“What does this mean?” The woman was very pale, so much so, that she almost seemed to glow. Sandra was a peculiar sight, wearing a dark navy blue jogging suit. In the darkness all that was visible was her face, which made Red take a second look before approaching.
“I have no idea,” answered an equally pale gentleman. He was dressed in what appeared to be the exact same outfit. Something about these people was off; Red thought he should be cautious.
“Where is the manager,” asked Red as he came closer. Red was in his late fifties, but looked more like a healthy forty, with snow white hair, and a broad smile. “Why’s the power out?”
Startled at the new arrival, the pale woman bluntly replied, “Read the note.”
“Now Sandra let’s not be rude, we don’t know why the power’s out, but there is a note here.” The pale gentleman spoke kindly.
Red with a gleam in his eye, extended his hand, “I’m sorry, where are my manners, my name is Red.”
“I’m Phil and this is my wife Sandra,” hesitantly, he took Reds hand and gave it a feeble shake. Sandra just sneered.
Red then took the note and read it slowly.
I apologize for the inconvenience, but due to the national crisis, I have gone home to be with my family.
“Well that’s odd; wonder what he could have been talking about?” Red inquired.
“I don’t know.” Phil replied.
“My wife and I have been here nearly a week, and I haven’t seen a single newspaper, or watched a single news broadcast in all that time.” Red spoke, puzzled.
The campsite they were in was privately owned and the owners were real careful of who they rented to. They liked regular customers and cared little for profit. Their only concern was that the place stays nice. Red loved it; it didn’t have all the partiers to deal with like many of the other sites. He and his wife came down twice a year, once before spring and once at the end of summer. “All our other vacations are for spoiling our grandchildren,” Red liked to joke.
Red’s thoughts were interrupted when Phil offered, “Let’s check the radio in my RV, to hear the news.”
As they made their way to Phil’s RV they saw approaching headlights. The car slowed as it neared, then stopped, “Hey,” came the voice of a girl not more than 18 or 19 years old. “What’s happened, why are the lights off?” It was a dark moonless night and she was wary of coming any closer to these strangers in the dark.
“That’s what we are trying to find out,” replied Red.
“Did you see the note on the manager’s door?” snapped Sandra, apparently irritated at the girl’s arrival. Red thought again, something isn’t right with this woman.
“No, I’m not sure where the office is, I been here with my boyfriend.” sounding a little shocked by the woman’s tone.
Red interjected, “something’s happened, no need in going to the office, there is no one there to talk to. We are heading to this gentlemen’s RV to try and get the news on the radio.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“We don’t know yet.” answered Phil sweetly trying to make up for his wife’s rudeness.
“The note said there is a national crisis, but didn’t explain any further than that.” said Red.
“A national crisis,” the girl repeated, aloud. She then leaned back in her car and started scanning the stations, the auto scan cycled all the way through twice with nothing. She was starting to worry.
Red noting the girls looks of worry, offered, “You should go get your boyfriend and meet us back here so we can find out what is going on.”
“He’s gone,” she answered, and Red thought she was beginning to tear up.
The girl climbed into her car and began scanning the stations one at a time, after passing five stations she knew should have been there the radio locked onto one.
“This is a message from the emergency broadcast system, be advised all American citizens are to cease all movement. Say again, all American citizens are to cease all movement by order of The President of the United States of America. This is the only way to prevent the spread of the virus.” This message continued to loop playing over and over again chilling all four of them.
“Phil I’m going to get my wife and check the other camp sites to see if anyone else is here. I will meet you at your RV in 15 minutes.” Red said with the slightest hint of distress entering his voice.
The girl, disillusioned by what she had just heard quietly said, “He left,” as tears filled her eyes, “he went back to school last night.”
“What’s that?” Sandra snapped.
Red cut over Sandra’s unprovoked hostility towards the girl and asked, “Phil? Well is it ok if we meet at your RV?”
“Yeah sure,” answered Phil quietly dazed. He like the other three was trying to make sense of what he had just heard.
Red couldn’t help thinking that Sandra could care less if the whole world fell down so long as it didn’t affect her. She was mean, and although Red could get along with anyone on his worst day, he had an ominous feeling that this woman would be trouble, given the slightest opening.
“Sweetie my name’s Red, do you want to walk with me to get my wife?” Red wasn’t about to leave this vulnerable child with the closest real world example of the wicked witch he’d ever met.
From behind blurry tear streaked cheeks the girl answered, “Sure a walk would be nice, I need some air.” She wasn’t dressed nearly warm enough for the chill in the air, but seemed not to notice.
“My name’s Beth,” she sniffled trying to hold back the tears.
“Bethany or Elizabeth?” Asked Red knowing this would distract her momentarily from what was upsetting her. Red had been a psychologist for over thirty years, the last twenty of which had been devoted to children with severe emotional disorders. A simple case of heartache was not hard for him to spot.
“Bethany and I hate it.” She turned up her nose as if it left a bad taste in her mouth to say it.
“Well I think it is a beautiful name, it’s a shame you don’t go buy it. Where do you go to school?”
“UNC Wilmington, I’m a, well I am going to school to be a marine biologist.”
“Impressive, all my sons wanted at your age was to race cars.”
“How old are they?” She asked.
“I have two, one is twenty-seven, and the other is thirty-two.” Proudly he added, “I am a grandfather three times over.”
“I’ll be 20 in May. I can’t imagine having kids. You have to get married first. Well you don’t have to be, but my parents would kill me if that happened. I can’t even keep a boyfriend; much less find someone who’ll marry me.” She had started crying again as she finished telling him this.
“You know I really hope you don’t believe that. You seem like a perfectly normal girl to me, not to mention, but I will anyway, how beautiful you are. I know tons of guys who’d be proud to call you their own.” Red answered emphatically.
Red had not exaggerated; Beth was a classic beauty, long perfect jet black hair, petite 5’1” maybe 105 lbs., big green eyes, and dimples to boot. She came across as a passionate person, the type when they enter a room; all around suddenly feel more alive.
“You really think so?” She asked, looking at Red for the first time since the beginning of the conversation.
“I most certainly do darling.” These words from Red brought the faintest hint of a smile to her face.
“This is it sweetie,” He then yelled at the darkened camper, “Sherry you in there?”
“Yeah sug, I’m here, haven’t left you yet. Did you bring home company?” Beth could see by the lantern light that this woman nearly in her sixties was both beautiful and kind like her husband. She had a reassuring smile that seemed to light up the abysmal night more than the lantern she carried.
“Hi I’m Beth, nice to meet you.” She shook Sherry’s hand.
“Looks like I should be more worried about you leaving me than me leaving you. My you sure are a pretty thing.” Even in the dim light Sherry could see the puffiness around the girl’s eyes. Like Red, Sherry would do anything for a smile.
Blushing, a bright crimson on her olive toned cheeks Beth said, “thank you.”
Red brought Sherry up to speed on what they had heard and Sherry and Beth went to meet at Phil’s.
Red set out to check the other camp sites. His search was fruitless as he had known it would be, considering the time of year. He and his wife always took an early vacation just before it really warmed up and one at the end of the summer when the weather begins to cool. He often told his friends it was the secret to their marriage. They’d been coming to this same campsite for over thirty years. Unbeknownst to them, being there is why they were still alive.
“The entire place is deserted, it is March after all.” Red said as he approached the lantern light outside Phil’s RV.
“We can’t get anything but that damn emergency services message.” Spouted Sandra irritated as if all this was their doing. The irritation in her voice was being replaced by panic.
“I’m going to try the radio in my car again,” said Beth. She too was beginning to feel panicked. Even Red seemed to become tenser.
“I’ll join you if that’s ok?” Sherry asked.
Beth didn’t answer, only nodded, fearing she would begin crying again. It was not heart break that threatened to renew her tears, and she was heartbroken. The kind words that had been spoken to her by Red had been like putting a large bandage on the pain. She was terrified, imagining the worst. She had never heard an EMS message that wasn’t just a drill before.
Beth and Sherry walked to where Beth had left her car, when they were inside Beth lit a cigarette and offered one to Sherry who accepted with a smile. “Red knows I smoke, usually only two or three a day. I haven’t had one since we’ve been here. He wouldn’t complain if I did smoke around him, but I don’t because I know it bothers him.”
“You two have the perfect marriage,” Beth was awestruck at how two people could be so sensitive to each other’s wants and needs.
Sherry laughed, “We’re not perfect honey. But we love each other and that is what matters. We each have our own quirks and we both work too much. That’s why we take these vacations. We take two each year to be alone together, and we use the holidays to see our children and grandbabies.”
“Still I envy you two,” she then thought of her own parents and the constant bickering and arguing.
“I know young people hate to hear stuff like this, but I am old enough to say it anyway. Your still a baby, Red and I didn’t even know each other when I was your age. You’ll find him one day when you least expect it. Sweetie, trust me.” Sherry squeezed Beth’s shoulder and gave a reassuring smile.
Beth cranked the car and slowly began to drive towards where she and Sherry had left Red talking with Phil and his wife. As she drove she scanned stations, and just as they arrived, the radio stopped on a low FM station. She had to back up and pull forward a few times, but finally got the station in good enough to understand it. It was still muffled with static.
“Hey guys come over here we got a station playing music, maybe there will be some news.” Beth tried to get the station in even better, but settled afraid anymore attempts may cause them to lose the station altogether.
“It’s the end of the world as we know it, it’s the end of the world as we know it,” came Michael Stipe’s voice through the crackling speakers. Everyone was gathered impatiently waiting for the song to end.
The song ended and the static seemed amplified for a brief moment which hurt their ears, but no one made a move to turn down the volume. “This is K-D-E-D radio for the dead and dying.” The voice was haggard and had a menacing quality. They all exchanged uneasy glances as they listened.
“This has got to be some sick fucking joke!” Screamed Sandra, her eyes had become animal like in the darkness, as if she were ready to attack at any moment. She was hushed by all even her husband.
Then they heard through the static the obvious sounds of retching and someone gagging. Then after about thirty seconds of static only, “considering that everyone is dead I guess I’ll do the weather. Well the five day forecast is as follows, Monday 99% chance of death, Tuesday 99% chance of death, well fuck seems like 99% chance of death all week. Is there no one listening?” The voice pleaded to them through the speakers.
“I would say call in if you were listening, but the phones are out. The powers out too, all up and down the east coast.” He began to choke and vomit once again.
After a brief silence, “To recap ladies and gentlemen, thirty US cities have been nuked and everyone has a mutated form of what appears to be the Ebola Virus. At least that is what the news said. I am dying, can anyone hear me?”
The voice sounded desperate and delirious and the signal was weakening. “I don’t know if anyone can hear me but my generator is dying so signing off for this life. This is K-D-E-D radio for the dead and dying.” They heard crying and more choking. Then nothing but static blared at them through the speakers.