The three teens burst out of the darkened hallway, squinting after the darkness of the hallway. Christin Kinsey drew a sharp breath to ask her brother Matt just what was going on, but a sharp look from the younger boy and the question died on her lips. He hurried across the blacktop parking lot toward her battered old Chevy truck, waving at her to hurry up as he stood by the passenger door, bouncing from one foot to the other like he had to pee or something. Christin unlocked the door, then slid over to let Matt in. He scooted over to the middle and his best friend Dave hopped in beside him.
“What’s going on, Matty? And what is he doing here?” Christin asked, keys dangling from her fingers.
“No time, sis. If I’m right we’ve only got a little time before things get really bad, and we need to be out of here before that happens.”
“Before what happens? Matt, we’re not going anywhere until you explain exactly what is going on here?”
“Please, Chris, just trust me and go home. Now. I know it’s weird, but it’s really, really important.”
“Weird doesn’t even begin to describe this morning, little bro.”
“And it’s probably going to get weirder before it’s all over, sis.”
“You still haven’t told me what he’s doing here.” Christin jerked a thumb at Dave, who was ducked as far down in the seat as his lanky frame would allow.”
“He saw me sneak out of Trig class and tagged along.”
“Wherever you go, adventure follows, Matty-boy. And Adventure is my middle name!” Dave replied.
“Too bad your first name is Dork, then.” Christin muttered as she cranked the truck and pulled out of her parking space. She looked around the nearly deserted lot, smirking a little at a couple of the preppy kids trying to crank their new Priuses and Lexuses. Her truck might be old, she thought, but it was as dependable as her dad had been. Her smirk dipped a little at the thought of her father, but she pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind and pointed the nose of the truck towards home.
“Okay, Matt, we’re rolling, how about you explain what’s going on?” Christin said as she pulled out of the parking lost onto the main road.
“I can get part of the story by the time we get home, but then you’ve got to go with me, okay?” Matt asked, his eyes flickering between the dark storefronts and the stalled cars all around them.
“Depends on how good your explanation is, so get to it.” Christin said, steering around a stalled Volvo.
“Well you know how all the lights went out all at once, right?”
“Yeah, kinda hard to miss that. So?”
“So did you notice that your cell phone is dead, too?”
“Yeah, but I figured I just forgot to charge it last night. You know how I am about that.”
“Fair enough, but when was the last time I didn’t charge mine?” Matt asked, holding up his phone for her to see the darkened screen. Dave reached into his pocket to show that his phone, too, was completely dead.
“Okay, so the power went out at the same time the cell phones died, that’s kinda weird, but why are you so panicked?”
“Turn on your radio.” Matt said. Christin reached down and snapped on the radio she’d had out in at Best Buy last month, and nothing happened. No lights on the front, no noise, not even static.
“Yeah, sis. I think an EMP has knocked out all electronics in Asheville, and maybe a bigger area. That’s why I want to get out of town.”
“An E-what? And why do you want to leave town?”
“Because if there’s no electronics, no computers, then there’s nothing. No power, no communications, most cars won’t work. That means no police. And no hospitals, and no way to get there. So the more people are around, means more people that could go nuts and do bad things. So I want to get out of town before people figure out that there are no cops and decide to do whatever they want to whoever they want. Is that enough explanation for now?” Matt said as they pulled into their neighborhood. The trip had taken twice as long as usual because it seemed like every traffic light in Asheville had gone out at the same time, and at least ninety percent of the cars were stalled in the streets.
“Park at the end of the drive, nose out, sis.” Matt said as they approached the end of their cul-de-sac.
“I don’t want anyone blocking us in. Dave, get to your house, load up like we talked about and get back here in half an hour. No later, I’m not waiting on you. You got it?” Matt’s dark eyes were unusually serious under the shock of brown hair that he usually wore flipped around like a skateboarder or something.
“Got it.” There was no humor in Dave’s eyes either as he bolted down their street toward his house.
Christin knew he only lived a few blocks away, but he was running like his life depended on it. She got out of the truck and looked at her brother over the hood. “Matt, is it really that bad?”
“Have you read Lord of the Flies? Because we’re on that island. If I’m wrong and everything goes back to normal tomorrow, we’ll come back and face the music about skipping school. But we have to go now.” Matt turned and walked quickly to the front stoop, fumbling with his keys in his haste to get the door open.
Christin caught him on the step and yanked the keys away from him. “No, little brother. I don’t know what Doctor Who episode you think we’re trapped in, but we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to go in this house, pick up the phone, call Mom, make sure she’s okay, and then we’re going to chill in our house until the power comes back on. You understand me?”
The expression on Matt’s face as he looked up at her chilled Christin as much as the words that came out of his mouth. “Chris, you know in disaster movies how there’s always the one guy who sees what’s coming before anyone else and tried to tell everybody about it, but nobody listens and then they’re all screwed? And the guy manages, against all odds, to save his loved ones from the apocalypse?” He had hold of both her arms now, and was looking straight in her face, as if to drive his point home.
“Yeah, so?” Christin was starting to get really worried, now.
“Well in this movie, I’m that guy. I’m Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day, John Cusak in 2012, Jake Gyllenhall’s dad in The Day After Tomorrow, all rolled into one because this is real, it is happening, and I have a plan. So please, stop being my big sister for a couple hours and just believe me so I can keep you alive!” He almost broke down at that, but pulled himself together after a moment and looked back up at her. “Please?”
She didn’t know if she believed in what was going on, or if he was right, but he sure seemed sure of himself, so Christin just took a deep breath, nodded, and said, “Okay. What do I need to do?”
“You’ve got ten minutes to pack clothes and camping gear. We don’t need tents, because we’re going to Grampa Don’s cabin, but you’ll need all the clothes you can pack into two duffel bags. That’s all you get. Forget about makeup and conditioner and crap like that, just think of it like a long camping trip. Pack as light as you can, but don’t forget anything essential. Figure we’ll be gone for about six weeks. By then it should be safe to come back into town.” He turned and ran inside and up the stairs to his room.
“Safe from what?” Christin murmured as she watched her little brother run into the house. It was only then that she noticed the absolute quiet that had settled over the town. No car horns, or highway noise broke the afternoon silence. No humming of central AC units from the nearby houses, no refrigerator noises from her own. It was as if the world had been turned off by a giant switch.
Ten minutes later she dragged her two duffels down into the den to find Matt loading the contents of their father’s gun cabinet into a long bag originally designed for baseball bats or something similar. She dropped her bags and crossed over to him, angry. He looked up as she headed his way.
“Good. That was quick. Go to the pantry and load up the boxes of canned goods in the bottom of the closet into the truck. Once I’ve got the guns and ammo loaded this bag will need to ride on top, just in case.” He went back to his work, ignoring the stunned look on her face.
“Just in case of what?” She asked very quietly.
“Just in case anyone tries to stop us or steal the truck while we’re on the way to the cabin. While you’re in the kitchen, take a dry erase marker and write ‘Plan A in effect, C&M’ on the fridge. That’s the signal Mom and I agreed on in case this happened.” He was in the bottom of the gun case now, loading shotgun shells and rifle ammo. He picked up their father’s 9mm, checked the chamber like he’d done it a thousand times before, and clipped the holster onto his belt.
“Mom’s in on your plan? Why didn’t you ever talk to me about this?” Christin asked as she headed to the kitchen.
“It’s not like she was in on it, in on it, it’s more like I told her what my plans were, from A to C, just in case something like this happened and she was away when it all went down. Like today. I don’t think she ever believed it could happen, which was why I never brought it up to you, because you’d have just made fun of me.”
He’s right, I would have. Christin thought as she started loading canned food into boxes in the kitchen. Suddenly there was a loud knock at the front door, disturbing the unnatural stillness that was all around them. Christin jumped and squeaked a little in surprise, but Matt was already on his feet with their dad’s 12-gauge in his hands, pointed at the door.
“Answer it, Chris. If I yell duck, I need you to drop to the ground immediately, because I’m gonna shoot whoever’s at the door.” Christin looked at him like he was nuts, but nodded as she went to the door. She opened it to see Mrs. Alldren, their neighbor from three houses down.
“Oh Christy, I’m so glad you’re home! Whatever is going on everywhere? My power is out, my telephone is out, and I can’t even get my cellular phone to work. And of all times, now my car won’t start! Could you be a dear and run me up to the corner so I can call the power company from a pay phone?” She started looking around Christin into the house like she always did whenever she came along to snoop, but Matt’s voice from the den stopped her.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. A, but we can’t help you today. We’re packing for an unexpected vacation and have to meet our mother at the airport in 45 minutes. So we’ll be rolling out of here in the next ten minutes. I think if you just head on home you’ll be okay in a couple of hours.” Matt came forward, shotgun nowhere to be seen, and gently but firmly pushed the door closed in the old woman’s face. The kids heard a muffled hrmph! from the other side of the door, and then saw her blue hair totter off down the sidewalk through the windows by the door.
“What are you doing, Matt? If it’s going to be as bad as you say, shouldn’t we take her with us?” Christin grabbed his arm as he turned to go back to the gun cabinet.
“Take her with us for what? She’s almost eighty, Chris! If I’m wrong about what’s going on, she’ll be fine by morning. But if I’m right, she won’t last the winter regardless of if she comes with us or stays here. And we can’t take care of her. It’s going to be all we can do to take care of ourselves. I know that’s kinda cold, but it’s about to be a very cold world.” He headed back to the den to finish packing up. I think that kid has seen Red Dawn too many times. Christin thought as she went back to the kitchen to finish loading boxes.