Clayton Riddell, a struggling artist from Maine, has just landed a graphic novel deal in Boston when "The Pulse," a signal sent out over the global cell phone network, suddenly turns every cellphone user into a mindless zombie-like killer. Clay is standing in Boston Common when the Pulse hits, causing chaos to erupt around him. Civilization crumbles as the "phoners" attack each other and any unaltered people in view.
Amidst the chaos, Clay is thrown together with middle-aged Tom McCourt and teenager Alice Maxwell; the trio escapes to Tom's suburban home as Boston burns. The next day, they learn that the "phoners" have begun foraging for food and banding together in flocks. Clay is still determined to return to Maine and reunite with his young son, Johnny. Having no better alternatives, Tom and Alice come with him. They trek north by night across a devastated New England, having fleeting encounters with other survivors and catching disturbing hints about the activities of the phone crazies, who still attack non-phoners on sight.
Crossing into New Hampshire, they arrive at the Gaiten Academy, a prep school with one remaining teacher, Charles Ardai, and one surviving pupil, Jordan. The pair show the newcomers where the local phoner flock goes at night: they pack themselves into the Academy's soccer field, and "switch off" until morning. It is clear the phoners have become a hive mind and are developing psychic abilities. The five of them decide that they must destroy the flock and, using two propane tankers, they succeed in doing so.
Clay tries to get everyone to flee the scene, but the others refuse to abandon the elderly Ardai. That night, all of the survivors share the same horrific dream: each dreamer sees himself in a stadium, surrounded by phoners, as a disheveled man wearing a Harvard University hooded sweatshirt approaches, bringing their death. Waking, the heroes share their frightening dream experiences and dub him "The Raggedy Man". A new flock surrounds their residence, and the "normies" face the flock's metaphorical spokesman: the man wearing the Harvard hoodie. The flock commits bloody reprisal on other normals, and orders the protagonists to head north to a spot in Maine called "Kashwak". To preempt one objection, the flock psychically compels Ardai to commit suicide. Clay and the others bury him and travel north, as Clay is still determined to go home.
En route, they learn that as "flock-killers" they have been psychically marked as untouchables, to be shunned by other normies. Following a petty squabble on the road, Alice is killed by a loutish pair of normals. The group buries her and arrives in Clay's hometown of Kent Pond, where they discover notes from Johnny which tell them that Clay's estranged wife Sharon was turned into a phoner, but that their son survived for several days, before he and the other normies were prompted by the phoners to head to the supposedly cellphone-free Kashwak. Clay has another nightmare which reveals that once there, the normie refugees were all exposed to the Pulse. He remains intent on finding his son, but after meeting another group of flock-killers, Tom and Jordan decide to avoid the ceremonial executions the phoners have planned. Before separating, the group discovers that Alice's murderers were psychically compelled into a gruesome suicide act for touching an untouchable.
Clay sets off alone, but the others soon reappear driving a small school bus; the phoners have used their ever-increasing psychic powers to force them to rejoin him. One of the flock-killers, a construction worker named Ray, surreptitiously gives Clay a cell phone and a phone number, telling him cryptically to use them when the time is right; Ray then commits suicide. The group arrives at Kashwak, the site of a half-assembled county fair, where increasing numbers of phoners are beginning to behave erratically and break out of the flock. Jordan theorizes that a computer program caused the Pulse, and while it is still broadcasting into the battery-powered cellphone network, it has become corrupted with a computer worm that has infected the newer phoners with a mutated Pulse. Nevertheless, an entire army of phoners is waiting for them. The phoners lock the group in the fair's exhibition hall for the night; tomorrow is the ceremonial execution to be psychically broadcast to all phoners and remaining normals in the world.
As Clay awaits their morning execution, he visualizes Ray's unspoken plan: Ray had filled the rear of the bus with explosives, wired a phone-triggered detonator to them, and killed himself to prevent the phoners from telepathically discovering his plan. The group breaks a window for Jordan to squeeze through, and he drives the vehicle into the midst of the inert phoners. Thanks to a jerry-rigged cellphone patch set up by the pre-Pulse fair workers, Clay is able to detonate the bomb and wipe out the Raggedy Man's flock.
The majority of the group heads into Canada, to let the approaching winter wipe out the region's unprotected and leaderless phoners. Clay heads south, seeking his son. He finds Johnny, who received a "corrupted" Pulse; he wandered away from Kashwak and seems to almost recognize his father. However, Johnny is an erratic shadow of his former self, and so, following another theory of Jordan's, Clay decides to give Johnny another blast from the Pulse, hoping that the increasingly corrupted signal will cancel itself out and reset his son's brain. The book ends with Clay dialing and placing the cell-phone to Johnny's ear.
Read more about this topic: Cell (novel)
Other articles related to "plot summary":
... On opening the book, Borges finds that the pages are written in an indecipherable script appearing in double columns, ordered in versicle as in a Bible ... When he opens to a page with an illustration, the bookseller advises a close look, since the page will never be found, or seen, again ...
Famous quotes containing the words summary and/or plot:
“I have simplified my politics into an utter detestation of all existing governments; and, as it is the shortest and most agreeable and summary feeling imaginable, the first moment of an universal republic would convert me into an advocate for single and uncontradicted despotism. The fact is, riches are power, and poverty is slavery all over the earth, and one sort of establishment is no better, nor worse, for a people than another.”
—George Gordon Noel Byron (17881824)
“Trade and the streets ensnare us,
Our bodies are weak and worn;
We plot and corrupt each other,
And we despoil the unborn.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)