“I’ve had it,” said Lisa. “I’m sick of huddling in here like a rat hiding from a snake. It’s time we did something. This is still our world, isn’t it? It’s time we take it back.”
“Door’s open,” said Kwame. “Say hi to the zombies for me.”
We were in big trouble back then. The dead had crawled from their graves some eight months before. Most of the living had since “turned.” Civilization was in ruins. We had no lights; no tablets, phones, or laptops; agriculture, manufacturing, all of our industries had shuddered to a dead stop without a working power supply. We were helpless, cautious scavengers creeping through the twilight of mankind. But Lisa saved us. She saved our future. She gave us our power back by remembering solar technology.
A silence fell in the filthy, tiny room. A dusty shaft of dim sunlight crept through the barricades and illuminated our cluttered nest. A few more cans of beans, a couple days of water, some triangle bandages long since expired, and shiny brass casings littered like needles in the pine woods. The four of us remaining—down from nineteen—all turned our eyes to Lisa.
“Where would we even go?” Samantha asked. “There’s nowhere safe. There’s no food. There’s no electricity. And I’d rather starve in here than get eaten out on the road.”
A distant moaning crept through the window. We weren’t alone.
“We might not have to starve or get eaten,” said Lisa. “I’ve been thinking. Before the Rising, they put a solar plant in a couple miles east of Delmont. Maybe ten miles. Take a look at this map. I’ve got it circled. I’ll bet you anything it’s still running. Why wouldn’t it be? The sun’s still shining! And solar panels might be the one thing zombies don’t eat! Solar is perfect. We wouldn’t use nuclear, coal, or gas because they all take fuel. But solar doesn’t. And even better, Delmont is factory country. We’d have walls to hide behind. Floodlights to spot them in the dark. We could manufacture rifles and ammo. Bill, you’re a union boy, I know that you can turn a lathe. We can make anything we need. Even grow crops when the summer comes.”
She was right. The power grid had been offline since the Rising, because nobody was left to tend the complex stations. We never realized how fragile it was, even after Hurricane Katrina took out power across southern Louisiana and Mississippi for months in 2005. Any great catastrophe could turn our lights off forever. There’d be nobody left to shovel coal into the mighty furnaces, nobody to turn the valves that pump our gas and oil into the burners. Even if some poor brave souls had manned the plants in the days past the Rising, the supply chain had shut down. The oil rigs weren’t pumping; the refineries sat idle; the pipelines ran dry; the excavators rusted in the coal mines; the train cars rusted on their tracks; the trucks had been abandoned in the hubs and on the highways. No technicians guided steam to turn our nuclear turbines. As their coolant pipes ran dry, one by one, the piles melted down and blew out, howling in atomic fury, scarring the land and burning the sky, poisoning the wind. But the sun was still shining. Silicon still kicked electrons loose, and the solid state collectors still collected voltage. All we had to do was find a solar plant, and we’d have power. How could we have missed it? Salvation was shining a light in our eyes every day!
“Yeah, I can turn a lathe,” said Bill. “Where’s Delmont?”
“Near Pittsburgh,” I told him, “on the other side of the mountains.”
“This is stupid,” said Samantha. “What’s the point? Even if we get there, what good does it do? The world’s over. It ended three months ago. Why even bother?”
“The world isn’t over til we say it’s over,” Lisa said. “Less than a year ago the first astronauts got back from Mars. We were on our way to running the solar system. Now we’re back in the dark ages. Even if we survive here, hiding in our hole, all the knowledge of thousands of years of civilization will be lost. If we had power, eventually we could do more than even just making food and guns. We’d be free again! Powerful! Liberated from the darkness! We could turn the computers back on. We could turn the servers back on. We could regain access to everything mankind has ever known. We need to go to the solar farm. We need to save the light, so we can take back our liberty—and our power.”
“You been practicing that speech?” I asked.
“All day,” she said.
More moaning, closer this time, blew like a black wind in through the window. There was more than one of them out there.
“Okay,” said Kwame. “I’m in.”
“Me too,” said Bill.
“I’m in,” I said. “Let’s save the light.”
“What, are you just gonna leave me here for the zombies?” asked Samantha.
“Not if you come with us,” said Lisa.
It’s easy to steal a car after the zombie apocalypse. They’re all over the place. But eight months in, it’s hard to find a car that starts. Even when we found remotes for keyless entry in or near the vehicles, none of the older gas powered models turned over. The gasoline had separated and wouldn’t fire. I don’t remember ever being more scared after the Rising than that afternoon as we darted from vehicle to vehicle, back to back, our rifles ready. But solar saved our lives again. After the political disasters of the early 2020’s and the sinking of Jacksonville in 2022, investment in renewable technology rocketed, and within a few more years the solar industry had developed batteries that could store electricity over long periods of time with minimal loss. The new battery technologies were useful everywhere—most importantly for us in electric cars.
“There,” said Bill. “That Nissan. She looks new. She’ll do.” Darting from cover to cover, our rifles ready, the five of us approached the Nissan. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck and my hands were shaking. Where were the zombies? Where were the zombies?
“No good,” Kwame whispered. “No key fob. We ought to be stealing American, anyway. Let’s take that Malibu.”
“No way,” I said. “Look at the tailpipe. I’m not wasting any more time trying to crank a gas motor. I’m sure we’ll be heard. Besides, we want something raised, to handle how rugged the roads have probably gotten. We want that NeoEscalade.” There it sat, driver’s door already open as if to beckon us inside. The original owner didn’t seem to be so lucky…a half-eaten body lay in the driver’s seat. Gross.
Up the street, a shadow lengthened from an alley, taking shape into a shambling figure. “Go!” said Lisa as she raised her rifle. “Get it running! Zombies are coming!”
As it turned to track us, Lisa pulled the trigger killing, or killing again rather, the raised abomination with a single shot. No time! That would wake the whole city! We sprinted for the truck. Samantha ripped the dead owner from his seat and fumbled in his pocket for the fob as we piled into the backseat slamming doors.
“This better work!” yelled Bill, “or we’re dead meat!” He jammed the window controls and slowly, stickily, his window rose—the battery had kept its charge! Out of doorways, up from sewers, crawled the lifeless horde.
“Found it!” screamed Samantha, holding the key fob high. Sliding into the driver’s seat, she punched the ignition button. It started! “Seatbelts!” she yelled as she floored the accelerator and swung the truck around. “It’s gonna be a bumpy ride!”
If I live to be a hundred – and it seems these days that I just might – I don’t think I’ll forget that drive from Allentown. I used to be a lawyer, back when there were laws, and made the drive to Pittsburgh many times. It takes five hours, give or take, and in my ‘vette I’d get it done in three. That day it took us eight. Abandoned cars clogged every lane. Silent houses sat lifeless beside the road, their open doors and jagged windows grinning like broken teeth. Zombies wandered in the fields and forests, on the highway’s shoulders and lounged by the dusty pumps of filling stations. No lights were visible anywhere and darkness had fallen across the entire state of Pennsylvania.
Samantha parked the car in the open field. We hopped outside and stared. Row upon row of solar panels shimmered in the summer afternoon. Atop an antenna flashed small red lights.
“We’re gonna make it,” said Kwame. “We’re gonna make it.”
“Let’s get settled in for the night,” said Lisa. “We can probably secure those warehouses pretty easily against a few zombies. In the morning we can take a look at the transformers and figure out a way to route it.”
“It’ll be dangerous,” said Bill. “That’s high voltage, but it shouldn’t be too hard if we’re careful. The lines should all be working fine, and if any are down we can replace with other working lines we won’t be needing right away.”
Something burst from the bushes to the right—we scattered, holding on tight to our rifles—then stopped and stared. Flapping like a fool, a fat turkey wobbled through the air over our heads. We must’ve spooked it by talking. Kwame started laughing, and soon we were all laughing and crying together in relief. Brushing tears from his cheeks, Kwame said, “You know the first thing that we ought to turn back on?”
“What’s that?” Samantha asked.
“Refrigerators,” said Kwame.
One megawatt is a lot of power for five people, and once we’d cleared the farm of all the living dead, we turned on the lights, and powered up the lathes. We found a factory to fortify with wood we cut using power saws, and warmed it through the winter with electric heat. The farms around the area were fertile still, and in the spring we planted corn and wheat. Bill used to go hunting before the Rising, and found plenty of deer to practice his aim on. I guess with no cars on the road they had no natural predators. We stored the meat in freezers powered by our solar cells so it would last longer, and ate heartily all winter.
Samantha figured out a way to broadcast AM radio and by the summer other stragglers were joining our community. As I’m typing this—typing! On a computer!—Kwame’s playing with the baby he and Lisa had together this October. The zombies still show up sometimes, but with our floodlights we can spot and snipe them long before they cause us any trouble. I think we’ve cleared out most of the local area.
Solar power saved our lives. It’s because of solar power I’m able to write this story at all. I used to be a jerk before the world ended. Like I said, I was a lawyer. I worked to lobby for the coal plants, trying hard to squash renewables with protection policies. I even wined and dined and lined the pockets of our Pennsylvania congressmen to pass a law against them. I don’t regret it too much; those plants kept people working, and they kept the lights on across America, providing the baseload power to meet a large portion of our ever increasing energy demand. They provided a valuable, important service.
Still, I’m glad I wasn’t better at my job. Like Lisa said, coal wouldn’t have helped us at all after the Rising. The people on the other side, who fought to further solar power plants by creating tax incentives, restructuring utility monopolies, and allowing the population of the state to purchase renewable energy credits, not only saved my life, they saved the light. It’s thanks to them that civilization survived its darkest night. I’d shake their hands and thank them if they weren’t all zombies now
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