Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse (2 page)

BOOK: Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse
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Chapter 3

D
iane dropped the kids off to school on her way to work, which was just fine with John because a ton of work lay ahead of him. He was in his basement office, sipping a cup of warm coffee, trying to calm his nerves. Two important deliveries destined for the construction site had been a no-show this morning, one a load of drywall and the other a thousand pounds of Italian marble. John would need to spend the next thirty minutes tracking down his suppliers and getting answers. Afterward, he’d hightail it to the work site to make sure everything else was going according to plan. A screwup this big could cost him the job and with their family only starting to get back on their feet after the economic meltdown, it was a loss he couldn’t afford.

John
dialed his marble guy first and checked the planner on his laptop at the same time to ensure he’d given everyone the correct dates.

“Sal here,” the
gruff voice said on the other end.

“Sal
, it’s John. Get Mario on the phone right now.”

Sal normally liked to chitchat, but even he could tell now wasn’t the time.
“Uh, sure thing.”

John
heard Mario’s name being called over the speaker system at the warehouse. A few minutes later a voice came on.

“John, you won
’t believe the morning we’ve had—”

Then
the call got dropped. John began to redial and then noticed the cell phone screen.

It was b
lank.

But that wasn’t all. His laptop was gone too and so were the lights in his basement office. The roo
m was mostly dark except for faint light bleeding in from the doorway. If he’d closed himself in like he normally did, he would have been in pitch blackness.

You’ve got to be kidding me!

Hitting buttons on his cell wasn’t going to do a darn thing, but John tried it anyway, the same way people tried to make elevators speed up by mashing the button over and over.

His first thought was that he’d somehow overloaded the circuit breaker.

But your laptop and cell phone are battery-powered
, that little voice said.

John grabbed a Mag
lite he kept by his desk and went to flip the breakers anyway. It didn’t take more than a second after doing so to realize the power was really out.

Running up the basement steps two at a time, John raced into the kitchen and saw that the stove and microwave were both blank. He snatched the portable phone and swore when
he realized that it too was dead.

Ne
xt he went for the front door, curious to see if anyone else was having the same problem. He swung it open and when he looked outside all the air went out of his lungs. Two cars were stopped on the road right outside his house. The drivers looked confused. One of them, a man in his mid-forties, was lifting the hood of his Jeep Cherokee.

“That’s just the damn
edest thing,” his neighbor Al exclaimed. He was fiddling fruitlessly with the knob of his radio as water ran from the hose in his hand.

John wondered for a moment if
this was all a dream. Maybe he was still asleep in his bed. He crossed his lawn, heading for the road, feeling the grass slide between his toes as he did.

No,
this is no dream. This is real.

Other
cars were stalled in the distance. Most with people who were likely on their way to work. No one knew it yet, but if John was right, they wouldn’t need to worry about getting to the office on time. Not for the foreseeable future.

Al was coming this way, the hose discarded
carelessly on the lawn, dribbling precious water.

“Ain’t this just the da
mnedest thing?” his gray-haired neighbor said. “What do you make of it?”

John swallowed hard. “Only one of two things can cause
something like this, Al, and neither one of them is good.”

Al
was at a complete loss. John could tell the words ‘blackout’ were on the tip of his neighbor’s tongue, but even that was far too mild.

“I’m all ears.”

“If we’re lucky it’s only a solar flare, like the Carrington Event that hit in 1859, knocking out telegraph systems across Europe and North America. Some telegraph pylons burst into flames.”

“Solar flare.” Al sounded
like a man learning a new language. “And if we’re not lucky, John?”

“The only thing worse
than a solar flare is an EMP.”

“A what?”

“Electromagnetic pulse. A high-altitude atomic blast. If so then just about every electronic device and vehicle in the country, maybe even the continent, has just been wiped out.”

“Holy cow! Are you saying
I’m gonna miss
Masterpiece Theatre
tonight?”

John let out a
burst of nervous laughter and so did Al. Soon both men were grasping their bellies, clenching their teeth with the pain, both of them knowing that nothing about their situation was the least bit funny.

Chapter 4


D
iane and the kids,” John said once he’d regained some measure of control.

Al nodded. “I should go inside and speak with
Missy. If we wait long enough, the power might come back on, don’t you think, John?”

There was a
heavy dollop of desperation in Al’s voice.

“I might be wrong about all this
, Al. Last thing I wanna do is play Chicken Little and have everyone running for the hills.”

The woman and man
whose stalled vehicles were stopped dead bumper to bumper waved them over.

“And if you’re right?” Al asked.

“Then it won’t be long before law and order begins to break down. Think about it for a second. What part of our lives isn’t connected in some way to electronics? Then consider that most households have three days’ worth of food. Those eighteen-wheelers on the highways you’re always complaining about. Like it or not, that’s how over seventy percent of the goods we need make it to grocery stores. If the cars we see are any indication, the highways have become parking lots. My advice to you, Al, is to fill your bathtub and as many buckets as you can find with water. It won’t be long before even that cuts off for good.”

The worry on Al’s face was turning to panic as John walked back to his house
. “Where are you going?”

“To get my wife and children,
” John replied.

The man and woman came over then.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said to John. “I was wondering if you could give us a boost.”

“A boost isn’t gonna help you,” he answered.

Other neighbors came out of their houses, looking at one another with perplexed expressions. For most of them, this was the strangest power outage they’d ever seen. But with no cell reception, no radio, television, or even internet, there wasn’t any proper way of informing people what had happened.

“It’s worth a try
, isn’t it?” the man asked. “A boost’ll take less than five minutes.”

John saw he’d been driving what looked like a 2011 Chrysler 300. The computer chip in his car that controlled the
fuel injection and other vital operations had been fried by the high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy. Vehicles manufactured before 1980 had fewer or no computerized components which made them an ideal choice. A diesel engine was even safer and offered the additional advantage of being compatible with certain alternative fuels like heating oil and kerosene. This was why John had opted for the 1978 diesel-powered Blazer.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to waste your time. I’m telling you it won’t do any good.”

“Yeah,” the man said. “Well, thanks for nothing.” And he stormed off.

Once the man and woman had walked away,
John went to his F150 parked in the driveway. He slid behind the wheel, inserted the key and turned it. Predictably, nothing happened. A result that didn’t shock him, but he would have been foolish to not even try. He put the truck into neutral and took his foot off the brake, letting gravity roll it off the driveway and onto the lawn.

He then pulled
open the garage door and inspected the Blazer. This would be the real test. Betsy was not only his primary bug-out vehicle, she was his last resort. It was one thing to create several contingency plans for yourself—an older motorcycle, for example—but when you had a family and all the supplies they would need, there just wasn’t enough room in his garage or his budget for another vehicle. He topped up the tank with fuel, got in and turned the key.

The engine roared to life and the sound was at once
exhilarating and terrifying. With a community and probably even a city of stranded motorists, how long would it take before someone decided they wanted Betsy for themselves? Under the driver’s seat was the S&W M&P .40 Pro John kept as part of his preps. There were plenty more weapons in the gun safe in his basement office, but since his objective was a lightning-fast pickup, he wasn’t going to bother bringing an arsenal with him. Besides, the majority of people were currently in a state of confusion.

It would be another
forty-eight hours, he predicted, before that confusion morphed first into panic, then desperation, and finally all-out violence.

All eyes in the neighborhood were squarely on John as he brought Betsy out from the garage. He jumped out and lowered the garage door. The
man and woman who’d asked him for a boost earlier were speaking to one of his neighbors, Curtis. Now all three of them were looking this way, the woman’s hands on her hips in disgust.

But what was John supposed to do, give lifts to everyone in the city who was stranded? He’d been honest with both of them that a boost wouldn’t help them. He’d also made the quick calculation that going into details about what he suspected was an EMP attack would only lead to a string of endless questions. The truth was he didn’t even know himself if
that was what had happened. For all he knew, the government had been testing some kind of future weapon and something had gone terribly wrong. Course, that was stuff best left for low-budget sci-fi movies, while EMPs were a real threat to the country and its infrastructure. The other unknown at the moment was how far-reaching this was. Was Knoxville the only city out or had the entire country gone dark?

John put Betsy into gear and rolled out
of his driveway, wondering how long it would be before he got his answer.

Chapter 5

D
iane’s Century 21 office was three miles from the house. In the old days, taking the highway might have gotten him there faster, but that was surely a parking lot and the last place John wanted to be.

He left their quiet, idyllic
community of Sequoyah Hills and headed west along Lyon’s Pike. These were the back roads and not nearly as congested as the highway would be.

Soon he came upon c
ars stopped in the middle of the road. Some of them were already abandoned. Others still had people in them. A few had ventured to nearby houses, knocking on doors and asking for help. But like the man and woman who had approached John on Willow Creek minutes before, he already knew they were beyond help.

Weaving between stalled cars, John did his best to get there fast. A man in a gray suit hold
ing a briefcase tried to wave him to stop. And he wasn’t the only one. As John had predicted, the Blazer must have seemed like a mirage in a desert of broken-down vehicles.

At the intersection of Lyon’s
Pike and Northshore, a group of bystanders had gathered together. No doubt many were stranded motorists commiserating with one another over the situation, wondering how they might get the help they needed. With working cell phones they could have called AAA. One more symptom of the society they lived in—the first thought in people’s minds when there was an emergency was, “Who you gonna call?” They had lost all semblance of self-sufficiency.

As John approached in the Blazer, a
few from the group stepped out into the road and he was forced to make a decision. Either run them over or slow down. On the plus side, Betsy’s doors were locked and the pistol was under his seat. Besides, they didn’t look particularly threatening. John reached down and set the S&W M&P .40 Pro on the passenger seat. The truck was high enough that they wouldn’t see it just by looking in.

He rolled to a stop and lowered his window.

“Listen,” a guy in khakis and a blue Best Buy shirt said in a panic. “We don’t have a clue what happened, but all of our cars conked out at once.”

A young girl with a blonde ponytail lifted her cell phone in the air and scrunched up her face. “Our phones are dead too.”

“I know,” John said. “I don’t want to frighten you, but the same thing is happening in my neighborhood. Might be the whole city is affected. Maybe even more.”

“Hackers,” the guy from Best Buy spat. “I remember seeing a video on this a while back. Russian and Chinese hackers. They’ve finally done it.”

“I don’t think it was hackers,” John told him. “They tend to target one piece of infrastructure at a time. Electricity, cell phones, but not all at once and not your cars too.”

“You sure about that?” Best Buy asked.

John shook his head. “How can I be? I suggest each of you forget going to work and get stocked up on as much food and water as you can find. This outage may last awhile.” It could last months or years, but now wasn’t the time to freak people out.

The blonde girl was talking to herself now. “I ne
ver trusted that Onstar stuff. I’ll bet you a million bucks that’s what the Chinese used to hack our cars.”

The conspiracy theo
ries were starting to fly and with that John excused himself.

“Wait a minute,” Best
Buy called after him as John started rolling his window up. “Can you give me a lift to Kingston Pike?”

“Yeah, I need a lift too,” the blonde said
, waving her cell phone as though she was hailing a cab.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you. Please step back so I don’t run anyone over by mistake.”

“Come on, man!” Best Buy shouted. His polite veneer was already starting to crack.

John
went for the pistol and stopped himself. They were scared and slipping into panic mode. He revved the engine, making it growl. “Step back, please.” His military command voice came out and they did as he said.

John sped away. He’d be coming back
along the same route before long and hoped the crowd would be dispersed by then.

Heading up
Northshore Drive John encountered a single stalled car. It had rolled back into a ditch after the owner must have abandoned it.

A minute later
, he approached the Century 21 office. The building was a red-roofed, one-story bungalow. Sharing the space was a law office and a small mortgage company. John pulled into the parking lot and stopped before the front doors. A few of Diane’s real estate colleagues were milling about outside. He stuffed the S&W under his belt and pulled his shirt over it. Then he got out of the car and locked it behind him.

“Hell of a morning
, John,” Tom Weaver crooned, pulling hard on the cigarette clenched between his yellowed fingers. He owned the real estate branch and seemed to spend most of his time out front smoking.

“Is Diane inside?
” John asked curtly.

Tom shook his head. “Don’t think so. Last I saw Diane
she was on her way to show a house in Cedar Bluff.”

Tom rattled off the address, but what struck John most was the way the
y were all standing around, waiting for the power to turn back on, just as it had always done in the past.


This may be a whole lot worse than it seems,” John said. It was difficult knowing whether to come right out and scream EMP, that they should go home to their loved ones before it was too late. The average person wouldn’t understand and even if they did, they were so ill-prepared for what lay ahead that it almost seemed cruel to warn them this late in the game. Even so, John drew in a deep breath and began laying out what he thought had happened. He didn’t get very far before Tom cut him off.


I know you spent time in the military, John, but I don’t see how you could know such a thing.”

“I didn’t say I knew, Tom. I said there isn’t another explanation that can account for everything that’s happened
this morning. The loss of power, cell phones and cars not working.”

T
he others standing nearby were beginning to look frightened.


I sure hope you’re wrong about this, John, cause Diane’s got a big property up in Oak Ridge that’s supposed to go through today.” Tom pulled out his pack of Marlboros, shook a fresh one loose and lit it with the dying ember of his current cigarette.

John smiled,
told them God bless, hopped back in his truck and took off. This was the third time today he’d tried warning someone about what was coming and it was clear they just weren’t interested in believing it. Not yet. By day two and three the grim reality would start to sink in. That was time John could use to figure out what play to make. Stay in the bunker he’d built under his garage and live off the month of supplies he’d stashed there or head north for the cabin?

He stepped on the accelerator, roaring past
a man in blue jeans next to a BMW, waving his dress shirt around like a white flag. Knoxville was brimming with people crying for help all at once and there wasn’t a thing the police or emergency response services could do about it. John’s first order of business was to find his wife and kids and hope to God he would get there in time.

BOOK: Last Stand: Surviving America's Collapse
5.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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