The hands on the clock in the tower of the Atlanta, Illinois Public Library showed nearly half past twelve. That was the moment, some 25 years ago, when everything stopped. Technology quit. The ocean waves flattened to stillness. Trains halted, planes fell from the sky, power grids died. No weather, no wind, no rain. The temperatures never changed. The planet quit spinning. The universe ceased moving. No twinkling stars, no sunrise or sunset. Everything just stopped. Like God tripped over the life support plug and flat-lined all of creation.
It was like a Y2K post-apocalyptic movie. People, animals, plants kept on in the new weird world. The resulting chaos was immense. Fear. Greed. Panic. Death. No one knew what was happening. The world reverted to a much smaller, more personal experience. We returned to horse power and news via hand carried letters. I imagined it wasn’t any different anywhere else in the world.
We were lucky. Our resident State Guard commander acted quickly and returned order to our rural community. He conscripted able bodies to protect the town and outlying farms. Roving raiders, finding a well-governed militia, quickly moved along to easier pickings. Preachers prayed. Teachers busied the young with music and games. Cowboys taught soldiers to wrangle and ride. Farmers became leaders. Politicians became pointless.
I went from ignored to revered. Who would have thought the librarian would save her little corner of the world? My quiet life of knowledge became a stream of people in need of planting methods and first aid practices. The stacks of dusty volumes and tattered magazines became survival guides. The Farmer’s Almanac, a holy writ. In my community room, the elderly became sages as quaint skills became vital talents. Babies were born, people died. Crops struggled in the constant light. Refugees arrived from the constant night. Time passed, things settled into new routines.
It was harder, this interrupted life. Less comfort and more labor. I carved out a good life. I re-read books when my neighbors fancied barn dances and livestock shows. Life became sweeter in its intensity and brevity. Still, people smiled. They talked to each other over bitter coffee and warm biscuits that tasted of wood smoke.
I had just coaxed a fat, perfect carrot out of the library vegetable garden when it happened. Gleefully, I raised the grubby prize in triumph. A sound caught my attention. It sighed low and faint. Then, like a lost love, a breeze caressed my cheek, enveloped me in its dance and swirled away. My eyes fluttered open and I saw the wisp of a cloud in motion. I laughed and looked around to see if anyone had witnessed my reverie. Across the path, my neighbor, eyes wide, hands open, obviously had felt the same long lost sensation. I pointed to the sky. Overhead the power lines crackled to life in a shower of sparks. That’s when the bell tower chimed. The smile ran from my lips. I lamented that it had all returned.