Does your job involve computer work?
When you have downtime, do you download a book to an ereader? Do you watch TV? Listen to music on an iPod?
Do you drink a cup of coffee in the morning before starting your day?
What would happen if all the power went out? I don’t just mean your house. I mean all the power.
Could you cope? Do you have a good relationship with your neighbors, or would they look at your pantry and think, “They’ve got more food than me, and the grocery stores are ransacked,” so you’d better lock your doors?
Are door locks enough? For how long would you need a stockpile of supplies? Do you have a weapon to protect yourself or your family?
Welcome to The Long Fall of Night (excerpt after the jump)
Meet Asher Caine, or Ash, and his Organic Chem lab partner, Elliot, whom he’s just saved from bullies on the street. Ash had the barest of warnings before the world as they know it is plunged into the biggest power outage the country, even the world, has ever seen. Who is responsible? How will they survive? Ash has a few ideas…
Excerpt from The Long Fall of Night, Book 1
“Everyone remain calm,” Dr. Hunt intoned, his deep baritone cutting through the sudden chatter. “This building has a generator. It’ll kick on in a moment.”
Ash sat, eyes widened in a futile attempt to see through the inky black. His heart pounded.
This is it. He stepped away from the table full of chemicals, fumbled for his Zippo and struck it.
“Mr. Caine,” Dr. Hunt snapped. “Put the flame away this instant.”
“Relax, sir,” he said with confidence. “I’m not near the experiments.”
“Regardless, the lights will be back on shortly, and this room contains more compounds than just tonight’s work. Extinguish your flame or receive a failing grade,” Dr. Hunt warned.
“What are you doing?” Elliot hissed. “Put it out.”
Another student whined that their cell phone wouldn’t power up so she could access the flashlight app, while her partner pulled out her keys which held a powerful yet tiny MagLite. Ash could have pulled his phone from the protected cookie tin, but he didn’t want to fumble with all that in the dark. Besides, he feared battery life had just become much more precious than butane.
Carefully, he picked a path through the tables to the window, dread gnawing his gut like a rodent in a fast food dumpster. He almost didn’t want to look, but he had to.
The entire city was dark.
Someone came up behind him and gasped. “It’s all out,” Elliot said, standing so close Ash felt his breath on the back of his neck. “The whole city.”
The class crowded the three windows in the room, trying to see the dark swath of nothingness beyond the glass. New York City totally black. Ash took a good look, knowing he was witnessing history.
“What does that mean?” one guy asked.
“Power is out everywhere, duh,” someone answered.
“Wait, no it’s not. Look.”
In the distance, lights winked on. Maybe hospitals or an office building, Ash surmised, realizing generators were kicking on. It seemed Dr. Hunt’s prediction of the Poly building’s unit was off the mark, however. The room remained dark and silent, except for the shuffle of feet and people pulling out their phones only to mutter when about half of them powered up. Elliot went back to their station and sat.
Dr. Hunt rummaged in his stores room and returned with a larger flashlight, setting it on his desk to point at the ceiling. The glow tapered through the room, leaving the corners dark, but otherwise providing enough light for Ash to see. He strode to his seat and stepped around Elliot, who’d picked up his pen and was tapping it against his notebook. If he thought Ash was sticking around until class was over, he was so very wrong.
“Hey, does anyone have a phone?” someone called out. “Mine is dead. I could have sworn I charged it before I left home.”
“None of us do,” Elliot said. “Cell towers will probably be out anyway. They run on power, too.”
Ash bent to grab his backpack from beneath the table, hefting it and no longer cursing its extra weight.
“Mr. Caine.” Dr. Hunt frowned, his bushy mustache twitching in disapproval as his forehead wrinkled with his raised eyebrows. His receding hairline was only a hint in the dimness from the flashlight. Ash barely glanced his way. “Where are you going?”
To drag my stubborn sister to Seattle, he thought. Aloud, he replied, “I’m not staying in a room full of volatile chemicals, some of which need temperature control, while the building’s generator fails.”
“Oh, but it’s safe enough for your lighter?” Dr. Hunt retorted.
“Well, no. You told me it wasn’t,” Ash threw back. He flipped his notebook closed and shoved it down in the depths of the bag, beside the map of the state he’d swiped from his roommate from Arkansas. He zipped the bag without packing the textbook.
“Aren’t you forgetting something,” Elliot asked, trying to hand the book to him.
Giving his partner a last meaningful look, he shook his head. “No need for it anymore.”
“Mr. Caine—” Dr. Hunt protested as he went to the door. “Hey!” Ash ignored him.
“Asher!” Elliot called.
Something in Elliot’s voice turned him around. The whole class was staring.
“I’m going somewhere safe. You all might want to do the same.” He banged out the door.
He was halfway down the nearest flight of stairs, the batteries in the emergency exit signs powering the eerie red lights which turned everything a ghostly, washed out red, when the sound of rapidly descending feet reached him.
Shit. Last thing he wanted was to get sucked into the whys. He didn’t have time.
“Ash, wait!” Elliot called.
He kept going, running over lists in his head, the order of his next steps. He needed to get to Charlotte and Riley.
“Where are you going that’s any safer than here?” Elliot asked breathlessly, catching up.
“Almost anywhere else will be safer than this city in a couple days,” he answered cryptically, making the next landing down.
“Will you wait a minute, Nostradamus?” Elliot snapped. Ash stopped, surprised by his insistence. He didn’t realize the guy had it in him to bark. Elliot scowled at him through the thick frames of his glasses. “What do you know?”
Ash sighed, grabbing Elliot’s elbow and pulling him along to keep moving.
“The power’s out.”
“No fucking shit,” Elliot said sardonically.
“Whole city, dude. That’s not usually something that can be fixed in a day. So I’m getting out until it’s safe to return.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Elliot said, his feet slapping on the tiles of the lobby.
Ash pointed to the blackness beyond the windows. “Tell that to all of New York.” He kept going until Elliot smacked his shoulder with his abandoned Organic Chemistry book.
“You left this.” Elliot’s voice was tinged with fear and denial, as well as a heavy dose of skepticism.
“Thanks.” Ash took the book and dumped it in the nearest trashcan as he emerged into the street. What did he care if the irritating geek chasing him believed what he said? It wasn’t his problem. His sister, nephew, and uncle were.
“Are you insane?” Elliot harped.
Ash wheeled around, sick of being held up. He kept an eye on their surroundings, noting how the chaos, including traffic, was currently controlled, but for how long? Cars were honking, but what else was new? Though he did see one nearby that seemed to be stalled. He filed that away, the make and model of the dead vehicle. He grabbed Elliot’s upper arms, getting close and speaking clearly.
“Don’t you get it? The power is out in the entire city. There’s a chance it’s more than just us, okay?” He realized how paranoid he sounded, but if he was right? He had to get out. Now. He kept his volume down, but the words were no less fierce. “It could be days, weeks, even months before it’s fixed. What do you think people are going to do while they wait? What did they do during Hurricane Sandy? Roast s’mores and sing Kumbah-fucking-yah? Christ, I thought you were smart.” He stalked off toward his apartment, not intending to go there, but working up the nerve for the first two things on his to-do list: steal a car and get more supplies than he’d been able to fit in his bug-out bag.
“I am smart. So the city is out. How do you know it’s bigger, Ash?” Elliot almost whined, keeping pace despite Ash’s long, purposeful strides.
“Have you got a phone?” Elliot pulled an iPhone out of his pocket and waved it. “Try to turn it on,” Ash instructed. The screen remained stubbornly black. “It’s fried. A regular power outage doesn’t do that.”
Elliot threw up his hands. “What are you saying? This is a solar flare or something odd that took out the whole country?”
Ash stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, a frisson of fear dragging up his spine like a resurrected zombie shambling for brains. He needed to ditch the kid before he got to the illegal stuff, and it clearly wasn’t happening until he explained what he knew. He was uncomfortable enough with breaking more than the underage drinking laws. Last thing he wanted was a witness, or he’d never get to Charlotte and Riley. “I don’t know. I have no evidence for anything. All I know is my uncle, who keeps his ear to the ground about foreign stuff and terrorists and shit like that, called me and told me if something unusual happened, to get out of the city. I need to get to my sister and nephew before any inmates do. I’m not going to sit around and wait for this place to descend into Lord of the Flies.”
Elliot stared at him, confused, eyebrows furrowed, but opening his mouth to ask another question.
Ash lost patience. “What do you care where I go next? Why aren’t you getting home, or back to class to wait for someone to tell you what to do like a good little sheeple?”
Elliot stared, eyes wide. Ash got right in his face, their lips an inch apart, satisfaction rising at his lab partner’s flinch. Just to make him more uncomfortable, Ash gave Elliot a thorough eye-fuck. Elliot’s skin reddened and he dropped his gaze.
“Shoo, fly,” Ash said softly. He swung around and strode away.
Playlist selection: In the Dark, by Tiësto (clubbier than my normal, but perhaps more fitting than any other song on the list.)