Madison was startled by the sudden silence as the car glided to a stop on the shoulder of the darkened highway. She had never witnessed the northern lights in person, but the strange glow of green, blue, and purple in the sky matched the pictures she’d seen. “Can I have my phone?” Madison asked.
Judy handed it to her, and the two women exited the car. Madison tried her flashlight but discovered the phone was off and would not turn on. “It’s so quiet,” Madison said.
“Wait,” Judy replied. Madison could see the faint outline of a city in the distance. She heard shouting from other drivers who had also exited their vehicles. Then the fireworks started. A transformer on a power pylon ahead of her exploded and she saw sparks rain down from the fireball. She could see other transformers exploding in the distance, followed later by the sound, like the way thunder follows lightning.
“E3,” Judy said. “E1 took out your phone and the car. Now E3 is taking out the grid.”
“So that’s it?” Madison asked. “I thought you said we’d be at HQ before anything happened.”
“Guess I was wrong,” Judy said. She went to her trunk and fished around in the dark. Madison watched as Judy pulled out a flashlight that didn’t work. She pulled out a short plastic cylinder and snapped it. It gave off a spooky greenish glow.
“Oh, like a glow stick!” Madison said.
“Same thing. I was hoping my flashlight might work, but I guess not. This will have to do.” She pulled out a second one, snapped it, and handed it to Madison. “Let’s walk.”
“What about your car?”
“Worthless pile of junk now. Modern cars are computers with wheels. I’m sure it’s completely fried,” Judy replied.
After walking awhile, Madison spoke. “Other than the transformers, that was a lot less dramatic than I was expecting.” Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and with the faint glow of her chemical light, she had no trouble seeing where she was going.
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper,” Judy said.
“I’ve heard that before,” Madison replied. “What’s it from?”
“T. S. Eliot. The Hollow Men,” Judy replied.
The two walked in silence awhile. The sky was lightening on their right. “I guess we’re going north?” Madison asked.
“Yes, the last leg of the trip is almost due north. We should arrive at HQ in a couple hours.”
“See, I can navigate without my phone or a paper map,” Madison joked.
“Handy skill. You’ll have quite a long walk home after this is all over,” Judy said.
“How long will that take?” Madison asked.
“Well, it’s just under five hundred miles. People walk about three miles per hour.” Judy thought a moment. “Twenty days, if you walk eight hours a day?”
“Holy shit. That’s crazy,” Madison said.
“Unless you can find some horses. Or maybe catch a ride on a military convoy,” Judy said.
Madison heard birds chirping. There were cars everywhere, and other people were walking. Some of the cars had people sitting in them talking or napping. But for the most part, the people were moving in a slow march toward Omaha. “I bet people are really confused about what happened.”
“I suspect they are,” Judy said.
“I feel like we should tell them,” Madison said.
“I’d rather not call attention to ourselves. Let’s just finish this walk and get you together with your parents. I’m sure the government will spread the word one way or another.”
“I suppose,” Madison said, kicking a piece of rubber tire off the road. “This is the worst April Fool’s Day prank ever.”
Judy smiled. “Things will be bad for a while, maybe a long while,” Judy said. “But then they’ll be so much better. You’ll see.”
“I hope you’re right,” Madison replied.
The two women walked in silence.