Jackie sat in the chair, legs crossed, hands folded demurely on her lap, her right foot bouncing slightly in time to the song dancing through her head. She had already been in to talk to the school district psychologist and now they were waiting for her mother to arrive. Though she was feeling anxious, she was adopting a facade of unconcern and detachment; she was not going to give the councilor the satisfaction of being outwardly nervous. Waiting sucked though. Finally, her mother arrived, checked in with the office staff and was told to sit in a chair until Ms. Wankel, the district psychologist, was ready to see them. Her mother though, true to form, ignored the indicated chair and sat next to Jackie instead.
“Mrs. Taylor,” the clerk said. “I’m sorry, but Ms. Wankel asked that the two of you not converse until the meeting, so could you sit over here please?” She indicated a chair at the other side of the room.
Jackie’s mom gave the clerk one of her friendliest smiles, “No thank you, I’m comfortable here.”
“I’m sorry,” the clerk said. “But Ms. Wankel’s instructions were quite specific, Mrs. Taylor.”
The brilliant smile continued, “I’m sorry also, but perhaps you didn’t understand, I’m comfortable here.” She turned to Jackie, “So, why am I here instead of boring myself silly at home?”
“Ms. Wankel thinks I’m suffering from low self-esteem and therefore acting out in a self-destructively sexual manner requiring immediate psychological counseling.”
“Ah, I see.” She pulled out a compact mirror and examined herself, then put the mirror away, “How do I look?”
“Patently maternal in a middle-class sort of way,” Jackie giggled.
After a few minutes of talking about unimportant topics Jackie’s mother addressed the clerk, “Excuse me, how much longer will we be waiting? My favorite soap will be on shortly and I really must be home to see it.”
Jackie hid her smile behind her hand as the clerk picked up her phone and spoke briefly into it. As she hung-up she pointed down the hall beside Jackie’s chair, “Ms. Wankel will see you now.”
They rose together and proceeded down the hall until Jackie opened a door for her mother, she stepped into the room and Jackie followed. Wankel stood and extended her hand for Jackie’s mother to shake, which she did and then promptly removed an antiseptic wipe from her purse and cleaned her hands as the psychologist watched. “Germs,” she said. “You just can’t be too careful these days.”
Wankel’s frozen smile remained frozen, “I completely understand. Won’t you be seated? As you probably know, my name is Theodora Wankel and I’m the child psychologist for the Upland School District.”
“My name is Claudia Taylor, Jackie’s mother, and I didn’t know you were anyone.” She allowed a simpleton expression to play over her features as Wankel frowned.
After a moment of silence, “Yes, well, I asked you here today because I’m concerned about Jackie’s behavior.”
Claudia leaned forward, “You know, I am too. She is so frustrating sometimes, why just three weeks ago she brought home a report card that was straight “As”. I never earned grades so easily and I can’t figure out why it seems so easy for her.”
Wankel blinked her eyes for a moment, and then, “My concern isn’t for her grades, Mrs. Taylor…”
“Please, call me Claudia.”
“Uh, yes, Claudia. My concern isn’t for her grades; it’s about her reported promiscuity.”
“Yes, we have been told that two weeks ago she had sex with at least two male students here at the High School.”
Claudia looked at Jackie, “You had sex with two boys here on campus?” She turned back to Wankel, “There seems to be a problem with campus supervision.”
“No, you don’t understand, she didn’t have sex on campus, but she had unprotected vaginal intercourse with two of the students from our campus.”
“And this happened when?”
“Two weeks ago on two separate occasions with two separate boys.”
“And you know this how?”
“Both boys were bragging about it.”
“And they were bragging to whom?”
“Fellow students, who approached their councilors with their concern for Jackie’s well-being.”
“Allow me some clarity; two boys boasted they had intercourse with Jackie, two weeks ago?”
Claudia looked at Jackie, “Did you?”
Jackie shook her head, “Not that I wouldn’t do something with them, they are very attractive, but they’re both asses, so no.”
Looking back to Wankel Claudia held her hands out to her sides, palms up, “There you have it, the events didn’t take place therefore an end to the non-existent problem.”
Wankel sighed, “Mrs. Taylor, Claudia, all parents want to believe what their children tell them, no one wants to believe their children might lie to them, but remember we are dealing with a young woman who wishes to be accepted by her peers. Denying the obvious is no way to help your daughter; I mean look at her, look at the way she dresses and the make-up she wears, surely you can see it’s a cry for help?”
Claudia glanced at Jackie and examined her, black dyed hair, black lipstick and nail polish, black clothing and shiny black boots. Finally, the facial piercing’s and silver chains from her nose to her earlobes. “Yes, I can see how you might be confused, but I believe in children having an identity they are comfortable with.” She looked back at Ms. Wankel, “Jackie had an appointment with my gynecologist this past Saturday and she assured me Jackie was still a virgin.”
“What? Just because I believe in my children doesn’t mean I don’t take appropriate precautions.” Claudia pulled a card from her purse and handed it to Wankel as she stood.
Wankel accepted the card and read it, Dr. Claudia T. Taylor, PhD., Specializing in Child Psychiatry and Family Therapy.
“I’ll be giving a Lecture at Claremont Colleges this coming Thursday on the topic of Sexual Boasting Among Teenage Males. It’s free to the public and perhaps you may want to attend?” Claudia closed her purse and turned to Jackie, “You best get to class now and I’ll see you at home, Honey.”
“Okay, bye Ms. Wankel.”
As Jackie left the room she heard her mother. “Now, let’s discuss the fact my son was beaten up by one of the thugs who claimed to have fucked my daughter.” Jackie giggled at the look on the clerk’s face as she walked out of the office.
At the end of the school day Jackie waited at the north end of campus for her brother Joseph and his longtime girlfriend, Terri Yamato. When they arrived, the three of them started their long walk home.
“Hey,” Joseph asked. “Did you see the brawl at First Lunch?”
“Naw, I was in the office.”
“Again? What did you do this time?”
“Same as the other times, nothing, but this time they called Mom in for a discussion with the District Psychologist.”
Terri laughed, “That must have been interesting.”
“It was, especially when Wankel started lecturing Mom about child psychology.”
“No way!” Joseph exclaimed. “Did mom tell her what she does?”
“At the end she did, but the best part was after I left the room.”
“Why, what happened?” He asked.
“Mom told Wankel she wanted to discuss the thug who beat her son, one of the ones that claimed to have fucked her daughter.”
Terri covered her mouth as she laughed out loud, “You mother is so cool!”
Jackie smiled, “Yeah, but I’m not so sure Ms. Wankel shares the same feelings.”
The three of them laughed and continued to walk up the center of Euclid Avenue beneath the trees. Spring was coming on and trees were beginning to bud out and turn green. “What about the fight at lunch?”
“Some Hispanic kids got into it with some white kids after some Black guy bit a Hispanic guy. Then…”
“Wait, the Hispanics got into a fight with the Whites because a Black bit a Hispanic? That doesn’t make sense.”
“Sure it does,” Joseph said. “The Black kid and the White kids are all on the baseball team and the Hispanics were wanna be gangbangers.”
“Oh, so it wasn’t so much of a racial thing as a clique thing?”
They walked along for a moment, and then Jackie asked, “So why did the Black guy bite the Hispanic guy?”
“No one knows, he went home sick yesterday and came back today at lunch and bit the guy. The gangbangers started beating the shit out of him, and then the White guys saw what was happening and tried to protect the Black guy, but then the Black guy bit two of the White guys, and…”
“Never mind,” Jackie said. “Sounds too complicated for my tastes. So who got into trouble?”
“Everyone is getting suspended; the Black guy went to the hospital…”
“How bad did he get beat up?” Terri asked. “That’s awful!”
“No they didn’t take him because he was beat up, they took him because he was acting crazy, but they took three other guys that got bit also.”
“Why,” Jackie asked.
Joseph shrugged, “Beats me, one of the White guys was going to need stitches and something about infection from the bites, they had to get antibiotic shots or something.” He walked along quietly for a minute, and then, “The thing I’m wondering about is, there were actually four Hispanic guys that got bit, but when they found out the Whites and the first guy bit had to go to the hospital, they lied and said they weren’t.”
They walked along quietly a little farther. “Terri,” Jackie asked. “Are you still staying at our house tonight?”
“Yeah, my Mom and Dad won’t be back until late tonight and I guess they already talked to your mom.” The Taylors and the Yamatos had been friends since their college days and their bonds had grown stronger as the years passed, there was a certain amount of worry about Terri and Joseph’s relationship while at the same time a great deal of joy. The two sets of parents wanted their families joined and they hoped the children’s closeness would last. In essence, it was a delicate balancing job to encourage them while at the same time discouraging intimacy. As hard as they had tried though, they had not avoided sexual relations between the young man and the girl.
The kids finally reached the Taylor’s home and Jackie unlocked the front door before they entered and left their book bags in the den. After dinner the three would retreat to their respective bedrooms to do homework and then socialize, but the afternoon was free. Joseph retrieved his cell phone and checked for text messages and then answered a few while ignoring still more before calling his father.
“Hello?” Joseph and Jackie’s father must have been wearing his earphone and microphone because Joseph could hear a lot of background noise.
“Dad, I’m thinking about running over to the Dobson brothers’ house before dinner, is that okay?”
“Is Terri still at the house for tonight?”
“Is she going with you?”
“I don’t think so; she has an algebra test coming up on Friday and wants to study for it.”
There was pause, and then, “Do you think it would be polite to run off by yourself with the guys? Maybe you could give her a hand with her homework?”
That was weird; the parents usually encouraged the couple to have other friends and even spend time apart. “Terri doesn’t need help with math, Dad. Heck, she’s better than me and I’m a year ahead of her.”
“Yes, well, I think I would prefer you stuck around the house this afternoon, Son. I’ve been listening to the radio and there seems to be some problems developing and I might need to contact you and sister quickly.”
“Problems, what kind of problems?” His father wasn’t prone to nervous panic, so Joseph was interested in what might have him cautious.
“Oh, there’s just some small scale riots going on here and there and I think it might be a good idea to stick around, that’s all.”
“Actually, quite a few different places, that’s why I’m somewhat concerned.”
“Okay, I’ll stick around and see if there’s anything I can do here. What time will you be home?”
“I’m stuck on the I-10 at the moment; say another hour, or hour and a half? Hey! Are you in the house?”
“Put your mom on your phone so I don’t have to dial her, okay?”
“She’s not home yet, Dad.”
“She’s not? She said she wasn’t going into the office today, maybe she’s shopping for dinner.”
“I don’t know.”
“Alright, I’ll call her myself. See you when I get home.”
“Bye.” Joseph folded his phone and walked to the kitchen, maybe he would just make some snacks for the three of them until dinner.
He rummaged through the pantry and finally settled on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He had just finished lining up everything on the counter when his mother’s car pulled into the driveway and parked in front of the garage door. She usually parked inside so he figured she was going back out again.
Jackie stepped up next to him, and looked out the window, “Hey, there’s Mom.”
“Yeah,” he said as he began to spread jelly on a slice of bread. “She just pulled up.”
Jackie kept watching and then her mother leaned out of the car door and vomited on the driveway pavers. “Joseph! Mom’s sick!” and she ran out the back door towards the car.
By the time Jackie reached her mother she had managed to climb out of the car, but was down on her hands and knees, crawling through her own puke. “Mom!” She kneeled beside her and pulled her hair back from her face as she vomited again. “Joseph!” She shouted, but he was already in the process of kneeling next to their mother.
“Mom?” He said. “Can you stand up and we’ll take you in the house so you can lie down.”
She spit and then mumbled, “God, it came on so fast.”
Joseph asked her again, “Can you stand up?”
“Maybe, maybe if the two of you help me?” She gagged again and heaved, but nothing came out.
Jackie raised one of her mother’s arms and draped it over her own shoulders, “Joseph, get her other arm and we’ll lift her to her feet.”
Together they lifted her and took most of her weight as she stumbled to the kitchen door. They helped her to the den and sat her in their father’s reclining chair. “Joseph, get a pan from the kitchen in case she needs to vomit again.” She pulled Claudia’s hair back from her forehead and placed her palm on it. “Jesus, Mom, you’re really hot!”
Joseph returned with a pan and a clean wash cloth he had wet and squeezed most of the water out of. “Here, use this on her forehead and I’ll get some aspirin for her fever.”
Jackie began to wipe her mother’s forehead and then her neck and arms, at her right arm she stopped, there was a bandage wrapped around it. “Mom? What happened to your arm?”
“I was at the pharmacy and there was a Hispanic woman with a little boy waiting for a prescription. He looked very sick, so when they called her name I said I would watch him while she took care of her business. He was asleep when she left, but woke up. I guess he was scared and he bit me.”
“Geez, how long ago did he bite you?”
“Maybe two hours? I’m not sure, things are kind of fuzzy.” There were dark red streaks spreading from the wound under the bandage.
“I think we should take you to the emergency room, Mom. This doesn’t look right for being such a short time since you were bitten.”
“I’ll be okay, it’s probably just the flu or something.” Joseph arrived and held the tablets of Aspirin out to his mother and a glass of water. She fumbled with them and then dropped the tablets in her lap. He helped her find them, put them into her mouth, and then held the glass as she sipped, swallowed, and then gagged.
“Joseph,” Jackie said. “We need to get her to the hospital, go back the Beamer up to the kitchen door and we’ll put her in. You can drive it right?”
He nodded, their mother’s BMW was a stick shift and though Jackie had her license for a longer time than Joseph she had never learned to drive it. “Okay, I’ll be right back, but tell Terri we’re going and I think she should come with us.”
Jackie called Terry down from upstairs and when she arrived she explained what had happened and what they were about to do. Impatiently she ran to the open kitchen door and found Joseph standing next the open door of the BMW with his cell phone next to his ear.
“Joseph! What are you doing?”
He placed his hand over the microphone and pointed at the phone itself, “Dad is on, wait a minute!” She listened to Joseph’s side of the conversation. “She is really sick Dad and…” he listened, “But, Dad…” He listened again for several moments and then, “Well, okay, but I don’t understand why they would do that.” A few more moments passed, and then, “Are you serious? We can’t do that!”
Jackie’s father’s response was loud enough for Jackie to hear it as Joseph pulled the phone from his ear and grimaced, “Damn it Joseph! Just do what I tell you! DO NOT TAKE HER TO THE HOSPITAL! I’ll be home as soon as I can; now, will you do what I told you?”
“Okay, it just seems kind of weird, you know…Okay…Bye.” He put his phone in his pocket and looked at Jackie, “Dad says we are to take Mom to their bedroom, lay her down and tie her hands to the headboard. Once we do that we are to keep her as cool as possible to control her temperature, but under no circumstances are we to take her to the hospital.”
Jackie just stood there looking at Joseph before she finally asked, “Why?”
“He was talking to the Head Administrator and he told Dad he’s hearing strange stories about quarantined people getting violent and then mysteriously disappearing. He said there is something going on and doesn’t want Mom getting caught up in it.”
“But that’s crazy! Mom needs a doctor!”
“Have you ever heard Dad yell like that? He’s serious and I think we better do what he says. He said Mom might get delirious and not knowing what she’s doing try to hurt someone, that’s why he wants us to tie her to the headboard.”
Jackie turned around and re-entered the house and then the den. Kneeling next to her mother she said, “Mom, Joseph just talked to Dad and he says we should take you to the bedroom and tie you to the headboard; he says some people who are sick like you try to hurt their families. Should we do what Dad said?”
Claudia tried to focus on Jackie, “Your Dad said that?”
“Yeah, but I think we should go to the emergency room. Dad’s not here and he may not realize how sick you are.”
Joseph looked at the bandage on her arm, “Jackie, is that a bite wound?”
“Dad asked me if she had been bitten, I didn’t know she had been. He said the injuries the doctors are the most concerned about are bite wounds.” His eyes were wide as he stared at her.
“Like at the school, the Black kid that bit all the others.”
Terri, who had been listening covered her mouth, “Oh no, they took all the kids away that were bitten, they’ll take your mom.”
Jackie stroked Claudia’s cheek, “Mom, do you want to go to the hospital, or to bed.”
“Do what Dad said, until we know more…until we have more information.” She closed her eyes and seemed to fold in on herself.
Joseph grabbed one of her arms, “Get the other arm, Jackie. We’ll take her up while she’s asleep.” In the end it took all three of the teenagers to get Claudia upstairs and she vomited again on the way. Once they had her on the bed Jackie loosened her clothing while Joseph brought two of his father’s neck ties to secure their mother to the bed.
When they were done Jackie pulled her hair back from her own face, “Now what?”
Joseph curved his arms around Terri’s shoulder as she sniffled, “We wait for dad.”
“Joseph,” Jackie said. “Maybe you should go out and pour some bleach on the spots where mom vomited, it might be contaminated?”
He nodded, “Are you going to stay here, in case mom needs you?”
“Yeah,” she turned to Terri. “Why don’t you help Joseph with the clean-up, do you mind?”
“Okay.” Joseph and Terri left as Jackie wet another wash cloth in the bathroom and then started trying to cool her mother’s body.
On the driveway, after cleaning the stairs, Joseph poured a liberal amount of bleach on the pavers and then Terri used a push broom to work the bleach back and forth over the puddles of vomit. “Do you think this will kill any germs?” Terri asked.
“It should, when we are done with the bleach I’ll hose it into the area drains so it doesn’t dry in the crevices.”
Terri began scrubbing again and then stopped, “Did you hear that?”
“I thought I heard gunshots, didn’t you?”
“No.” Then he stopped and listened and there were several more popping sounds.
“Did you hear those?”
“Yeah.” He set down the bottle of bleach and started walking to the street.
“Where are you going?”
He looked over his shoulder at her as he walked away, “To see if I can figure out where the shots came from.”
Terri ran after him and grabbed his arm, “Oh, no you’re not! What if someone shoots at you? You get back up here next to the house.”
“Why would someone shoot at me?” He asked.
“Who knows why those gun nut people shoot their guns.”
He looked out towards the street, but returned and they finished disinfecting the driveway. After hosing down the pavers he finished making the sandwiches he started earlier and carried one upstairs to Jackie.
“I made you a sandwich.”
She was still trying to cool their mother’s temperature. “I’m not hungry, call Dad again and see where he is.”
“I know where he is, he’s on the freeway trying to get home.”
“I’m scared, Joseph, just call him again alright?”
He pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed his father’s number, and then waited until he answered, “Dad, Jackie wants to know how much longer before you get home; she’s really worried about mom.” He waited a moment, “Oh, good…okay, bye.” Putting the phone back in his pocket, “He’s coming off the freeway now; maybe another ten minutes and he’ll be here.”
Jackie nodded, but didn’t say anything else, so Joseph went back downstairs to wait for their father with Terri. She wasn’t sure what was happening, why didn’t her father trust the hospital? What did he mean by people disappeared? How does someone disappear from a hospital? She kept returning to the window that looked down on the driveway and was finally rewarded with the sight of her father’s four-wheel drive truck pulling in behind the BMW, moments later he walked hurriedly into the bedroom and sat next to Claudia on the edge of the bed.
“How long has she been asleep?” He asked as Terri and Joseph filed into the room.
“Over an hour.” She applied the wet cloth to her mother’s forehead. “I don’t understand why we can’t take mom to the hospital.”
“I was talking to one of the people at the Company and they were telling me there are some serious rumors about the police and the CDC quarantining people who have been bitten lately, and there have been a lot of people coming to the hospitals suffering from bites. Apparently no one knows how to treat whatever is wrong with the victims and they become violent for some reason.”
“There are also rumors that some of the patients who have been bitten are being taken away by the CDC and the police to somewhere and they don’t come back.”
“You mean against their will?” Jackie asked. “How did you find that out, I mean if they’re just rumors…”
Her father looked up at her, “Honey you know the company I work for is a medical supplier so we have a very close relationship with doctors and hospitals, right?”
“There are certain drugs hospitals order that can be used to treat people who are ill, but if used in an unsafe manner can be lethal to patients; you understand that, right?”
“Some of the hospitals are ordering large quantities of some of those drugs, much more than they would normally use.”
Jackie stared at her father as she processed what he was saying, “Dad, are you saying that the hospitals might be killing people, on purpose?” Behind her Joseph’s eyes widened and Terri covered her mouth with her hands.
“So far it’s just rumors floating around, but it seems there is a disease, something the CDC has never seen before, and they are desperately trying to contain it before it spreads.”
“But,” Joseph said, “Wouldn’t it be better to tell the people so everyone would know what was happening?”
Their father shook his head, “Probably the CDC is afraid people will panic, try to get away, and the end result will be the disease will spread faster.”
“If we keep Mom here, is there a chance we might get sick?” Joseph asked as he pulled Terri closer to him.
“No,” his father said. “The rumors have it that the only way to contract this new disease is through direct fluid exchange, like from a bite. When a person bites someone their saliva with the virus in it is transmitted to the victim. The riots that are taking place? Some think it’s people who have become infected attacking others and there are more attacks happening all the time. I was listening to the news on the way home and there are riots breaking out all over the place.”
Joseph released Terri and sat down on the bed next to his mother, “What are we going to do?”
“We’ll watch the news and we’ll pay attention to what’s happening. The three of you will stay home from school and I’m going to stay home from work. We’ll keep the house locked up and watch out for anyone acting suspicious in the neighborhood and if we have a problem we’ll call the police.”
Jackie looked up at her father, “Dad, what if there is so much trouble the police can’t get here in time?”
“They will, it’s their responsibility to protect people like us.”
Jackie and Joseph looked at one another, “But Dad,” Joseph asked, “What if there is more trouble than the police can handle, what if they decide to stay home with their families the way you have decided to stay home with us?”
“Son, the police have an obligation to be on the job, they know their families come second after their obligation.”
Joseph just looked at his father for a moment, “Too bad so many of the cops in New Orleans didn’t feel the same way.”
The room was silent for a few minutes while each of them thought about what Joseph had said. If things were to become really bad, would the cops be there to serve and protect? Or would they be home protecting their own families? Joseph knew if he were a cop he would be at home with his family if he had a wife and children.
“Dad, do you own a gun?” Joseph asked. Jackie doubted it; many times she had overheard her parents complain about the proliferation of guns in American society. Guns were something that had outlived their need in America and with professional police forces there was no longer a legitimate need for private ownership of firearms. She had even heard her father once say that only cowards would own one.
“No, I don’t. You should know by now how much your mother and I are against them. Like I said, the police will protect us.”
“How can you be sure, Dad.” Joseph asked. “I mean, you’re not going to work tomorrow, what if the police decide to stay home too?”
“Because they are the police, the safety of the community doesn’t rely on me, it relies on them.”
Jackie looked back and forth between her father and her brother. “I think what Joseph is trying to say is, you have an important job, you’re responsible for the orders your medical supply company receives from hospitals and if you are not there then the supplies the hospitals need won’t arrive when they should, or might not come at all. What if the guy in charge of delivering gas to the police department for their cars doesn’t go to work because he wants to stay home and protect his family? I understand what you’re saying, but remember hurricane Katrina? A lot of the cops there didn’t show up.”
“It doesn’t make any difference, even if I panicked and wanted to go buy a gun so the two of you feel safer I couldn’t get it today anyway, there’s a two week waiting period before I could pick it up; by then the emergency, if it turns into an emergency will be over. The other thing to consider is having a gun in the house is more dangerous to the people that have it than to the people it is intended to protect the owners from. Did you know that? Yeah, you’re more likely to accidentally kill one of your own family members with a gun than to ever use it to protect your family. Now, with that said I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
Joseph nodded, “Okay.” Then he turned to Terri, “Let’s go downstairs and put the news on and see what’s happening.” Terri followed him downstairs as he walked out.
“Dad?” Jackie asked.
“Jackie, I said I don’t want to talk about it anymore!”
“I wasn’t going to ask about guns, or gas, or medical supplies, I’m wondering if we have anything we can use for weapons if someone tries to break in, you know, until the police arrive.”
“Jackie, we live in a safe neighborhood and the police can be here in minutes if there is trouble.”
“Okay, can you take care of mom while I go get a drink, or something?”
“Of course baby, sorry if I seem short-tempered; I’m just worried about your mom.”
“I know, it’s okay.”
Jackie left the bedroom and found Joseph and Terri in the den with the TV on one of the cable news channels. “Joseph, you have to go to one of the local channels if you want to know what’s going on around here.”
“None of them are on, but the cable news is reporting trouble all over the country.”
“Which one are you watching?”
“Fox, all the rest that are still on are talking about the President’s latest vacation,” he said.
“You know how dad feels about Fox.” Her father would often get angry over something that Fox News reported, or the manner in which they reported it. The funny thing though was Dad never watched Fox, so how could he know they were as bad as he claimed?
Joseph sighed, “It’s the only channel talking about the riots.”
“I was just thinking after you came down here, maybe we should see if we can find something we can use for weapons, maybe in the garage?”
“A gun would be better,” he sulked. “And I’m sorry, but what Dad said about guns being more dangerous to the people that have them simply isn’t true. Remember that essay I wrote about gun control last year? I learned an awful lot about the disinformation the anti-gun coalitions have put out.”
“Yes, but we don’t have one, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to complain about it.”
“Why don’t you look in the garage and see if there’s anything we can use.”
“All that’s out there is dad’s tools and stuff.”
“Well, the fact it’s a tool doesn’t mean we can’t use it as a weapon. You know how dad says to be careful with his tools so we don’t get hurt using them? If you can get hurt accidentally, you can use it to hurt someone on purpose.”
“Okay, maybe some hammers, or something.” Joseph left and Jackie got a glass of water and then watched the news report. They were no longer talking about riots or violence, but some young actress who was going back to jail because she failed a court ordered drug test. Jackie shook her head and went back upstairs.
Later, Joseph walked into the bedroom and laid a claw hammer on the night stand on the side of the bed his father was sitting on. His dad looked at the hammer then at the one Joseph had stuck inside of his belt and simply nodded. Maybe he felt it wasn’t worth arguing over, maybe he was reconsidering the whole police thing.
Late in the night Jackie’s father woke her up where she sat in a chair next to her mother and told her to go to bed, as she did she looked back and saw her father lie down next to her mother, was he wiping tears from his eyes? The next morning she rose and wearing her pajamas and a robe went down downstairs to the kitchen where she found her father.
“Morning, Dad. How’s mom doing?”
“Not very good, Baby.” He wiped at his eyes and took a deep breath, “Her breathing is very shallow and I can barely detect her heart beat.”
“Then we’re going to take her to the hospital now?”
“I don’t know, Honey. On the news they’re saying there is a curfew and everyone should stay in their homes. They say it’s very dangerous outside, that we should barricade our homes and be prepared to kill anyone that tries to get in. I don’t know, Jackie; I don’t know what’s happening; I don’t know what to do. If your mother was awake… I just don’t know!”
Jackie knew her mother was the thinker and the planner of the family, her father normally followed her mother’s lead, so who was going to lead now that Mom was out of the picture?
“Okay, this is what we’re going to do; we’re going to carry Mom downstairs, put her in the car, and then take her to the hospital. If for some reason, Dad, you decide that is not the proper course of action then I will take her without any help.”
“Dad!” the shout came from upstairs and there was panic in Joseph’s voice, “Dad! Come quick!” Jackie and her father leaped from their chairs and ran to the bedroom their mother and wife was in. “Dad, I can’t find her heart beat and I don’t think she’s breathing!”
Claudia’s face was gray and there was no sign of life in her at all. “Mom!” Jackie shouted and threw herself on her mother’s breast as she listened, but there was nothing; no heartbeat, no breath, nothing. “Mom?”
Jackie stood up and stared at her mother’s lifeless body, “Mom made all the decisions, always. The first time you take it on yourself to make a decision,” she looked at her father. “You blew it.”
Her father’s face turned white and he looked as though he was going to collapse, “I… I did what I thought…”
Jackie turned her back on him and walked out of the room. She knew she was being cruel, but it had always been Mom who stood up for her. Mom who knew what to buy for birthdays and Christmas, Mom who knew what she and Joseph wanted to wear and Mom who set the limits and let her and her brother know how far they could go. She stopped in the hall and thought for a moment, but wasn’t it Mom’s birthday she had forgotten? Hadn’t she also forgotten to notice her parent’s anniversary? She ran back to the bedroom and threw her arms around her father.
“I’m sorry!” she began to cry, “I’m so sorry, Dad!”
He wrapped her in his arms and held her tight as Joseph and Terri joined them, “I know, Baby, I know.”
They cried together and finally their father said, “We can’t leave, but we’ll call and have someone come to…do what needs to be done.” He seemed momentarily distracted, but then, “Jackie, Terri, would the two of you fix something for breakfast? I’d have Joseph help you, but he and I have plans to make.”
Jackie nodded and Terri followed her downstairs, when they were gone Joseph’s father motioned to him and then speaking low said, “We need to prepare your mother and I’m afraid there might not be anyone able to come and get her very quickly with all the troubles we’re having.”
Joseph swallowed hard, “What do we need to do?”
“You’re mom bought some silk sheets for our bed, but never put them on, she said she felt like she was holding out on you and Jackie, you know? Anyway, I want to wrap her in one of those sheets; she used to hold them sometimes and rub them on her face.”
“Untie your mother’s hands while I get the sheets; will you do that for me?”
Joseph’s father left the room while he untied his mother’s wrists and crossed them over each other below her breasts. So much for the violence they had been warned of; she had slipped away in her sleep. His father returned and spread the silken cloth over the bed and then tucked it under his wife; together they rolled her gently into the folds.
Joseph wiped his eyes, “Now what?”
“I’ll make some phone calls and see if someone, a funeral home or someone can come out and…”
“Take her away?”
“Yeah, come and take her away. Go ahead and go downstairs, see if the girls have anything fixed yet.”
“Okay, but I’m not very hungry.”
“I know, neither am I.”
Downstairs, Joseph joined Jackie and when he didn’t see Terri he asked where she was.
“She said something about hearing a noise out front and went to see if her parents were here to pick her up.”
Joseph asked nervously, “Outside? She went outside!”
“No, the living room, so she could see the front drive.” There was a driveway that looped from the entrance of the property back to the street. “I assumed she would just look out the window.”
Joseph left the kitchen and entered the living room where he found Terri looking out the front window. He gazed outside as he joined her and saw two men running across the front lawn. “What are they doing?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered. It was almost as if she were afraid they might hear her. “Some others ran across the lawn before you came in; I wonder if they were being chased?”
Joseph pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911, but all he received was a recording telling him all lines were busy because of widespread violence.
“Joseph, did you see the two men?”
“Only from behind while they were running away, why?”
“Both of the men had blood on their shirts and around their mouths.”
“I guess it’s better my mom died then.”
Terri looked at him and his faced seemed haunted, “Why?”
“What if she ended up like those people, the ones that are attacking others and spreading the disease. What would we have had to do to her to protect ourselves?”
“Oh,” she said as she pressed herself against his arm.
Joseph checked the doors and then closed the drapes over the windows before they returned to the den and sat in front of the TV. He searched through the channels, but the only one broadcasting was Fox; all the others had a symbol for the Emergency Broadcast System displayed.
The newsman speaking looked harried and disheveled, “Once again I want to inform you that Fox News will cease its live format at the top of the hour at the direction of the FCC, FEMA, and the Office of the President. We stridently disagree with the order that will leave so many Americans ignorant of the nation-wide violence we are experiencing. We will continue to provide on-going news updates via the scroll at the bottom of your screen and we will leave an electronic representation of the Continental United States which will indicate the areas where violent acts are being reported.” He looked away from the camera and then looked back into the lens, “This is Dale Winters signing off, may God bless you and preserve our nation.”
The screen flickered and an outline of the U.S. appeared. There were red dots indicating the cities where violence was erupting with most of the dots grouped tightly together. Joseph puzzled over the tight groupings as he father entered the den.
“Terri,” he said. “Have you tried to call your mom and dad?”
“Not for a while, the calls won’t go through.”
“Alright, try sending a text message and see if they respond.” He sat on the couch next to Joseph while Terri busied herself pushing buttons on her phone.
“What’s this?” He asked looking at the screen.
“The red dots indicate where there have been wide spread reports of violence,” Joseph replied.
As they watched several more dots appeared on the West Coast and the East Coast. “Why are all the reports coming from certain areas?” Joseph wondered.
“Transportation hubs.” His father replied. He walked to the TV and kneeled down before pointing to the screen, “San Diego here,” he pointed. “And here you have L.A., here is San Francisco, Sacramento…” Another dot appeared and caught his eye, “That one looks to be Bakersfield, the I-5 turns north just short of there and the 99 passes through it. Probably people trying to escape L.A. and bringing the infection with them.”
“Is that why they said the Interstate system was closed to everything but military or emergency vehicles?” Terri asked.
John’s father looked back her quickly, “What?”
Joseph spoke up. “They announced the freeways were closed to all civilian vehicles in order for emergency vehicles not to be hampered by traffic or clogged roads.”
His father looked back at the TV screen quietly for a moment, “Joseph, I want you and Jackie to pack your clothes into boxes, suitcases, whatever, and leave then close to the door so we can load them into the back of the truck in a hurry if we need to. Terri, did you send that text message to your parents?”
“Yes, but they haven’t responded yet.”
“Okay, but you have a key to your house right?”
“If it becomes necessary for us to leave we’ll go by your house and pick up more clothing for you.”
Her eyes were wide, “If we go somewhere how will my folks know where I am?”
“If we have to leave for some reason, and I’m not saying it will be necessary, but if we do you will send a text message telling them we will be at the duplex in Palm Springs.” The two families owned the duplex together as a vacation spot for weekends and as an investment. “In case the public utilities break down the pool in the backyard may become very important to us.”
Jackie walked in, “Yeah, if the utilities go down there may not be anyone willing to go outside to repair them.” She shuddered suddenly, what if the power went out? The water, or the gas? “Breakfast is ready if anyone is hungry.”
They all went to the kitchen and served themselves, but little of the food was eaten by anyone. When they were finished Jackie’s father told her to put the large amount of leftovers in the fridge instead of throwing them out. “If the utilities go out there may not be food deliveries for a while so we might need to be careful wasting it.”
Jackie had a moment of panic as she thought of the implications, no water, no food, no power, no police, no gasoline, no anything. Jesus, this could be the end of everything if it didn’t stop, if the police didn’t get control. She was suddenly scared, very scared.
Joseph, Jackie, and Terri packed containers with clothing and a few keepsakes, stacked the boxes next to the front door of the house, and then returned to the den to watch the map of America slowly turn to red and took turns reading aloud the newsfeed scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Everything it said became increasingly worse as the day, and then the evening progressed. Finally, they read the President was going to make an announcement to be carried live on Fox at nine o’clock
At eight-thirty Terri received a text message from her mother, which she read aloud, “Honey, we are stuck in Cleveland…Airport closed…Things not good…Stay with the Taylors…see you soon…We love you and miss you…Mom” She began to cry.
Joseph handed the phone to his dad as he tried to console Terri and the father typed a text massage in return. “This is Mac…Terri with us and good…If not here on your return try PS duplex…will go there if we can…Good luck.”
A few minutes later Mac’s phone announced a text and he read it to himself before deleting the message and returning the phone to his belt.
“Was that my parents?” Terri asked.
Mac nodded, “Yes, it was. They just wanted to thank us for taking care of you.” He motioned Jackie into the kitchen and when she arrived he whispered to her. “The last message? It was from Terri’s dad; both of them have been bitten.”
“There’s no sense telling her right now, we’ll see about it later, okay?”
Jackie nodded and then drifted back to the den.
At nine o-clock the four of them sat down and began to watch the TV, but it wasn’t the President who came on, it was the Speaker of the House.
“Good Evening America, I come to you tonight at a time when our great nation teeters on the precipice of disaster and we are confronted with the worst calamity we have ever faced in the history of our land. As you may know, riots and murder are sweeping through our peaceful neighborhoods as I speak. The poor people who are carrying out the crimes we are experiencing, are not to blame for what is happening, they are as much victims as the rest of us are, therefore we must first address the underlying reasons, the conditions, which have allowed this terrible event to occur. Under the leadership of the President, and the Vice-president, we have seen a reduction to the internal security of our nation, our homes have been thrown open to the will of foreign terrorists and now we, all of us, are paying the price. Because of the ineptitude, or the will, of the President, the Vice-president, and certain others of the opposing political party, this evening I have been forced to have the President, the Vice-president, the Whitehouse staff and five members of the United States Supreme Court arrested and incarcerated in a location to be revealed when the current crisis is resolved. I know this is a frightening scenario, but a necessary one. I was sworn in as President of the United States of America under the rules of succession, less than one hour ago, but I assure you I am completely in command and will soon order the distribution of the cure and the vaccine for the disease, which is at the moment ravaging our nation. Naturally, under the conditions we are faced with, I am hereby declaring a state of national emergency and I am imposing martial law. Both houses of Congress will be suspended and I will lead by presidential decree until enough of the membership of Congress can be located and brought to the Capitol to form a legal quorum. Please be patient and know help is on the way. God bless you, and God bless the USA. Good night.”
“Dad?” Jackie asked, “Does that mean she’s our President now?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“Is it legal for her do that?”
“The Speaker of the House is a good person, Honey, and I doubt she would do something illegal. I don’t think I have ever trusted the President and maybe he was behind this whole thing we…” He stopped and looked back at the screen. There was a bearded man standing before the microphone the new President had just left.
“Can you turn the camera back on…It is…” He looked into the camera, “Listen, uh, listen America,” he pointed off stage. “I don’t know about a revolution, or a coup, but I know this, there is no cure for the disease we are facing and there is no vaccine. The Speaker, or President, whatever she is, is lying to you. Right now the only chance you have is to stay away from the infected and kill them from a distance if you can. Do not approach them! Do not try to help…” There was a loud pop and the man folded in on himself, a look of surprise and pain on his face. Another man stepped into view and fired a second shot; the bearded man fell from view off the screen.
The man with the gun stood looking down at where the wounded and maybe dead man would be on the floor. “Who is this little weasel?”
One of the other men who had been standing behind the Speaker spoke up, “This little weasel was Dr. Thaddeus Brown. He was going to help create the vaccine that would have helped those of us who have not been infected yet. You just murdered the only man who could save us and it was televised nationally.” The picture faded to black. The screen flickered and the map was back, it seemed to be a lot redder than it was before.
Mac stood up, “I’m going to bring the truck around to the front and we’re going to load up and head for Palm Springs, you kids be ready to open the door when I pull up and load our boxes. We need to be on the road right away.”
Everyone began to scramble about and prepare their boxes and suitcases to be loaded in the truck as Mac ran to the kitchen and out into the driveway and the truck. Moments later he pulled the truck to the front door and Joseph carried out the first bag and threw it in. Jackie and Terri followed suit and in less than two minutes the truck was loaded and ready to leave.
“Joseph! Lock the rear door in the kitchen, the French Doors to the patio, and then lock the front door.”
Joseph took off to do as he father told him and the girls got into the rear seat of the crew cab. They waited several moments and finally Mac opened the door of the truck and shouted, “Joseph! Come on!”
They waited a little more and suddenly Joseph ran out the front, “Dad! It’s mom!”
“I know, but we’ll have to take care of her when we come back!”
“No! Dad, she’s not dead, she’s moving inside the sheet!”
Jackie started to open the door, but her father stopped her, “You two stay here and keep an eye out. Keep the doors shut and be ready to open them for us when we come. Understand?”
Jackie and Terri acknowledged as he ran through the front door. The girls waited on pins and needles until finally Joseph came out, closed and locked the front door and then got in the driver’s side of the truck behind the wheel.
As he started the engine Jackie asked, “Is mom really alive? What are you doing?”
“Dad and I put her in the Beamer and he’s going to drive her to Palm Springs; he told me to drive the truck because I know how to get there if we get separated.
“She really is alive? I want to see her!”
“No you don’t.”
“Joseph, what are talking about? Of course I want to see her!”
He put the truck in gear and swung around as their father backed the BMW out and then turned around in the driveway so he could drive out the entrance. In the passenger seat Jackie could see a body shaped form strapped into the passenger seat.
“Dad still has her wrapped in the sheet? Why?”
Joseph looked in the rearview mirror at his sister, “So she doesn’t bite him on the way to Palm Springs.”
Jackie was quiet as Terri began to cry, and then, “You mean she’s like the others, the ones that are spreading the disease?”
Joseph wiped his eyes and then followed his father out onto Euclid Avenue and south towards the I-10 Freeway. “Yeah, just like the people that are biting and killing other people, she tried to bite both of us and almost got dad. He doesn’t want to leave her behind, but he doesn’t want her in the truck with us, so we put her in the BMW.”
Down Euclid they could see more and more vehicles pulling onto the avenue and Jackie began to worry. “There are an awful lot of cars on the road all of a sudden.”
“Yeah.” It was all he said as they saw what appeared to be a long line of bright brake lights building ahead. “Something’s wrong, if dad doesn’t turn off we’re going to get stuck in a helluva traffic jam down there.”
Jackie nodded, “Maybe we should have taken the 210, it always has less traffic than the 10.”
As Joseph was finishing his remark their father’s right turn signal came on and he turned off of Euclid and onto 13th Street just north of Foothill Boulevard. Joseph followed, and then they turned left onto Mountain Avenue and ran straight into a massive traffic jam. Other cars piled in between the BMW and the truck and then started piling up behind them. They were jammed in and were no longer going anywhere.
Jackie climbed over the back of the front seat and looked through the window, there were no openings anywhere they could slip through and escape the massive parking lot the roads had become. “What are we going to do? What is Dad going to do?”
“I don’t know Jackie,” he hesitated, and then opened his door. “Stay here while I run up and ask dad, do not leave the truck!” He jumped out and started weaving his way through the traffic and until he reached his mom’s Beamer. Jackie could see over the surrounding cars and watched as he finally straightened up and ran back to the truck, but before he got in he dug around in the back and brought a hammer into the cab with him.
“Dad says we’ll just have to wait until the police get the traffic going again. It may take a while, so he said for us to be patient.”
Jackie started to roll the window down, but Joseph warned her not to. “I’m not, just enough to hear outside for a minute.” She listened intently, but many of the cars around them were beginning to honk their horns in frustration.
“What are you listening for, Jackie?” Terri leaned forward from the rear seat and looked out the front.
“Sirens, I hear gunshots and sometimes screams, but no sirens.” She rolled the window back up. “I don’t know, but I don’t think there are going to be any cops coming. It must be like this everywhere; there is too much trouble for the cops to even begin to take charge and get it straightened out.”
“Dad said it might take a while.”
“Joseph, I don’t think they’re coming at all.”
He turned and looked at her, “Dad says we’re waiting, so we’re waiting.”
“Why? We should get out and go home, or find shelter somewhere, or…something, anything other than just sit here.”
“Because we can’t leave Mom behind, that’s why and if we leave the cars we can’t take her with us. Now, do you want to wait, or leave Mom alone out here?”
Jackie slid back in the seat and pulled her knees to her chest while resting the soles of her boots on the leather seat covers, “Jackie, don’t put your shoes on the seats of Dad’s truck.”
“Oh, so you don’t like what Dad says so it’s Fuck off Joseph, right?”
Terri laid a hand on each of their shoulders, “Hey, don’t talk like that, both of you will be sorry later, so why even do it?”
Joseph leaned forward and turned on the radio, and then pushed the “seek” button. Most of the channels held nothing more than a tone, but they finally found someone who was saying all kinds of crazy things; he even referred to the people who were infected as Zombies. What the hell? The radio station had received phone calls from people who claimed the infected were dying of infection and high fever, and then reanimating and attacking others. It had to be how the disease was spreading so fast. There were even reports that the infected were actually eating the people they killed. All three of the kids started becoming very nervous and finally they turned off the radio and talked quietly, or took short naps.
Jackie woke up and looked around her, the sun was beginning to rise and there were people walking by the truck. Some of them were hurt; they were limping, holding their arms or other parts of their bodies and she saw several injuries that looked like bite marks. “Joseph! Wake up!”
He sat up and rubbed his eyes, “What?”
“Look around us!”
“What’s going on, where are they going?” He sat up straighter.
Terri rose up from the backseat where she had been lying down, “What is it?”
“People,” Jackie said. “It looks like they are leaving their cars and going home, or something, but a lot of them look injured.” She looked farther down the street ahead of them and could see some people were running towards them.
“Joseph, something is wrong, there are people on the other side of Foothill running our way.”
He rose up and looked for himself. “Yeah they are; I wonder why?”
Terri was rubbing her eyes and squinting, “I don’t see anyone…Oh, yeah. Hey! There are people chasing them, like the ones on the front lawn before we left!”
“We’re okay in here,” Joseph said. “The windows in the truck are pretty tough.”
“What if they…Oh shit!” Jackie shouted. “Someone just broke out a window of that truck up there!”
“Joseph?” Terri’s voice sounded as if she were about to panic.
More people ran by looking behind them as they ran. A man stopped and banged on the window of the truck next to Jackie. “You kids! You better get out and high tail it somewhere safe and fast! The infected are breaking out windows with just their fists.” He waited a moment, and then, “Damn it! Get out and run or you’re going to die in there!”
He shook his head and ran away up Mountain toward the north. Jackie looked at Joseph, “Maybe we should; maybe we should get out of here and head home.”
“What about Mom?”
“I don’t know, maybe she can walk, or run, would we have to carry her?”
“You don’t understand, Jackie, she tried to bite Dad. I don’t think she even knows who we are, you know? She doesn’t even know who she is! How can we get her to walk with us when all she wants to do is eat us!”
“Guys,” Terri interrupted. “Look! Look at your parent’s car!”
The sister and brother looked ahead and saw several people swarming over the BMW; it’s convertible top was sagging beneath their weight and they could see their father struggling with someone through the open driver’s side window. Suddenly, one the people, a man, dropped through the roof as it split and was inside the car. Then another crawled through the rip and there was blood splattering within the car.
Joseph’s phone rang and when he opened it there was a text message from his dad. “Run,” was all it said. He must have sent it before the people tried to break into the car.
Jackie leaned over, “What is it?”
“A message from Dad, “All it says is run.” Joseph looked back at the BMW; more people were swarming inside, how many could possibly get in?
When he spoke his voice broke as he realized his father and mother were not going to get out, they were on their own now. “We have to go, we have to go now!”
He picked up the hammer lying next to his hip and threw open the door of the truck, “Now!” He shouted as he opened the rear door and pulled Terri from the back seat. Jackie leaped out the passenger’s door and they met at the back by the tailgate.
“Where can we go?” Jackie asked.
“Come on, follow me!” He broke into a run as he pulled Terri behind him and they ran as fast as they could down an alley next to the road. “This way!” And he led them into a short entrance of the parking lot of an apartment complex; he pushed on the gate and found it locked. “Over the top!” He shouted and helped the two girls climb over the gate, and then tried to climb it himself, but with no one to help on his side he couldn’t get a good enough grip on the vertical bars to scale the gate.
“The wall!” Jackie said. “Try the wall!”
He ran to where the gate intersected a wall and barely scrambled high enough to grab the bars on top of it, pull himself up, and then over the bars on top. He jumped down and turned his ankle, but was able to grab Terri and Jackie and begin running again into the group of buildings. He tried several different security gates before he saw a young woman looking towards Foothill Boulevard inside of a secured gate to one of the buildings.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Hey! Can you let us in?” she turned around and lifted a rifle she aimed at him.
“Have you been bitten?”
“No,” Jackie said. “But if we hang out here very long that might change real fast!”
The woman twisted something above the door knob and then pulled the gate open, “Inside, quickly!”
After they passed she closed the gate and then locked it again behind them. “Go upstairs and wait in the hall next to the door marked 23A, that’s my apartment, alright?” The kids nodded and ran up the stairs and finally stopped by the correct door.
“Well,” Terri said. “This is a little better than I thought it was going to be.”
Joseph looked around the hall, “Why? Did you think this place was going to be a dump?”
“No,” she answered. “I thought I was going to be eaten!”
Joseph slid down the wall, sat on the floor, and then rested his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees. “Dad didn’t get out.”
Terri sat next to him and put her arms around him as he began to cry. Jackie sat down on the other side of him and rested her head on his shoulder as tears began to leak from her eyes also. Both were gone now, her mother and her father, what were they going to do? How were they going to do anything? They had nothing but themselves to count on and she was out of options, what were they supposed to do?
Joseph sat upright and stared at the wall as he said, “I want a gun, and a lot of bullets.” He turned his head to Jackie and she sat up straighter, “I want some payback, I want to kill some of those fuckers!”
“Me too,” she said. “Me too.”