James Duggan sat at his computer station working on a remodeling of the forecast for the peak of Solar Cycle 25. It was after midnight, and he was running on coffee and cigarettes. The Irish immigrant from Belfast worked for N.A.S.A. and was on the Space Weather team.
Gigantic gas plumes escaped the surface of Earth's sun. The activity levels were far beyond what prior models predicted and alarming the scientific community. As the computer model began to render the peak of the solar cycle and when the likely maximum would occur, James sat stunned.
Looking twice at the data, James sat back in his chair. He reached for a glass of whiskey and ice, not sipping but gulping the last of the harsh liquor. The rumblings from the nearest star were true. Solar cycle 25 was going to peak at a level not seen since humans first noticed the 11-year cycle of the sun.
As the simulation played out, based on the progressing growth in activity in the late part of 2023, James knew that time was limited. The cycle would peak sometime in July, and the sun's energy would bake the planet. James felt a pang of anxiety rush through his hands as he started to sweat.
How would he tell the world that the end was near, wondered James.
Double-checking his computations, James begged to be wrong. As he reran the simulation, James's hands trembled. The more he examined the numbers, the more James knew it was true. In July, the world would witness the apocalypse.
James reached for his phone and dialed. He called Director Sorensen. His fingers trembled as James waited for the director to answer, the simulation replaying on a loop before him. In his mind, he played the scenarios in front of humanity. None of them were good.
"Sir," he said as a voice answered the call. "Take a look at our screen."
James waited, anxiously hoping the director would tell him he was wrong. He had no such luck. As the Director of Space Weather looked over the data, he asked James how many people knew. James had himself recently learned the truth.
"Yes sir," James said into the phone. "I'll catch the first flight out of Dallas."
Seven Months Later
Marshall law kept the streets and cities under control. Then came the curfews. From dusk to dawn, the streets were nearly empty. People couldn't leave their homes except for essential business and emergencies. Rebellion against the new world order met military and massive police forces. The world, even America, was under the thumb of a police state.
Guards at the Calahan estate worked the perimeter of the grounds. Inside the estate, Alexander Calahan sat in front of a picturesque view of the woods. He watched the announcement President Biden made from the operations Bunker. The first term president was back where it all began, hiding in a basement.
NOAA and NASA announced they expected the first blast from the largest X-Class solar eruption would hit the Earth in days. The accompanying solar flares would follow within hours, causing rapid temperature rise and radiation. The first days of the event would yield nothing below an X-30 solar storm.
As Lex watched what might be the final announcement of the president, the best scientists in the world sat sequestered in an undisclosed location. Even those at the local universities were gone, with no way to contact them. After months of preparation, it seemed the end of days was upon them.
Lex picked up a bottle of water. He stood, looking through the massive bay windows behind his desk. Three generations of Calahan lived in the mansion. He suspected he would be the last surviving Calahan.
Lex picked up a walkie-talkie and spoke, "All units, it's time to go and be with your families."
The resources he managed to store for the apocalypse weren't enough for the entire staff, not that he'd likely be alive to use them. After two months of work, Lex doubted the upgrades to the mansion's shelter. If it withstood the onslaught of heat and radiation, there was no telling what kind of world would be left standing.
As his men all departed, Lex watched the winds blowing through the trees. The cool breeze rolled in from the Pacific, spreading the odor of the summer evergreens. He could smell the aroma even through the glass. The Calahan mansion was home, something Lex couldn't believe might not last.
Lex fondly remembered wandering through the woods as a child. The scent of evergreen and pine reminded him of his father. Robert Calahan took his son hiking every weekend, teaching him about the forest, the woodland creatures, and how the world had plundered the natural resources of the woods.
Lex had yet to have a child of his own. He always meant to, but one thing after another kept sidetracking his plans. Lex imagined hiking on the weekends, his wife coming along occasionally. Lex pictured a son named William, someone he could pass on his legacy to when he was gone.
He walked around the house, staring at the pictures of his family. His parents, long since gone, were on his mind as the end neared. Lex didn't know if he'd see them or if his fate was to go the opposite direction.
Robert, Lex's father, never approved of his choices. With an engineering degree, Lex still felt a need to serve. He spent ten years with the Los Angeles Police and five years on their swat team. It wasn't the life Robert Calahan pictured for his son. With his wealth, Lex's father envisioned a different path for his only child.
Both of his parents were killed in an accident before Lex resigned from the force. Knowing that his parents didn't see the gunfight on CNN with the rest of the world gave him solace. Lex shot four gunmen on Hollywood Boulevard as a CNN chopper filmed from overhead. He kissed his fingertips. Lex touched his mother's image before walking away.
Lex worked his way down the grand hall, turning and placing his palm against a scanner. When the door opened to a woosh sound, he disappeared inside. Lex was going to the shelter, something built in the fifties as people feared nuclear war during the Cold War.
It cost a fortune to build, but Lex constructed a tunnel that opened up near the outer perimeter of the grounds. It was a secondary escape route from the mansion, something he feared he would need if the structure fell. Lex walked by the area he prepared to live in, tapping his hand on the hood of a beastly vehicle.
In the post-apocalyptic wasteland that NOAA scientists predicted could be left for survivors, Lex needed a way to get around. He knew getting around would require a unique transport. The shine of the Knight XV wouldn't last long, but Lex would get around without fear of being attacked by other survivors.
Lex went to his computer station. Lex's station could monitor communications. He would be able to listen for survivors. There were others, like Lex, that were fighting to survive.
When he reached his work area, Lex went to the generators and began charging the batteries. After connecting the battery packs to the mansion's power supply, Lex filled the gas generators along the secondary escape route. With only days left until the expected event, Lex was getting ready.
When his phone rang, Lex put down a gas can and looked at the flashing name Mira. He answered and nodded his head.
"I'll be there in a few minutes."
Mira. He hadn't told her about the shelter, and it was a discussion he didn't relish having.
Minutes later, Lex opened the main door to the house to see Mira sitting on the hood of her Lexus. She was a vision, looking at him as she smiled widely. Mira's smile lit up lives as much as it lit up rooms.
"What are you working on now, you mad scientist," joked Mira as she stopped and gave Lex a peck on the cheek.
Lex walked Mira into the house and offered her a drink as they sat in the main room. Lex handed Mira a bottle of water and plopped down next to her. It was the same place they sat together so many times before, but as the world spiraled out of control, this time felt different.
"How are you?" asked Lex.
"Do you mean how am I with the world ending?" she responded.
Lex nodded. He understood the apprehension and fear in people. He felt it, too.
"I guess...well, I guess I'm okay," she answered. "As okay as I can be."
"It's a scary time," admitted Lex.
The world was on the precipice of something historic and catastrophic. While the news covered the science and the White House regularly talked to the public, nobody knew how bad it would get. The best scientists in the world were skeptical about anyone surviving.
"So, what have you been doing?" asked Mira.
Lex considered how to tell her about the shelter. He couldn't guarantee anything. The brightest minds in the world failed to find evidence of the predicted level of solar storms happening in history. Everything depended on the simulations and models the scientific community shared.
He knew he could offer her a better chance to survive, but it wasn't guaranteed.
"I've been working on remodeling and an addition to the house. I think you'd be interested in seeing the new addition," he told her.
Lucas stood and motioned for Mira to follow him. He led her down the main hall to the shelter.
"I've always wondered what was in here," she admitted.
"It was my dad's laboratory," he told her.
Lucas explained that he'd done some work on the old lab. He went on to tell Mira how the original structure was a bomb shelter built in the 50s. When they reached the refuge and Lucas turned on the power, he exclaimed, "Tada!"
"What the hell?" asked Mira. "You've been working on this for a year!"
"Just about," admitted Lucas.
Lucas watched as Mira walked around the shelter. She stopped and admired the beast. She passed by the small armory that hung in a rack on the wall. Mira found the computer station, admiring what Lucas had done. Then, Mira found the tunnel for the beast.
When she found the light switch for the overheads, Mira found the living space Lucas built. Lucas watched as the amazed look on her face turned to confusion.
"You think this will keep you safe from the radiation?" she asked.
"Hopefully," Lucas answered.
"Why are you showing me this?" she asked.
"When the end comes, and you need to get to shelter, there's space for you down here," explained Lucas.
Mira stood in shock. What Lucas was proposing was unexpected. She didn't know what to say. Thank you didn't seem to be enough.
"I'm flattered," Mira told Lucas.
Mira's first question was whether or not they could survive. The news reports and the president's statements didn't sound like there'd be many survivors. Now, Lucas presents her with a way to survive the apocalypse.
"I've made peace with my fate," she told Lucas. "Now, after a year, you show me this."
Lucas walked up behind her and comforted her. He softly placed his hand on her shoulder, telling her that they could come out the other side of the disaster. As the two stood there, looking at the shelter, Lucas felt her thinking about his offer.
"Why me?" she asked. "Of all the people you could share this with, why me? What's so special about me?"
Lucas remained silent as she turned and looked into his brown eyes. Mira could see it in him, his affection for her. The two had been friends since high school. Even in the roughest of times, Mira had Lucas. But, the way he looked at her, it wasn't the same.
"I'll think about it, Lucas. I promise," she told him. Then, she leaned into him, parting his lips with her tongue as she kissed her oldest friend for the first time.
Lucas woke up and went to make coffee. It was two days after the alarms sounded, and everybody ran for shelter. Sadly, he was alone. Mira hadn't made it to the compound in time.
He did have his second most trusted companion. Rex was with him when he stood at the front door and anxiously waited for Mira. When the bright red and orange glow took over the skies, Lucas knew they had to get underground.
Lucas sipped from his cup as Rex nuzzled his calf. It was Rex's way of telling Lucas he was hungry. Lucas filled the mutt's bowl, and Rex barked appreciatively. As he stood there, watching the dog chow down, he thought how Mira would have loved Rex.
Lucas sat at his workstation. He listened for anyone that might be broadcasting over the radio. It had only been two days, but the airwaves were silent. There wasn't anyone in range for him to hear.
He left the receiver on and went to the area where he put his weights and exercise equipment. Lucas started his day with a workout. After wearing himself out, Lucas liked to read. Then, it was lunchtime before playing with the dog.
The two fell asleep watching one of the thousand DVDs in his collection. For the next year, this was his routine.
One Year After The Storm
There were no satellites still in orbit. Lucas still listened to the radio, hoping to hear voices. He went through his morning routine, having coffee, feeding Rex, working out, and then sitting on the couch and killing time. After lunch, he started at the beginning.
He and Rex managed to survive 368 days in the shelter. Despite the elevated radiation levels, Lucas was safe and healthy. Rex was still full of energy. Neither of them had mutated into a comic book character or superhero.
The sun's intense power changed the world. How many survivors of the apocalyptic solar storm there would be was still an unanswered question. Lucas didn't know if there would be a United States when it was all said and done. He didn't know much more than supplies were growing shorter and shorter.
"This is WPX1 on frequency 209.16 megahertz."
A voice? Lucas sat up straight, his head turning to the radios he left on in the hopes of hearing someone out there. After a year of hearing just his voice and that of recordings and from the movies, Lucas hesitated to believe what he heard.
Then, he heard it again. The voice was broadcasting the same message over and over.
"Could it be?" he questioned.
Lucas knew that the storms were more intense than the scientists feared. The planet was already on the brink of a climate disaster. The wave of solar energy hitting Earth heated Earth in a way that NOAA and the rest of the scientific community hadn't imagined.
"People are coming out from shelters," Lucas told Rex.
Lucas got up to broadcast a response as Rex barked excitedly. While Lucas called out his radio sign, Rex sat at his side, like he was Lucas and hoping for a reply. When Lucas didn't get a response, his head dropped forward.
"I'll bet the antennas are fried from the storm," he told Rex.
Lucas thought about it and decided it was time. He was going to open the door to the main house and see if they could get up to the surface. As he pried open the door, the main house not having any power, Lucas breathed in the dusty air of a year in the new world.
"Look," he told Rex as the dog clung to his side. "The place withstood the wave."
Lucas and Rex walked through the house, examining the damaged windows, the weather-beaten furniture, and the change to the outside view. Nothing looked the same. The grounds appeared scorched, and all the bushes and trees were gone. Lucas could see to the stone-constructed barriers.
After wrapping a scarf around his face, Lucas took Rex for a walk for the first time in a year. His four-legged companion was excited to be outside again, even though there wasn't the same comfy turf to run on. While Rex sniffed around the mansion, Lucas looked at the devastated exterior.
"Jesus," he sighed.
The fires from the X-100 solar storm and the accompanying radiation were intense. Lucas felt sick as he surveyed the damages from the freak solar event. It was a miracle that he and Rex survived. In his mind, Lucas realized how many people weren't as fortunate.
"Come here boy," he called to Rex.
Lucas took Rex in, and the two went down to the shelter. Looking at the Knight XV, Lucas toyed with taking it out and exploring. After a year of the planet healing, he wanted to know what was left. Were there any people nearby? Is there anything left of a civilized society? Does the United States still exist?
"What do you say, buddy?" he asked Rex. "Should we take a ride?"
Rex barked at the idea, and Lucas smiled. He prepped some gear, loaded two pistols and a rifle, and started the beast. When the armored monster roared to life, Lucas yelled for Rex to join him. He looked over at his trustee co-pilot.
"Are you ready?" he asked, shifting the beast into drive.
The tunnel to the outside world was half a mile long. Lucas sped down the tunnel, enjoying the first adrenaline rush he had since the alarms sounded. When they reached the end of the tunnel, Lucas slowed down and used the monster S.U.V to push the doors open.
Rivers of sand fell as he pushed his way into the sunlight. Emerging from the dusty ravine where the tunnel opened, Lucas shielded his eyes until the Knight leveled out. He stopped on the old state road and looked side to side.
"Well, which way do we go?" he asked Rex.
Lucas turned a knob to the radio frequency he heard the voice on and another that would help him follow the broadcast to the source. Along the way, Lucas hoped to find resources. In a year, he had used most of the soap he stockpiled and was down to Ramen noodles and dog food in his pantry. He was desperate to find some Coke and some canned goods.
"Let's head toward town," Lucas told Rex.
The broadcast was coming from the south, the direction of town. Lucas turned into the dusty winds, smelling the lingering burnt odor that covered all of North America. Lucas steered his beast around bends once lined with giant evergreens and pine trees. The area looked more like an arid desert after just one year.
An hour after leaving the mansion, Lucas was in the small seaside town of Tripoli, Washington. He hit the brakes on the beast, slowly coming to a stop. He thought to himself, 'dear god.'
There was nothing left of the town. It looked like a tornado ravaged the entire city. What few buildings were still standing were barely there amid all the sand that blew over the small community.
"What the hell could have done all this?" he wondered, getting out and looking at the damages.
Despite surviving, Lucas regretted coming to town. After a year of wondering, Lucas knew Mira was gone. Besides Rex, he was alone in a barren, desolate world with no idea where he might find survivors. Lucas turned as he looked for structures that might have supplies.
Then, he saw it. One of the most beautiful things in the world, and something he treasured visiting with his mother, was gone. Nothing appeared on the horizon but a giant expanse of sand that dipped deeper and deeper. The heat and radiation of the storm had done the unthinkable. The Pacific Ocean was a massive desert as far as the eye could see.
Would he ever hear the sound of a human voice again, Lucas wondered, dropping to his knees. As he stayed there, facing a lifetime of loneliness, Lucas had many regrets. Why didn't he tell Mira how he felt about her sooner? Why had he wasted his life on the pursuits of such trivial things?
Lucas felt the warm, slightly wet sensation of Rex's nose against his cheek. He opened his eyes to see his trusted companion by his side. Without supplies to get him further into the wasteland, Lucas may never find the source of the transmission. There was no reason to waste resources on aimlessly searching, so he brushed himself off and told Rex they were going home.
Lucas and Rex returned to the remnants of the Calahan Estate. He took his trusty sidekick back to the shelter, turning the front of the beast into the tunnel. It would not be their last time exploring, but he needed to do the computations to find the location of the transmission with the woman's voice.
After feeding Rex, Lucas sat down at his desk. He turned the radios back on and began monitoring transmissions on all frequencies. While he waited, he took out a journal and marked the date.
August 5th, 2025
While I can't rule it out, the likelihood of finding survivors within range dwindled today. I don't know what hit the planet, but if it was a solar storm, it was the worst storm ever conceived.
We went to Tripoli. The devastation was worse than I expected. I don't know if anyone is still alive after seeing the wasteland that was once the shore of the Pacific. The heat and the radiation caused evaporation on a scale unimaginable.
I'll admit, it broke me. If not for Rex, I might have ended it there, on the beach where my mother used to take me swimming. I realized that I may never find another person alive. Sadness overtook me for a moment. It's hard to describe how it felt, but as a way to record my story, I'll try to share my feelings as I try to move forward. Today, however, I can only sum it up one way.
Engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.
About the Creator
I have always enjoyed writing and exploring new ideas, new beliefs, and the dreams that rattle around inside my head. I have enjoyed the current state of science, human progress, fantasy and existence and write about them when I can.