Day Zero
143 pages

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143 pages

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Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
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NAVY SEAL DEACON HALE is on vacation. But when planes start falling out of the sky, he knows he and everything around him is going to change in a hurry.

MIAMI CATERER LORI DOVNER, on the run from a madman, is nearly to the safe haven of her sister’s Montana farm when the world goes dark. Through only the slimmest chance, Deacon knows where she is. But of all the people in the world, Deacon is the last person Lori wants to rescue her.

MAFIOSO RAOUL SALDATA will catch Lori Dovner and her two children, and the last thing he will do is kill them. Quite nearly to his prize, fate intervenes.

Can Deacon, trying to navigate a world gone mad, reach Lori before Saldata does? With no electricity, no phones, no cars, no computers, who will survive Day Zero?

“Day Zero: Stronghold Book 2” continues, minute by minute, the new world that Lori, Deacon and Lori’s sister Louise must now navigate. Who will survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape where any rules can be broken?



Publié par
Date de parution 09 octobre 2020
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781645635345
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0012€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Day Zero

Chris Jayne
Published by Inferis Press

All rights reserved.

No part of the book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Chris Jayne
Day Zero

EBook ISBN: 978-1-64563-548-2
Barnes & Nobles: 978-1-64563-549-9
Kobo ISBN: 978-1-64563-550-5
Apple ISBN: 978-1-64563-551-2
Print ISBN: 978-1-64563-552-9
Audio ISBN: 978-1-64563-553-6

Cover Art by Inferis Press

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Week Zero

Chris Jayne
Chapter 1

Day Zero: 10:13 AM Pacific Time
Canyon City, California
K ate Garnett drove up Bell Canyon road too fast. It was narrow, twisting and turning, and at least once a year there was a terrible wreck along here somewhere. She knew she drove it too fast, she did every day, but this route was the only way she could cut five minutes off the path from the boys’ school back to the house. That was a good thing. She had to make the round trip to the school twice a day, which meant that taking this route saved her twenty minutes a day, five days a week, which was a hundred minutes a week and… well, she wasn’t sure how much that was a year but it was a lot.
She had never driven off the road before, she reasoned, so she probably wouldn’t today.
She checked the clock on the screen in her Mercedes SUV, 10:13. Damn, there was no way she would have time to shower before her 10:30 call with her agent. It wouldn’t be a problem except he always wanted to see her, always insisted they talk on video, and after an hour at Elements Hot Yoga studio, she was, well, a hot mess.
Maybe Franklyn could push the meeting off until 11:00. That would give her time to shower, manage a quick blow dry, and put on some make-up. She had to look good, even if the meeting was just with her agent. Kate was 41, and the last three roles she’d been offered were two grandmothers and an aging prostitute. An aging prostitute that died in the first act of the film, and Franklyn’s reassurance that it was a “big scene” had been anything but reassuring.
Kate took a turn a little too fast and drifted into the oncoming lanes. As per usual, this stretch of Bell Canyon was deserted, but it would be just her luck to hit the one oncoming car of the last ten minutes. Then, she reflected cynically, she’d really be late for her meeting.
Though why she even bothered anymore, she didn’t know. No, that wasn’t right, Kate knew exactly why she still bothered. While her career withered on the vine, Liam’s had exploded. At 43, his roles just became more and more lucrative. If there was anything above the “A-List,” her ex-husband was on it, while she hadn’t had a major role in a big picture since before Jackson was born. And Kate hated the fact that she was becoming a Wikipedia footnote to Liam Garnett’s career.
The thumbpad on the steering wheel allowed her to activate her phone. “Call Franklyn Powers,” she ordered and…
The steering wheel went heavy in her hands, and in the same instant the hand-free screen faded to black. The engine in her car sputtered once, twice, then stopped. She couldn’t steer. Pulling against the impossibly hard resistance, she managed to get the wheels to turn just a bit, but it wasn’t enough. The SUV crossed over the centerline.
She braked, the car slowed a bit. Totally confused, Kate looked down at her feet, at the Gucci ballet flat pressing against the brake pedal, as if somehow the answer would be there.
It wasn’t, and when she looked up again, her windshield was filled with bushes and she was falling.
Chapter 2

Day Zero: 11:15 AM Mountain Time
Greystone Rest Area, I-90, Montana
L ori Dovner stared at the black screen on her phone and let out a deep, desperate sound, more a whimper than a sigh. For a moment she thought about Simone’s discouraged whisper when she’d gotten out of the car not twenty minutes earlier: “ J’espere .” I hope. When Simone had said the words, Lori had felt a moment of frustration that the young woman was not sharing in her optimism. What a Negative Nancy! They were “home free,” and truly nothing else could go wrong.
That happy emotion had folded like a cheap lawn chair. As the teenagers said Oh. Em. Gee. The man was who was trying to kill her was here in Montana and now, at the moment in her life she needed a cell phone more than she ever had, it was dead as a doornail in her hand. A lot could change in twenty minutes.
She desperately needed to call Roger back. She looked at her phone numbly. How could it be dead? That made no sense. It was fully charged; it had been plugged into the car’s lighter port all morning as they drove. Still, what did she expect from a pay-as-you-go model, even one that had smart phone features?
Could she turn on her real phone briefly? Saldata was here, not sitting at a computer somewhere monitoring her phone. She rejected the thought as quickly as she had it; if her phone was being tracked, he would have someone else doing it. No way could she risk turning her phone on, but, she hesitated, maybe they could boot up Simone’s briefly. First things first, though: she had to let Simone know what was going on and then she’d figure out the safest way to get back in touch with Roger.
Lori hurried towards the fenced area, which had been set aside for a dog run. Crossing the parking lot, she noticed absently that the engines of both the diesel trucks that had been parked in this back lot had turned off. Lori welcomed the silence. With the constant sound gone, she realized how pervasive – and annoying – the steady low-pitched rumble of the trucks had been.
She paused to wait for a car, but then saw it was stopped, right in the middle of the parking lot. The Asian couple inside was arguing, the woman gesturing animatedly, the man with his head wearily forward on the steering wheel. When the driver saw Lori waiting, with a disgusted look he impatiently motioned for her to cross in front of him.
Brandon and Grace were playing with their German Shepherd Sasha and a small dachshund that was climbing on top of Sasha as if she were a mountain. Simone sat on a bench in one corner of the dog pen, paperback in hand. She had never actually seen Simone read a book before, she realized. The hardest thing for Simone, Lori reflected, had been staying off her phone, because like most millennials, she did everything on the device, including staying in regular contact with her friends and family in France, as well as having books and games available. Somehow, Lori thought, she even managed to write her school papers… on her phone. Lori couldn’t even imagine that.
Now, however, she clearly had been sufficiently intimidated by Lori’s experience that as far as Lori knew, she had never turned her phone back on since turning it off at Sylvia’s house a week ago. Talk about cold turkey…
At the Country Suites in Norman Oklahoma, a box of donated paperbacks had been in the lobby, with a sign that said, “Take One. Leave One.” Simone hadn’t had one to leave, but she’d taken a book anyway, and was sitting reading the romance now. In spite of her stress over seeing Saldata, Lori stopped for a moment to savor the commonplace scene. How ironic that the children and Simone were finally relaxed enough to enjoy every-day activities, the “new normal.” Now she was going to have to shatter that.
Lori slipped next to Simone, relieved they’d be able to chat without the kids overhearing. Brandon still appeared largely oblivious to what was going on, but Grace was listening to everything that she and Simone discussed, which made it very difficult to talk openly in the car.
“I need to tell you something,” she said quietly. “Something bad.”
“What?” Simone closed the paperback and her hands fell still on the book.
“I saw the man who is after me. Raoul Saldata. He was here.”
“What!” Simone surged to standing, the sound of her indrawn gasp harsh, and she looked around frantically, eyes wild.
Lori grabbed her arm, struggling to keep her voice low. “No. Simone, no. Stop. Calm down. He’s gone. He didn’t see me.”
Slowly, Simone sank back down onto the bench, not taking her frantic eyes from Lori’s face.
“He’s gone,” she repeated. Quickly, she recounted the horrifying near-miss in the restroom building. “I saw him but he didn’t see me,” Lori emphasized. “So really, it’s a good thing.” Lori wasn’t so sure about that, but the reassurance seemed to calm Simone even more. “I called Roger and he said to stay here. Roger’s brother Deacon is coming to get us. We’re supposed to wait here until he comes.”
For the hundredth time on the trip Lori questioned her decision to not go to the police immediately. Because she really did not know who she could trust in Miami, it made sense, but here in Montana? Maybe she should get in the car, go back to Billings, drive into the largest state police headquarters she could find, and lay the story out. Surely the cartel’s reach could not be this great. Surely someone at the FBI here would believe her? As she had the thought, though, she rejected it. Even if the idea was good, there was no downside now to waiting the few more hours until Deacon arrived and escorted them to Roger’s. The last thing she wanted to do was show up at a police station or FBI office with the children. She had to leave them somewhere safe before any other decision was implemented.
“How long will that be? Before this man arrives?” Simone asked, her eyes dark with worry.
“No more than three hours. But this stupid cheap phone died on me while I was talking to him. I really want to call him back, but…”
Lori paused, her voice trailing off. As she watched, the two tractor trailer drivers got out of the cabs of their trucks, exchanged a few words, then walked together to where the car was stalled in the middle of the parking lot. The driver got out and gestured to the vehicle. The two truck drivers were facing away from Lori, but she could hear the car’s driver clearly, shouting in accented English. “Just no work!”
Simone touched Lori’s arm. “Lori?”
Lori didn’t look back at Simone but instead kept watching the exchange. Now the driver’s wife got out of the car too. She was shouting and gesturing wildly with her arms. “Something’s happening,” Lori said softly.
“What?” Simone followed her gaze and also saw the group talking around the stalled car.
Lori stood up. “Come on.” She started moving towards the gate of the dog yard. “You guys stay here,” she called to Brandon and Grace. “We’re going to make lunch.” She looked at the owner of the dachshund who was standing near the romping dogs and children. “Is it okay,” she called out, “if I leave them?”
“Sure, no problem,” the woman called back. Lori noticed for the first time that the woman was quite pregnant as she patted her belly. “Guess I better get used to it!” she said with a smile.
Lori and Simone walked over to the where the two drivers and the couple in the car were talking. Just minutes before, the silence left by the cessation of the diesel motors had been pleasant, but suddenly it felt odd, even ominous. She heard nothing but the voices of the four people talking, the chatter of Brandon and Grace and the two dogs, and some birds. Then, just faintly on the wind, the sound of other shouting voices came to her. She realized that up in the main parking lot of the rest area, another group had clustered, and they too were noticing that something was not right.
She approached the group. “What’s going on?” she asked.
The driver, an Asian man is his fifties, looked at her helplessly. “Just stop. She no go.”
One of the drivers chimed in. “Our trucks too. ‘Bout five minutes ago.”
“What?” Lori was trying to make sense of it. “But that’s when my phone died.”
At Lori’s mention of her phone, a shocked look passed over the woman’s face. She got back into the car and came out immediately with her phone in her hand. “Mine no go too,” she said slowly, showing the black glass face of her phone to everyone. She had a strong accent and then she said something to her husband. Because Lori’s husband had been half Korean, she had heard enough Korean in her life to recognize that it was not that language and she didn’t think it was Chinese either. Maybe Japanese?
“She wants to know what’s happening,” he said.
One of the truck drivers, wearing a uniform shirt with an embroidered nametag which read Morgan, fished his phone out of his trousers pocket. The look on his face told the same tale without his having to speak a word.
After a long moment of silence, the second driver said, “I’m going up to the main building. See what’s happening there.”
To hide her confusion, Lori responded, “Yes. Please do. I’m… uh… going to make some lunch for my kids,” and before anyone could say any more, she walked over to the Escalade, drawing Simone with her in a way that she hoped was not too obvious.
Lori had no idea what was happening, but her intuition was telling her that something was very wrong. For a moment, as she walked, she fought down what was quite nearly a panic attack.
Glancing up at the restroom building, just visible through the trees, she could see that the windows in the back of the building, which would have been in the toilet areas, were dark. So, the electricity was out too. She was no scientist but there was no explanation that she understood for peoples’ cars and their phones, neither of which depended on the electrical system, to die simultaneously along with the electrical power.
Except maybe there was one.
A couple of months previously, she had seen a television program which discussed a phenomenon very much like what was happening. When she and Simone reached the back of the Escalade, she was so overwhelmed that for a long moment, she could only rest against the back of the car, warm from the sun, and stare numbly through the window at… nothing. Her thoughts raced.
Finally, Simone, clearly disturbed by Lori’s silence, reached out. “Lori?” she questioned tentatively, her hand on her employer’s shoulder.
“I don’t know if I can take any more,” Lori hissed. “First Saldata, and now this.” All week Lori had been trying to spare Simone, who at barely twenty years old, was closer to Grace’s age than her own, but now she felt she just could not hold her emotions together any longer.
“I don’t understand what is happening.” Simone started to cry.
More exhausted than she’d ever been, Lori said nothing. She thought they’d made it. Barely two hours to go. One hundred and thirty miles out of an almost 2,500 mile trip. So close.
Lori popped the hatch of the Escalade, trying to decide what to say to Simone, but then suddenly something caught her attention. That was odd. The interior light in the Escalade was coming on. A wave of relief crashed over her. They were all just stupidly paranoid; maybe everything was fine. She walked around and opened the driver’s door and the chime indicating that the keys were in the ignition dinged to life. Did this mean her car would run? Hoping against hope it had been nothing but a series of odd coincidences which had led to a completely foolish conclusion, she quickly got her answer. Slipping into the driver’s seat, she turned the key. The car chugged and tried to start, just as if she’d run out of gas, but it never successfully turned over. After a few tries, she stopped, the sinking feeling in her stomach returning instantly.
Glancing back nervously, she saw both the Asian couple and the truck driver watching her. Their expressions were more blank confusion than threat. The Japanese couple in particular looked as if they were waiting for someone to tell them what to do. She went back to the rear of the Escalade. “Call me crazy,” she said to Simone, her voice just above a whisper, “but I think I know what might have happened.”
“What? I don’t understand. How can the car and phone not work together?”
Lori should her head. “I saw something about this on television a couple of months ago. An interview with a scientist. That something,” she struggled to phrase it, “something in the atmosphere could turn everything off at once.”
“Up in the sky. Really far up. Further up than planes fly.”
Simone digested that. “Turn off?” She looked confused. Simone had lived with Lori for more than a year now, and had spoken passable English when she’d arrived, so now her English was quite good, but she still struggled with idiomatic expressions occasionally.
“Like a light switch,” Lori clarified.
Simone seemed to get it. “ When will it run again?”
“That was just it. It never comes back on.” Lori tried to remember the details, but she could recall few specifics. The show had probably been on the same cable channel which specialized in alien abductions, the Loch Ness monster, and Nostradamus. She enjoyed watching programming like this for a light-hearted break while she was cooking, but if it had been a typical night she would been interrupted, during the course of a single half hour, with at least one work-related phone call and three or four homework requests from Grace. In fact, she realized she could remember almost nothing other than whoever was interviewing the scientist had treated some of the predictions very skeptically.
“What?” Simone asked. “This is possible?”
“I don’t know. Just that once everything is fried, it can’t be fixed.”
“Fried?” Simone looked completely confused. “ Comme frite?”
Simone used the French word for “fried” that meant – literally – cooked in oil, and Lori realized again that the idiom didn’t translate. “No, like destroyed. Broken.”
“This is possible?” The au pair repeated her question.
Lori glanced over to where the kids were still playing. The pregnant woman had walked up to the fence and was looking at them. She held up her phone, a baffled expression on her face. “Is something going on?” she called out. “My phone just died out of the blue. It’s brand new and I know it’s charged.”
“Yeah,” Lori called back. “It seems to be happening to everyone. Mine’s dead too.”
The woman glanced back at her phone, puzzled, and fumbled with buttons on the side.
Lori turned to Simone, decisive, because suddenly a few more facts from the television program were coming back to her. Lori’s career was feeding people. Because of that, certain information had caught her attention in spite of interruptions. The vast majority of Americans had less than a week’s worth supply of food, the scientist had claimed, and in a full scale collapse of the food transport chain, half of the population of America would be rioting in a week and starving within a month. When Lori had heard that, she had glanced idly at her pantry and freezer and wondered how long she could feed her family on what she had in the house.
She mulled over the prediction again. Half rioting in a week, and starving in a month. Could that be true? Lori had no idea, but if there was even a chance that it was, she needed to act now.
“I don’t understand any of this,” she said to Simone. “I’m not sure how it happens. But I’m not taking any chances.” She grabbed the camp stove out of the back of the car. “Follow me with the coffee pot.”
They walked to a picnic table outside of the dog pen. As they walked, she gave low-voiced instructions to Simone. “I’m going to bring the hamburger meat and the buns out here. And the coffee stuff. Hopefully people will be watching me. Once they are distracted, I want you to take everything out of the cooler except one or two things and hide all the food under the back panel, by the spare tire.” She paused. “Do you know where I mean?”
“Yes, but… hide it?” From Simone’s face, it was clear she wasn’t sure she was hearing correctly. “Why?”
“Yes,” Lori affirmed. And then just to make absolutely sure, she switched to French. “ Cache tout. Absolutement tout . What’s in the grocery bags too. The instant oatmeal, the cereal boxes, everything. Leave maybe half a loaf of bread, the empty jar of peanut butter, and those brown bananas in the cooler.” She paused. “So, if someone looks in the cooler, that is all they will find.” She paused again, hoping that her whole meaning had sunk in. “Got it?” Even as she said it, a chill passed through her. Was she really acknowledging that someone might look in her cooler and try to confiscate her food?
Simone gazed back at her with wide eyes, but she nodded in agreement.
Lori made one more trip to the car and loaded the one remaining package of raw hamburger meat, the sleeve of buns, a small bottle of cooking oil, the ketchup, plus the frying pan, and the coffee into the small laundry basket she’d bought.
As she predicted, the Japanese couple and Morgan the truck driver watched her warily. Every minute or so, the Japanese man tried to start his car again, with the same non-result. Pretending to be oblivious to the scrutiny, she set up her cooking area on a picnic table. For one terrible second she wondered if somehow the Coleman stove, too, would not function, but with no issues the little stove jumped into flame. Casually she walked over to the freestanding spigot beside the picnic tables, and gave a sigh of relief when the water flowed with a full stream, clear and cold. What caused the water to pump she had no idea, but at least for now that seemed to be fine.
Out of the corner of her eye, Lori saw Simone lingering at the back of the Escalade. It was in straight line of sight from where Morgan stood with the confused couple, and there was no way Simone could follow the instructions with them standing there.
“Come on over.” Lori motioned to them. “I’m cooking hamburgers and I’ve got enough for everyone. Plus coffee. Anyone want lunch?”
Chapter 3

Day Zero: 11:15 AM Mountain Time
Lewiston, Montana
E very light in the ER shut down. Just like that, with no warning, no preamble. There one instant, the next gone. Then, the constant background hum of the HVAC wound down and disappeared. A complete hush fell, as if the world had, for an instant, just stopped turning.
Maybe it had.
Louise Hale and Sandy Kaplan sat in the Emergency Room, for a second sharing in the hush. Waiting. The physician’s assistant who had been speaking to them said nothing.
Then around them voices started rising.
“What was that?”
“What the hell?”
The cubicle in which they sat, located towards the rear of the ER, was in almost total darkness. Louise could see only the shape of the PA, outlined against the curtain. “Just a second here,” the woman laughed. “The generators will kick on.”
They waited, as voices from outside the curtain started getting a bit louder. “Any second now,” the PA said, her voice falsely cheerful. After a few more moments, she muttered, “Hold on,” and went out through the curtain.
“That’s so strange,” Sandy said to Louise quietly. “Wonder what happened. There’s no storm or anything.”
“The generators didn’t kick on.” Not only was it odd, it was very worrisome. Louise had worked in multiple hospitals, and at the least electrical flicker, backup generators were supposed to take over immediately, to protect patients on ventilators and monitors.
When the PA had come in the door, Louise had set her phone down on the end of the exam table. She picked it up now, intending to try Roger again while they waiting. The screen of her smart phone was black. For a second, she felt complete disorientation. Since the cell phone didn’t work at her house, she often let it go dead, but it had been on the car charger for the entire way to Lewiston, and she’d looked at it when they had arrived at the hospital. It had been at over 40%. Absolutely no way was it dead.
“Sandy,” she said, uncertain. “Look at your phone.”
“Look at your phone.”
In the darkness, Louise could hear Sandy fumbling for her purse. “It’s dead.” There was a pause, then, “But, how can that be? I know I charged it last night.”
“Mine’s dead too.”
“Maybe the power outage affected the phone networks,” Sandy suggested.
“No,” Louise said. “No. It doesn’t work like that. Even if the networks were out and we didn’t have a signal, our phones, the screens,” she clarified, “should still work.”
“You’re right.” She gazed at her phone for a long moment as if the answer would suddenly materialize. “What’s going on?”
The two women sat in silence, listening to the voices around them. Without warning, the curtain to their cubicle separated wide. Silhouetted against a small amount of light coming in through the emergency room outer doors was a man. “Do your phones work?” he asked.
Louise had no idea who the man was, but he didn’t seem like a staff member. “No,” she said. “Neither of ours do. Do you know what’s going on?”
“No,” the man snapped, and threw the curtain closed again.
Suddenly, they heard shouting. “We have a staff emergency, we have a staff emergency,” a voice called out.
“What the…” Decisively, Louise stood and turned to Sandy. “Wait here.” Pulling back the curtain she walked out into the dark ER. Only two or three of the other eight cubicles had been occupied, so it was not particularly crowded.
The physician’s assistant who had come into talk to them ran by. Louise caught her arm. “What’s happening?”
“Not sure,” the woman said in a rush, her face frightened. “The generators didn’t kick on. There’s a couple people on ventilators in the surgical suite who need to be bagged manually and…”
“The little girl with the broken arm?” Louise interrupted. “We were just leaving, but we didn’t get our script.”
The woman threw her hands up and looked distractedly away, as the shouting at the door that connected the ER with the rest of the hospital increased in volume. “There’s nothing I can do about that.” Even in the dim light, Louise could see her uncertainty. “You can wait. But unless the power comes on, we can’t even give you a prescription until we can enter it into the computer first.” She took a step away, then turned back and lowered her voice. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but if it were me, I’d just go ahead and leave. She’s not hurt that badly. No point in sitting here. What they gave her will keep her knocked out for at least a couple of hours. By then, the power will surely be back on and we can call in the prescription.” She paused. “I’m sorry, but…”
Behind them, the double doors to the ambulance bay banged wide open with a crash. Looking around the PA, through the open curtain, there was enough light for Louise to see it was a police officer. “I need a doctor,” he shouted. “We got problems out here, people, big problems.” His voice was desperately out of breath, as if he had run a long way. “All the cars stopped working at once. We got at least a couple people hurt. Hurt bad. On Main, car rolled right onto the sidewalk, ran over a woman with two little kids.”
“Oh my God,” the PA gasped and ran off towards the officer. Louise, shaken, went back into the cubicle.
“Did I hear someone say someone got run over?” Sandy asked, her voice now holding a note of real fear. “ Run over ? Like with a car? What is this, Lou?”
“I don’t know. But it doesn’t sound good.” She looked around the cubicle. “Do you have a water bottle?”
“A what?”
“A water bottle.”
Hesitantly, Sandy handed a half empty plastic bottle to Louise, who rushed to the cubicle’s small sink. The water appeared to be still flowing, at least for now. She filled Sandy’s bottle. Her eyes were becoming accustomed to the dim light, and squinting, she realized there was an empty plastic bottle in the trash. She grabbed it out, and filled it too.
“What are you doing?” Sandy asked, shocked. “You don’t know whose that was.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Louise snapped. “We’re going.”
“But we don’t have the prescription.”
Louise caught her friend’s arm. “I don’t think we’re going to get it,” she said. “We need to go.”
Sandy looked horrified. “But she can’t walk. And we can’t leave without the doctor saying it’s okay. Louise, you’re a nurse. You should know that.”
Louise rushed out of the cubicle, frantically scanning the ER. The PA to whom she’d spoken just minutes earlier had gone out the door with the police officer, Louise assumed. Other than one man who stood, looking confused in the opening of his cubicle, wearing nothing but his boxers, the place seemed empty.
All hospitals are the same, Louise reminded herself, and she rushed to the door where she was hopeful she would find… Yes! Tucked away in an alcove were multiple wheelchairs. Snapping one open, she scooted it back to where Sandy waited.
“Where did you get that?” she asked. “Did they give it to you?”
“I borrowed it,” Louise said. “Come on.”
“I don’t think we should move her, Louise. Really.”
“Come on!” Ignoring Sandy, she went and gently started lifting Marie off the table.
“What are you doing?” Sandy grabbed Louise’s arm. “Louise, you can’t take her!”
As quickly and gently as possible, Louise lay Marie back down and grabbed Sandy by the shoulders. “Something’s happened, Sandy. Something bad. You need to listen and trust me. We need to get out of here, now.”
Something in Louise’s tone got through to Sandy. In the dim light, Louise saw her friend’s face collapse with emotion. She glanced around the dark cubicle and finally, it seemed like the eeriness of the silent Emergency Room was registering. “Okay,” she whispered and helped Louise gently ease the nine-year-old into the wheelchair. Frantically, Louise opened cabinets, and found a stack of blankets. She grabbed every one of them and stuffed them into the chair next to Marie.
No one said a word as Sandy pushed the wheelchair containing her daughter, Louise walking ahead, out of the emergency room’s double doors into the parking lot, out into a world that had just changed forever.
Chapter 4

Day Zero: 11:30 AM Mountain Time
Near Hobson, Montana
R oger and Deacon stood in silence, staring numbly. A large plane had just disappeared behind a mountain. Roger slanted a look towards his brother. “Did we just see that?”
“Yeah,” Deacon allowed. “I think we did, but…” He paused a long moment. “I don’t hear anything. I don’t see any smoke.” Those who knew Deacon well would probably never have described him as speaking in “hushed tones,” but right now, that's exactly what he was doing. “How far away do you think that was?”
“I don’t know. Ten, fifteen miles.”
“Maybe the pilot managed to land. In a field or on a road.”
“That’s where the real mountains start, Deke. There aren’t any fields. Or roads.”
“Right.” Deacon drew the word out. Frustrated that nothing seemed to be making sense, he raked his hand through his short-cropped hair. Deacon’s military training kicked in and his first thought was that he should rush to the scene. In spite of Roger’s assessment, if the pilot had managed an emergency landing, there would now be dozens, if not hundreds, of people who needed help. As quickly as he had the thought, however, he rejected it.
Roger had said it could be as much as fifteen miles away, and even that, he could tell from his brother’s demeanor, was nothing more than speculation. Even if they wanted to help, the first barrier was transportation. They had no way of getting there, other than on foot and no guarantees that wherever the aircraft had come down, it would even be accessible. If it was in, as Roger had said, the “real mountains,” the crash could be miles off of a road.
Desperately, almost absurdly, Roger jumped back into his pick-up and tried again to start it. The result was the same as it had been minutes before. Suddenly, Roger sprinted towards the barn.
Throwing a quick glance at the children, Deacon followed. The two boys and Hannah had started playing with the ball again, but eleven-year-old Beth was continued to watch the two men with a worried look.
Roger’s tractor was parked in a covered shelter by the side of the barn. He jumped into the driver’s seat now, fetched the keys from under the seat, and within one second the diesel engine had chugged into life. As quickly as he had started it, he shut it off and jumped down. “So that works.”
Deacon looked at the tractor. He didn’t know much about farm equipment but saw immediately that it was an older model. “How old is it?” he asked.
Roger snorted. “Came with the farm. It’s a classic,” he snapped cynically. “1960s I think.”
“So, no electronics,” Deacon commented slowly.
Roger moved closer to him. “What do we do now?”
“Frankly, I’m not sure.” Deacon’s head was spinning. He didn’t know where to start. There were so many variables and even more unknowns.
Silence stretched between them. Finally, Roger spoke again. “It has to be an EMP, Deke. Has to be. What else could it be with the phones, the car,” he gestured vaguely to the sky, “the airplanes? Don’t you train for stuff like this all the time?”
“EMPs?” He snorted. “Not really. If you think I’ve attended a class entitled EMP 101, the answer is no.” That wasn’t entirely accurate, however. Deacon had heard about EMPs, more than once. He tried to remember the last time it had come up in the classroom; it had to be more than a year. One thing did stand out in his memory. Depending on who was doing the talking, there was a great deal disagreement on how bad it would be. Predictions varied from “not very bad,” to “stone age.”
“Let’s go back inside,” said Roger. “We need to figure out what we’re going to do.” As they walked, Deacon looked at his phone again. Maybe he was wrong, he thought, and thumbed the on-off switch on the side. Maybe he had somehow managed to turn it off. Maybe, he hoped, this was all just a power outage and a lot of paranoia, but, turning it off and then back on again produced no different result.
Beth Kaplan approached them. At eleven, she was a tall girl, over five feet, already as tall as a smaller woman. Her face was somber. “Mr. Roger,” she asked, “is everything okay?” The other three children, two six year old boys and a three year old girl, were running and screaming outside the house as if nothing had happened, but Beth, already anxious because of her sister’s accident, was far more observant and worried.
“Listen, Beth,” started Roger, “the power’s gone out and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on.” Roger stopped in front of the girl. “Right now, honey, I really need you to step up and help me with the others. ’Til your mom and Miss Louise get back. Play outside with them, but if they start getting cold or hungry come on in and…” Roger looked at Beth. Could eleven-year-olds cook? “Can you make them grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly? Heat up some soup?” As he said it, he said a quick prayer of thanks that at least their stove, running off a propane tank, should work.
Beth nodded and hurried off after the younger three, who had disappeared around the house.
“Thank God she didn’t see the plane,” Deacon said, his voice low as the young girl moved away.
The two men entered the kitchen, and then Roger disappeared into the front room, calling out over his shoulder. “I think I have an article about EMPs here somewhere. Preparing for events like this was one of the things Bill Bowen talked about. He even ran monthly seminars.” In a few moments, though, he returned empty-handed. “I don’t know where it is. I had a whole folder of material, but it might still be in some of the boxes we brought just the other day. I don’t have time to look for it now.”
“If Bowen talked about it, why are you asking me? You probably know more than I do.”
Roger shook his head. “This was three, four years ago while the old man was still alive. Then he got sick, and Willie Bowen took over and his seminars got more and more extreme. Stupid really. Government takeovers, coming plagues, poisoned water, alien invasions. I stopped going, I’m afraid. I do know one thing though. Old Man Bowen took EMPs seriously. A lot of the essential electrical infrastructure in Bowenville is, apparently, shielded. Everyone in Bowenville was supposed to have a Faraday cage in their basement with some critical supplies, a hand crank radio, emergency flashlight, HAM radio. That sort of thing.”
Deacon knew what a Faraday cage was: a shielded container which prevented electronic signals or waves from passing through. “Did people do it?” Deacon asked.
Roger shrugged. “Some did, some didn’t.”
Now, the million-dollar question. “Did you?”
“I did…” He paused. “Four years ago. But one of the things we were supposed to do is check the supplies every year and I didn’t. You’re not going to believe this, but the other day when we were there, I glanced around the basement and… I think I left it. It was back in the corner with some half-empty cans of paint and…” Roger closed his eyes as a wave of disgust passed across his face, then he reopened them and looked at his brother honestly. “I’m pretty sure I left it.”
“Lovely.” Deacon snapped. “Well, no help for it now.” He glanced over at the kitchen counter. “And no goddam coffee.” The popular brand single cup coffee maker he’d bought for Louise less than a week ago to replace her cheap Mr. Coffee had just become a paperweight. “I don’t suppose you have an old-fashioned coffee pot? You know, the kind that boils water.” For a second, he couldn’t remember what they were called and then it came to him. “A percolator.”
Roger snorted. “I haven’t a clue.” He threw his hands up in the air. “Enough bullshit. We’ve gotta figure out what to do. If the cars don’t run, Deke, I have to get to Louise. She’s seven months pregnant.”
Deacon, with one last sad glance at the coffee maker, slipped his six foot four inch frame into the kitchen chair and let his military training come to the fore. “Agreed, but first things first. The worst thing we can do is start running around like idiots with no plan. Whatever is going to happen, it’s not going to happen in the next hour. Even when things start to fall apart, they don’t fall apart this fast. Most people are still sitting there waiting for the power to come back on and are clueless about why their cars aren’t working. That’s even if they know their cars aren’t working – and a lot of people sitting in their houses don’t realize that yet. So, let’s figure out what we have, and what we know in order of importance.”
“Okay,” Roger agreed, drawing up another chair.
“First, somehow we have to get information. This obviously is not a power outage, given the fact that,” he enumerated on his fingers, “your truck won’t start, the hardline phone is dead, and my cell phone is dead.”
“Could this be local somehow?”
“You mean, just your house?” Deacon tried to clarify Roger’s question. He shook his head in the negative. “If this is an EMP – an electro-magnetic pulse – it doesn’t work like that.” He tried to recall things he’d been told. “I do know there was an event in the 1800s where an astronomer noticed a lot of sunspot activity, and simultaneously telegraph lines all of the United States stopped working. Some even melted. So no, there’s nothing that would cause an EMP over just your house.”
“No, I didn’t mean just the house. Obviously, we’re both pretty sure we saw a plane fall out of the sky. But let’s say, just central Montana?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t know for sure, but to my eye, that was a commercial jet and they fly five, six miles up. Anything powerful enough to knock a plane down and, at the same time, fry my phone in my pocket has to be widespread.” Then, in spite of himself, Deacon found himself doubting his own perceptions. “You’re sure you’ve never seen a plane go that way before?”
“No,” Roger insisted. “That was a big plane. There’s a small airport in Lewiston, the kind where guys land their toys but, as far as I know there’s nothing closer than Bozeman that can handle a commercial jet. Plus, Lewiston is the other direction. Over that mountain there’s nothing for a long way but… more mountains.”
“Then let’s assume it’s widespread. What does that mean? Denver? LA? Washington, DC? I have no idea, but it’s a lot further than Lewiston. And if that’s true, then we have to assume that we also have another two women and two children a hundred and thirty miles away who are sitting at a rest stop with a car that doesn’t work and no idea what is going on.”
“And, if Lori is to be believed, some seriously bad people chasing her,” Roger added.
“Right, but…” Deacon tapped his finger on the table, “at least we caught a break there. They are now ahead of her and they don’t know where she is. Plus, they also have a car that almost certainly doesn’t work either. So that may buy us a little time there.”
“Can we be sure of that?”
“Of what?” asked Deacon.
“That the cars don’t work.”
He dug his phone out of his pocket and held it out to Roger one more time. “If whatever happened is powerful enough to kill this, I can guarantee that any vehicle with any sort of electronics stopped cold. If they flew in, and rented a car, it’s at most one, maybe two years old. So no, it stopped running with everyone else’s.” Deacon thought for a long second. “We’ve got to get information, and there’s no way to solve that sitting here. No one’s going to drive up the driveway and tell us what’s going on. It could be that old CB radios might still work, if they could be powered somehow, but I’m assuming you don’t have one.”
Roger shook his head no. “We’ve got to get to Lou, Deacon. That’s the most important thing. Lou… then Lori. If it was five miles, she’d probably just try to walk it. But it’s more than twenty and she’s seven months pregnant. And even if Lou and Sandy could walk twenty miles, they can’t do it with a nine-year-old with a broken arm.”
Deacon agreed. He’d traveled twenty miles on foot on many occasions in his career. He knew exactly how far it was, and even for trained operators it got brutal towards the end. They’d carried Marie to the car wrapped in a woman’s sweatshirt, probably Louise’s, Deacon assumed, meaning Louise had a sweatshirt and the child probably had no coat at all. For two women, one pregnant, with an injured child, without proper gear or any supplies to try to walk twenty miles… He didn’t even want to think about it.
“Roger, those two objectives are really the same. To get information and to get Louise – and Lori – we need to get out of here. And that means we need transportation.” He hesitated. “How fast does that tractor go?”
“That piece of shit?” Roger’s voice went high. “Eight, maybe ten miles an hour on a good day.” He shook his head. “No, that’s the last resort. It breaks down on me once a week when I am driving it out to the fields, and the only reason I can fix it is that I am sitting here with tools. Out on the road, we’d been dead ducks. No way we could take it into Lewiston.”
Outside the small house, suddenly the sound of children’s voices were heard, softly then louder. Then a group of four children, red-cheeked from running in the cool fall air, tumbled into the kitchen. “They’re hungry, Mr. Roger,” said Beth.
“And cold, Daddy,” added Tony.
Roger’s face fell, and Deacon didn’t need to be a mind reader to know that his brother had temporarily completely forgotten that, on top of everything else, they were responsible for four children who were too young to stay home by themselves. “What do we do with them while you and I are trying to sort this all out?” Suddenly a look of relief swept over his face and he answered his own question. “I think I have an idea. When we went to Bowenville the other day, we left the kids with the neighbors, the Timmers. And guess what?” He snapped his fingers triumphantly. “Bob Timmer has an old pickup. Really old. Like a ’68 or ’70 Ford. I saw it in his garage and asked him about it. Do you think that will still run?” he asked hopefully. “What I know about classic cars isn’t much.”
“It should,” Deacon answered. “Pickup that old definitely still has a carburetor.” More and more information was coming back to Deacon now that the first shock was over. Electronic fuel injection, which had replaced carburetors in the 1980s, if Deacon was remembering correctly, was the primary component of modern car engines that would be vulnerable to an EMP.
Roger looked at the kids, then back at Deacon. “I’d say you should go up there, but Bob doesn’t know you. So, you stay with the kids, and I’ll go on the tractor. It’s slow but it’s faster than walking. Pray it makes it two miles without breaking down, pray they’re home, and pray that his pickup runs.”
“That’s a lot of prayin’.”
“I hate to say it, but right now that might be our best bet.”
“No, brother.” Deacon pushed back from the kitchen table and reached to the top of the kitchen cabinets. “These are our best bet.”
When they had arrived home from their trip to Bowenville the previous Wednesday, Roger had taken the two handguns that he and Deacon had carried and stuck them both on top of one of the kitchen cabinets. Louise hadn’t liked it; she’d wanted the firearms unloaded and put back into the gun safe. But Roger had made it clear that, while he didn’t believe anyone from Bowenville was going to come down the driveway looking for Sandy, he wasn’t taking any chances. And that, Deacon realized, was before anyone had even known about what was going on with Lori.
“No,” Deacon repeated. “You pray all you want, but we both carry these all the time. Beginning now. If everything turns back on ten minutes from now, in a week we’ll be sitting around drinking our beers laughing at how we thought the world had ended with an EMP.” He shook his head. “God, I hope so. But if not, starting right now, the people who are ready and smart are the people that are going to live.”
Deacon saw that Beth Kaplan was watching them wide-eyed, watching and listening, staring back and forth between the men’s faces and the guns. He’d had enough experience with young enlisted men who weren’t that much older than Beth to know that lying to people and trying to hide things only made it worse. He tucked the Sig into the waistband of his pants and sat back down. “Beth, it’s Beth, right?” She nodded, and he continued. “I don’t want you to be scared, but some things are going on that Roger… Mr. Roger,” he corrected, remembering that was how all the children addressed adults, “and I don’t understand.”
“Is it my mom? Did Marie die?”
“No,” Deacon said with absolute firmness. “No, honey. Marie did not die. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with your family. We think something might have happened up in the sky that makes the cars not work. So right now, we’re trying to figure out how to get to Lewiston, where your mom and your sister and Miss Louise are. To bring them home. We need you to be a grown up now.” The girl’s eyes went very wide at this statement, and Deacon thought it was a good bet no one had ever said those words to her before. “You might have to go stay at someone else’s house, someone you don’t know. You’re going to have to play with the little ones and watch them.”
Roger piped in. “Help Hannah go to the bathroom.” He turned to Tony and Frankie Kaplan. “Are you two listening to this? Uncle Deke and I are going to have to go to Lewiston to get Mommy and Frankie’s mom and Marie. Their car doesn’t work. And until we get back, you need to listen to Beth and mind her.”
Two six-year-old boys were always an unknown variable but today, a combination of Roger’s serious tone and the fact that both had been shaken up by Marie’s broken arm seemed to have sobered them up, at least temporarily. Both nodded yes with no argument.
Roger shrugged into his work jacket which hung in a small alcove by the back door and grabbed a pair of gloves from a shelf. “While I’m gone, Beth, pack up a few things for everyone to do. Small things like coloring books. I don’t know if Mrs. Timmer has any toys up there.” He looked at Deacon. “Make sure they eat something.” He stepped out the door, muttering to himself. “Let’s just hope this works.”
Deacon knew he wasn’t referring to just the tractor. As he turned back to look at the four children who still stood waiting expectantly in the kitchen, his eye caught on an old-fashioned clock hanging on the wall. He realized the second hand was moving, ticking with a jerk each second. What the heck? Reaching up he lifted it down from where it hung over the sink. A quick glance at the back showed that it was running off of two AA batteries.
As Deacon hung it back up, he took in the time: 11:50 He couldn’t remember exactly what time Lori had called but thought it had been around 11:00. Not even an hour.
How was that even possible?
Chapter 5

Day Zero: 11:50 AM Mountain Time
Lewiston, Montana
L ouise and Sandy sat in the front seat of Louise’s SUV, looking at the hospital’s parking lot in front of them. The Emergency Room lot was separate from the parking for the rest of the hospital. The actual door to the ER from which they had exited, was around the side of the building, so in reality they could see almost nothing.

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