By Rhonda Krol
It was late when I woke up again. Rob must’ve turned off my classic station.
Turning over, the warmth from the window, more like a heat lamp, got me out of bed.
Even more perplexing. What is that sound?
The last night’s storms had been relentless, keeping us awake for hours. The lightning had gone on and on, ripping us out of a sound sleep more than once when the booming thunder went off like artillery blowing a hole in something.
This sound was totally different.
“Rob! What’s that noise? Rob?” That dratted alarm clock!
When I pulled the drapes, sunlight streamed in. Not a cloud in the sky. So much for the weekend rain forecast. So, last night must have exhausted the storm clouds. Whatever! The garden would finally get done, at least.
The moment I opened the window, the bird concert exploded from the tree. It would’ve drowned out last night’s thunderstorms. Vivaldi wouldn’t stand a chance with these guys!
“Have the birds gone bananas?” I yelled at my husband, after closing out the birdsong and heat. He was too busy singing, obviously only able to hear the sound of his own bass solo as he reached the high note in the shower.
Now I knew what else had woken me up.
Cracking the bathroom door, the steam slapped me almost as hard as the sunlight had. I asked him once more.
“Yeah. My two-mile run was something else, he yelled as the water shut off. I couldn’t even hear the traffic noise from A4. The buggers must have spring A-MO-RE (in opera voice for Sharon’s benefit) on their little bird brains. Even more amazing are the dog and cat concerts. It’s as if they have all decided to join the opera company you are always listening to,” he jibed. Then added, “Even had to let Figaro out. You’d think he was being crammed into his cat carrier for a visit to the vet.”
That reminded me. I knew I should’ve bought more of his favorite kitty kibbles.
With hubby dry, I could risk entering the bathroom without being abducted to the shower. What I saw took me by surprise. Not the usual brawny, daddy body but broiled, daddy body.
“Your shower hotter than usual? You’re red as a lobster!”
“Yeah, I felt the water on my skin. It’s only April…how could I’ve got so red during the early hours?”
“You, of all people… impossible,” I said, as I examined the back of his legs. His was the blessed golden tan skin in the family. Our daughter had always coveted that skin of his.
“The solar storm predicted for last night must have blown a circuit in the ionosphere!” he chuckled, “Now that variety of lightning is even worse. Fortunately, we don’t have to listen to its concert of …”
Then a loud thump on the window made us return to the bedroom.
“What the…?” he said, as we moved to the window. Lying on the grass below was a large pigeon, looking stunned and cooing. Loudly cooing, as if in pain. Then we noticed the oak tree in the neighbor’s garden filled with birds cawing. Others carpeted the carport.
“No doubt about it. The car will need washing again.”
“Never mind. I’ll whip us up some pancakes,” I called, as I moved toward the kitchen. “Turn the music back on!”
With the coffee pot readied, I flipped the switch. Nothing.
“Rob! Can you check the fuses?” The stove had also gone on strike.
By that time I was at the entrance door.
“It’s hot down here…did you put the heat on last night?” Nights could be downright cool still.
“No, I didn’t!” I heard a defensive voice from the direction of the garage fuse box. “Ev’rything looks fine here. Try again.”
“Nothing,” I yelled back as I flipped a lamp for good measure. “Call Sam. Maybe it’s our street,” I suggested.
Then I pulled the terrace door drapes. The light was spotlight bright and hot as a blast from a furnace. The outside thermometer showed 110 degrees F.
The high temp was forecasted for 78 to 80 degrees, wasn’t it? I thought. Well, thisis the sunny side…
Even that was unseasonal.
The view outside the glass was appalling. Part of the sparrow flock had fallen off the branches and lay under the tree, some on their sides.
“What’s going on?” I said, aloud, to myself, starting to get spooked.
As I opened the door, the wave of dry heat was almost unbearable. I closed it and pulled the outside shutters to try to cool the room down.
“Rob!” I yelled as he came running in.
“Shar, there is no phone service. I tried getting through to my colleagues at the university. Check yours.”
“Were the satellites fried?” he asked himself, but looked at me.
Mine inhabited the kitchen counter. “Dead.” I had broken out in a sweat by now. “I’d better call the cat back in.”
Going round to the shady side, I opened the front door and called. A stench of something like garbage wafted in. I wrinkled my nose at that. No breeze, heavy heat and mirage-like waves of heat from the street. Figaro came slowly to the door, meowing piteously.
“What’s wrong, old boy?”I said, examining him. “Let’s get you a drink…”
The cat lapped and lapped and finally lay down on the cooler tiles, breathing heavily.
The knock at the door drew our attention. It was Joanne from next door, looking distressed.
As I opened the door, the cry she made was mixed with,… what was it, panic?
The birds at least had stopped.
“Sharon! Hi, Rob. I need your help… It’s Phil and Jamie. ..they haven’t come back, he, he started his long distance cycling training with our son’s group. There are no phones and it’s …so hot. Have you seen the dead birds everywhere?
“They’re dead?” I said in shock. “Everywhere?”
When the sirens started blaring, we almost jumped out of our skins. The ladies grabbed each other. They no longer did those test runs, and certainly not at this hour…
“I’m going to the university. Maybe someone can tell us what is going on. Meet you here when I get back. Love you,” then a quick kiss as he grabbed a donut before taking the car keys and heading out the door. “Don’t worry, Joanne, you’ll find them. I’ll let you know if I find out something…,” he yelled back.
By that time Joanne had begun crying in earnest.
“Why don’t we drive through his planned course…?” I suggested.
“Please. Come with me, Shar. I’ve got the SUV out and ready,” she almost begged.
Walking through the door, sunglasses, and cap in hand, and the sun pack I kept in the drawer, the heat hit them as they walked to the vehicle and cracked the doors.
“It is an oven in here…” voicing the obvious.
“The air-conditioner will soon kick in. Oh, I brought some water.” Joanne offered.
We slowly pulled out of the drive and headed for the hills. Her country music station almost always blared when the car moved. This time nothing.
“Hey, no radio, try another station,” Joanne requested, as she turned onto the highway. Again silence. We moved towards the A4 taking in the inexplicable. A shimmering heat rose from every surface.
“I’ve never seen the likes of it, well, this time of year, at least,” I noted in my bravest voice.
More heartbreaking was the view of birds littering the roads as they made for the river. A couple of cars were out, otherwise, their generally crowded neighborhood streets had become a graveyard, no movement, no sounds, but the cries of animals in distress. One dog was running in circles, whining.
Too bad no rain…even with lightning, it would be better than this. I thought at that view.
Thank God for air-conditioners! Then, Sharon realized that was true only for the cars, without any electricity at home, they would be in for a sweat there too.
They had, meanwhile, left the town and were out in the country towards the foothills to the east. The shimmering effect of the heat on the ground and the livestock hunkering down in the shade, the women could hear the effect the heat wave was having on them. It was only 9:30 am.
Fortunately, the cycling club always mapped out a course, which parents and family had in case of emergencies. Joanne figured they’d be having a break at the riverside. There, at the bridge crossing, they found the five of them. They had taken to the water. Joanne’s husband was being held by two of the youths.
At that, her friend screamed.
When we drove up, I noticed their version of lobster skins and brought the sunscreen and burn medications.
Worse was Phil, who had apparently had a heat stroke, as Joanne soon discovered from symptoms the kids related. The offered water was gulped down. The boys had been wise to get into the river with Phil. That had not shielded their exposed skin. One of the fair-complexioned boys already had blisters on his arms.
Soon they had all loaded up and were headed back to town, I, salving on the burn medication for the boy. The remaining bikes were stashed under the bridge. The boys could not ride home in such conditions.
The talk was of the lightning the night before. A few trees had been hit in the neighborhood.
Although the hospital was just in sight, Phil refused to stop.
Good thing, with so much action, … At the ER the ambulances were coming in and out. Phil wasn’t the only one feeling the effects.
Joanne dropped the boys off at their homes and we were headed for home when I remembered, “Poor widow Thompson! Let’s pick up some stuff for her.” So, the three of them dropped into the neighborhood corner store for more water.
Everyone was talking as they entered. Comments on the incidents, the strange weather, and animal phenomena headed up the topics. The two women then decided on a larger shopping of staples, supplies; seemingly, there was a run on such stuff. With her fridge out, the obvious choices were canned and dried goods. The early birds would get the worms at the local shops.
Then she remembered the poor birds…
When they returned to the car, Phil was looking a trifle better. He’d kept the cool on, so they thought it good to stop by the gas station. Four vehicles were lined up waiting, but without electricity, the pumps were out. Luckily, Phil had an extra canister. So homeward bound…
As the SUV turned in to their house, Jamie noticed something lying in a nearby lawn. “What’s that?”
This time I screamed as I recognized the neighbor lying in her front garden.
Jamie jumped out first to get to her. “Mom! She’s unconscious!” he yelled.
Parking, Joanne and I ran up to her with a bottle of water.
“She’s barely breathing, How long has she been lying out here?” Joanne panted.
I ran to get Rob for help. Getting the door unlocked, I called for him.
The heat was awful in their house. Of course. He hasn’t returned yet.
So I returned to the neighbor’s lawn where Joanne and her son had managed to get the woman through the door into her house…
It was worse in there than outside.
The thermometer was standing at 115 degrees, inside, by that time. They cooled her with water-soaked towels and finally managed to get her to drink. Soon, her condition improved enough for Joanne and her son to bring her to their house.
“Take care, Joanne, Phil. Jamie. When Rob finds out something, I’ll come over.”
Walking saps the strength out of you in this nightmarish heat! I almost never felt this light-headed.Then I realized I’d given all the water to the boys. And no sleep. That awful storm!
I wish I knew when Rob would get back. Drats, not having phone service is going to kill us.
Sharon returned home to get some remaining ice into her fridge and make order with the food spoilage. At this rate, it wouldn’t take long. She called for Figaro and put a bit of ice in his water bowl.
“Figaro!” I yelled toward his favorite spot. “Where have you got off to…” Then I saw him where he had lain earlier. “Kitty. You hungry?” reaching down to stroke him, “Figaro?” then I jumped back with a whimper. The cat was dead.
It was then that the reality sank in. This can’t be happening. I thought as the tears rolled down my cheeks together with the sweat. Can’t think about it now, later…
An hour later Rob came in. I had managed a dinner of leftovers salvaged from the fridge while gathering some extra water to the tub and a cool shower for myself.
“Rob! Come eat something. Hon… Figaro has…” I began, calling to the garage.
“Heh, … Rob!” I couldn’t help but notice his serious expression the moment he came in. “Does anyone know anything?” I gave him a hug and held on for dear life.
“There’s a problem, Shar. I went to the University to the meteorologists.” he began, looking into her eyes for the first time, “Their data was a horror story. The lightning storms covered over half the country,” he continued, then sat her down at the table. “But that is not the worst. When we talked with the planetary physics department, seems the earth’s ionosphere has most likely lost most of its stuff at that last solar flare last night, our part of the globe was a direct hit, ground zero.”
At my perplexed expression, he continued, “That solar storm lightning blew a hole in our global radiation protection system, you could call it. Our scientists are going to the military to coordinate the data.” He got up to get a beer, now lukewarm. “What happened, no one knows. With the flare came a power surge, then a total blow out. That took out the grid. They had been warning of this for years.”
I only gazed at him in denial. “So that means…”
“Without power, the needed tests cannot be made.” he continued as he slumped down onto the chair again. “The Ph.D. students have sent up probes with the generator power. The first results… are catastrophic.” He sighed slowly then, “It means… an end to life as we know it, Shar. If they are right, nothing can survive, nothing will be able to grow here. That’s the long-term prognosis.”
I just looked at him as he continued.
“Short-term… We need to try and get underground, we are being bombarded with radiation.”
“What?” I cried out, standing.
“The university staff are gathering up their families now. We are going to the research center basement facilities with all the food and water we can manage to carry with us.”
“Evacuation? To the basement levels? But, why?”
“The sun is going to kill us with the radiation as it is if we do not. By this evening… there could be more … more than animals dying…”
My knees went out from under me then; both the chair and I hit the floor. “Are they sure? How long do we have?” I asked, shaking, with tears streaming down my cheeks.
“Yeah, the numbers are conclusive. We live only as long as the water lasts,…the whole of our northern hemisphere is…. is probably toast.” He began eating then, “We only have a matter of days…perhaps we can make it a week if we’re careful.”
Then Sharon remembered her promise to Joanne.
“Should we tell the neighbors?”
“What do you think?” He looked up, then he lifted her from the floor as she held on to him.
“Eat up. We do not know when we’ll be able to eat again,” he added, cheeks wet with more than sweat now.
It had only been a lightning storm…
*Previously published by TheWeeklyKnob.com