It happened at 4:36 pm. I know this because I had tasks to complete by 5:00 pm and I was pushing the clock. Right after I checked the time, everything went dark. For a moment, no one thought about it. Just a power outage. But I knew. Somehow, I knew. I checked my phone. No life. I checked in with my coworkers and their phones were the same-dead as a doornail. I grabbed my keys and headed down the stairs to the parking lot. I didn’t have a flashlight in the office so I had to hold the handrails and take my time. I didn’t need to fall and break an ankle. Outside, the bitter cold conspired with the relentless wind to chill my very bones.
At my car, I tested the key fob. No response. I opened the driver’s side door and leaned the seat back so that I could reach the back door to open it. I climbed into the back and reached over the back seats into the storage area. For whatever sadistic or perhaps uninformed reason, Subaru had not put a key lock on the outside of the hatch on my Crosstrek. It was too dark to see if there was a door release on the inside. I began to gather my belongings and toss them on the front seat. My get-home bag, my winter emergency gear, and all my cloth grocery bags were pulled. There was a blanket in the back as well. I grabbed the map out of the glove box, Molly, in her conceal carry bag, and a little box of necessities, such as Chapstick and gum. I rescanned each compartment and seat and grabbed both jackets. Then I decided to bring the little storage box that I kept in the foot space behind the driver’s seat, and finally, the bobble on my rearview mirror. It was a gift. It was an impulse, borne of the need to “keep things normal.”
My little flashlight helped me get up the stairs without killing myself. My coworkers didn’t get it yet. They wondered what I was doing. The power will be back on soon. Not to worry. “My car won’t start. I am going to walk home tomorrow.”
“Don’t you live a half hour away? If you drive?” Caroline asked. “How can you walk that far in one day?”
“Besides,” added Heather, “It will all be back on in a little bit.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t think so.” I pulled everything out of my get-home bag and sorted all the items. “I’m going to change my clothes.” I closed the door of the little back office, turned on my flashlight, and changed into my emergency jeans, tee shirt, and sweatshirt. I left my shoes off since I figured I would be sleeping there. I loaded all my work clothes into a cloth grocery bag and tried to think clearly about what was left. I needed the backpack to contain things that I couldn’t live without, such as a flashlight, water, toilet paper, food stores, and at least one jacket. If I encountered trouble, I could drop my bags and run with the backpack. I pulled one frozen breakfast out of the freezer and sat it on my desk for the next morning. Scrambled eggs would do just fine.
In another grocery bag, I loaded Kleenex which I had removed from the box and pushed into a Ziplock that had been in my get-home pack. Next, I grabbed the odds and ends from my desk, and the batteries I found in the store room. Then I pulled all the tea and packaged food out of the kitchen cabinet and set it on the meeting table. The water from the fridge also was loaded on the table. Plastic ware, paper towels, and bags of chips-all usable items were set out to distribute among us. Then I filled my personal water bottles from the bottle dispenser. “I have to pee,” I told them. But I wasn’t sure if the toilets would work. I took my flashlight and left the office.
In the third-floor hallway, people peered out of their offices. One man in a three-piece suit moved toward me. “Do you know anything? What happened?”
“I don’t know,” I shook my head and shrugged. “Does your phone work?”
He only shook his head. His grim expression told me he had an inkling of what had happened, but he didn’t want to say.
After taking care of my business, I left the toilet without flushing. Maybe others wouldn’t understand, but the bowl could be used several times before we flushed. Back in the office, I asked everyone to take what they wanted from the stores on the table and then decide if they were sleeping there. We could use the training bed in the back office, and there was a couch, but there were four of us, so at least two would have to sleep on the floor.
None of my coworkers were prepared for this so they didn’t have a backpack to carry anything. I searched the office for plastic grocery bags and found two for them to use. Hana asked while I worked, “What do you know that we don’t?”
“I really don’t know any more than you do,” I said. “But since all the phones are out and our cars don’t work, I would say it was a solar flare or an EMP strike.”
“A what?” Caroline asked.
Cissy had been silent so far, but she finally spoke up. “Electromagnetic pulse. It knocks out all machinery, cars, phones, the grid, everything.”
I loaded the storage box I took from my car into the bottom of a cloth grocery bag and set the water cans into it. The box made a nice secure bottom for them so they didn’t bounce around. I loaded my jacket on top of them so the water would not be obvious. Then I took one last inventory of my supplies. My backpack was full of water, protein bars, nuts, and other assorted snacks. I had two grocery bags full of stuff and I thought I could load the rest of my food from the fridge into the two bags. They would be heavy but that couldn’t be helped. “Good night, y’all,” I said to the other three. “I’m planning on leaving early, so I’m going to try to get some rest.” Darkness had crept in like a sneaky cat, so I hoped that my internal clock would cooperate and let me sleep.