How long will society last without electricity?
How long would you last?
What would you do to survive?
A wife and husband struggle to survive as society dissolves in the wake of a mysterious cataclysmic event, told in a unique format.
Book one, In the Gloaming Hour, explores the moral dilemmas faced by a mother trying to protect her child and survive in a world where every car, computer and electric device has mysteriously stopped working. Told from her perspective, as a woman of faith, she grapples with the ethical lines she must cross to protect her daughter and herself.
Book two, In the Darkest Hour, is the same time frame as book one, day by day, from the perspective of the husband. Nearly 600 miles from home, a pastor must decide what he’s willing to do to survive and make his way back to his wife and child. He finds his faith constantly challenged as he’s forced to make ethical compromises so he can see his family again.
The final novel, In the Morning Hour, alternates between their stories as they struggle to find each other and to build a future in a violent world they no longer recognize.
Chapter 1 of In the Gloaming Hour
Tuesday, October 25, 2023
I was on the toilet when I was plunged into silent darkness.
Grace, I thought. What has Grace done, now?
My phone was dead. I knew the battery was charged, but the phone wouldn’t turn on.
“Grace,” I called, opening the door. “What are you doing?”
“Playing. It’s dark.”
I finished up in the bathroom, but when I flushed, there wasn’t water pressure to re-fill the tank. There was also just a slow dribble of cold water from the faucet before it turned to air. The hot water flowed slowly.
Grace sat on the floor, surrounded by a card game.
“What are you doing?”
“Playing,” she replied, engrossed. “Mommy, look,” she said, holding up a card, “circle. Blue circle.”
“That’s right,” I said, passing through the living room. She was progressing nicely for a four-year-old. “Can you find another blue circle?”
The power was out all over the house. It wasn’t just a single breaker.
“Eve,” I called from the foot of the stairs. “Are you okay?”
“I’m reading, what’s going on with the lights?”
“I don’t know.”
I had been looking forward to the first game of the World Series later. Mac and I planned to text as we watched together from our respective locations.
“TV.” Grace had stopped playing with her cards and was standing next to me. “Show.”
“No TV,” I said. “No show. Let’s go outside.”
“I want malk.”
“How about water, instead?”
“I want wah-der.” She’s easily pleased. “Eve,” I called again. “Come downstairs, we’re going to go outside.”
I retrieved Grace’s half-full cup from the counter and out of habit, turned on the kitchen faucet to refill it. Dribbles of water and then air. There was no pressure on the waterline. I handed her the cup.
“What are you doing?”
“Mommy is using this dish cloth to tie the refrigerator door closed, so I don’t accidentally open it.”
“You open it by accident?”
“What are you doing?” Eve asked from the bottom of the stairs.
“I don’t want to open it and let all the cold out, so I’m tying it closed.” I lost power for nearly two weeks once during a hurricane and learned my lesson then.
The refrigerator and freezer would stay cold for at least 12 to 24 hrs. I wouldn’t thaw $50 worth of food for the sake of eating five dollars-worth of ice cream before it melted.
“Let the cold out?”
“Don’t let the cold out, you, two. Leave the door closed, please. Now get your shoes on so we can go outside.” With an eight-year-old and a four year-old, one of them would probably open the fridge door, but it was worth trying.
As we got ready, I thought about the time the whole northeast lost power, years ago. half of New York City had to walk home. I dimly recollect that power outage was caused by some Canadian technician making a mistake.
I couldn’t remember the last time we lost power on a sunny day. It was unheard of. What could possibly be the problem? How far did it reach? Just our neighborhood? All over the northeast?
I felt bad for people in the cities who relied on mass transit. Possibly millions of people in New York, Washington D.C., Boston, stuck in business districts, unable to get home, facing hours and hours of walking. I’d walked a lot when I was a kid, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had to walk a serious distance. As I tied my shoes, I wondered how many miles I’d walked in an amusement park, or the state fair. I smiled at the hardship so many feel at Christmas time, when they have to walk from the end of the crowded mall parking lot to the door.
I checked my phone again. Still dead. Without electricity I couldn’t recharge it. I connected it to the laptop to boot it on and saw the laptop wouldn’t turn on, either. It was dead, too.
The laptop should have worked without electricity; it was plugged in and charged. It didn’t make any sense. A power outage was one thing, this was different. Strangely different.
I glanced at the watch on my wrist. Mac had forgotten his grandfather’s watch, and so I wore it to feel closer to him. The tiny springs and gears moved the black hands to read 4:11.
“Outside,” Grace said, standing at the door, Eve beside her reading a book.
“Let me get Daisy,” I said. “Do you girls want your bikes or the wagon?”
I glanced at my phone for news, and immediately felt ridiculous.
I was so used to accessing the world from the phone in my pocket, the sudden information blackout felt bizarre. I intentionally put my phone on the counter when I picked up Daisy’s leash.
Grace on her bicycle and Eve in the wagon, with the dog eager to explore, we walked for a solid ten minutes before I realized there was no traffic.
The weather was beautiful, with just the last hints of summer hanging on the delicate breeze.
Grace kept peddling into the street, her training wheels clattering, but there were no cars. The neighborhood was eerily quiet, with only the rough drone of generators and occasionally what sounded like motorcycles in the distance.
I exchanged waves with neighbors I knew only by sight, and had several conversations with people I met for the first time.
Grace waved at a middle-aged couple raking leaves. Their teenage son carried the leaves in a wheelbarrow to the back yard. Perfectly coifed, and dressed like L.L. Bean models, the parents waved and smiled like we were long-time friends. The son had a charming, disarming smile and he made a special effort to wave to Grace.
The boy offered to give the girls a ride in the wheelbarrow. He was larger than many men, so I made small talk with the parents as he rolled them around the yard, joyful laughter piercing the funeral-like silence around us. It was a picture-perfect moment, if only my phone was working.
The weather was deceiving and disquieting. It was a lovely late afternoon, sunny and clear. The air remained warm as the sun slowly painted the sky like Grace’s watercolors.
We weren’t supposed to lose power on a day like this. No ice, snow, wind or hurricanes to bring down delicate power lines. Power lines somewhere else, for that matter. By appearances, ours was a reasonably affluent neighborhood, which included buried utility lines. We were college-educated, trained professionals and middle managers with well-mown lawns and flowerbeds. Judging by the soft throbbing in the distance, we had more than our share of generators.
We had an active homeowner’s association, but Mac and I seldom attended events.
“I don’t need to get involved in neighborhood politics,” Mac said as he helped Grace into her tights. “The Christmas party is all we really need.”
“He’s not the real Santa,” Grace said, shrugging like a teenager. “The real Santa is at his house.”
“That’s right,” Mac said, watching Grace slip into her shoes. “But we’re not telling the other kids he’s Santa’s helper. We’ll let Eve believe what she wants to believe, right?”
“Right!” Grace affirmed, as she jumped off the chair, her dress fluttering around her delicately soft as bird wings.
Mac and I had a few close friends from college and graduate school, many names and faces from church, and we agreed the HOA would have to get along without Eve, Grace, Ann, and Mac McAlister.
The girls tired of the wheelbarrow after just a few minutes, so they climbed down and we continued our tour.
We walked to the subdivision’s clubhouse and along the way seemed like most of the neighborhood was out in their yards, while everyone else was in the street with us. Bikers, skateboarders, walkers and even a roller-skater wandered around the neighborhood.
The clubhouse parking lot and lawn were covered with a half dozen groups of people talking, as though it was an annual social event. Several people held cans, plastic cups and wine glasses, giving the gathering a festive, almost celebratory, feel.
As we made our way home, our next-door neighbors were grilling outside their open garage.
“Y’all out for a walk?” Bubba asked, gesturing with a long barbecue fork.
“Just a short one around the neighborhood,” I replied, as Grace ran up their driveway. Eve laid on her back in the wagon, her legs hanging off the end. “Is your water out?”
“Yours, too?” Bonnie said. She held the plate as Bubba speared the meat and dropped it onto the sizzling grill. “It’s really strange,” she said. “I can’t remember a time I lost power and the water went with it.” She looked around. “It’s never happened in this neighborhood.”
“It sounds like your generator is still working?”
“I’m running a freezer and a minifridge with it,” he said. “My old radio turns on, but there’s nothing to listen to.”
“What do you say, ‘nothing to listen to?’” I asked. “Stations aren’t broadcasting?”
“Nope, not a one,” he said. “There’s nothing there. Not a far-off AM station, not the FM stations here in town. Nothing. Just static, across the dial.”
“Not even the emergency sound,” Bonnie added.
“What does that mean?”
“I have no idea,” she said, shrugging.
“Maybe the radio stations don’t have power either,” he said, flipping a chop of meat. “Something else strange—the cars don’t work.”
“What do you mean, ‘don’t work?’”
“Go check yours,” he said. “Maybe you’ll see. I hope not.”
I left the girls with Bonnie and Daisy stayed in the house when I retrieved my keys. Dead. No clicking. Nothing. Like the battery was drained.
“And it won’t turn over with the jumper,” Bubba said when I returned. The situation was unnerving.
“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Bonnie asked. “What about your phone?”
“It has a charge, it’s just not working.”
“No, your house phone?” Our age difference was showing.
“A landline? We don’t have one.”
“Oh. Well, ours is dead, too. No dial tone, no nothing.”
“The electricity, and the water, I can explain, maybe,” Bubba said, turning the meat. “But the cars? That just doesn’t make any sense. None at all.”
We silently considered the situation.
“Ya’ll want to stay for dinner?” Bubba offered.
“Can I go get anything from our house?”
“What are you thawing?” Bonnie asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “I haven’t opened the refrigerator or the freezer yet. I’ll do it tomorrow morning.”
“That’s a good idea,” Bubba smiled. “Wished I’d thought of that before I opened the door. I just walked into the kitchen out of habit and opened the fridge.” His ever-present smile helped take the edge off the situation.
“We’ll cook tonight and you can cook tomorrow,” Bonnie said. “If it lasts a few days, we may have to start eating our freezer food.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Bubba said, laughing.
We shared a chuckle that was more stressful than joyful and agreed the three of us would return later after I did a few things at home.
Why is the water not working?
I stared at the kitchen faucet with more questions than elusive answers.
The whole subdivision was on county water and sewer. Was the water plant affected by the power outage? I couldn’t remember ever hearing of such a thing. Why wasn’t a backup generator working somewhere? It just didn’t make sense. Not on a such a beautiful day.
But it wasn’t just the electricity, it was everything electric. The car? Was it permanently dead? And my cell phone? The laptop?
How far was the impact? The region? The state? Multiple states? We were within a day’s drive of more than a quarter of the country’s population. Could hundreds of millions of people be affected?
And what about Mac? He was 600 miles away, in “Mashville.” Was his power out, too? If it was, what would he do? Walk 600 miles? That was absurd.
“What are you doing?”
Eve, Grace and Daisy looked on as I rearranged the storage shed. Attached to the house, it contained the water heater and years-worth of stuff. Boxes of nothing I recognized. The shed needed more time to organize than I was willing to invest.
“I’m getting the grill.”
“I haven’t used it in the seven years you’ve been alive.”
“What is it?”
“It’s for cooking outside.” I found the barbecue briquettes easy enough and located the starter fluid on a shelf with cans and plastic bottles of flammables.
Daisy began wagging her tail.
“Yes, cooking outside. Grilling food over a fire.”
“Fire’s hot,” Grace said solemnly. She’d learned her lesson with the door of the gas fireplace.
“Yes, it is.” I said. “So you’ll both need to be careful with this grill. It gets very hot.”
Grace nodded, her brown eyes deeply serious, her brow furrowed.
“Just don’t touch it,” Eve said to her sister. “Keep your little fingers to yourself.”
“Come on,” I said, carrying the grill to the patio. I put the charcoal and fluid under the shelter of the porch nearby.
“What are you doing?”
I was carrying two large buckets of water I filled from the pool.
“It’s heavy,” Grace breathed, trying to lift one.
“Yeah it is, but we need them for flushing.”
I left one downstairs, and carried the other to the master bath. With Mac in “Mashville,” the girls and I shared the same bathroom, and they both slept in my bed.
“I hope y’all are hungry,” Bubba said when we walked over to join them for dinner. “We’ve cooked an awful lot of stuff.”
After dinner of sautéed frozen vegetables, scrambled eggs, and pork chops, we each had huge bowls of ice cream, despite the dropping temperature.
“I spent hours working on the truck and the car, and they’re both shot,” Bubba said, scrapping the bottom of a Neapolitan ice cream container. “The batteries have juice, but the electrical systems are done.”
“The batteries aren’t drained?” I asked. I was on my fourth popsicle.
“So you can still use them?”
“To do what? Every electronic system is dead. I spent the afternoon trying figure out how to run the big fridge on batteries —”
“Not with what I have here,” he said, shaking his head at the diagnosis. “I need some sort of power inverter to convert from DC batteries to AC. And even then, I don’t know how to charge the batteries. A solar charger would work, but where would I find that?”
“Don’t refrigerators have electronics?” I asked. “Do you think yours will work, even if you can power it?”
“Some refrigerators have computers in them,” he said. I thought of my phone, again. Leaving it on the kitchen counter seemed foreign and strange, carrying it was ridiculous.
“Ours is old enough not to have a computer,” he said. “Refrigerators are just small motors, and a little Freon. I need to do something, I gotta keep my medicine cold. I can syphon gas for weeks, to keep the generator running, if I need to,” he said. “I get six hours to the gallon. Longer than the medicine will last.” I later learned how misleading his calm demeanor really was.
“I’ll walk up to Southern State in the morning to see what they have, if they don’t have anything, I’ll walk up to Home Depot.”
“I have to go to CVS,” I said. “Can the girls and I go with you?”
“Sure, the more the merrier,” he said, scooping Grace into his massive arms. “We’ll all go.” Eve climbed into my lap.
“Daddy go to Mashville,” Grace said.
“That’s right,” I said quickly. “Daddy went to Nashville, and he’ll be back soon.”
I pointed at the sky to change the subject. “Do you see the stars, Gracie?”
“Um-hum,” she said, nodding.
The setting sun revealed an amazing display of stars which we’d never before seen from our own yard. The breeze picked up gently as seasonal sounds filled the night.
“The good weather makes it weird, though,” Bubba said, shaking his head and patting Grace’s back.
“I know,” Bonnie said quickly. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?”
“Not like a storm, where there’s at least stuff to clean up,” he said. “You expect to lose power during a storm.”
We talked as the girls fell asleep in our arms.
Many times since, I’ve thought of that first night, when Bubba’s battery powered lantern kept the shadows at bay.