November 11, 2021
A major superstorm arises within the sun, jettisoning off huge particles of hot, molten gas. These flare-ups happen often. In fact, a smaller one occurred ten years prior though the effect on Earth was minor and most of the damaging particles eventually disintegrated in the vast reaches of the universe. This time, however, there is an unfortunate confluence of events. The storm is exceptionally strong, and due to the alignment of the planets, the mass of radioactive particles heads directly for Earth. The storm also lasts for two full days, bombarding all parts of the planet continually with radiation as it rotates. Added to this, accelerated changes in climate during the past ten years have spawned numerous major storms that destabilized much of the infrastructure humans have built, especially in coastal areas and flood zones near rivers.
As the particles hit the outer stratosphere of Earth’s atmosphere, their interaction with the magnetic field causes massive disruption of power grids around the world. Moreover, the magnetic field has been shifting slowly for ages, and this barrage of galactic radiation tips the scale. Earth’s magnetic poles have been slowly on the move—and suddenly, this storm causes the migration of the magnetic poles to accelerate. Scientists on Earth had been predicting this shift, thinking it would most likely take centuries, but the force of the storm changes all predictions.
On the planet Earth, north is soon to become south.
Ten Years Earlier
Laurie sighed out of sheer exasperation. After two full days with no power, she was truly at her wits’ end. School was cancelled, and her bored boys were fighting again. Their latest argument over a stupid game of Monopoly. She had to get out of her house. Thankfully, her neighbor, Jenny, was home. She could see Jenny’s car in the driveway from her bedroom window. Deciding that Brendan and Josh were old enough to fend for themselves for a bit even without any electronic babysitters, she called to them as she walked out the door.
“Brendan, Josh! I’m going across the street for a little while. Find something to do separately!”
The moment of silence upstairs indicated to Laurie they must have heard her. Hopefully, they wouldn’t kill each other while she was out.
Jenny answered the door as soon as Laurie knocked. Dressed in a sharp pants suit, she looked ready for a job interview. Laurie, in her sweatshirt and jeans, felt rumpled by comparison.
“How are you holding up?” Jenny asked as they exchanged a brief hug.
“It’s been brutal, having both boys home and no electricity. And since our neighborhood well doesn’t have a generator, no power means no water either—so no showers. Thank goodness I have short hair!” She ran her hands through her short, curly brown locks. “My kitchen sink is piled high with dishes. Yesterday, we thought about going to a movie, but all theatres were closed. Then, we considered going out to lunch but couldn’t find an open restaurant they would both enjoy. The two of them can’t seem to agree on anything these days. Honestly, I never thought having teenagers would be this tough!”
Jenny smiled sympathetically. “I know. My kitchen sink isn’t quite as bad since it’s only the two of us now, but we did once have four kids living here and I remember those days well!”
“How did you survive?” Laurie asked. “I feel like everything we do is wrong. The two of them are constantly getting into trouble. We grounded them both for the past two days for drinking at a party last weekend. Though right now I don’t know who that grounding is punishing more—me or them. I wish I could send them to friends’ houses!”
“They do grow up eventually,” replied Jenny. “And then you’ll really miss them. Mark my words.”
“What I’m really going to miss is you. I can’t believe you’re moving! Who am I going to run to when things get crazy at my house?”
“You’ll be fine,” Jenny assured her. “And you can always call me. We do have the technology to stay in touch these days.”
Laurie teared up as she looked at her friend with her perfectly coiffed hair and chic clothes. They were so different, yet they had managed to form a bond that had lasted for years. She remembered when they first met. It was shortly after Laurie and Stan moved into the neighborhood. Somehow, Laurie had managed to lock herself out of the house, and Jenny saw her trying to pry open the basement window. Jenny ran over to help and together they managed to open the window just wide enough for Laurie to squeeze her petite body through. It was the start of a friendship that lasted over fifteen years. Jenny had been there for her through so much, from the birth of her first child to her boys’ recent forays into teenagehood, and Laurie dreaded the thought of new people moving into this house that felt almost like her second home.
“What’s with this power outage, anyway?” Laurie asked. “When it started, we thought it would last only a few hours, and it’s been two days.” She paused and bit her lip, recalling the rumors heard from other neighbors. She couldn’t get a clear answer from anyone. One neighbor thought the power company was having a huge strike, while another said they heard a massive meteorite had landed in New York City! “Have you gotten any updates? It’s so annoying when we can’t even watch the news.”
Jenny smiled. “I talked to George down the street. He’s been on his ham radio nonstop for the last two days and said this is a pretty widespread outage that affected most of the East Coast. He thinks things should be back to normal later today. Apparently, a solar flare messed up electrical grids up and down the coast, from Canada all the way to Florida.”
“Wow,” said Laurie. “That’s kind of scary.”
Jenny nodded. “It could have been worse, though. Even though a huge geographic area was affected, damage was minor, and everyone should be back online soon. Power to major cities is already up and running and it won’t be long before we’re back in service. George knows a lot about this kind of stuff, and he isn’t too worried. He has quite an amazing communications setup in his house.”
“I know. I’ve seen it and it’s impressive.” Laurie replied.
“Maybe Brendan and Josh would be interested in seeing it in action.”
“That’s actually not a bad idea!” exclaimed Laurie. “George runs the ham radio club at school and Brendan thought about joining it, but none of his friends were interested, so he didn’t sign up. But maybe they could spend a little time with George today. The problem is if I suggest it, neither of them will be interested. You know… teenagers!”
“I have an idea,” said Jenny. She picked up her phone. Luckily, though cell phone service was out, landline communications still worked, at least locally. After a brief conversation, she turned to Laurie and gave her a thumbs up.
“George says he’ll come by your house in a little while and invite the boys over. Maybe they’ll take him up on it. You never know.”
Laurie rose to leave and gave her friend a hug. “Thanks, Jenny,” she said. “You always seem to find a way to make things better.”
Back at her house, Laurie was relieved to hear silence, and nothing seemed out of place. If the boys had had a blow-out, at least no furniture was destroyed. She decided not to say anything to them about George. It would probably be better if they thought the idea came from him. They both knew him, as he had lived in the neighborhood longer than they had. His wife had died recently from cancer, and many neighbors had been reaching out to him for the past few months. Brendan and Josh were aware of that and had gone with Laurie several times to deliver him meals when his wife was sick.
There was a knock on the door, and Laurie welcomed George in. She had always had a soft spot for her neighbor, who she thought looked like an absent-minded professor, with his bushy gray hair and wire-rimmed glasses. She called up to the boys. Josh came down first, looking slightly disheveled in an old t-shirt, his long straight sandy blond hair masking his eyes. “What’s up?” he asked, before looking up and seeing George. “Oh, hi Mr. Morgan.”
“Hi Josh. I was wondering if you and your brother might like to come by my house for a little while to help me with some communications work. I’m a little overwhelmed right now—this power outage has me crazy. I could use another set of ears.”
“Really?” asked Josh. “I’ll go.”
“I think I’ll pass,” Brendan said from the stairway, curling his lanky body around the railing. Though two years older than his brother, he and Josh looked like twins with their dad’s narrow face and blond hair. Brendan’s hair was close-cropped however, and he had Stan’s bright blue eyes, while Josh had Laurie’s deep brown ones. And right now, those blue eyes narrowed with irritation. The truth was he wanted to learn about ham radios. In fact, he had wanted to join the ham radio club at school, but his friends had talked him out of it, calling it dinosaur technology. Not wanting to be teased at school, he’d abandoned the idea though he felt a little guilty since George was his neighbor. Yet if he went now and his friends found out, they might make fun of him even more. Plus, he’d have to deal with his younger brother’s annoying and never-ending enthusiasm. It was probably better to let Josh go alone. At least his brother would be out of the house for a bit.
Laurie shrugged. One out of two wasn’t bad, she thought. At any rate, the house would be quiet for a little while. Maybe by the time Josh got home, power would be restored, and life could go back to normal.
One Year Before the Superstorm
Laurie awoke as usual at 5:30 a.m. and tiptoed into her meditation room, which had once been Brendan’s bedroom. Dressed only in a loose t-shirt and lightweight pants, she pulled a soft fleecy blanket around her and settled down to meditate. While fully expecting a wave of calm to wash over her, today she felt uncomfortably flat. Funny how she felt smothered by the familiarity of it all. For years she had prayed for normalcy in her life. As a parent, ordinary often seemed entirely out of reach, especially when her two boys were undergoing their wild teenage years with constant bickering and getting into trouble. Thankfully, Brendan had matured and outgrown that phase. And Josh? With an effort, Laurie pushed thoughts of her younger son aside. No amount of worrying about him now was going to make a difference. Meditation usually helped when those thoughts started veering out of control.
There was a time when she used to crave a peaceful structure for her life, but now that she had it, that peaceful life seemed suffocating. Surely, she didn’t want to go back to the mess that had been her life ten years ago, yet being stuck in a rut was no fun either. Where was the balance? Contemplating this, Laurie focused on her breathing and simply sat. And after a dull, run-of the-mill meditation, she picked up her tablet and wrote down what she was grateful for. Even that felt ordinary:
I am grateful for shelter from the torrential rain last night.
I am grateful I have the time and space to meditate each morning.
What else was there? As far as she could see, that would do for today.
Briefly, she scanned Brendan’s room, observing all the trinkets from his childhood: sports trophies, autographed baseballs and photographs of famous sports figures, stuffed animals, and even artwork from his high school days. Brendan had told her she could use his room to meditate, but he didn’t want her touching any of his things. Looking around, she wondered how he would feel about all those things when he came home in a few months. After being away for two years, would he be ready to pack all his childhood memories away? She wasn’t sure, though thinking about him coming home made her smile. At least she had something to look forward to.
Dimly in the background, she heard her husband, Stan, as he got up to begin his day. He would be going off to work soon. Usually, Laurie felt energized after her morning routine and would go downstairs to see him off. Today, however, she felt exceptionally tired, so she decided to sit for a while longer and let her thoughts wander.
Laurie’s predictable days felt so mechanical, like many of the things in the house. Everything was controlled by some device to the point where she now felt utterly bathed in a virtual reality. She had a smartphone, a smart TV, a smart kitchen. Hell, even her bathroom was smart! The toilet seat opened when she entered the bathroom and the toilet flushed itself when she was done. She wondered if kids these days even knew how to flush a toilet. Sinks turned on automatically, food was prepared quickly and easily in her kitchen—all she had to do was press a button. Robots vacuumed her house, mopped her floors, took out the trash and performed all the other little tasks of the day. If she needed something, she simply ordered it by pushing a button (or speaking aloud to her smartphone), and it would magically show up on her doorstep within a day.
As a recently retired teacher, and with Brendan now living far away, Laurie had looked forward to having time to herself. Yet suddenly, for the first time in her life she felt completely useless. For years, she had a place to go each day, a reason to get up every morning. A school and students who depended on her. That structure supported her, especially a few years ago when Josh disappeared. This past year, however, continuing to teach had been difficult. As more and more technological advances were added at the school, Laurie’s job was slowly replaced by computers. She saw the writing on the wall and decided it was time to take the leap into retirement before she was forced out. At least she could retire on her own terms.
Whenever she doubted her decision, she would look at an old comic strip which she kept on her desk. She had seen this about ten years ago and never imagined how true it would become. It showed a university professor lecturing to a class of 100 students. On day two, there were 99 students and one recording device. By the fifth day, there were 70 students and 30 unoccupied seats with devices, and by the eighth day, about 90 seats were devoid of students. In the last panel—day ten—the professor was absent. There was simply a podium with an electronic speaker, and 100 empty seats with recording devices. And in today’s world, she realized, so much learning was done online that lecture halls and classrooms were almost obsolete. Yes, the time had come when the physical presence of students and teachers together was no longer needed.
While working, Laurie appreciated all the mechanized help. Who wouldn’t want a robot to vacuum for them? She had other, more important things to do with her time. But now… she wasn’t sure if this truly benefitted her. Maybe it made things easier, but it certainly didn’t make her feel any better about her life.
A year ago, shortly after her retirement, a major pandemic swept the globe, shuttering many small businesses and forcing everyone to distance themselves physically from one another. Staying apart helped slow the spread of illness, and thankfully, no one close to her became seriously ill. A vaccine was rapidly developed, and the virus now appeared under control; however, the social effects of it still lingered, making her feel even more isolated. People had changed their habits and were slow to return to life as it had been. She used to go to a yoga class regularly, and now practiced alone at home, occasionally watching online videos provided by her teacher. She no longer had coffee with friends or socialized in groups. Aside from her husband, she had little contact with the outside world.
In large part due to that isolation, Laurie had a habit of constantly checking the news on her smartphone. She knew it was an unhealthy addiction, yet she found it impossible to restrain herself. Glancing now at her phone, she scanned the local headlines. Sadly, there had been a horrific car accident overnight. The driver (apparently drunk) was killed instantly. She recognized the name—Reginald Lamprey. Reggie, the boys had called him. He had been a Boy Scout leader years ago and involved in some kind of sexual misconduct scandal, but nothing was ever proven. She had a brief flash of a memory—Josh once referred to him as “Wedgie” and she had chewed him out, telling him he shouldn’t judge people based on what was clearly gossip. Josh had run off in tears. She couldn’t recall the details of what happened with Reggie, though she remembered his wife divorced him about six or seven years ago. And now here he was, dead from driving drunk. What a sad tale.
So possible it's scary!
This is a scary look into what could be our future, but I can't wait to read more!