By Lois Hibbert
Connor knew the first storm had hit when an announcer’s somber goodbye on one station still transmitting cut off mid-sentence, and the lights winked out in the village he was driving through in the pale blue dawn. He had no way of knowing if he was safe; the panicked announcements yesterday said latitudes between 60⁰ south and 60⁰ north were in danger, and the now-dark village behind him was at only 53⁰ north.
Phone reception was gone—not that it made a difference. He knew his parents and siblings were heeding the warnings, but Lisa hadn’t answered his calls since he left four days ago. Now, thoughts of their last conversation stalked him.
“Greg says, Greg says. For god’s sake, Lisa, Greg’s job is to fix the house odds in a casino.” He grabbed an apple and an orange from the food he was packing. “Apple. Orange.” He held up the first hand. “Greg’s opinion.” He registered her blush. The second hand. “Scientists’ predictions.” He kept the hand up. “Billions of tons of radioactive plasma from two of the most massive solar storms in centuries hitting the mid-latitudes—that’s us. A hot knife through soft butter. Satellites, electricity, gone. Nuclear station meltdowns in a week. Two days to find shelter. Radiation killing everything living at the center At the fringe, you might be lucky, in-between, who knows?”
“You said it was just a maybe and other storms didn’t affect anything.”
“Don’t twist my words! I didn’t say just a maybe. The odds are high, maybe even as high as the odds Greg rigs,” he said. “Lisa, listen, one last time, those other storms were weaker and facing away from the earth. 2012 missed the Earth by nine days, 2034 by eleven. Even if they had hit, the magnetic shield was stronger then. You want to bet your life on the odds for these storms?”
She turned away and said she was going out, and he understood: she had finally made a decision on her own. Connor had found her indecision amusing when they moved in three years ago, but amusement had lately mutated to irritation. Opposites attracted, until they didn’t. Tonight, she had chosen to flee, not from a potentially deadly storm, but from him.
“Good luck,” he said. “To you and Greg.”
He distracted himself with action. He had absorbed the philosophy his mother espoused: “The only thing you get from sitting on the fence is a sore butt.” His version was: gather evidence, weigh the pros and cons, then act.
He’d gathered evidence, fascinated for years by the long overdue, inexorable shifting of the magnetic north and south poles, the first time in modern history. Now, scientists said the shift was at a tipping point and the magnetic atmosphere protecting the earth had been weakened by almost 75%. He’d followed the news about the increasing frequency and intensity of Coronal Mass Ejections and explained them to Lisa using the more common term, solar storms.
He’d weighed the pros and cons of the news over the last month about the chances of one or more storms reaching Earth, odds that had surged in the last two weeks.
Then, he’d acted. Lisa, parroting Greg no doubt, called him an alarmist. He’d bought one of the last non-electric cars produced and stockpiled jerricans of gas from stations across the city. He’d bought dried food from camping outfitters and more warm clothing and boots.
Now, waiting for Lisa, he loaded the car with almost all the non-perishable food from the condo, canteens of water, their camping gear, the dried foods, blankets and clothes, and journals to record whatever his journey would be. He’d try again to convince her when she came home later.
He waited until after midnight, but Lisa didn’t come home and didn’t answer her cell.
He packed the perishable foods and entered the date and time in the first journal. “August 13, 2041, 1:07, a.m. Leaving Toronto. Heading north.”
Traffic was already heavy, some vehicles weighed down like his with goods, others with people. He squeezed in two hitchhikers outside Toronto joining their families in Barrie, two more farther north heading to Thunder Bay, and one later, heading to Winnipeg. He was glad for the company to break up his thoughts and what became non-stop CME news.
Now, on this less traveled northern highway, Connor sped on in silence, trying to outrace death. Covering himself whenever he had to step outside for bathroom breaks or to refill the gas tank, and once, to give one of his jerricans of gas to a motorcyclist couple stranded at the side of the road.
He reached 60⁰ north at nightfall. He pulled over and wept tears of rage against a deity he no longer believed in for the millions of dead and dying and tears of grief for lost love. At last, completely spent, he reached for his journal but wrote only “Aug 17, 2041. 8:47 p.m.”, unable to find more words. He finally added with a shaking hand, “Abyss.”