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Fury of the Sun

First on the Nine Meals from Anarchy series of stories.

Synopsis:

Sir Alfred Henry Lewis noted in 1909, “Mankind is only nine meals from anarchy.”

How true this is, the first book in the set of books outlining the first nine meals of a scenario. Check out the excerpt for the opening to this great read.

Excerpt

Standing in the sun for even short periods reminded me of why most desert animals were nocturnal. The big yellow disk in the sky glaring down at me, cascading the area with its intense heat. Across the open spans of the road distortions in the air were visible as the heat transferred from the pavement to the air.

My sigh was audible as I stood in the yard trying to recall if it had ever been this hot. Reaching behind me into my right back pocket and pulling out the ever-present blue paisley bandana. I wadded it up in preparation to sop up the beads of sweat trickling down my temple.

It was a hot one, that was for sure. After swiping the endless stream of sweat from my brow, I jammed it back into its pocket. I raised my hand to my forehead to block the glare of the sun and refocused looking toward the sky; “just as I thought, not a cloud was in sight.”

It’s been sweltering this past week, worst heat wave ever from what I’d heard. Temps in the Phoenix area were reaching as high as a hundred thirty-five degrees. Of course, the cities were always hotter because the buildings and roads held the heat. But I was sure it was pretty close to one twenty out here in the burbs, and the news reported last night that there seems to be no end in sight.

Living in a desert surely had its perks, like warm winters for example; but it was just too hot to do anything outside during the day throughout the summer months. We remained closed in with the air conditioners blaring in every house. Sucking juice from the power grid at an astounding rate. What ever happened to opening windows and getting fresh air?

How I longed for home on days like these. Fishing the big lake alongside Reggie. We’d spend hours trolling the lake for just the right fishing spot, “The sweet spot,” he’d call it.  I’d sit in the rear, manning the small trolling motor and steer the boat listening to his ramblings and portents of doom.

He would constantly ask me if I’d put up water and extra food when the winter snows would come, chide me for not cleaning out the tackle box. “Someday your life might depend on these, you gotta keep your equipment in shape. Check yer knots and count yer sinkers.” Then he would inevitably find some mangled mass of fishing line in the bottom of the box with five or six lures ensnared and chew me out. Man, I missed that.

I could spend hours sitting with him chewing the fat and having a couple beers. The wonder of the evening air up on the lake ensured that the beers didn’t get warm inside of ten minutes like they do here. It made my mouth water with the thought of it.

These musings, thoughts of days past, all made me yearn for the lake life I’d left behind when we moved here. These times now seemed but a moment lost, trading the great lake for an ocean of sand.

Exactly when it happened, I question; but what is evident? Nothing is working.[i] There’s no power, the phones are dead, and even my brand-new Toyota won’t run right. It was perplexing, the power outage was instantaneous, but other things besides the lights didn’t work either.

I wondered if it had anything to do with a story that I recalled hearing about last week. There was an old nerdy looking guy with crooked glasses flipping nervously through a crinkled set of index cards talking about these possibilities. “Dammit, the one time the news had something important to say, and I could remember the cards but tuned the rest out.”

 Scratching my head, I tried to remember exactly what they’d said about it. I could feel my hands clenching growing anxious as I struggled to access the information within my brain. I remember hearing something about interruptions. They were due to a period of elevated solar activity; or was it less activity? Something to do with the sun either way. Damned if I could remember correctly.

I stood there staring ahead without really seeing anything except the rewind of the newscast playing in my mind. I remained frozen, watching the scene inwardly in my memory as it played. It reported issues across many of the tech industries. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Texas Instruments were trying to fix something with their technologies. The news was warning that phones, TVs, and other things may be affected. Even something about the electricity going off. They’d said it was due to the solar flares earlier in the week. And that they’d already caused quite a few issues with computers and communications; even the satellites were affected.

That must have been what was up with those companies they mentioned. It said we should be ready for some outages when a larger one was supposed to hit the earth.

Smacking my hand on my leg as if it would prod the memory to offer its secrets, I couldn’t for the life of me remember when it was supposed to hit. I just can’t remember when they said it would be coming. Shrugging and shaking my head, guessing it might come to me later, my thoughts continued to process the issues. “It’s probably the reason for this damn heat wave.” At least that was my uneducated guess.

I began to wonder if old Reggie and his warnings about something he called a Coronal Mass Ejection[ii] were right. I’d heard that term this past week but again can’t remember anything about what he said it would do. My thoughts kept returning to it like a constant clanging; a warning of impending doom. I couldn’t remember exactly what it was he’d said would happen, what caused it, or even what it was exactly.

Unconscious of why, I looked upward again scanning the sky. I didn’t even know what I was looking for. Perhaps I’d hoped for some answer up there, some ray of light, a tidbit of information I’d long forgotten. A hope that it would come back to me by looking towards it.

Like a tree planted in an immovable spot, I remained, standing there and looking upward, questioning my own sanity. I’m not sure if it’s real or just my mind playing tricks, but the sun does seem brighter today.

Chiding myself for going down the rabbit hole on a simple power outage. I laughed out loud. It’s probably a rolling blackout due to the heatwave and strain from all the air conditioners. People really had no clue about the amount of energy that was being siphoned off the grid for such days. All of the power stations were probably working overtime to try and keep up.

I snatched the already wet bandana again, swiped it across my dripping forehead and focused on the task at hand. The mailbox. It should have the latest issue of Field and Stream.

I don’t know why I’d kept up my subscription, but I did. And in anticipation, I couldn’t wait to have a look. Fishing was one of the things I missed the most out here in the desert. I’d planned a trip this year to Canyon Lake for some good ole’ sinker action, but it was always crowded with boats and fun seekers. There’s nothing like having a lake practically in your back yard, rising early in the dewy morning. Sitting on the still waters whose surface looked as though it were glass. The early morning mist rising off of it offering a silence that was both refreshing and eerie.

Standing there in my reverie, eyeing without really looking at my magazine; I’d not even realized that in either direction the neighbors were all outside. The entire community, a hotbed of conversations, as those we’d barely spy on even a cool day, were walking about in the heat of the day. They were milling in their yards and spilling out into the street. ‘Now this is an uncommon sight.’

We would rarely see the neighbors, as everyone preferred the air-conditioned confines of each, their own little world. The rare times we would cross paths was in cars passing at the gate.

Yet, there they were, each of them questioning the others nearby, asking if they knew what was going on. The power went out sometime earlier in the afternoon, and it surely was a rare event for us to not have electricity. Our community was on a small grid that had its own substation which kept us from many of the brownouts that would occur from time to time.

As the hours passed the world around us heated up, and with it, the cordial natures of those now forced to endure the heat had cooled down. A few raised voices could be heard between Samuel and his neighbors, people that I’d not even taken the time to ask their names. It was strangely surreal that we’d never taken the time to get to know one another.

Taking in the scene, it became even more evident that these normally brown yards with their rocks and a few strategically placed cacti seemed to warn us that the desert could reclaim this land at any time. There were never any sprinklers in use. Most of us were careful with water consumption for anything but bathing and drinking. That is, all but Samuel.

He could be seen washing his car every week letting gallons of water run freely in the gutters. He never was much of a community-minded person. In retrospect, however, none of us really were. He was often just sitting on his porch, cigar smoldering between his tobacco stained teeth. The ever-present beer in his hand made it easy to figure out where the giant belly came from. It nearly positioned itself in his lap making him look like a giant pumpkin with arms and legs.

Samuel was probably the most unlikable person I’d ever met. A cantankerous old man, with the true narcissist nature flying like a flag in the wind. Generally, even these types didn’t faze me, but this one did, he grated on every nerve in my body. He was mean and nasty at every encounter. It seemed as though every word came out of his mouth dripping with disdain for all those around him.

There had been a nagging feeling plaguing me since the power went out and my cell phone ended up completely dead. Not just without service, but dead. A black screen staring back at me when I’d repeatedly pressed the power button. It was on a full charge, and even without cell service, apps should still work. I surmised that at the very least it should still take pictures and be able to turn on.

It wasn’t plugged in so It couldn’t have gotten a shock from a surge when the power went out. It was the same thing with my laptop, it was in my lap as I worked on a power point presentation I’d soon be giving.

Lord how I hated giving these presentations, even more so having to write them. To add to the stress, now I am left wondering if the work was lost. I could only hope I wouldn’t have to redo it all. Agonizing over it just caused more anxiety than the presentation itself. The computer simply died. It didn’t even shut down, one minute on, the next, off.

I’m not sure how long I’d been standing there thinking about the neighborhood and all of its goings-on, my tech issues, and the heat. The full circle of my thoughts returned to Ole Reggie, back to what he’d told us about this kind of thing.

I was beginning to wonder if there was indeed something to all his doom and gloom he’d so often spouted. I stood there thinking about him, curious if he knew this was coming. If only I could remember all of the things he told me. The snippets he’d try to share during those evenings by the campfire. He would tell me to take care of us, because if we didn’t, no one else would.

Living on the lake made a wonderful place for an evening fire. Reggie in his constant attire of red flannel and jeans exemplified the image of the old fisherman. His ever-present floppy fishing hat dotted with lures topped his head. Tufts of grey poking out at the sides near his ears made him look like a caricature. Just standing here thinking about it made me realize how much I’d missed home… and Reggie.

The funny thing about Reggie, he’d been around since I was young. I looked to him like a father, and he treated me as a son. I couldn’t see his influence when I was young, but after my mother died back when I was in my last year of high school, I recall him standing proud as I walked the stage. Never missing a thing in my life, he was always there. Reggie just sort of stepped into our lives helping to guide me all those years ago. Mom died of brain cancer that summer, just two days after my graduation; and until that time, I’d never known how she and Reggie loved one another.

My father left us long before then, but mom never divorced. I’m not sure she even knew where he was. Before mom died, I’d always just thought Reggie was a kind man that did things with us. Hung around and helped mom with things that needed fixing.

Sometime after she passed, he’d cried one fishing trip when he’d had just a few too many beers. Tearfully telling me how much he loved and missed her. He was very much like a father to me, at least one I might have hoped for. He’d continued to be there all this time. He’d grown grey and a bit round in the middle these past forty years or so. He never did marry. He always said he’d found all the family he’d ever need.

I missed his guidance even more now than ever before. Here I stood, looking at the brown surroundings. Silently contemplating how now I’d changed into this slightly overweight, sixty-something, guy; clutching his fishing magazine in the middle of the desert.

I stared out across the open highway that ran in front of our community. With a shiver, I shook off the nostalgia of the moment. It was time to get a move on I chided myself. Pausing momentarily, half turned toward the house, I looked back and to the power cables above the road. I wondered if the electricity would soon return or if all that Reggie had been trying to teach me was revealing the reason for it right before my eyes.

Before I turned my head away, I caught a slight movement making me pause to focus on it. I saw him. There he sat readily perched atop the pole, a giant vulture with his ugly head and great black body. He stretched out his wings, and the span was breathtaking. I couldn’t take my eyes from him as he ruffled his feathers and resumed his watchful stance. Before my gaze reluctantly turned away from him the thought crossed my mind.

“There he is, glaring at the scene below.

An omen of death and decay?

Perhaps, but not today.”