Book One - Reality Bites
Chapter 6 - Reality Sucks
“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” Napoleon Hill
Preston was at work when everything electrical went dead. He couldn’t finish changing the fuel pump he was working on without proper lighting. Regulations say no light, no work. He took a break and waited for the power to come back on. It didn’t matter to him if he was working or not, he still got paid. At least this was a break from the normal routine. Things had been dull around here lately. Work had been kind of slow the last few weeks. Usually the noise of the crew and helicopter engines being turned on and off was an occasional sound in the background. There was only a few of them left here to finish up. There were a couple of suits upstairs, three clerical workers, him and another mechanic. The other mechanic had called in sick today, so, for today, he was working alone. The place was almost as quiet as a tomb. The company he worked for was moving to a new, larger hanger several miles away at a small airport. It definitely was a step up from the size and location of this place. He was finishing up the last few jobs they had at this location. He and the other mechanic would be joining the rest of the crew next week. It sure will be nice working at the new place. The move meant when they had to take a chopper up and test it, they wouldn’t have to get permission. That was the main reason they were moving. In cities, there were noise laws that had to be obeyed. At the new place, it wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
He had just grabbed a Coke out the refrigerator that the crew used for their lunches when one of the clerical guys came in with a shocked look on his face. Preston asked him what was wrong.
“I was going to take an early lunch, since the power is out. I went out to my car. It wouldn’t start. I was going to come in and ask you if you could take a look at it to see what was wrong when I noticed several cars out on the road. The doors were open on the driver’s side. I looked around, but I couldn’t see anyone. I walked around the side of the building to see if anyone was there when I noticed that it was real quiet. There was no traffic sounds, nothing. I thought how odd that was. When I reached the back of the building, I saw a whole lot of cars just sitting there. Both sides of the freeway are clogged with them. They looked abandoned. I looked and looked and I couldn’t see anyone inside of the cars. I thought maybe there had been an accident and traffic was backed up, but it was kind of eerie. There were no sounds. Usually, you can still hear the car engines and what not. But I couldn’t hear any of the normal sounds. Then I noticed that down a ways it looked like some people were standing around, arguing and yelling. At least that’s what it looked like from here. People’s hands were gesturing all around wildly. Then several people started fighting. I got scared then. I thought, ‘oh no, we could have a riot right here like is happening in those other cities that have been on the news lately.’ I thought I’d better call 911 and report this before it gets out of hand, but my cell phone is dead. It was fully charged this morning. I glanced at my watch and it’s dead, too. See?” He showed Preston his dead cell phone and watch.
The breath Preston was about to inhale stuck in his throat. His stomach clenched in fear. He felt like he had an electrical shock go through his whole body.
The clerical worker went on with his report of events. “Then I looked far down the freeway and I saw a lot of people walking down the off ramp. I turned and saw a few people standing out behind one of the buildings down the road. They were watching what was happening, too. One guy turned and noticed me and jogged over here. He asked if my car would start. I said ‘no, I have a dead battery or something.’ He said the same thing. Their cars won’t start, either. We compared notes and none of their cell phones or watches were working, either. He was as worried about a potential riot as I was. He said he had to get back to his co-workers. I then starting thinking about how strange all of this is and I realized this could be something else. Like a terrorist attack or something. But this is Madison, Wisconsin. Why would a terrorist attack us here? What do you think it could be?”
“I’m not sure, but I do know that this isn’t anything good, ” Preston said. He walked over to the wall and picked up the landline phone. It was dead, too. He noticed that his hand was shaking. The phone system used to be shielded. Too bad it still wasn’t. He
would like to call Joe and Jane and tell them what had happened here. He thought, Damn, damn, damn it. This had to happen when I’m all the way over here. Why did it have to be right now? Why not next week when he would’ve been at the new building? It would be five miles closer to my apartment.
Preston turned around to face the clerical guy and said, “I’m leaving. You should start walking home to check on your family, too. This could get ugly real quick. It may not be safe for long out there. Imagine New Orleans and 9-11 all rolled into one.” The other man got paler listening to Preston’s advice. Preston turned and gathered up his coat and what not that he had lying around and headed for the outside door. When he reached it, he turned around and told the man, “Good luck.”
Preston understood immediately that it had to have been an EMP. It was the only thing that would cause the power, cell phones, watches and all the vehicles to go dead at once. His Army training was about to pay off. He hurried over to his truck. He pulled his bug out bag from behind the seat. He took off his work boots and put on his hiking boots. He pulled out his special belt. He checked his 1911 Colt 45 and made sure it was loaded and ready to go. He secured it. He then checked his two extra clips he always had on the belt. He thought, Yup, they’re full, just like they’re supposed to be. He then grabbed the bottled water he kept behind the seat for emergencies and filled his camel pack. He had added this to his Alice pack just last week. He thought to himself, Good move. He carried enough gear and supplies to live for three days in it.
It was eighteen miles to his apartment. He had already mapped the shortest route that he felt would be safe to travel. It kept him out of the main part of the city. He would keep to the wooded areas as much as possible. The clerical guy must have told his story to the rest of them in the building. He saw everyone coming outside to try their cars. None of them started.
One of the other clerical workers came up to him and asked, “Why in the heck do you have a gun?”
Preston replied, “You had better start to understand what all of this means real quick. We have been hit with an EMP. We are at war with some other country.
“From this moment on, everything will be different. You’ll be will be walking unless you have a bicycle. People will not be in their right minds. Most people won’t understand what has happened. From this moment on, it will be pure survival of the fittest and smartest. It will be like New Orleans and 9-11 rolled into one. Trust me on this. I’m retired from the military. I know what I’m talking about. You had better get home to protect your family.”
The guy shook his head and said, “You’re nuts. They will have this all fixed in a few days. The power goes out and you freak out. You are so overreacting.”
Preston looked hard at the guy and said, “Listen, genius, there is only one thing that will take out the whole power grid, cars, cell phones and watches. In other words, everything that is electrical. That’s an EMP. Period. There is nothing else that could do this. There is no quick fix for this. If the device wasn’t shielded properly, then it’s dead.” Preston gestured all around them. “Just like this.”
The guy said, “I don’t believe you. You are just overreacting. There is no way this was an EMP. Our government protects us from stuff like that. This is America. We are the number one super power. No one would dare do something like this. Our government makes sure of it. It always has, and it always will. You’re just plain nuts.” The guy turned away from Preston and walked over to one of his coworkers and started talking.
Preston thought, Well, I tried to warn them. It’s all up to them now. They’re morons. Overwhelming evidence smacks them in the head and they just flat out refuse to believe it. He turned back to his truck to check if he had everything that could be useful. He would not be coming back this way. Not ever again.
Preston took off towards the wooded lot across the street at a jog. One of the bosses called out to him, “Hey, where are you going? Wait up. I want to talk to you.” He stopped and turned around. It was one of the executives in a suit, tie and dress shoes. The man approached Preston and said, “It is against company policy to have a gun on the premises.”
Preston just shook his head. He looked at him standing there all spiffed out in his suit and said, “You’re brain dead, aren’t you? You don’t like me carrying a gun on company grounds? Then fire me. I’m going home.” Preston was done talking to these morons. They won’t listen. They won’t even consider the facts of the situation. Granted it was not something that they had ever been faced with before. But still they were acting totally brain dead. He turned and started jogging again. He could hear the executive mumbling about something else as he left. He thought, Good luck, moron.
Preston smiled as he jogged. He was picturing the executive walking home in his spiffy suit and dress shoes in his mind. I hope he has blisters on top of blisters when he reaches home—if the suit doesn’t run into any kind of trouble. I wonder if he can make it home. That is the most important question right now.That thought wiped the smile off his face and sobered him right up. This situation was no laughing matter. He came out of the wooded area right where he should be. He started walking down the street. It was filled with abandoned cars. He had three blocks to go before he would need to turn to make it to another wooded area. He had gone three miles already. He was making excellent time. Only fifteen miles to go. It normally took twenty minutes to drive ten miles. Walking was three miles per hour. He had another six hours to go before he would make it to the apartment. It was a whole new world out there to get used to. He had to make it home before everyone’s confusion wore off and they started to understand the reality of the situation. Then people were going to be mighty angry.
Preston’s new woman in his life was named Sharon. They were living together in his apartment and had been together for five months. He had moved to the city ten months ago to get a job, while she had been born and raised in the city. Sharon liked to socialize. She liked going out at night and she loved parties. They had met at a singles bar downtown. She had her hair done twice a week at the salon and her fingernails done every week. It was a ritual for her. To his knowledge, she had never missed an appointment. No matter what else was going on in her life, she made sure to never miss pampering herself. She deserved it. She worked hard and had earned it, at least, that’s what she was always telling herself. People liked her now. She would not be like her mother.
Sharon was at work when the power went out. An hour later, her boss told her to go ahead and go home. They were up on the fifth floor, so she had to walk down the stairs. The elevator had stopped working. She walked out to the parking lot outside and saw all the cars still there. That’s strange, she thought. She had seen and heard people leaving the building; a few people at a time for the last hour as their bosses told them to go ahead and go home. She didn’t know what to make of it, but it didn’t really concern her. She got into her car and it wouldn’t start. She kept trying and trying and it still wouldn’t start. Damn Preston, I knew I should have taken it to a real mechanic last week, she thought. She pulled out her cell phone to call him and give him a piece of her mind, but her phone was dead. I know I charged it last night, she thought. She got out of the car and walked back into the building. She looked at the stairs and sighed. If I ruin my new designer shoes, I will just have to kill him. This is entirely his fault. If he would have let me take her car to a real mechanic this wouldn’t be happening. She climbed the stairs and went back into the office. Her boss wasn’t there. He must have left the back way. He parked his car down the street at a parking garage. Damn, she thought. And the phone isn’t working either. Well, she would just have to get out to the main street and see if she could get a cab. She thought, Preston is going to reimburse me for that cab fare. He is also going to pay for whatever he did to my car, too.
She left the building. She had a passing thought that it was strange she hadn’t seen the security guard, either. He usually was always downstairs in the lobby so he would be available for whatever he was there for. She started walking down the street, her stride showing her anger at Preston. She noticed all the cars. They were just all over the place, every which way. She walked further on. She got to the main street and people were standing around all over the place ,blocking the sidewalks, too. She had heard the people long before she got there. Everyone was talking. It sounded like a gigantic bar with everyone talking at once. They were all standing in little groups. It kind of looked like a church social or something, except the language definitely wasn’t anything you would hear there. She looked around. What on earth is the matter with them? She joined the people on the sidewalks, trying to go with the flow of foot traffic. She kept looking around to see if she could see a cab, but all she could see was cars stopped everywhere … and people. People were everywhere and acting kind of strange.
She pressed on. After seven blocks, her feet started to hurt. There were already several blisters that had formed. She noticed a shoe store up ahead. I’ll stop and get me a pair of running shoes. He’s going to pay me for them too, the jerk. She limped up to the store and went inside. The lone clerk was just closing up. She looked at the running shoes and chose a pair. She grabbed a pair of socks, too. She went up to the clerk and said, “I’ll take these.”
The clerk looked at her and said, “Do you have cash?”
“No. I have a credit card.”
“The credit card machines aren’t working. I can only take cash right now.” He turned away.
“You can run my card on one of those machine things and then run it through when you get the power back on.” Her patience was beginning to wear thin.
“I can’t do that. I don’t know that your credit card is good.”
“It is good. Of course, it’s good.”
“No, I can only take cash right now,” he insisted.
“Fine. How much is it?” she said, exasperated.
He pulled out a tablet and pencil and figured it out. He turned to her and said, “That will be one hundred forty-two dollars and fifty-one cents.”
She looked in her purse and she only had a hundred and ten dollars on her. “Will you take this and put the rest on my card?”
He laughed at her. “Look, lady, I told you I can only take cash.”
“My car won’t start, I can’t find a cab and I might have to walk home. I have already ruined my designer shoes. I need these so, can you please make an exception and put the rest of it on my credit card?” she begged.
He just stared at her. Finally he said, “No. Cash only. Go to the bank and then come back when you have the cash.” The bank was back three miles the other way.
She started to cry. This was just getting to be too much for her. She looked at him and pleaded, “Please?”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine, if it will get you out of here.” He took the cash and her credit card and then asked for her license. She gave it to him. He copied everything down and then had her sign the credit card slip. “I know where you live now. If this doesn’t go through, they will take it out of my salary and I will hunt you down to get my money. Understand?”
She said haughtily back to him, “My credit is good.” He asked her what size shoe she wore. “A five and half.” He went into the back of the store and returned with a box. She grabbed the shoe box and socks and went over and sat down to put them on. When he saw the blisters on her feet he started to feel a bit sorry for her and was glad he decided to help her out. He offered her a few band aids to help. She smiled at him and said, “Thanks.”
He thought, Wow, she really is pretty. I wonder if she has a boyfriend or husband. Maybe I should ask her out. He cleared his throat. “Do you have a boyfriend or husband?”
She had finished putting the new shoes on. She stood up, holding her ruined shoes. Her feet still hurt, but it was a lot better than before. She smiled at him and said, “I have a boyfriend, but maybe not for long. He’s a jerk.”
He smiled at that comment and asked, “Would you like a bag for your old shoes?” They wouldn’t fit into the running shoes box.
“Thank you, that is very nice of you.” He brought her a plastic bag with the shoe store logo on it. She placed her ruined designer shoes in it. She walked over to the door and then turned back to him. “Call me next week and see if I’m available.” She then rejoined the people walking down the sidewalk. The clerk finished locking up and then realized he didn’t have her phone number. She never gave it to him.
As she walking home to the apartment, she was disturbed by all the abandoned cars. There were no normal city sounds, either, just people talking, arguing and she saw a few fist fights. But everyone was on foot. You could actually hear their footsteps. It was pretty eerie. There had been a few police officers here and there, surrounded by people asking questions. They all looked pretty upset. All anyone was talking about was the power blackout and that their cars didn’t work. She thought with a flash of anger, Did they let Preston work on their cars, too? Maybe he had lied about being a helicopter mechanic. She had never seen him at work. Maybe he was really a car mechanic. If he was, he was a very bad car mechanic. Her car had been running fine. It was just making a little noise somewhere under the hood. He said he could fix it right up. She had wanted to take it over to Max, her regular mechanic, but he insisted he could fix it up in a few minutes. He got under the hood and did something or other, and now it wouldn’t run. Maybe he had lied about being a mechanic and didn’t want her to know about it or where he really worked. People lied all the time. You can’t trust anyone, she thought. She was going to give him hell when he got home. All of this was his fault. He owed her a lot of money for all of this. She would make sure he paid her back too. She turned the corner and there was the apartment down the street. She was relieved to be home. Her feet hurt so much. Thank god she had only had to walk three miles. She wasn’t sure if she would have made it if it had been any farther away. She was tired, thirsty and panting to get a breath. Preston was always telling her to get into shape. Maybe she should think about joining a gym.
Everywhere Preston went, he saw people walking around the dead cars. Most people were still just standing around, trying to figure out what to do. He avoided as many people as he could. To anyone watching, it would seem that he would just disappear. He would be there one minute and gone the next. He came out near a park, and just down from where he was, a guy was trying to get a bicycle away from another man that had been riding down the trail. A fight broke out. He stayed in the woods across from them and went down farther to cross the trail. He just shook his head. It was a miracle that this was the only violence he had seen so far today. He really hoped it would be the last. But he knew better. It was just a matter of time. I wish I had my mountain bike right now, he thought, then realized he would probably spend more time having to defend it than ride it. It was better that his bike was at home. It would be really useful in getting out of the city now that vehicles were a lost cause. He had to get home and get on the road to his retreat. Joe and Jane were counting on him getting there. They had to get survival and protection plans started as soon as possible. He hoped Sharon made it home okay. She only had three miles to walk. She should have been there hours ago. He only had two miles to go now. Best get on with it. Time is a wasting and I’m not getting any younger, he thought with a smile, remembering Jane’s favorite phrase. She was always saying that. It was starting to get dark. Night was coming, bringing a lot of new troubles and worries all by itself. He was sure of it. He started to jog again.
Sharon had soaked her feet, then bandaged them up. She wasn’t good at this sort of thing. The bandages looked like they would fall off before too long. She put her thick, warm pajamas and slippers on, then pulled on her fleece robe, too. It was getting cold in here. The apartment had electric heat and the power was out, so, there was no heat. She kept walking over to the thermostat and tapping it with her fingers saying, “Come on, come on. It’s getting cold in here. Turn on.” She was getting hungry. She had missed lunch with all the stuff that had happened to her today. She just completely forgot to eat. She went over to the cupboard and got out some crackers and her specialty cheese she bought at the wine and cheese shop. She ate a few pieces, then decided that it had been one hell of a day and she would open a bottle of wine, too. She deserved it. When she finally got the wine opened she had chipped a nail and broken another clean off. She was pissed. She always took care of her nails. It was important to her to have long, pretty nails. She would have to replace them with fake ones now. She hated to do that. The glue always made her fingers itch.
She grabbed a new magazine off the coffee table and looked through it while she drank her wine and waited for Preston to get home. She had several subscriptions to fashion and makeup magazines. She had to keep herself up and look her best at all times. It was very important to look your very best no matter what. The longer she waited, the madder she got at Preston.
For the last mile to the apartment, Preston kept seeing more and more people that were angry or confused. Most had a dazed look on their face. Who knew how far they had to walk to get home? It was dark by this time. Preston had the .45 colt very close and ready to use. Dark was when the predators came out in the cities, and tonight was going to be very bad. There were so many victims ripe for the picking. All of them were just trying to get home. They had no way to protect themselves. It’s going to be a blood bath, he thought. His next thought chilled him to the bone. The streets tomorrow morning are going to be littered with the dead and dying. It felt like he was in a horror movie or back in some third world country again. He had seen this before. He knew what it was going to look like. The thought made his stomach turn over. To know it was happening right here in America just broke his heart. He had fought to keep crap like this from happening here. Many a good soldier died to keep the average person here from knowing the horror of what people can do to other people when civilization goes down the rabbit hole. Everything from this moment on would be a whole new way of thinking through situations. There were so many things to consider. He was starting to get upset and his breathing increased. He told himself, Just calm down. Take slow breaths. Control the situation; don’t let the situation control you. That was his old sergeant’s advice he gave all of the new recruits. It was sound advice. He just never really expected everything to fall apart quite like this.
Preston crept around some cars, staying out of sight as much as possible. He made it to the back alley. He didn’t want to confront all the people standing around outside the front door to the apartment building. There was glass littered all over the place. It looked like someone had been beating on the cars and the lower floors of the apartment buildings along the street. Some of the vehicles even had slit tires. He could see it clearly in the moonlight. He wished there was some cloud cover. If he could see them, then they would be able to see him, too. He stayed in the shadows as much as possible, but he would have to break cover to cross the alley. He could see a gang of seven kids down the alley at the opposite entrance. They were drinking. He could see the beer bottles in their hands. There were several broken beer bottles there, too. One of the kids threw his beer bottle at the wall and laughed. He grabbed another beer out of the bag on the ground. Oh this is just great. I don’t need a bunch of drunken kids right now, Preston thought.
He hoped they didn’t have any weapons or decide to prove how tough they were with him. He really didn’t want to hurt them. Or kill them. He took a deep breath and calmly walked across the alley. When he got halfway across, the kids spotted him and yelled, “Hey.” He turned and looked at them. They started toward him. He thought, Here it comes.
When the first two got up to him, they stopped. “Did you come from the other side of the city?”
“Yes,” he answered.
The rest of the kids caught up with the first two. They stopped and stood next to their friends. One of them asked, “Is it like this there, too?”
“Do you know what happened? Why everything isn’t working?”
He thought for a few moments, deciding what and how much to say to them. He decided to tell them the truth. “We were hit with an EMP and it fried everything electrical.”
The kids thought this over for a few moments then one of them asked, “You mean like a bomb?”
Another one asked, “How long till it can all be fixed?”
“As far as I know, it will probably be five years or more before things can be repaired enough to work again. That is if there are enough technicians left in the world to do it,” Preston said. The kids stared at him in shock.
Another one of the kids asked, “Do you think this is like World War 3?”
He answered, “Yes. We were hit with an EMP; we would have retaliated against whichever country that did it. We either sent back an EMP of our own, or we sent enough nukes to bomb their country into glass and deep craters. But, it won’t stop there. Every other country that has the capabilities to send an EMP or bomb will get into the act, too. They’ll send out bombs to whatever countries they don’t like. The only thing keeping the stability was that no one was insane enough to push the first button to do this. Well, someone went insane and did push the button. By the end of this nigh,t most of the world will have been bombed into the dark ages.”
All the kids looked pretty scared at this statement. The apparent leader of this group then asked, “You were in the military, right?”
Preston answered, “Yes. I know what I am talking about, if that is what you’re getting at.”
The leader then asked, “What should we do?”
Preston thought for a few moments and said, “If I was you, I would be securing as much water, food and first aid supplies as possible. I would get my family to a secure place that can be easily defended. I would then go to the library and get as many books as possible on building windmills and other power sources and learn how to make and maintain them; all energy sources, like steam power and solar, too. That is a commodity that will be in high demand in the future.” The kids looked pretty uncertain by this time. “I have to go now. Good luck to you all.”
“Yeah, good luck to you, too.” They turned and started back down the alley, deep in conversation.
Preston took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He thought, I tried, that’s all I can do. They were good kids. I hope they make it. The world is going to need resourceful kids in the very near future. Preston walked up to the gate and climbed over it. He didn’t have a key. Only the landlord did. He walked up to the back door to the building and got his key out. The door still looked secure. No broken glass or anything yet. He unlocked the door and stepped through, securing the door behind him. It wouldn’t stay secure for long. He stayed in the shadows as he crept along the hall and up the stairs.
His apartment was on the third floor. There was debris lying on some of the stairs. It looked like someone’s suitcase had popped open and spilled everything out as it tumbled down the stairs. There was a man’s shaving stuff and a woman’s makeup scattered all over the place. Clothes were hanging all around. He walked over as much as he could. It would be good to leave this stuff right here. It could be a good noise maker to alert him if someone was coming up the stairs. He could hope, anyway. He got up to the apartment and he put his key in the first lock and unlocked it, then the deadbolt. He turned the handle and pushed against the door. The handle turned, but the door wouldn’t open. Sharon must have put the secure bar in place. He tapped lightly on the door with his fingers and said, “Sharon, it’s me, open up.” He could hear her moving around some and then the sound of the bar being removed. He could now open the door. He entered the apartment.
Sharon was standing there in her pajamas and slippers. She had a wine glass in one hand. She was staring daggers at him and pointing her finger at him with the other hand. “Nice of you to show up. It would have been even nicer if you would have come home on time. I have had one hell of a bad day, thanks to you.” She paused to take a breath. “What I want to know is, what in the hell did you do to my car? You said you knew what you were doing. Well, obviously you don’t know squat about cars.” She gestured broadly with her hand. “Look at all the other cars that don’t work, either. What did you do to them? You said you were a mechanic. I think you’re lying. I think you’ve been lying to me the whole time. You know what you did? You made me have to walk home. Walk. You owe me, mister. You owe me a lot. I have blisters because of you. I have a ruined pair of designer shoes you owe me, too. I had to stop and buy a pair of running shoes. The clerk was a creep and kept giving me a hard time about paying with my credit card, as if my credit isn’t any good. Do you know how being treated like that made me feel? Then the jerk comes on to me. He was an asshole. He was a complete asshole. Just like you. Then I get here and the place is cold and dark. I have to bandage my feet because of you. I have a headache trying to read my magazine by candlelight because of you. I broke a fingernail and chipped another one opening the wine. I deserve a little wine after the day I had. This wouldn’t have happened if you were here to open the wine. But, were you? No. You were God knows where while I’m left here to suffer alone. This is all your fault, mister, and I won’t put up with it at all. Get your shit together and get out of my apartment.” Preston reached out and took the wine glass out of her hand. She yelled right in his face, “Don’t touch me, you asshole. I mean it … get your shit and get out. Now.” Preston opened his mouth and before he could form a word, there was a loud banging on the door.
He looked at the door, and then at Sharon, and then at the door again. Another louder, longer knock on the door rang out. He told Sharon, “Shut up.” She just kept screaming at him. “I said shut up. Right the hell now.” Sharon wasn’t paying any attention to him at all. He grabbed her arms and shook her and said in a loud voice, “Sharon, shut the hell up!” That got her attention.
She pulled away from him and screamed, “Don’t touch me, you asshole. You’re all alike, just lying assholes.” He grabbed her and held her with one arm and put his other hand over her mouth. She struggled to get away. The hand over mouth was still holding the 45. It was right there in front of her face. She started trembling and breathing fast. She was afraid of him now.
He said by her ear, “Shut up.” He held her more tightly. Whoever was outside was literally banging on the door by this time. He said in a very low threatening voice, “Stop struggling.” Her body stiffened in his arms. “If I let you go, will you stop screaming?” She nodded her head yes. “I’m going to take my hand off your mouth. If you start screaming again, I’m going to lock you in the bedroom. Do you understand me?” She nodded her head yes again. He took his hand off her mouth. She stayed silent, just breathing with heaving gasps and sobs. “Stay right there while I see who it is.”
He walked over to the door and leaned on the wall besides it. He didn’t even try to look out through the peep hole in the door. He knew it was too dark to see anything. The banging was continuous by this time. “Who is it?”
A quivering female voice answered him saying, “It’s me, Amy, your next door neighbor. Are you two okay?”
Sharon swayed drunkenly. “Are you going to shoot her?” she slurred. Her eyes were opened wide in shock. No one had ever treated her this way before. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want him to hurt her. She whispered, “You know I don’t like guns.”
Preston ignored Sharon and said loudly to Amy, “Step back away from the door.” He heard her move.
“I stepped back. Now what should I do?”
“Are you alone?”
“Yes, I’m alone.”
“Where is your boyfriend?”
“Gone for the last month. I kicked him out.”
“All right, I’m going to open the door just enough for you to enter. If anyone else tries to come in, I will shoot them. Do you understand?”
Amy hesitated and then said, “Yes, I understand. It’s just me. I’m by myself.”
Sharon started screaming out, “He’s got a gun. Oh my God, he has a gun!”
“Shut up, Sharon,” he said, turning to her. She kept screaming and crying loudly. He took one threatening step towards her; she backed up and put her trembling hands tightly on her mouth as if to hold in any sounds that might escape. She stood very still. She was crying hard, her body shaking with the effort to stay silent. Preston opened the door and Amy walked in.
As soon as Amy was through the door he quickly slammed it, locked it and dropped the bar into place. He holstered the .45. Sharon’s volume increased. All she could say was, “He’s got a gun,” over and over.
Amy looked at Sharon and saw the red marks on her face. She turned around and stormed over to Preston like an avenging angel bent on dealing out the wrath of God. She demanded in a loud angry voice, “What did you do to her?”
Preston sighed and said, “It seems this is entirely my fault, at least according to Sharon. She was just telling me to get my stuff and get out of her apartment.”
Amy looked at him with her eyes flashing a wrathful gleam and said, “This is your apartment.”
“I know,” he said.
“That isn’t what I asked you. Did you hurt her?”
He answered her with a sigh, “I was just trying to explain what happened to you. Do you want to know or not?”
Amy said firmly, “Answer me, did you hurt her?”
Preston took paused to think back through the last few minutes and what he had done to make Sharon shut up. “I guess that would depend on your definition of hurt.”
“What do you mean? It is never called for to be violent to a woman,” Amy said.
He said, “I wasn’t violent. I was trying to get her to shut up so I could hear out in the hall. I had to know if it was safe to open the door.”
Amy remembered seeing some fighting here and there and other violent acts today. Humanity hadn’t been at its best today that was for sure. Yes, people had gone completely nuts today. As she was jogging home, she saw down a side street where a guy had taken a tire iron and beat another man with it. She said, “I guess I can understand about the being safe part. People weren’t very nice today, were they? But you didn’t have to be mean about it, did you?”
“I might have been a little more forceful than I meant,” he admitted.
Amy let out a relieved sigh. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to barge in here and start yelling at you. I just got scared when I heard all the yelling start.” Before he could reply, he noticed Sharon starting to fall; Preston grabbed her just in time before she hit the floor.
“Sharon, I’m going to put you to bed. We’ll talk when you wake up, okay?” She was still crying. He carried her out of the room and Amy could hear the rustling of the blankets. She could hear him tell her, “You’re just drunk right now. I’m sorry if I hurt you, but you wouldn’t stop screaming. I’m sorry if I scared you, too. I didn’t mean to. Go to sleep and I’ll wake you up later when I get everything ready to leave. It will be all right. Just go ahead and rest for now. I’m sorry.”
That statement got Amy’s full attention. Leave? And go where, I wonder? And how was he planning on getting there? She heard his footsteps coming back. As he entered the room, she said, “Is she okay? She looks pretty out of it.”
“She’ll be all right.”
“Can you finish telling me what happened?” she asked. “I’m sorry; it’s really none of my business.”
He said, “I might as well tell you everything, since you heard most of it.”
Amy blushed. It’s not very nice to know that your neighbors are listening to your private conversations.
“Well, Sharon was accusing me of manufacturing all of this crap today for her misfortune. She wouldn’t be quiet. She became hysterical and I had to subdue her to get her attention. It was a matter of security and safety. I can’t protect her if I can’t hear if there is danger out there. Anyway, she’s drunk and had a bad day, and basically just blamed me for all of it.”
Amy said, “Didn’t we all have a bad day?”
“Yes, we all did. Anyway, that’s all that happened. Then you showed up at the door. You walked in like a woman on a mission and started yelling at me, too.”
Amy blushed again and said, “Sorry about that. I thought you were hurting her. I thought that you two had gone nuts like everyone else today.”
Preston realized that she must have seen some awful things today, violent things. They heard Sharon calling out. He said, “I’ll be back. I’ll go see what she needs.” He turned and headed to the bedroom. Amy just waited in the living room for him. Preston walked into the bedroom and softly called, “Sharon, did you need something?” No answer. He called again. Still no answer. She hadn’t moved, so he walked around to her side of the bed. She was still asleep. It must have been a bad dream that made her cry out.
As soon as he was back in the living room, he said, “Amy, you have to go back to your apartment and fill every single water container you have, including the bathtub and all of the sinks. Every single glass you have, anything at all that will hold water. Go now. This is the most important thing to do right now.”
Amy looked at him seriously for a few moments and then said, “After I do that, can I come back over here? It’s scary right now without the power and everyone going nuts. I really don’t want to sit over there by myself. Do you know what happened?”
“Sure, come on back over and we’ll talk when you’re done.”
“Do you have a flashlight I could borrow? It will go a lot faster than to try to do this by candlelight.”
“Sure, I do,” he said. He walked over to the door and grabbed his pack. He reached in a compartment and pulled out a flashlight and handed it to her. She tested it, then said, “I’ll be right back as soon as I have everything filled.”
“Okay.” They walked to the door and Preston let her out.
As soon as Amy was gone, he went around the apartment and made sure all the blinds were closed. He took sheets, towels and some old blankets and covered all the windows securely. He was going to light the Aladdin lantern he had and he didn’t want any light to leak out and let people know that there were people up here and that they had a light source. And, it would help to warm it up a little. He got out the two burner propane cook stove he had. It was attached to a twenty pound propane tank. He’d gotten it for camping and for power outages. His whole apartment was electrical. He got out the old metal percolator he had and got coffee going, then he lit the Aladdin lantern. He started filling up the bathtub, sink and every container he could find.
Amy walked into her apartment. She immediately went to the bathroom and turned the faucet on to fill the tub. She went into the kitchen next, and started filling everything she could find that would hold water. She started thinking about Preston and Sharon. She didn’t know either of them that well. She was already living in her apartment when Preston moved in. What a hunk, she thought. She sighed. It seemed to her that all the great hunky men were either married, gay, or already had girlfriends. Here she was, twenty-nine years old and no prospects for Mr. Right. All the men seemed to go for the dainty types like Sharon.
It’s not that she had trouble attracting a guy, it was just that she seemed to attract all the wrong types. Take her last boyfriend, for instance. He had turned out to be a lazy bum. She found out he was a gamer. He sat around all day and did nothing but play games. Sharon would win hands down every time. She sighed again. Sharon was a dainty, tiny blue-eyed blonde. She had an athletic type body. She probably wore a size zero or a size one.
Now she could stop thinking about Sharon and Preston. Reality sucks, she thought with a smile. I have successfully avoided thinking about this situation. Now back to the real world. What in the world could have caused all this to take place? she wondered. It’s like Twilight Zone creepy. She went into her bedroom and put on long underwear and extra socks. She gathered up her comforter and wrapped it around her and decided she had stalled long enough. It had scared her tonight to hear the yelling coming from Preston’s apartment. It also made her mad. She thought Preston was the greatest and it would have killed her find out he was an abuser. She had never heard anything like that from over there before. She was greatly relieved to know it had just been Sharon getting out of hand. She had heard the sneer and contempt in her voice when she had been yelling at Preston. How could Preston even think that Sharon had any true feelings for him? Her voice said it all. It was just as she had expected all along. Women like Sharon only thought of themselves and nobody else. That was the beginning and end of the story. Sharon had had a bad day. What a laugh. What about what had happened to everybody else, for Christ’s sake? Did she think it had been a picnic for everyone? It was time to go next door and find out what had happened today. What had caused of all of this. She had a very bad feeling about it. She had had it ever since she discovered her watch was dead. Then she found out her car was dead and then her cell phone. She remembered her grandfather telling her when she was young, ‘Stiff upper lip, my dear girl.’ She missed him a lot. She looked around and decided that she had better blow out the candles and get on with it. Stop being a silly goose, she thought. Besides, she was wasting the batteries with all her avoidance. Who knew how long the power would be out? Preston would not appreciate her wasting his batteries. She opened her door and walked a few steps over and knocked a lot quieter than she had earlier.
Preston said through the door, “Who is it?”
She smiled. “Your friendly neighbor who just got water logged.” She heard the locks opening. Then the bar was drawn up. The door opened and there was light. “Wow,” she said. “Did the lights come back on and I didn’t notice?”
Preston smiled and said, “No, but I have a lantern.”
She laughed. “It’s like real light.”
“It is real light.”
“Ha, ha. You must think you’re a very funny guy, huh?”
He smiled and said, “I have been known to tell a joke or two.”
“I meant it’s like a light bulb bright,” Amy explained.
He said, “I know. That’s probably why it was invented. People got tired of being in the dark.”
“Well, it works really well. What does it run on?”
“Kerosene or lamp oil.”
“That’s great,” Amy said. “I have some lamp oil over at my place. Someone gave me this tiny, little bitty lantern for Christmas one year and it ran on lamp oil. I had to ask the clerk at the discount store what it ran on so I could buy whatever it was to refill it. It seemed they only sold it in half gallon jugs. My little tiny lantern only takes about a tablespoon full to fill it. I didn’t know that the bigger lanterns were so bright or I would’ve bought one of those. I have almost a full half gallon of oil left.”
“That will be a good thing to have,” Preston said.
The aroma of coffee filled the air. “Is that coffee I smell?” Amy asked.
“Yup. I put a pot on to perk after you left. It’s almost done now. Would you like a cup?”
She sighed and said, “I would kill for a cup right now.”
“Whoa, I’ll have to remember not get in the way of the lady and her coffee, then,” he said with a smile.
She asked him, “How did you make coffee if the power isn’t on?”
“I have a propane cook stove. I bought it when we had the first power outage. I had a smaller one I used when I went camping. They’re real handy to have around.”
“I would say so. You can cook on that stove, too?”
“Yes, just like a real stove,” Preston said.
“I’m starved. Are you hungry?”
“Yes, it was a long, stressful walk home.”
“Tell me about it. I had to walk fifteen miles. How far did you walk?” Amy flexed her feet to relieve the stress.
He was impressed. “Eighteen miles.”
She said, “Wow, that’s a really long walk, too. It’s a good thing I jog every morning or I don’t think I would’ve made it.”
She smiled. “Okay, dinner will be ready in about ten minutes, then, man of many words.”
He laughed as he walked away. He was beginning to like her a lot. The only other woman he knew of that was a bit like her was Jane. He had always envied Joe having a woman like Jane. His mother had been a petite southern woman. She died when he was ten. His wife had been interested in her shopping most of the time and gossip. She didn’t cook. Sharon didn’t cook, either. It was nice seeing a happy woman in his kitchen cooking. It was a novel idea to him. The only other happy woman he knew of was Jane. Amy was just so damn young.
He went into the hall and opened the closet door. He took out the two packs he had put in there for just such an emergency as this one. He went through them. He then went around the apartment gathering up things to put into them. He was deciding how many razors he should pack into one of them when he heard Amy call out that dinner was done. He had been trying to ignore the wonderful odors coming from the kitchen while he was packing. He dropped all the razors into the pack and said, “I’ll be right there.” He would finish figuring out how many razors later.
She had set the table for three. She looked up at him when he walked into the dining room. “Are you going to wake up Sharon to eat?”
“No. Not right now.”
“Oh. I thought she might be hungry and it would help her sober up faster if she ate something. I cut my steak in half to share with her.”
“She won’t eat it,” Preston said.
“She doesn’t eat meat.”
“Oh, I should have figured that,” Amy said.
Preston looked at her., “Figured what?”
“That Sharon doesn’t eat meat.”
She sighed. “Because she is so dainty.”
He laughed and said, “You think she’s dainty?”
“That is quite plain to see.”
“She hardly eats at all. A salad or cheese and fruit are what she usually eats.”
Amy said, “I know the type. Now sit down and eat your steak before it gets cold.”
He said, “Yes, ma’am.”
She laughed, pointed her finger at him and said, “That, soldier, is a direct order from headquarters.”
Amye sat down and picked up her fork. “Okay, hit me with it. I know it’s going to be bad, very bad. I can feel it. I figure the only thing that could do this is an EMP bomb. Am I right?”
He looked at her with amazement, his fork stopping in midair. “Yes. It was an EMP that did this.”
“That’s what I thought. I figured it out on my jog home today. So do you know which country was the first idiot to push the button?”
He said, “No. There is no way to tell.”
“So, do the movies have it right? Will we really be in the dark ages again for years?”
She sighed. “I thought so.” He just looked at her with a puzzled expression. “What? You thought I was dumb? I watch the SyFy channel. I’ve seen the movies about the end of the world. An EMP was the only thing that fit all of this together into one package.” She looked at him with a very serious expression. “The way I figure it is that it is going to be like a barbarian movie, with a zombie movie mixed together with modern weapons thrown into the mix. Am I close to reading this situation right?”
He thought for a moment and said, “Yup, that about covers it.” He popped a piece of steak in his mouth, savoring the nourishment.
“What should we do now? What’s the next step? I think it’s getting out of the city. We need to get away from the little zombies as soon as possible. Because in all the movies, the little stupid zombies die pretty quick and then the big bad zombies come out to play.”
He said, “That’s about it.”
She said, “So, how do we get out of the city? Vehicles don’t work anymore. Walking would be insane. The only thing left is bikes.”
He was fascinated with the way she worked through all this. The way her mind was right on target. “Yes, that is what I was going to use. Mountain bikes.”
She said, “Do you have some place in mind to go to? I don’t know of any place around here. My uncle had a hunting camp up north in the mountains, but, that’s too far away. Plus, it’s winter. There will be snow everywhere soon. That means a person is limited to places that can be reached in a short amount of time.” She looked at him intently. “You know, you can jump in anytime with some ideas or suggestions of you own.” He laughed real hard at that comment.
“Why should I? You’re doing fine on your own.” He washed down a bite of potato with his coffee.
She said drily, “Thanks a lot.”
He set down his fork and looked at her. “Do you have a place in mind to go?”
She thought for a few moments and then looked up at him sadly. “No. I never believed they could be so stupid as to push the button that would end the world. I guess I gave them credit for being smarter than they are. I don’t have any place to go to at all. Not without a vehicle.” She looked at him and said, “I probably wouldn’t make it even with a vehicle. You know all those little zombies. I don’t have a gun. I would have to stop to pee or to sleep sometime and that’s when the zombies would get me. It would be inevitable. Every movie I’ve ever watched shows the stupid, or the tired, or the people without weapons dying first. That will be me.”
Preston was deep in thought for a minute. “If you had a place to go to, what would you bring?”
She said, “Whatever I could carry that would be of use for the future. But none of that matters, because if you didn’t already have a place stocked with food, it would be useless. There is no way a person could carry enough food for a lifetime on their back. Even if you had vegetable seeds, it still wouldn’t matter. There is no way to carry enough food to get through a winter, spring and summer till the vegetables could be planted and then matured enough to eat. And that isn’t even taking into consideration all the other things that you would need, like tools and books on how to do things.” She was feeling more and more scared as she talked. She had held it together all day long, but now, after really thinking about it, she realized there was no way to survive what was coming. At least not for her. Preston saw the look in her eyes and knew she’d just realized the gravity of the situation. About who would survive and who wouldn’t. Possibly. You could be as prepared as anyone could be and still not survive.
He said, “That was really intelligent, the way you worked through this whole situation. That is very surprising coming from someone as young as you are.”
She looked puzzled at him and said, “As young as I am? How old do you think I am? Twelve?”
“No, not twelve. You’re what, twenty or twenty-one?”
She laughed and said, “It would be nice to go back to that age and do this all over again. I would save every itty bitty scrap of food I could get my hands on. Do I really look that young to you?”
“I’m not sure if I’m supposed to take that as a compliment or an insult. I’ll be thirty in January.”
A look of shock crossed his features. “Really?”
She said, “Have you ever known a woman to lie about her age to be older than she really is?”
‘No, no I haven’t,” he admitted. Wow. I should have asked her out months ago. Then he remembered Sharon was in the bedroom and started to feel a bit guilty. Preston had known for the last month that his relationship with Sharon was going nowhere. He was ready to call it quits with her, but she was living with him and it was his duty and obligation to see to her safety.
Preston said, “I’ve never been a good judge of a woman’s age. I’m sorry if you feel insulted. I didn’t intend it to come out that way.” In his mind he was thinking that he wouldn’t leave Amy here, either. An intelligent woman like her didn’t deserve to be abandoned. Besides, Joe had said they would need people to form a small community. Joe wanted more people there with them to share the work of raising food. Well, if she was willing to go, he would bring her. Gladly. He already knew Jane would like her. It was just going to change the situation. Now, he would have two women to look after.
It wouldn’t be easy, that was for sure.
He looked at Amy and smiled. Amy just looked at him questionably. He cleared his throat. “I have a place to go to that is stocked with food. I have two really great friends that are there now. We have room and supplies for more people. You are welcome to come with us when we leave if you want to.” He waited for her answer.
She looked thoughtful for a few moments., “Yes, I’ll come with you. Where is it?”
He said, “It’s in Minnesota. I have a retreat there. We’ll have to get you a bike. That won’t be easy now that all the vehicles are dead. Bikes will be premium possessions now, better than gold or silver. Out of all the situations that Joe and I came up with, we never seriously considered that this would be the one that would bring the world down. We thought that the dollar would collapse and that would cause the world’s economy to collapse with it. Then everything would go downhill from there. I guess you could call Joe a survivalist. Me too. We got into this after Joe retired from the Army three years ago. He started to hear some really disturbing things and he started to do research on them. What he found out just blew us away. We realized we were all living in a house of cards and it was about to get blown down by a big evil gust of wind. So, we started to prepare for a collapse of some kind so we could survive. We have just about everything we could think of.”
“You’re a survivalist?”
“That’s a good thing. Right now we’re going to need a whole lot of them. If the movies and books have it right, that is the only way mankind will be able to survive to have a future so we don’t die off like the dinosaurs,” she said. “At least it will provide some sort of a social structure so we can have a future that won’t make us go back to the caveman days.”
“We can only hope.”
He paused for a few moments and then looked at her and asked, “What about your family? Do you have someone that you want to be with?” He was worried that she had family close by and would want to bring them along, too. Protecting the two women was going to be hard enough. He would not add to their numbers. That would be insane right now.
Amy looked down for a few moments, thinking how she really didn’t want to admit that she was such a loser that she had no close family or friends that she would want to be with. She worried that he would not want to take her with him if he knew. Should she lie to him? No, she couldn’t do that. She dismissed that thought as soon as it entered her head. It was always best to remain honest and truthful. She took a deep breath and then looked back up at him and said, “I don’t have any close family anymore. My grandfather raised me after my parents died in a car accident when I was eight. He died when I was twenty. I had a great uncle, too; my grandfather’s brother. He died a few years ago. He left his hunting camp near Lake Superior to me in his will. I don’t really know any of my father’s family. They lived in another state. We didn’t visit them very often. We sent Christmas cards, but that is about it. My mother’s side of the family lives in England. After my grandmother died, my grandfather and his brother decided to move to America. My mother was four years old then. He never remarried, so she was an only child. So, I really don’t have any family left that I would want to see.” She had a very sad look on her face now.
He said, “I’m sorry. I don’t have any close family left, either.” He was greatly relieved that he wouldn’t have to explain to her why they couldn’t bring anyone else with them. He asked her, “You do understand that this invitation to my retreat is just for you … You don’t have any girlfriends or anyone else you would want to bring along, do you?” He wanted to make sure she understood about this.
“No, not really. I have friends, but not anyone I would trust right now. And I can’t think of anyone I would want to be with me in a survival situation. They wouldn’t be able to understand the seriousness of this situation. I tried to talk to a few of them about survival and preparing, but they didn’t want to hear about it at all. They thought I was nuts to even be thinking about stuff like that, even after 9/11 and New Orleans. They just don’t understand how anything could happen to them. So, my answer to your question is no, I don’t have anyone who would even believe us to want to come along. They will probably think the government will come and save them to the bitter end.”
He went over to his desk and pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. He handed it to her and said, “Write down everything you have that we might need that can be carried in backpacks. Only put lightweight items on the list. After a few hours, you will feel like you are carrying around a backpack of rocks. Even with being on a bike instead of walking, your back will hurt. But they won’t hurt as much as your shoulders will if they are unaccustomed to carrying a pack.”
“I jog every morning with a pack.”
“Does it weigh at least twenty-five pounds?”
He said, “Then you really aren’t carrying a real pack. You’ll find that out soon enough for yourself.” She took the pad and pen from him. She looked thoughtful for a few moments and then started writing. Preston walked away and went down the hall to the bedroom. It was time to wake Sharon up and explain the situation to her. Hopefully, she would be sober by now.
Sharon was still in the same position he had left her in. He walked up to her and shook her shoulder. “Sharon, wake up.” Sharon moved and mumbled, but did not wake. He tried again. She yelled, “Get your hands off me, you asshole.” He sighed and thought, This is going to be a very long night. “Sharon wake up. We have to get ready to leave to go to my retreat. We have to get out of the city before morning.”
“I am not going anywhere with you. Why are you still here? I kicked you out, so go. Get your stuff and get out and leave me alone.”
“Sharon, this is my apartment,” he said.
“I don’t care. Get out. I don’t want you here. You hurt me. You threatened me with a gun. A gun, for God’s sakes, you know I hate guns. You abandoned me today and made me walk home. Nobody does that to me, do you hear me? Nobody. I won’t be treated that way by anyone. Do you hear me? Get out or I’m going to call the cops on you. You abused me. I will send you to jail.” She reached out and grabbed the phone and put it up to her ear. There still wasn’t any dial tone. She threw the phone at him. He dodged it easily. She said, “Leave me alone. I’m going back to sleep. If you’re still here in the morning, I will call the cops and have you arrested.”
“All right, get some more sleep.”
He thought, Well, there is just no way we’re going to be able to leave tonight. How in the hell could he make Sharon understand the seriousness of this situation? They had to leave ASAP. The longer they waited, the harder it was going to be. The longer they stayed here, the more people he was going to have to kill to get them out of the city. How was he going to make her understand that? By tomorrow night, people were going to be aware that this was a complete break down of everything. No police. There would only be people taking what they wanted because they were stronger or had weapons. Amy was right; all the little zombies will be out in force soon. They had to be gone before the big zombies got organized and took over the city.
He turned towards the dining room table and looked at Amy writing on the pad. “We are not going to be able to get out of here tonight. Sharon won’t get up and she’s still mad at me. We should get some sleep. Tomorrow we can gather together what we’ll take with us. We have to find you a bike. Sharon and I already have one. We’ll leave tomorrow night.”
Amy looked at him for a long time before saying anything. A million things were flying through her mind. She finally said, “Okay, tomorrow night it will be. How long before the zombies will get to be a real problem, do you think?”
“They’re already a problem,” he said seriously. They had been hearing gunshots and other loud noises off and on all night.
She said softly, “I was afraid you were going to say that.”
Grid Down: Book One Reality Bites
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