Mark woke in an ambulance listening to all the commotion around him, he didn’t open his eyes. He was recounting the events of this evening. Had it all been a dream? He felt groggy and he hurt all over. The pain in his head had only increased. He saw that he was now shirtless, with a long bandage across his chest. His nose was a blazing inferno seemingly consuming the face around it.
“Did you hear that recording the kid made?” Asked one officer to another man, who must have been a detective judging by the suit he was wearing. The officer seemed agitated like he didn’t want to be there, and was just trying to make conversation to pass the time.
“No, what you got? I just arrived on scene, this place is a madhouse. I was in the area, and heard the call, I just stopped to see if I could be of some help.” The man answered.
“It seems the kid here caught his Mother and Stepfather planning to kill him on tape. The kicker is he got his mom to willingly confess, I dunno if that will be admissible, she is half unconscious on God knows how many pills. She also admitted to planning her late husband’s murder, but claimed that he died in an accident before they had the chance. Also some stuff about them embezzling money from her late husband’s company.” The officer paused trying to remember what else he had heard.
“What about the kid, does it look like self-defense?” The detective asked.
“Looks like it, but the kids in shock, he didn’t say much when the first officers on scene arrived, handed them the CD and passed out. He‘s been out about two hours.” He answered.
“Why in the hell is he still here and not at the hospital, he looks terrible?” The detective asked, as he turned to survey the boy in the ambulance with great curiosity.
“Look you didn’t hear this from me, there is some kind of outbreak at County, and the Regional Medical center is reporting cases now. Whole damn place is locked down. National Guard is on the way in.” Solemnly spoke the officer.
“What do you mean, what is it?” Asked the detective, Mark could hear a slight change in his voice, and it bothered him.
“They dunno, but the rumor is, it is something real bad, as in something they can’t fix.” The officer’s agitation was growing more obvious with every word. This troubled Mark.
Mark thought a moment, that’s not agitation, that’s fear. Mark knew fear.
The detective even seemed to be moved by the changes in the officer’s voice. “Hey Sal, I’ve known you lots of years and I haven’t ever seen you this shook before, your starting to worry me.”
“Ted this is between you and me, I could lose my pension over this. You know my sister in law, Eva, is dispatch supervisor, well she called me and told me maybe I should call off today. “He paused a moment gathering his thoughts.
“Yeah I know Eva, you know that, she and my wife are friends, you know that Sal.” The detective knew weather the rumors were true or not, Sal believed them to be.
“Yeah Ted, I dunno, my minds been running all over the place since I talked to her today.” He answered.
“Maybe you should take some time off, take a vacation.” The detective offered.
“That’s just it, from what Eva told me, we might all be taking a vacation, but not willingly.” He stammered.
“Come on now Sal, you’re starting to worry me man, it can’t be that bad, whatever it is the government will step in and fix it.” He was looking at his old friend with great concern.
“Eva said the day started out normal, but by 5pm the phones were ringing off the hook, they didn’t have enough drivers or EMT’s to handle the calls. Thing is all that aside, one of the EMT’s been working in this county twenty years, man named Gerald. He’s fifty seven, picture of health, this guy. Eva says he is in better shape than most of the twenty-something’s they got on the crews. Well he came on duty this morning, she saw him, and he was perfectly fine as always. He came by dispatch at lunchtime like he sometimes does, unless calls have him busy. Well Eva said he looked bad, like he had aged twenty years in four hours.
She said it is the first time in her fifteen years she ever heard him say he didn’t feel well. He tried eating his lunch, but he got sick. She advised him to take the rest of the day off, he refused, didn’t want to leave the rest of the guys in the lurch. Well she says his partner called in saying that he was gonna have to take Gerald to the hospital, he had collapsed on a call and he couldn’t get him revived.” He had to pause; the words seemed to be hurting him.
“Well Sal, they figure out what was wrong with him, he ok now?” The detective asked. He hadn’t so much as blinked while hearing this story.
“He was dead by 4pm, and he died from whatever it is they have the quarantine set up for.” He was shaking, speaking the truth and trying to deny the facts in his own head.
“My God man, why hasn’t there been an alert put out?” Ted demanded.
“That’s just it, a fed came to dispatch and ordered them to not breathe a word of what was going on to anyone, they said if the story leaked the person who did so would be charged with treason. They gave them a list of symptoms, and anyone calling with any of those symptoms were to be reported directly to them, and that was it, no more sending out ambulances.” The officer seemed to be on the verge of a panic attack.
“My God Sal, this is either a terrorist attack, or somebody was playing with the wrong test tube somewhere. Why in God’s name would they hide this from the public?” He demanded to no one but the early morning sky.
“I spoke with Eva an hour ago, she and everyone else who came in contact with Gerald are all sick.” The tears in his eyes seemed to be lost; they didn’t belong on this man’s face, a man who had seen so many years in the line of duty.
They didn’t notice when Mark slipped out the side door of the ambulance and into the darkness. He was already in the garage at the rear of the house before the alarm was raised. He was grateful for the police and although he came across as someone who disrespected authority, he truly didn’t. He verbally attacked anyone online he saw talking bad about cops. He would go on long rants about how if they had ever been beaten, raped, or robbed, they would change their tune, but this usually fell on deaf ears.
His true fear was of the government, his mother had seen him in terrorist chat rooms; she saw his fear as he watched the news. She’d laughed and said, “Your just paranoid, stuff like that doesn’t happen here, those bombings were a fluke, we are perfectly safe now.” How foolish she had been.
Mark had been an avid reader since his early child hood. He had read so many books but whenever something happened he could almost always relate it to a child’s story he had read at one time or another. This situation reminded him of the story about a grasshopper and an ant he had read so long ago he had forgotten the title; he pondered this as he grabbed his back pack he had stored in the garage and jumped on his father’s favorite 4 wheeler. How he had loved riding with him when he was small.
The grasshopper he saw as America, the ants were who ever had done this, “terrorists” if that’s what you want to call them, pretty general term to use he thought. The grasshopper spent all it’s time playing in the sun never concerned with the oncoming winter, he laughed at the poor ant who worked all day getting ready for what was to come. The grasshopper ate when he was hungry, he napped when he was sleepy, but all the while the diligent ant kept right on working.
Then the inevitable happened, winter came and the grasshopper was cold, hungry, and had no place to live that was safe. Luckily for the grasshopper in the story the ant was a nice guy; he gave him food and shelter.
He hit the button to open the garage door. The door was barely high enough to clear the handle bars when he shot out into the night. With a flash he was gone, they had no chance of catching him, he had been planning his escape route for over a year now, he knew that when he turned 18 he would have access to his trust fund and had been taking money slowly but surely from the safe in his dad’s office. He had just over five thousand dollars in his bag, and a few changes of clothing. They had never expected him. Roger would often be piss drunk when he’d take money out of the safe and he spent it like he was printing it. He never actually paid attention to how much was in there.
He knew the place like the back of his hand, there were large estates, he didn’t have to cross many streets, he was taking the extremely long way to avoid running into the police. It took him over two hours to reach the park he and his father had spent so many summer nights in camping, he choked up as he saw the place.
Dawn was quickly approaching and he had made it, he hid in the deepest part of the park he could find, covered the 4 wheeler with branches pulled his bedroll out of his back pack curled up and fell fast asleep. The only thought in his head before he fell asleep was, How nice are these ants gonna be?
He dreamt of his father, they were riding slowly around the back yard on his 4 wheeler, he saw himself laughing unabashedly, the way only a happy child can. He smiled in his sleep.
He woke around 11am that morning. He walked out of the park, it took him nearly an hour to get to a pay phone, where he called a taxi, then thinking of the ambulance driver called right back and cancelled it. He would have to walk, or find a bike. He walked nearly a mile and he saw sitting in someone’s yard a 10 speed, he wrote a note on a small slip of paper he had in his pocket. I needed your bike, was all it said, he folded two one hundred dollar bills into it and placed the note in the mailbox. He never knew, the note was never read, and the money was never spent.
He thought it odd that there was so little traffic, he guessed maybe there had been a warning at last, and people were staying home. The disease spread far faster than anyone could have guessed; Mark tried not to think of the repercussions. He just wanted to get some supplies and go back and wait till whatever this was blew over.
He had ridden six miles when he found the store his father used to bring him to for camping gear. He had been worried it wouldn’t be there or would be closed, Lucky for him it was, the owner lived upstairs. He went inside and began grabbing things he needed, he had nearly fifty lbs. of stuff before he was finished, insulated coveralls, long johns, several pairs of boots, 4 large packs of insulated socks, cooking utensils, a new larger pack, tent, sleeping bag, and a fishing pole and a small foldable fishing kit with lures, pliers, sinkers, flies, and hooks, pretty much a bit of everything.
The proprietor, an elderly gentleman said, “I remember you son, haven’t seen your or you dad in a long time. Over two years if it’s been a day.” He was smiling warmly at the pile of things Mark had assembled.
“Yes sir, my father died in a wreck a few weeks after we were last in here.” He was remembering as he spoke, tears stung his eyes thinking of their last camping trip.
“Well son I am sorry as I can be, your dad was a good boy,” said the old man sympathetically, Mark thought it funny how the old man had referred to his father as a ‘good boy’.
“Thank you, he loved this store.” Mark said politely.
“You know I guess your dad was about your age first time he came in here, he was buying a sleeping bag so he could go fool around with some young lady I imagine, but he kept coming back after.” The old man reminisced with a smile trying to cheer the boy.
Mark vaguely remembered his dad telling him about coming here since he was a boy, it never occurred to Mark the same man had ran it all these years. Mark started talking with the old man about their camping trips and things they had done. It felt good to talk about his dad with someone friendly. It lifted his spirits considerably.
The old man after a while looked at him more seriously, “now you don’t have to tell me son, but for your father’s sake I feel I need to ask, why you buying all this stuff, you running away, are you in some kind of trouble?”
Mark simply answered, “Yes sir.”
The old man, looked at him a moment then added, “Well I ain’t no rat, so I won’t be calling the law on ya.”
Mark liked the old man, and he needed to tell someone what happened, a kind ear to vent to, so he told him everything that had happened the day before. He had one of the CD’s still, but the old man didn’t have anything to listen to it on. It took him nearly thirty minutes to get it all out, at times he began to cry the old man gave him his dignity and found something interesting on his shoe to look at during these times.
The old man had listened to everything he had to say and decided the boy was not trying to pull his chain. He looked stricken when Mark had relayed the conversation that took place between the two police officers. “I thought something funny was going on, now mind you I don’t do much business during the week and all, but cars still drive up and down this street quite regular. Hasn’t been 10 cars passed this morning, half of which were police cars.
The old man came out from behind his counter and started grabbing things handing them to the boy, “take this stuff out to my truck parked just there.” he pointed to an old jeep pickup half rusted through parked on the curb just in front of the store.
The boy did as he was told. By the time he was through, the bed of the truck was nearly full. Finally he asked, “what’s all this for?”
“Son this is for you, can’t have you sitting out in the woods doing without, wouldn’t be Christian of me.
“I have money,” he tried to say.
“If it’s finally happened son, money isn’t gonna do nobody any good.” The old man gravely spoke. “Some of it’s for me, my boy’s in Iraq, and his wife and my grandbabies are all sitting alone in North Carolina, I’m heading that way after I drop you off.
They didn’t talk much, the old man drove right into the park and into the woods where Mark directed him to his little camp site. When all that he had given Mark was unloaded he said, “Listen son, you’re a smart feller, and I owe you a lot for telling me what ya have, It’s my own fault I got so tired of waiting on the news to tell me we were under attack I just stopped watching. Maybe I have enough time to get to them. Your Daddy would be proud of you boy, you keep that in mind. You stay right out here in these woods till that radio says it’s safe.”
“Thank you sir, I don’t know how I can repay you.” Mark returned.
“No need, you just stay safe, and if this mess is as contagious as that cop feller said, you need to steer clear of everything and everybody. “ He shook the boys hand, gave him a brief smile hopped in his truck and drove away.
Mark would often think if he’d known his grandfather, he would have been just like that old man, stern but fair, and very kind. Mark turned on the radio thinking he would have to hunt for the news, it was all that was on, every station.
“It is confirmed there is a viral outbreak, worldwide!” Came one reporter’s voice screaming over a huge crowd, “Shots have been fired by guardsmen.”
Reports like this were on every station, but although there were reporters everywhere telling what they saw, there were still no real explanations. There was just confusion and death. The reporters were nothing more than the crowds they were reporting, screaming crying, sick, and dying without a clue as to why or how.
They convened at first light by Phil’s RV as planned.
“What shall we do?” Sherry asked.
“Well, first we need to find a working phone, maybe the land lines still work. Neither of our cell phones work out here, we can call the police and see if they can tell us what to do. For that matter we could probably just go to a store buy a paper and ask the people working what the hell is going on. It’s not like it’s the end of the world, damn stupid kid was playing a prank that’s all.” Phil chuckled with no humor, his words had given him and everyone else listening chills.
“If there was a virus they would have quarantined the sick, wouldn’t they?” Beth asked hopefully.
“I’m sure they did what they could,” reassured Sherry.
Red thought to himself, maybe the kids radio show was a prank, but the emergency services message was surely not a prank. The note on the managers door was no prank, and for damn sure the power being out is definitely not a prank. He then spoke after a brief silence, “well we’re sure not going to find out anything sitting here slapping our gums.” He smiled at Beth and Sherry.
Sandra seemed to be trying to block Phil from their view, hogging him all for herself. She did not speak, even after they had all piled into Red’s Jeep.
They slowly drove the fifteen miles to a small town nearby where Red and Sherry liked to go and eat breakfast sometimes when they were here. They had a small café that served giant fluffy pancakes with every-flavor syrup you could imagine. It was a quaint place that no matter where you were from, you felt at home.
They all noticed except for Sandra who was off in her own little world that they passed not a single car or saw a single soul the entire trip. When they entered the town they saw the gas station which had always been open at this hour before, was closed. Sherry quietly pointed this out to Red. A little further on at the town center was the town’s only stoplight. There had been a huge crash. There were cars in all four directions, seemingly waiting for the light to change.
Sherry, a nurse jumped out of the Jeep and headed for the crash, Red closely followed her. He glanced into the window of a nearby minivan and froze, “Sherry honey, stop.” He sounded nothing like himself, as quietly as he spoke Sherry heard and it chilled her.
She turned and asked, “what is it honey I’m just gonna see if I can help.”
“You can’t help them sweetie. They are all gone, each and every one of them are gone.” His tanned skin had gone very pale.
Sherry approached him, concerned. She then saw what had caused this sudden change in her husband.
Red as many people who lived a while, had seen dead people, now even children had seen pictures of war victims dead in the street of foreign countries. He had never seen anything like what he was looking at now. The couple appeared to be in their late seventies, they looked as if they had died in great agony. Had Red known these two were both in their early twenties, he would have been shocked him even further.
They had died on their way to pick up their baby from daycare, they got stuck behind the crash and died waiting for the rescue workers they and everyone else had taken for granted for so many years.
The virus had hit so fast that most never even knew what it was; only the healthiest made it to the final stages. Most died, or went into comas long before they even realized it was the cause of a terrorist attack. The lines of communication fell quickly, watching the news only confused people. No one knew what was happening. By the time the first outbreak warnings went out, it was too late, the damage had been done. As the millions of Americans fled the cities they carried with them this disease, contaminating every store, every gas station, and every rest stop along the way.
No one would ever know the truth about those who had planned this mass annihilation of the human race. Their plan had worked so well in fact, that it even wiped out villages in third world countries that had no access roads. This to, no one would ever read about, or have a vigil for. There would be no more concerts to feed the starving, there would be no more earth day, and the earth was already healing from centuries of pollution and the carelessness of mankind.
As Red walked back to his Jeep he glanced back one last time at the van, on the bumper was a sticker that read, in bold green letters: Save The World, Kill Yourself!
The others had been watching Red and Sherry raptly, Phil spoke first. “What did you see?”
“They are all dead, everyone. I’m afraid our worst fears have been realized. This may not be the definitive end of the world, but it most surely is the end of the world as we know it.” Red had an unusually serious edge to his voice.
“How could this be?” Sandra screamed. “It’s not possible.”
“Look we have to face facts, as hard as they are to deal with, we must. We are in the middle of nowhere. This is a real small town so we are surely going to find this same sort of thing in the bigger cities.
We should search for other survivors, but keep in mind we are dealing with an extremely deadly and contagious disease. “Red reached out and took Sherry’s hand.
They drove around for four hours looking for someone alive, but their search was fruitless, as they neared the highway they saw long lines of stalled cars filled with bodies and their things. It put Red in the mind of the Pharos; they were entombed with all their most valuable worldly possessions and their families.
Red noticed after passing several grocery stores that troubled him, they were empty; the stores looked like they had been closed and cleaned out of all their wares. Finding food somewhere that hasn’t been contaminated will be a chore he thought as they drove. He decided now wasn’t the time to raise any more bad news.
Beth had silently cried when she heard the news that what the kid on the radio had said was true, and remained silent the entire day, only answering yes and no when spoken to. Sandra was a blubbering mess, it seemed she had reverted to some lower form of functioning, Phil tried to talk to her but all she was capable of were grunts and squeals. Thankfully she was quiet for the most part. Red caught a glimpse of Phil feeding her some sort of pills. They had not noticed him watching.
They returned to the campsite, and at Reds urging all decided to leave together, “strength in numbers.” he had said.
Beth rode with Sherry and Red, and to their dismay Sandra and Phil had to join them only an hour into the trip. The roads were impassible for Phil’s RV. Sandra had fought like a tiger to not leave the comfort of her rolling sanctuary. Phil fed her more pills Red was sure, because in a very short span of time she went from a hellion to a zombie like state.
With all his experience Red wash almost positive Sandra was schizophrenic. It was hard to tell because Phil kept her full of pills. Red wondered how she would be once the pills ran out.
They camped on the side of the interstate that night. Red took Sherry and Beth with him and set out to find a second vehicle, claiming they needed more storage space. This was only kind of true. What they truly needed was more space between them and Sandra. Phil had agreed it was a good idea; he didn’t care what the vehicle was, as long as he could navigate this strange, new age graveyard they had been driving through.
They spent the next few days driving from town to town Red, Sherry, and Beth riding in red’s old jeep. Phil and Sandra followed close behind in the SUV Red had found for them, it was all they could find, it came off a used car lot, and it was the only thing with four wheel drive.
They drove through numerous small towns and back roads always sticking close to the interstate. After two days of this they decided to just keep heading west and hoped anyone else alive would see them on the interstate.
On the third night they were still well east of Raleigh when Red’s CB stopped scanning and for a brief second he thought he heard a voice. He listened intently as they crawled at no more than fifteen or twenty miles an hour, He assumed most of these people had been heading to the bigger hospitals in cities like Durham and Raleigh, and even further west to Burlington and Chapel Hill.
He began to think the voice was a product of his imagination, and his so desperately wanting to meet other people. This would prove that they were not a fluke that his few travelers were alive. He knew that if they were alive there must be others somewhere, but he had to see for himself.
Red had noticed something peculiar happening to himself, the shock of seeing all those dead people passing thousands a day now, was fading away. He had read of such things happening to people in war torn countries, and to soldiers. How sad it must be to see senseless death and feel nothing.
Lost in his thoughts, Sherry was fast asleep beside him and Beth had dozed off in the back seat, he swerved involuntarily when a muffled voice came through on the CB. “Hello, anybody there?”
He picked up the receiver and answered, “Hello, I hear you, can you hear me?”
Sherry and Beth had both been startled awake, then saw Red with the CB, and remained quiet.
They all waited in silence then five minutes later they heard. “Hello, my name is Alex, is there anybody out there. I am in Burlington at the National Guard Armory. Please respond if you can hear me”
“Yes we hear you, we are east of Raleigh, we are headed in your direction,” Red yelled into the handset.
They waited, and again five minutes later they heard the same message. “He can’t hear us Red said aloud, he must have a much higher powered CB transmitter than mine.”
They left it on and listened to this man’s message repeating every five minutes or so, sometimes the same sometimes a bit different, when finally about an hour later after hearing virtually the same message he came through with an entirely different message.
“My name is Alex; I grew up in Yanceyville, North Carolina. I have been alone for over a week, I am not infected. I had been searching for survivors, out in the country near where I grew up. I got lost and saw a store and stopped to see if I could find a map. I was sitting in the parking lot when a man began shooting at me.
He said things that made no sense. Talking like he was in a war, at first I thought he was crazy or sick. I was hiding behind my truck on the ground that’s when I saw that this man had murdered a young woman and had also shot her six year old daughter. I could see that the girl was still alive.
I was forced to wound him, so I could get to the girl. I disarmed him and just as I reached the girl she died right in front of me. There was nothing I could do. I then discovered he had shot another kid maybe about thirteen or fourteen years old, in the back as he ran away. He had set up an ambush, and had six guns loaded and waiting for anyone unlucky enough to pass by.
None of the three people he shot and killed were sick. I did not know what to do with him. I questioned him and he confessed that he was not crazy. He admitted to only killing them because it was his store, and that was his stuff, and they weren’t gonna get him sick.
I shot him with the same gun he had shot those people with. I am not sorry I did this. Criminals are sorry when they kill people. I am not a criminal. I buried the mother and child together and I gave the boy his own grave. I left the murdering son of a bitch to rot there in his parking lot. I don’t know why I am saying this, pretty stupid eh? I feel it’s only right to let anyone coming my way know what I have done.
“I don’t know if anyone can hear me, I am signing off, I will be checking this channel regularly tomorrow. Goodnight.”
Red, Sherry, and Beth all sat in silence. They found a relatively empty section of road and stopped to camp. No one spoke about what they heard, nor did they tell Phil or Sandra. None of them had even heard Sandra talk since the day in that small town. When Sherry had asked Phil how she was, he rudely brushed her off, saying. “I can take care of her!” Sherry let it go without another word.