At 9:29 AM CT tomorrow, every unshielded electronic device on Earth stops working, including the microchips and transistors and power transformers that manage your vehicle and your home and the entire electrical grid.
You may be stranded on the highway or at work or at home. Your children may be at school, miles away, and now there’s no way to call them or reach them in a timely manner. Maybe they’re at Grandma’s house, who lives in the small town where you grew up, a six-hour drive away in your car that won’t start. At this point your kids might as well be on another continent.
Unless you’ve already prepared for such an event, you might be confused by what’s happened. You may not realize your fate is already sealed. Your first instinct may be to gather your family, even if it takes hours. You may rush to the grocery store, where you find an anxious mob of shoppers trying to buy food and supplies with debit and credit cards that would carry no value even if the self-checkout registers weren’t dark.
In minutes or hours, the perishables in your refrigerator will begin to spoil. The food in your pantry will survive longer, but not much, because you never bothered to supply yourself for months when grocery pickup was always minutes away.
Even if you carry cash and manage to load up on dry goods, your first visit to the store will probably be your last, because the trucks that deliver food to your local grocer are stuck on the highway somewhere. The aisles are ghostly, you can barely see anything, because grocery stores do not typically invest in windows. Most of the supplied light comes from candles that will soon be purchased or stolen.
Maybe worst of all, you’re not even sure what’s happened. Was it a military attack? A celestial event? Unless you own a battery-operated ham radio, unless it was shielded or runs on tubes, how will you ever find out? Does it even matter at this point?
Because let’s face it, the water taps are going to dry up in hours or days, and you live in a metropolitan area along with two million other people, and pretty much all of them will be on the hunt for drinking water, same as you. And almost none of them are prepared to purify raw water. And without pressure, there are no more flushing toilets, no way to carry waste of any kind out of the city. Which means it’s time to leave.
But where will you go? Maybe you own a gun, and maybe you think you’ll hunt for food. But the other two (or five or seven or fifteen) million people have the same idea, they’re headed out of town in all directions, on roads not built to convey so much traffic, and by the way there is no longer a real or implied police presence. You’re on your own. The air is choked with smoke from impact sites of airliners that crashed minutes after the event. Pharmacies have been looted for opiates and insulin and antibiotics. Whole city blocks are ablaze. Everyone is on foot or on bicycles or basic motorbikes. Occasionally you hear the engine of an old pickup or VW bus, vintage vehicles not dependent on computers to run. Maybe you own one of these suddenly-valuable vehicles. What do you do when the gas tank runs dry? How do you stop someone with a gun from stealing it?
Besides, you probably don’t own one of these cars. You’re the walking dead. Because even if you survive the initial journey, if you get away from the city, there’s not enough game to feed your family. You’re not a very good shot and waste most of your rounds not killing the rabbit you happened to spot behind that clump of weeds. Your mouth is parched. Your children are desperate. They can’t walk any farther. You sit down and make camp and then, miraculously, rain begins to fall. You’re so thirsty. Only you have no way to capture all those precious drops that don’t fall into your hands or your mouth. And now your book of matches is ruined.
You’re afraid to fall asleep, because the two shady men who were watching you earlier are still back there looking shady. But eventually your eyes close on their own, and immediately you dream about aisles of groceries, large trays of oranges and apples, potatoes arranged in towering pyramids, chicken breasts laid out in rows. They don’t even have to be organic.
Why didn’t you prepare? Why didn’t you stock your garage with bags of beans and rice and crates of bottled water? Why didn’t you develop a bugout plan?
Or maybe you did. Maybe you’re a seasoned prepper. Maybe you knew, when the Fall came, you would be ready, unlike the easygoing city slickers who were too busy living paycheck to paycheck, wasting their extra money on movies and video games and gym memberships.
Maybe you gather your family and march to a secluded cabin in the woods, where you enjoy access to water and ways to purify it. Maybe you have stocked enough food for weeks or months. Now what?
What will happen when hordes of starving city slickers pour into the countryside? Maybe you plan to sit on your porch and pick off these desperate souls with your arsenal of deadly force. But will you really? Will you possess the will to kill as many of your fellow humans as it takes? And if you can summon the will, have you stockpiled enough rounds of ammunition? Will your spouse and children be ready to take up arms while you sleep? And if by some miracle your family manages to protect itself from the swarm of humanity, will you possess the strength to bury or burn all the bodies? Will your children address their dad as Pa and their mother as Ma? Will you grow beans and potatoes and trade with other settlers for tomatoes and cucumbers? Will you honestly enjoy this new way of life, which seemed romantic while you were dreaming it in front of your glowing computer screen, or will you long for your earlier, pampered existence, when your children didn’t lose a leg from a rattlesnake bite or die from an infection that could have been easily cured with antibiotics?
Will the survivors join together? Will they find a way to combine resources and knowhow to push humanity forward again? Will they figure out a way to safely shut down nuclear power plants before the rods melt down and blast radioactive waste into the atmosphere?
By that point will you even care?
Maybe an event like this seems impossible to happen. If something like it did, it would probably be caused by an electromagnetic pulse or a coronal mass ejection from the Sun (or even a cyber attack), and the effects would hopefully not be as thoroughly devastating as described here. But it’s hard to know for sure.
One thing is certain: Modern life is built upon infrastructure more fragile than many of us realize. Centralized food production and our aging, patchwork power grids expose us to nefarious or natural attacks that a hundred years ago would have had minimal impact.
Anyway, if you find this scenario morbidly fascinating (like I do), check out my forthcoming novel, House of the Rising Sun. It’s destined to become the feel-good thriller of the summer!