Grid Down: A Story of Survival in the Collapse

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The year 2020 revealed the deep divides within American society. Race, religion, politics, all continue to drive wedges between Americans. At the same time, Americans live an illusion of security, prosperity, and power. But what would happen if that was all stripped away? What if the lights went out? What if the water stopped flowing and the police no longer answered 911 calls? What would you do? What if the bonds that keep the United States united together disappeared overnight? What will you do? Follow the story of a college student who is caught in such a scenario and soon finds himself in the middle of yet another American Civil War.

Action / Thriller
Noah Rogers
Age Rating:

Chapter One : Mess Hits The Fan

Nathaniel Greene's Diary
Gallagher City
North Carolina
April 4th, 2029
Day 1
I woke up on the first day of April like any other day. I was greeted by a warm sun and my phone's annoying alarm. It was 9 o'clock. My usual wakeup time. I brushed my teeth and took a quick shower. I then slipped on a pair of jeans and a blue t-shirt, as I normally did. As I went to the kitchen to prepare my breakfast, my phone buzzed indicating I had received a text message.
I grabbed it from my pocket and woke it.
"Hey, we still on for tonight?" the message read.
It was a text from my friend Jake. Like me, he was a college student and pretty much the only friend I had at this point. While we both started out as dorm buddies, I opted to move out and get an apartment with the help of my parents who lived in Charlotte. When Covid hit and the North Carolina governor decided to impose the lockdowns, we decided to spend what we usually did going out to hang with other friends to play Playstation online with our online friends. No I didn't replace in person meet ups but it's was better than nothing.
Even after the lockdowns were lifted, we continued the tradition. Especially as our schedules got tighter with jobs and internships.
I quickly texted back, "Sure. Prepare to get ur butt kicked" and put my phone down.
My breakfast was a light mix of frozen berries, granola and yogurt. As a side, I prepared some spaghetti and tomato sauce. Once I had my high carb and sugar breakfast, I then transitioned towards the door where I had my duffel bag ready to go and head out the door.
As I usually did for the past three weeks, I got in my car, a Nissan Pathfinder and headed for work. It was a modest job as a head of the paint department at my local Lowes hardware store. I pretty much hated the job but as an assistant manager of sorts, it helped pay my bills, particularly my rent.
It wasn't that the job was hard. I just mostly disliked my coworkers. After all these type of low paying jobs attracted a lot of attitudes and negative personality types. And I was anything but that and definitely hated working with them. But one gotta do what they gotta do.
I never would've guessed I would have done anything to return to that kind of existence.
It wasn't more than five minutes before I was pulling into the parking lot and making my way inside the store. I passed by the usual front displays and customer service desk to the conveniently placed employee area. I found my locker and put in it my go-bag, the one I used for my get home kit. Repeating a now two year old routine, I grabbed my Lowes employee vest and made my way to the paint desk in the middle of the store.
As I did so, I passed through the aisles belonging to the paint department. I took note of the empty spaces and disorderly appearance. I found myself shaking my head knowing that no one was really doing their job and zoning like they should. Yet another thing I was going to have to handle myself.
I got to the paint desk. A guy named Derek manned the desk. He was a college kid himself. A freshman. He was pretty chill and not a bad guy to hang around. Aside from the fact he didn't zone much, I didn't mind him.
"Hey, Nathan," he greeted me as I walked up.
"What's up, dude," I said as we bumped fist, the all to common way to greet someone during the pandemic.
"Not much. Pete's in today." He said.
We both knew what that meant. Pete was a perfectionist. Being the general manager, he made sure everything was perfect; so when he showed up, that meant zoning non-stop, downstocking merchandise from the top racks and shelves as well as doing inventory checks. In short, everyone had to be on the best behavior or else. And many of my coworkers, including many of the assistant managers, hated when Pete for that. Of course, since I was the only competent associate at Paint, that usually meant that all that had to fall into me.
But again, I didn't mind. It meant a busy day that would pass the time.
"Ah crap," I said playing the news off, "Looks like it's gonna be one of those days."
"Yeah, have fun with that," Derek said as he then went to the paint mixer and pulled a can out.
I took a look at the desk. There were no customers waiting. And everything looked to be in order. I decided to go ahead and get to work downstocking.
Work was largely uneventful from there. I took care of downstocking the shelves with little or no merchandise on it. After that I took inventory and made sure the shelves were zoned and neat in appearance. I aided the occasional customer who needed help looking for the various items or paints they needed to renovate their homes or fix problems their home owner's associations found with their properties.
By the time I had finished, about seven out of the nine hours of my shift was over. At this point, the clock read 3:15 in the afternoon. It was raining outside and thus the store wasn't that populated.
I had moved on taking lunch in the break room. The TV was playing one of those addictive telenovelas and I was enjoying a basic sandwich and chips. That's when, over the sound of the TV, I heard several distinct but distant "thumps". Seconds later, the lights suddenly went out plunging the room into darkness.
Confused, I grabbed my phone from my pocket and turned on the flashlight.
A power outage? Guess the storm knocked out a powerline or something.
I waited for the emergency generators to kick in. However, when they didn't, I got up and began making my way back to the floor. I didn't bother to finish my sandwich. Instead, I just stuffed them back into the refrigerator and walked out.
A few of the floor associates were already gathered at the customer service desk along with a few customers themselves. Most had their phones out flashlights on looking around. Alex, the head cashier, was there.
"Did you hear that?" I heard one of the customers say. A couple people around him shook their head as the guy continued to ask.
One woman replied, "Yeah, was that thunder?"
"Yeah and it took out the power." Some no name in the growing group added.
I saw Derek walk up a second later.
"Yo, what luck right?" he asked stopping next to me.
"Yeah, real luck," I said a bit sarcastically. I didn't exactly share his sentiment. Some of us needed the money to survive. Besides, it wasn't like we could leave immediately anyway, we had to lock things up and make sure stuff was in order first. And then we had to see if the power would even come back on. And that usually took an hour.
But despite that, I couldn't help but ask the same question others, customers and coworkers were asking each other at the moment, what were those thumping sounds?
Not long after Derek said what he did, Pete, the general manager arrived, with Chris, an assistant manager with flashlights in hand. Judging by the clipboards they had in hand, it seemed that they had been in Receiving doing inventory.
"Alright folks, we're closed. If you please go ahead and make your way to the register with your purchases." Pete said as he walked up.
"But I don't have any cash," a random customer, a man who looked to be carrying a packaged lawnmower said.
Pete shrugged and replied, "I understand sir, but with our systems down, we can't take anything but cash."
The man groaned and proceeded to just leave his cart behind with the lawnmower and head for the exit. Pete just rolled his eyes at the man's rudeness but continued.
"All Lowes associates, start zoning your aisles and secure your departments." He said, "If the lights come back on then good. If not, were gonna close and call it a day. That is all."
With that Pete told Chris to follow him and we were dismissed. As the other employees began to disperse, I followed Derek back to the paint desk. We both set about doing as Pete instructed. By the light of our phone's flashlights we pretty much zoomed through the aisles straightening and pulling items up. It likely took us no longer than 10 minutes to do that. We then set about making sure the desk was cleans and the floors were swept. While Derek emptied the trash, I set about leaving notes on the desk regarding what we had done.
After that, with nothing else to do we decided to walk around and see if the other departments needed any help. The entire time, I waited for the power to come back on. But it didn't. At the 30 minute mark, all the customers had left the store and the cashier's had begun the process of closing out registers. 15 minutes before 4:00, department supervisors began letting their associates go.
I decided against letting Derek go. Normally, it was up to us to let any of our associates go from their shift. But Pete was a bit of a micromanager and totalitarian. Hearing him whine about who was in charge as just as annoying as hearing a toddler cry.
I decided to wait for Pete and the other managers and supervisors finish their work before I clocked out. I went to the break room and got my go bag and lunch from the now inoperable refrigerator before heading to the customer service desk. As I waited, I decided to browse YouTube while I waited.
However, when I launched the app, I was greeted with a "no connection" message. I checked the top of my screen. No service. That was odd considering I was sure I had paid my phone bill. I sighed and put my phone away. I was going to have to fix that when I got home.
Not even a minute later, Chris and some of the other managers appeared. Chris immediately went over to door and unlocked it. I didn't say anything as we all began making our way over.
That's when Mike, one of the supervisors from lumber, came up to me asking, "Hey, can I borrow your phone? I must've forgotten to pay my phone bill."
"Yeah sorry I don't have any service. I think I forgot to pay my phone bill," I said.
"Yeah, so did everyone else," he replied shaking his head, "You're like the third person I asked. Ain't that something?"
I wasn't sure if the guy was being sarcastic or just irritated from being denied help. But what he said certainly caught my attention. Everyone's phones had no service either? That certainly was something. So was what we saw when we got outside.
A crowd of people was growing walked out of the building. To my right, I saw employees from the nearby Publix shopping center closing and locking the doors behind customers who pushed or pulled carts. On my left towards the UPS store and salon, I saw others leaving or talking amongst themselves. Towards the road, cars were stalled out on the road and people were out milling around. The air was full of car horns and angry yelling.
As we all made our way to the parking lot, we saw that a car accident or something had occurred at the intersection just ahead of the plaza. It didn't look serious but traffic was at a dead standstill. As I got closer to my car, I couldn't help but notice a growing number of people, in the parking lot and on the road itself, standing over their cars, hoods popped open. Some were looking at their phones and waving them around. I heard some trying to start their car but to no avail.
By this point, alarm bells were going over in my head. Stalled cars. People unable to start their cars. No cellular service for our phones. And an unexplained power outage. Even if I argued a downed powerline or telephone pole, how could one explain the stalled cars?
Could this be? Is this what I think it is? I asked myself.
I got to my car and quickly got in. I put the key in the ignition and turned it. The ignition started and the engine turned over. But as soon as it started, it died. I turned the key again but this time, the engine didn't start no matter how many times it cranked. I gave up by the fourth try.
I paused for a moment. I only had one other way of confirming my suspicions. I reached into the glove compartment and pulled from it a small Kaito FM/AM radio. I held my breath as I flipped it's switch. To my surprise, I crackled to life. Not wasting time, I began scanning the radio waves looking for a signal.
ESPN, NPR, and just about every other station was off air. Even if the power failed, these stations were suppose to have backup generators. So why were they silent?
By this point, my mind was screaming what I feared happened. EMP. It was the only thing that explained the current situation. It had to be.
Once I made that connection, the neurons in me brain began to fire. Years upon years of mental preparation and training began to kick in. I got out of the drivers seat and began manually locking the doors. I then went around and opened the trunk.
Under a jacket was my single strap sling go-bag. In it contained items like food, a water filter, matches, flashlight with batteries, a small Kaito radio, a small first aid kit, duct tape, masks, cash, paracord, emergency blankets, hand warmers, my tactical knife and my most important item, my Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. All the things I would and could potentially need for my walk home.
Next to that was a case of bottled water. I always kept it in my car. It served as convenient water for being on the road and an emergency supply in case I got stranded. I pulled some bottles of water and placed them inside the go bag.
"Hey," a familiar voice said.
I turned to see Derek standing behind me.
"Hey, you got jumper cables?" He asked, "My car won't start."
"Sorry man, mine won't start either." I told him subconsciously attempting to hide the go bag and water behind me.
Derek must have noticed.
"You bugging out?" He asked as a matter of factly.
A bit surprised by his question, I hesitated to respond. He just smirked and replied, "Hey it's cool man. My uncle is into that survivalist stuff."
After a quick glance around him, he added more soberly, "I'm beginning to think I should've listened to him. The way this crap's looking, all that talk about EMPs and stuff may not have been bologna after all."
I felt myself relax a bit before before asking, "So you know?"
"Yeah. I mean, how else do you explain all this? The cars, the blackout, no cell service? Either that or the world's greatest coincidence." Derek said. "Either way, it can't be good."
"Then you should know to try to get home as soon as possible. Don't bother trying to start your car. Just go straight home." I said.
"Yeah," he replied, "But my car is a charger. I really hate to lose it. Not if I can somehow save it."
"Up to you." I said indifferently. Not that I actually felt indifferent. But I knew better than trying to plead with someone who didn't want to accept the reality of the situation.
"Yeah..." Derek said obviously not sure how to respond. After a moment he then said, "Well, hope you get home safely. And good luck."
With that he turned and left.
A part of me felt relieved yet guilty as he turned to leave. I never was the nicest to Derek. Not that I was mean to him but I never really gave much time and effort to get to know him or really care much about him. We weren't really that far apart in age. He may have been an okay coworker but he could have been a decent friend.
Oh well, no time for regrets. I grabbed my bag and closed my trunk. With the bottled water inside of it, the bag felt a bit bulky. No really a problem just annoyance. But I still wasnt sure about the EMP thing anyway. Maybe something else was going on and everything was a major coincidence. Maybe my paranoid mind was drawing premature conclusions. Maybe I was wrong.
Even if, I'd rather be wrong and get home safe and sound than to be stuck in a parking lot unable to figure out what was going on. Besides, at my apartment was my Shortwave and HAM radio. They should've been protected from any sort of EMP thanks to the improvised faraday cages I kept them in. If I was going to find out what was going on, then I needed to get back to them.
With my bag shouldered and mind set, I began my trek home.
As I began walking across the parking lot, I saw people doing the same thing. It seemed that many cars still functioned but most were stuck in a traffic jam that didn't seem likely to end anytime soon. People who were smart were getting out and just leaving their cars behind. Other foolishly continued to just hang around and socialize. However, the general tone of the atmosphere seemed to be unease and confusion. I'm sure it would be long before some sort of panic set in. Either that or the reality begins to sink in.
Some looked to have kids with them. Moms just trying to get their kids home from whatever after school program. Others looked to be men and women looking to be returning from work and caught up in the trouble. Most looked unprepared and unfit for their walk.
I myself wasn't the most fit. I weighed just over 275 myself and definitely looked chubby. But I had a stocky body and was definitely genetically athletic. Most of the weight I had was from muscle and frame. I was, as most would say, just a big dude. But I didn't consider that an excuse. I was overweight. Obese by some standards. But I knew I could make the 5 mile walk to my apartment complex. After all, I could walk a mile in about 18 minutes. I've consistently been able to traverse four within about and hour and ten minutes. Five shouldn't be any harder. The only real challenge for me was the slightly hilly terrain I would have to traverse.
But for the others here, those who looked to hold the weight of the world on their stomachs, chest, legs and arms, I was genuinely concerned they wouldn't be able to make whatever walk to their destination. And as for the moms, I hoped their children could. I could imagine being in their situation was easy either.
I passed by the first apartment complex that lay behind the plaza. Many of the residents were out in the yards talking amongst themselves. Some watched as the growing horde of people I was a part passed by. Some stood on their balconies watching as if they were spectating a race or competition. I couldn't help but wonder if any of them knew what was going on. If, EMP or not, they had understood that this situation wasn't a normal power outage but definitely something more serious.
I wondered if they had the food they would need for an extended outage or water since likely the taps would no longer be flowing. Or what about radios for communication since the phones were down. Did they own a gun? Did they even so.mivh as have cash to buy these items last minute when the weight of the situation does finally settle.
Once I cleared that complex, I found myself on the open road heading north past residential neighborhoods. Cars were stalled on the road as far as I could see. Most weren't exactly dead. They were honking or just sitting idlely in a traffic jam that might never clear up. The real odd thing for me was the fact only a handful of people I saw were out and under open hoods.
Maybe, if this was an EMP, most of the cars like the scientists predicted wouldn't actually be affected. Maybe the only real casualties would be power and cellur services. Heck it seemed small devices weren't really affected themselves. After all, despite not having cell service, my phone still worked. So did my digital watch. Even my small Kaito radio.
Of course this could be that the strength of the actual electromagnetic pulse may not have been powerful enough to destroy these devices or render all cars inoperable. Maybe the grid was the only target. And that of course had me silently considering the range of reasons and possibilities to why.
It wasn't long before my path diverged from the horde of people and I was approaching my apartment complex in the little area known as Victoria Lakes. The rather clean and decent looking complex was only outdone by the beautiful Victoria lakes that lay behind it, the complex's name sake. It's clean appearance was a sight for sore eyes.
As I walked up to my buildings, a little worn but not exactly exhausted, I took a look at my watch. It was a little past 5:30 in the evening. Given it was mid March the sun was getting lower in the sky but I predicted that I mad it home with at least two hours of daylight to spare.
By this point, I could hear emergency sirens of first responders in the distance. The first official response to the situation I've heard in the past two hours. I passed by a number of my neighbors who stood outside talking. I offered nothing more than a brief wave as I made my way inside.
The lobby was dark, as to be expected and largely empty. Using my phone’s flashlight, I made my way to and up the stairwell till I go to my floor. When I finally unlocked my front door and got inside, I felt a little relief at the fact I was home.
I didn’t bother trying the lights in the apartment, instead I went over to a kitchen counter drawer and pulled out a small collapsible LED lantern and switched it on.
I set my bag down before grabbing on of the bottled waters. I took a long swig before I broke out a nutrigrain bar to eat. After finishing them, I immediately went to my bedroom closet. While I wanted to rest, I knew that I had to get my preps in order.
I opened the door to where I kept most of my prepper emergency food bins and other supplies. I began removing them and placing them in a corner in my living room. Systematically, I went through opening them up. At the top of each box was a paper attached to a clipboard with a detailed inventory of everything inside. It was how I was able to keep track of what I had and what I needed.
Despite my limitations both financially and logistically, I had managed to store up to 2 months of emergency food on top of the weeks supply of simple foods I kept in my apartment.
In addition, I had plenty of bottled water and some five-gallon water jugs stored under my sink. Should the need arise, I had set up some Sawyer Water filters, and gallon bags rigged to act as a gravity feed filtration system within my apartment.
I had plenty of flashlights and batteries for an extended blackout. Four Tac-Lanterns fully charged and ready, two Maglite police flashlights, and a handful of Duracell Flashlights one could find cheaply at any Walmart. To make sure that I could recharge the rechargeable batteries I purchased for them, I had a BigBlue 28-Watt solar charger that could also recharge my phone. And if that failed, I made sure to have a couple battery banks stored in another box in my closet that I would ration.
But my biggest prep in terms of value was the Rock Island Armory X4 Tactical semi auto shotgun, the Smith and Wesson Shield pistol and the 200 or so rounds for both of them.
The shotgun was fully decked out with a shoulder strap, a red dot sight and a flashlight. The only downside was the fact most of that was 12-gauge turkey shot. Not a very powerful round but given that I lived in an apartment, I didn't want to have to worry about over penetration if I had to discharge it inside. It was also going to be my primary self-defense weapon as the pistil carried that risk of over penetration.
My only complain about the shotgun was the fact it was a semi auto as it carried the risk of jamming. However, thanks to the federal gun laws enacted by a democratic controlled congress and presidency, it was hard enough just to find it so I knew better than to turn it down. Same for the pistol. I would've preferred something like a Hellcat but the Shield was immediately available and cheaper.
Then there were my radios. I had few walkie-talkies charge and ready for use should the need arise, but I also had a Kaito Voyager Shortwave radio that I had, on several occasions listened in to news broadcasts from the BBC and Radio Havana Cuba. With the external antenna I purchased for it, I hoped I could get even greater range. But the go-to radio for communication was my Baofeng BF-F8HP HAM radio. Though it was a handheld device, I saw it primary use for local communication, a backup walkie talkie and a scanner to monitor law enforcement, EMS and fire dispatches. All which I knew was going to come in handy if this power outage continued.
I then went to the bathroom and began filling up the tub with water. Already the pressure was quite weak, and I doubted if I would be able to fill it up completely.
That’s when a series of explosions went off. While most were distant, one was close enough to rattle the building I was in.
I stifled back a curse and ran, radio in hand still, to a window. I don't know if it was smart, but curiosity temporarily got the best of me. I threw open the blinds and saw, in the distance, a number of small mushroom clouds rising. Some of my neighbors who were gathered outside turned to look in the same direction and a murmur began to what they were witnessing. I myself barely had time to do the same when the sound of helicopters approaching began to fill the air.
They sounded heavy. Too heavy to be civilian. I opened the back door and went out onto the balcony and peered up into the sky just as a flight of MH-60 Blackhawk helicopters buzzed by overhead. They were flanked by AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. All were armed. There had to be more than 10 of them. And they were all hauling ass for the smoke rising in the distance.

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