by Stephen King
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 cell phone 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 anyone 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 the "phoners" have begun foraging for food and banding together. 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 phoners, 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 survivors decide 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 in the Harvard hoodie. The flock kills other normals in reprisal and orders the protagonists to head north to a spot in Maine called "Kashwak". To stop their main 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 normies. The group buries her and arrives in Clay's hometown of Kent Pond, where they discover notes from Johnny which tell them Clay's estranged wife Sharon was turned into a phoner, but their son survived for several days, before he and the other normies were prompted by the phoners to head to the supposedly cell phone-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, construction worker Ray Huizenga, surreptitiously gives Clay a cell phone and a phone number, telling him 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 that, while it is still broadcasting into the battery-powered cell phone 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 and Clay notices Sharon is among 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 normies in the world.
As Clay awaits their morning execution, he sees 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 the explosives. 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 jury-rigged cell phone patch set up by the pre-Pulse fair workers, Clay is able to detonate the bomb and wipe out the Raggedy Man and his 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 the increasingly corrupted signal will cancel itself out and reset his son's brain. The book ends with Clay's dialing and placing the cell phone to Johnny's ear.