s listen in.”
“My fellow Americans, these are unprecedented times ...challenging and dangerous times, it’s true. But America has always been known for its resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and there is nothing we can’t do if we work together...”
The rest of the speech was filled with similar platitudes meant to calm fears and engender unity, but if these past few years have proven anything, it’s that we’re not great at coming together for the common good. We can’t even all agree that Ted Lasso is good anymore now that we have a season two. And as for plans to restore power and repair growing damage to the nation’s cities, the speech was skimpy on the details. That said, the administration will have plenty of time to work through the minutiae.
In 2019, a massive power outage crippled Venezuela. Armed biker gangs roamed the streets, terrorizing citizens with guns. Many people - including babies - died from conditions normally easily treated because hospitals didn’t have backup generators or they simply failed. There was also no way for many to get water since pumps were shut down, and families were forced to walk for miles to find natural sources.
That was just one country, for five days. And according to President Biden, we have to be prepared for the global blackout to last for the next two years.
September 3, 2021
The Day I Put Things Off
I haven’t had the strength to do much in the last week, let alone write. I’m not talking about physical strength. We’re lucky - we happened to stock up at Costco the day before the blackout so we’ve been eating fine, and because we get city water as opposed to using a well, it’s still flowing...for now.
What I’m talking about is mental fortitude. Will.
Do you ever wonder why we do things we know we will later regret? Why we put things off even when we know the longer we do, the worse it is?
Today, I had a pounding headache, and for some reason, I just sat with it and suffered. I knew perfectly well where the Ibuprofen was - just mere steps away - and yet, I did not get up. I knew it would make me feel better, but I sat still. An immovable object sunk into the soft gray down of my favorite arm chair, like a rock with fingers that periodically squeezed the bridge of my nose. And worse still, I complained to anyone who would listen. Though given the circumstances, that was just my dog, my husband and my empty living room.
Before bed, I finally relented. I shuffled to the bathroom and swallowed three pills down dry. I know you’re only supposed to take one, but I always take three.
My pain is worse than most, I’ve convinced myself.
October 3, 2021
The Day I Thought of the End of Days
The gas pumps are dry. Without gas, food supply chains will begin to crumble more quickly now. It has been bad enough without computers to figure out where food is needed most or refrigeration to preserve what we’ve got. But without gas, food gets only as far as you can carry.
According to the radio, some people are convinced this is all part of a planned culling of the Earth’s population by the “deep state” so we can try to reverse the environmental damage man has caused. We’re overpopulated, impoverished and toxically partisan - only something cataclysmic could change humanity’s trajectory, weed out the weak and force us to work together.
Of course, there are others who say this can be nothing other than a divine reckoning, though the jury is out on exactly who is perpetrating this reckoning and what their intentions are.
The Christians think it’s time to weed out all the sinners and non-believers. They see the blackout as a sign that the Lord cannot and will no longer be an idle spectator while the war on Christmas rages on and welfare queens ask for abortions on demand. Those who have held true to their faith in Christ and lived by the lessons put forth in the Bible, are the only humans who shall be rewarded with eternal salvation.
Meanwhile, the Jews think that this is the beginning of end of the physical world for everyone, regardless of their moral track record. Per the Talmud, life as we know it will end and we will no longer have any physical needs. The Earth will be returned to the nothingness from whence it came, and souls will delight in the divine glory that remains. Now, whose souls get to do the delighting largely depends on the interpretation of sacred texts, but I’d wager that gentiles have about a 50-50 chance of getting in on olam ha-ba, the “world to come.”
The jury is still out on the Muslims, though. So far it seems the consensus calls for a flexible interpretation of the Quran. You see, a Muslim apocalypse starts with the entire world being engulfed by dukhan or smoke. The smoke obscures all things, much like the darkness of a blackout, so some are saying this is simply a case of “to-may-to, to-mah-to.” In any event, the end result is much the same as the Christians, as ironic as some of them may find that. Cue separating the saints from the sinners, righteous judgement and so on, and so forth.
As for me, I don’t know if this is divine intervention or the course of nature or simply meaningless. I’ve never been into organized religion. After a short stint in Sunday school, my brother refused to make his confirmation and I got to ride his coat-tails. No more fire and brimstone catechism for either of us. Since then, I’ve only ever felt a belief in “something else” when I watched an episode of Ghost Hunters or prayed as a last ditch effort.
“Please God, don’t let me get fired.”
“Please God, let me lose 10 lbs.”
“Please God, save the Phillies bullpen.”
December 10, 2021
The Day the Cold Came
It’s beginning to feel like winter. Global warming kept the temperatures mild through a Thanksgiving where most of us asked if there was anything left worth being thankful for. Being alive and having shelter are as good as it gets right now. There was certainly no feasting to be had, and our stomachs growled so loudly through the night it was hard to sleep through the pain and the noise.
As more nights begin to dip below freezing and we’re without a wood burning fireplace to keep warm, it’s been about layers, blankets and body heat. I feel desperately sad for our dog, who doesn’t understand what’s going on. I feel sad for my husband who feels helpless in the face of all this. And I feel sad for myself because I can’t find the strength to do much else besides feel sad, creating a neverending cycle of wallowing.
Worst of all, today’s the first time we’ve seen snowfall.
If it were any other December, this would prompt rushing to the window to celebrate the official arrival of the holiday season. I can remember so many of these days before, sitting on the sill with tea warming my hands, watching snowflakes drift gently to the ground. One of my favorite things to do was step out onto our back porch and just listen to the stillness of the world. The snow muffles all sounds and at a different time, I would have said it was magical. I would have marveled at the natural world around me and reflected on all that I’m grateful for.
But now, with the world already silenced, even the snow seems tainted. I am reminded of dirt tossed atop a coffin and shutter, though not from the cold.
February, 16, 2021
The Day I Stopped Writing
There’s an old story the Irish tell about Three Castles Head in the West of Cork. They’re not really castles themselves, but three towers that make up the whole of what is known as Dunlough Castle, one of the oldest in southern Ireland. If you stand atop the cliffs upon which the towers sit, you can look out across the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean and see rugged hills along the rest of the Irish coast in the distance, along with a single, solitary light flashing atop the Mizen Head lighthouse.
The towers were at one time connected by a wall from the western cliffs to the shores of a manmade lake, though most of it has fallen now. Locals and visitors alike say that when you sit among the ruins, the feeling is unlike any other castle grounds in Ireland, perhaps best described as a certain eeriness, something indiscriminately amiss. Some say it’s because the towers look to continue well underground and into the sea, where access to the otherworld resides, the home for the spirits of the dead. Others say the place’s history is to blame. Once the home to many lords and ladies of the O‘Donohue family who all died by suicide or murder, the death, despair and sea mist have made this site a “thin place” where the veil between this world and the eternal world is like gauze blowing in the wind, where you walk among the melancholy energies of all those who met their tragic ends there.
There is one claim, though, that I’ve become fascinated with over these last few days as I’ve pored over the old Celtic mythology books my father left me. Legend has it that there is a spectre of a woman in a flowing white gown who appears to visitors whose deaths are imminent. Should you see “the lady of the lake” during your time at Three Castles Head, you are destined to die in mere hours. Of course, the Celts are big on their superstitions, so the tale’s existence in and of itself was not all that surprising to me. It’s moreso about what this ghost’s purpose is. If she foretells of your fast-approaching death, is she doing you a kindness so that you might use the time you have left to get your affairs in order and say your goodbyes? Or is she unaware of what her presence signifies? Perhaps a mere victim herself, thrust from one side of the veil to the other in moments of shifting energies by the living who walk there?
Or maybe, she is just a stealer of souls.
According to Celtic lore, Sluaghs (which roughly translates to ‘hosts’ in Irish Gaelic) are the spirits of the restless dead - spirits so evil they have even been banned from hell - and now they roam the Earth looking for those who will soon die so they can steal and devour their souls. Sluaghs are often said to target the weak, preying on those who are sick or dying, but they’ve also been known to stalk those who are healthy of body but sick of mind, those with the most sorrowful hearts. The only surefire way to avoid them is to avoid the outside world altogether, to keep your windows and doors shut tight and stay inside after dark.
It snowed again today. The sun crept beneath the horizon in the afternoon, having done so earlier and earlier over the past week with such a swiftness that it left me feeling hollow. And as the darkness began to mingle with the silence, I found myself questioning if I really wished to see what the coming months would bring. It seemed to me that the world had already been ravaged by so much devastion, destruction and violence before the power grids had failed that it may not be worth saving. That we - humanity - may be meeting our deserved end. Why cling to a lost and battered ship when there is no lighthouse to guide us home again?
Tonight before bed, I plan to crack the window open...just a little.
It's gone, the world as we know it is over. We have lost all electricity, forever, everything gone. Chaos arises everywhere, there is no stopping the rampage, the fighting, the stealing, the killing, the intensity of not knowing where your next meal will come from. Yet here I am, snuggled in at home. Alone, except for the company of my cats. Do I really need much else? I have my cats and I have my yarn. All day, until the sun goes down, I crochet and cuddle with my cats. The hundreds of blankets, clothes, and stuffed animals keep me warm and snuggled in tight. Time flies by. This is something I have dreamed of for years, this is something I enjoy. Alone, at home, with my cats and my yarn.
Empty Chip Bag
It’s been three days since we lost electricity. It took me as long to find a pen. Who needs pens anymore anyway? Me. I need pens. I started keeping track of the days by carving into the wall. I think from this point forward, I will use the tally system rather than carving out “day one, day two... etc.” My hand hurts.
Frank and Cornelius seem to be on the outs. They are on the am shift for work and watching this schedule has helped to estimate what time it is. I saw them walking together only to see Frank storm off in the opposite direction about five minutes later. Cornelius was seen speaking to the queen later that evening. Drama unfolds on empty chip bag island.
Frank is dead. The funeral procession lasted 2 minutes. The hundreds of guests that arrived did not even seem to care as they went about their business. Poor frank. Crushed by a rogue flip flop. They were on my feet but that’s neither here nor there. This isn’t about blame. Its about Frank, the most productive ant I’ve ever met.
This is getting ridiculous. The ants have abandoned me. I’m starting to think they were only using me for food. But now that food has gone sour and I guess even they have standards. Classy ants.
I used most of the pen ink, writing out posts for Facebook and Instagram. Now that I can’t eat the pen, I’m starting to realize how little it matters. I have a new appreciation for life and nature and organic connection. Things are going to change, by golly!
The power is back! I haven’t forgotten the epiphanies I have had. I’m going to make changes. Starting now. Follow my blog on Instagram to track my progress!
If the Darkness Says We Can
It's day 2.
My computer is almost out of power. Soon enough I'll have no choice but to turn it off and never see it again. That's what I had to do with my phone, after all. That thing died right away, since it couldn't hold a battery for the life of it. It's still on my bedside table though, staring up at me with it's cold black face.
It's day 5.
I sit in the dark, staring at the ceiling. Since the lights died it's hard to stay up past nightfall. That means more time to sleep, mom jokes. But I liked the night. I liked staying up as late as I could, when everyone else was asleep. Now I just go to bed as soon as I can't see anything.
It's day 8.
I want to scream. I hadn't had any cold food in two days, not since our fridge went out. At least I know how to make a fire, and we have a old firepit out back. That doesn't make ice cream so well, though. Ugh, I want ice cream. Will I ever get ice cream again?
It's day 12.
I already hate this. The weather's already too hot, and now we don't have any air conditioning. Mom's gone through almost every book in our house trying to find something to do. Either that or she's been trying to find a job. It's hard to find a job as an electritian when the lights won't come on. Hopefully she finds something soon, and we can continue our lives. At least, if the darkness says we can.
The Universal Solvent
Life on Earth, according to us, is life outside of the water.
The barriers between land and water are why and how we live. Electricity isn't important except for its use to keep the pumps working. We are a civilization of--and because of--pumps. When pumps fail, the entropy begins: water seeks its own level in the places where we have forbidden such levels--our homes, our beds, our banks, our internal combustion engines, and our existentialism.
Days after the electricity failed, the water rose. It continued to rise, seeking a level that could be measured only after equilibrating with the dry world.
Water breaks down everything, so when entropy wins and there is no longer a distinction between what's dry and what's wet, chemistry ensues.
We will eventually become one with the murk, our molecules simplifying. We will finally rest in peace. What will arise out of the murk next time?