The Problem with the Generator


They said she couldn’t be a survivalist in the city. They said End Times was in the mountains and deserts where weed-smoking gun-toting hippies lived. Carmen said weed and guns didn’t go together. They told her in the desert they do. In the mountains they do. They asked, which kind of survivalist are you, the gun-toting or weed-smoking kind? Carmen said, wouldn’t you like to know, but they knew.

“I watch zombie shows is what made me prepare,” she said. They were in the lull between breakfast and lunch, with no one at the counter. Dishes were caught up and there were no orders. Chip and Smiley came over from the grill and they stood around drinking coffee.

“It could be a solar flare or a nuclear blast,” Carmen said. “It could be a meteor or a new strain of virus. It could be hackers or a super-volcano or the magnetic poles flipping.” But when the time came, it was only rain.

It poured all day and all night and in the morning Carmen knew there had been no break in the weather. She lived in an apartment that was a converted garage, which allowed her to hook up the generator that would have kicked on if the power had gone out, but it hadn’t. She didn’t have a bomb shelter but she had the supplies. The garage apartment was built on an elevated slab, the backyard overtaken by deep puddles. She was behind a duplex that rented to college kids and she wasn’t in charge or anything but they came to her with their needs. If the deluge kept up the college would cancel classes and the roads would close.

Her Range Rover was a beaten-up safari buggy, and she’d gotten it for a steal. It started with a roar and she drove through roiling water on her way to the diner. She knew how dangerous it was to do that, except she was familiar with the route and could surmise the depth of each instant creek. It was darker than she was used to at that hour, the torrent banging the roof of the Land Rover like frantic drummers. She only passed one car on her way, which had had to turn back, so she passed it twice.

Smiley had called to say he wasn’t coming in, and not long after that the phone stopped working. There was a puddle that took up half the road in front of the diner and Carmen parked at the edge of it, because she knew she wouldn’t be staying. Chip said he’d emptied the register and she could take some of the cash if she needed it. She didn’t like to borrow money, but it was a good idea. He said the rain would keep up all day and into tomorrow. He expected the power to cut out so she could take whatever she wanted from the walk-in cooler that he’d written off as a loss.

She took a few trips to the Land Rover and back, with armfuls of canned foods and dry goods that would last through a power outage, but Chip didn’t say anything. He’d left out a block of cheese and a ham for himself, until he realized the wisdom of what she was doing, and then he went ahead and asked without asking, “You’re all set with that generator, aren’t you? You’ve been waiting for this.”

“You could stay over,” she offered. “Pay me back in Denver omelets.”

They drove a roundabout way back to Carmen’s that avoided the low-lying streets but they still came across stranded drivers. There was a mother with her young son in his school uniform, and there were two brothers who wanted to see the widening banks of the swift and wild river, especially because the TV weathergirl had emphatically told them not to. With each stop, Chip scolded the castaways for being out, and Carmen invited them over, so that when they got back to her apartment it was her and Chip, a boy and his mother, and the brothers, soon to be joined by the college students from the duplex, the flat-chested pre-med and the chubby sorority girl who went to the bars every night.

The power went out, as if on cue. The generator kicked on after a delay, and they all sat cross-legged on her carpet or on the edge of her queen-sized bed. There were Denver omelets, stories of childhood, and made-up dreams for the better lives each might one day lead. There was coffee and ham sandwiches. There were zombie DVDs played on Carmen’s laptop, and they huddled close to the laptop speakers while rain drumroll-ed on the roof of the converted garage.

They watched survivors barricade a room against a horde of zombies and someone pounded a fist on Carmen’s door.

“Let me in!” he shouted. “I know you’re in there!”

The problem with the generator was that it made a chug-chug sound that could be heard for a mile, even in the rain.

Carmen took out a pistol from a drawer in her bedside table. She pointed the gun at the door and told Chip to open it. A man in a trash bag worn like a rain poncho tracked mud from his boots onto the carpet as he tore off the plastic bag and let it fall to the floor. He was close to Carmen who held the gun out at him, and he simply put his hand on the barrel and twisted it away. He had the gun and he pointed it at her. He looked around and took in the light and warmth, everyone horrified as zombies on the laptop broke through boarded-up windows. He poured himself coffee, pleased at his good fortune.

He said, “I have everything I need now.”

He sat on the bed to watch the laptop as people were eaten and he sipped coffee from Carmen’s favorite cup.  

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