Rafe awoke from a fitful sleep, laden with dreams of hellish shapes chasing him. He always remembered his dreams, but it was rare for him to have nightmares; and he especially hated remembering them after waking up.
Kim slept peacefully beside him. Her short blond hair looked as if she were posed for a picture with every strand in place. The outline of her ample breasts rose and fell beneath the sheet with her slow rhythmic breathing. Kim had worked for him a little less than two years as a receptionist at his medical clinic, and they were involved for about half that time. Following last nightís Halloween party, they decided to stay at Rafeís apartment, since it was closer, even though it was her turn to have him over.
As Rafe swung his legs over the side of the bed, stretched and looked at the sun shining through the window, the dream began to fade from his memory. Soon it would be lost, the same as many of the others.
At forty-eight years, Raphael Edmonds was in remarkably good shape. The twenty-four years he spent in the U.S. Navy had treated him well. Seventeen of those were working with the SEALs. The last four was as an instructor at the SEAR School, as an aggressor. After retiring, he went back to school and earned a Masterís Degree and two Doctorates in alternative medicines.
While trying to establish his medical practice, he opened a karate school, which had since grown enough to expand into a second branch. Not only did he still exercise five days a week, but he also worked out with his students daily.
Looking at the clock, he was surprised to see no display. In fact, it looked like a blob sitting on the table beside his bed. He went to the front door and peered out the peephole. The hallway outside was dark, which meant the whole building was out. Figures. Bet thereís not enough hot water left for a shower either.
In the dark bathroom, he turned the hot water on and was relieved to find there was indeed some left. A few seconds after climbing in the shower, the curtain slid open enough to allow Kim to step into the tub with him. She stood six inches shorter than his five-foot-ten inches. When she stared at him with her beautiful green eyes and pressed her body against his, he had to remind himself the warm water wouldnít last long.
"Thereís no electricity so there wonít be much hot water," he told her, not wanting her to think he wasnít in the mood.
Instead of having a long, luxurious shower, they took a quick one, and she helped wash his long, brown hair. As a small rebellion to his military background, he had let his hair and beard grow after retirement. Stepping from the shower, they did get to enjoy some time slowly drying each other with oversized towels. They found the clothes and dressed-there was still no electricity.
"Would you like some breakfast?" He asked.
"Letís go to Darylís," she said.
"Sure. That diner makes the best breakfast in town. Maybe theyíll have the electricity back on by the time we get back."
"I hope theyíve got power."
"Iíll bet they do," he said. "Theyíre far enough away this outage probably wonít affect íem. Hang on, Iíll check."
He removed a small battery-powered radio from the closet, turned it on, but no sound came from the instrument. In fact, the thing felt warped. "It must have gotten too hot in the closet sometime this summer," he said, tossing it into the trash.
They left his apartment and headed toward the parking lot. Reaching the access gate, Rafe noticed there were more cars in the lot than normal for this time of day. "Looks like everyoneís home for the Halloween weekend."
"I doesnít look like anyoneís working," she agreed.
Instinctively, he glanced around and noticed a group of men about half way down the lot, talking.
He hurried her toward his car, opened the door, and let her in. He went and climbed in the driverís side. Inserting the key in the ignition, he turned it, expecting the engine to turn over. Instead, there was nothing. He tried again with the same results. "What the hellís going on?" It was more of a statement than a question.
As he started to get out, he noticed a couple of men from the group wandering toward him.
"Stay in here," he said not wanting to have to worry about her safety. He stepped over to meet the other people.
"Car wonít start?" A man asked with a heavy Spanish accent.
"Nah," Rafe answered, eyeing the men closely.
Before he could say anything else one of the other men said, "None of íem will. Theyíre all dead. Wait until you look under the hood."
"What do you mean?" Rafe asked. He knew his car was okay last night. He and Kim had used it to return home from the party.
"Take a look," the second man answered. "Every one of íem, so far, has their wires fried. Pop your hood, youíll see."
Rafe turned back to his vehicle, motioned to Kim who pulled the handle for the hood release. The hood popped loose, and he pulled it up. The others joined him as he raised it.
The first man pointed and said, "Yep, the same as all the rest."
Burn marks and fried wires lay all over the engine compartment. The distributor cap was melted in place with all its wires now nothing but melted rubber. Rafe frowned. This shit only happens with a power surge. What the hell would cause a surge of electricity strong enough to burn only the wires and plastic and still not be enough to set the rest of the vehicle on fire? He ran his hand through his hair.
"Theyíre all like this," the man continued. "No power at all. Itís the same as in the apartments. Did you notice the burn marks on your walls?"
"I didnít notice anything out of the ordinary." However, he thought about the slightly warped radio.
"You check, Iíll bet you see burn marks where the wires run."
Another man spoke up and said, "Itís like this all over. Iíve checked for about two blocks. Plus, look around. Do you see or hear anything moving?"
Rafe stopped and listened. The guy was right. It was only then he realized he didnít even hear the sound of the power station across the river. The station that supplied all the power for the Austin area now sat silent.
One of the men said, "You donít hear it do you. The generators arenít running. Thatís nothing, earlier; there was smoke pouring out of it."
Kim climbed out of the car. "Is everything okay?"
"Iím not sure," Rafe answered. "If these gentlemen are right, then no, somethingís wrong."
Kim walked over to Rafe and put her arm around his waist. "It looks like a mess."
"They all are," the second man answered.
Rafe was sure the men knew nothing about what had caused the situation. "Thanks gents," he said to them, and then to Kim, he asked, "Wanna take a walk?"
"Sure," she answered.
They left the lot, heading for Interstate 35, which ran through Austin. As they walked along Riverside Drive, Rafe concentrated on his surroundings using all his senses as he did while in the military. With very few people stirring, he easily noticed any movement. The silence was something he had never heard in the city before. Even at night, there was the constant sound of life. However, it afforded him the opportunity to detect the sound of people he might not be able to see. He couldnít smell the familiar odor of exhaust from the thousands of vehicles of the city. It was as if the impurities of the city were carried away on a cool, clean Texas breeze.
No cars moved anywhere. This particular part of the Interstate was never without traffic. Never that is, until today.
They talked to small groups of people in various places along the way, but nobody had any idea what had happened. During the conversations, Rafe noticed that they seemed to fidget as they talked and glanced around as if expecting trouble. They seemed to be anxious and not comfortable being outside.
As Rafe and Kim turned from the interstate, back toward the apartment, he looked at his digital watch. The face was blank. Uneasiness was rapidly settling on him as well, covering him like a blanket.
"Whatís going on here?" Kim asked. "Iíve never seen I-35 empty like this. Look over there." She pointed at a couple of vehicles in the distance. "The only cars on the Interstate are stopped. None of them are moving."
Rafe instinctively thought back to his training in the military. "The only thing I can think of, which could kill all electricity, including houses, cars, and even the power plant is an EM pulse from a nuclear weapon."
Fear rushed onto Kimís face.
"Donít worry," Rafe quickly assured her. "If there were a nuclear burst, we wouldnít be able to walk around here like this. Also, thereíd be massive destruction and thereís not."
She relaxed a little. There was something different though. He wasnít sure if it was his nerves or real, but the air felt different. He couldnít put his finger on what it was. Maybe it was the stillness-maybe not-but the air felt heavier, thicker-like it had more substance than it should.
"Letís get back to the apartment and give this a while to get straightened out," he said and took her hand.
Back at the apartment, he lit a match to ignite the gas burners on the stovetop. Luckily, he could still cook for them since the range was gas and not electric. When he finished cooking, they stepped out on his balcony and sat in a couple of chairs. As they ate, he observed the actions of the people he saw passing by.
"Everything looks normal," Kim observed. "Except for no cars and no electricity anywhere."
"Yeah, it does," he answered. "But, did you notice that the buildings were not only closed, but there were no lights on in them either? Most of the businesses with coolers or freezers will have back up power just in case."
"I didnít really notice," Kim admitted. "I was too busy watching people in the house watch us."
"You noticed too, huh?"
After a while, the sun dipped low enough to the horizon to put a chill on the air.
"Weíre supposed to have a front pass through tonight. I imagine itís gonna get cold even inside." He went back inside, and she came in as he lit the kerosene lamp he kept stored on a shelf. The air inside the apartment was already as chilly as outside, and the front was still a ways away. "Would you please close the sliding glass door?"
He lit all four burners of the stove as well as the oven for warmth, figuring the temperature would dip into the low to mid forties. It was then he heard the sounds of the first shots outside.
"What was that?" Kim asked nervously. "Those werenít gunshots were they?"
"Yep," he answered, "Thatís what it was."
Leaving the lamp in the kitchen, he went to the glass doors of the balcony and peered out through a small slit in the curtains. All he could see was the movement of dark silhouettes near the road. Figuring it would be safer to stay out of the window, he made sure the curtains overlapped so no light could escape and returned to the kitchen.
"Weíre gonna have to keep those curtains closed." He constructed a pallet of pillows and blankets for them in the kitchen.
"I know itís not as comfortable as the bed, but itís the only room with any heat at all," he said almost apologetically.
"Donít worry about it," Kim said. "I understand."
He looked at the strained smile on her face. "We need to talk about what to do if this hasnít changed by tomorrow."
"I was wondering about that myself."
More gunshots sounded outside.
"Those tell me if nothingís changed, we need to get outta town," he said. "I canít and wonít try to make decisions for you, but Iím not gonna stay here. This place is gonna get very crazy and very dangerous very fast."
"Surely the police will get things under control soon," she countered.
"How? If things are the same, they canít drive cars and remember the radio didnít work this morning."
"What are you saying?"
"Think about it," he said, "police always call for back-up even when they have cars that work. Do you actually think they would go on patrol if they donít have cars, radios, or any other way to get back-up?"
"Youíre scaring me." Kimís voice quivered slightly.
"Good," Rafe answered. "I donít mean to be cruel, but fear means youíre not in denial either. Weíll simply have to see what things are like tomorrow."
The night turned into an uncomfortable, long ordeal. As he expected, the cold crept into the apartment and slowly overtook the warmth of all the rooms other than the kitchen. Kim snuggled up close to Rafe, but by the way she jumped at the sound of the guns outside, he knew it was from the cold and fear rather than any physical desire. He wasnít sure how long she could keep up her brave facade, but he had to give her a ton of credit for trying. The pop-pop-pop of guns echoed throughout the night until immediately before morning. Once there was even the sound of guns firing downstairs in their building.