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Plague: 10th Anniversary
copyright 2016 by Jeremiah Donaldson
2006 and 2007 as Plague
2013 as Plague: Original Cut
All rights reserved. No part of this book my be reproduced in any manner without written permission, except for quotes used in articles or reviews.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely by chance, all places and people are merely figments of the author’s overactive imagination.
Table of Contents
It's somewhat hard to believe that 12 years have passed since I first started this story and ten since I first published it. Harder to believe is the attention it's gotten despite the many issues. For the longest time, I left it in such a state for a number of reasons, but the biggest was simply to push forward with other stuff. However, the time had come to do something about the disparities between the start of Moss's story in 'Plague' and the end in 'Ruination' for a more consistent presentation.
Those who've seen this before in any form will find it heavily edited, but the same story. To those who haven't seen this before, thank God. It's not been rewritten, but that would've been easier than what I did. However, because it's not been rewritten, the difference in my writing voice then and now is still apparent. There's also sure to be things I missed due to the enormity of the job to reedit the text. The story also hasn't been updated with any of the many things we've learned about Ebola in the years since it was written.
As some readers of this may know and others may not, the largest Ebola epidemic in history has ended in recent months. Sorta. It originated in December of 2013 in Guinea's Korokpara region and spread to neighboring countries. By happenstance, it had started within a couple weeks of me posting the submission guidelines for 'Aftermath', but 'Aftermath' was almost complete before patient zero had been identified and anyone knew the epidemic had smoldered for months longer than thought.
As of this writing, it is still ongoing, depending on who you ask. Ebola epidemics are normally declared over once twice the incubation period has passed without new cases. That has yet to happen, but it's been close. Guinea started reporting cases again on the last day of their waiting period back in March. It would've been the official end of the epidemic if they'd made it one more day without a case. The 'main epidemic' was declared 'over' in January of 2016 simply because the CDC and WHO said so. However, within the last 72 hours of this writing, yet more cases and deaths have been tallied in the same region where the epidemic started. This brings the case count to 28,647 and the death toll to 11,322, however, these stats are believed to be under reported by about 70%.
A great number of Africa's doctors were lost during this epidemic. Doctor Sheik Umar Kahn, a leading Ebola doctor, and Samuel Brisbane, former adviser to the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, are two of the most well known to have died. As of July 2015, the most recent numbers I can find, 874 healthcare workers had been infected and 509 had died. Many of them were experienced not only with Ebola, but with other hemorrhagic viruses such as Marburg and Lassa Fever. Two questions have been raised, but never properly answered: Why did so many experienced providers become ill? How did volunteers without direct contact with patients become infected while spraying doctors' Personal Protective Equipment with bleach while in their own PPE?
These questions have been partially addressed by the discoveries made during the course of this epidemic. Not only can Ebola retreat to the eyes or brain and reemerge to cause illness months after recovery, not only does it retreat to the male genitals and acts as an STD for some time, not only does survival only grant immunity for a few months, not only does the virus and/or treatment and/or chlorine used for disinfection cause widespread damage to the body that can require months or years of convalescence care which has been named 'Post-Ebola Syndrome', but on February 19th, 2015, The Washington Post published a story with the following quote:
"It is very likely that at least some degree of Ebola virus transmission currently occurs via infectious aerosols generated from the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, or medical procedures, although this has been difficult to definitively demonstrate or rule out, since those exposed to infectious aerosols also are most likely to be in close proximity to, and in direct contact with, an infected case," the scientists wrote.
However, no one wants to admit too loudly that Ebola could be airborne, or an STD for that matter, because, as the quote above suggests, there's many unknowns. Also, nothing we've figured out during this outbreak could be called good news, and it'd be fair to say that each new piece of information has raised more questions than it answered. Plus, events in Ukraine, Syria, and the South China Sea have overshadowed the few articles on Ebola in the last year. The prospect of nuclear war tends to outweigh the threat from something unseen.
There have been bright spots in the development of potential Ebola vaccines and antivirals. However, many of these things have disappeared from the news after being mired in disputes about their effectiveness, ethical debates about them being untested, and questions about the logic of trying to immunize a population against Ebola because of the mutation rate. It's also been suggested that the asymptomatic cases could indicate that Ebola is evolving towards a form that doesn't cause sickness, making any vaccine a moot venture.
One important thing to note is that it's not one strain of Ebola that caused the West African outbreak. Studies have shown that two strains circulated for most of the epidemic and that a third strain had replaced one of the original two that started it. None of the new strains have been individually named.
Ebola Reston was demonstrated to be airborne and doesn't make humans sick, but it generates an immune response. All other forms of Ebola, named and unnamed, can kill, but aren't airborne. Currently, there's not an explanation for why Reston doesn't cause illness, or for why other strains of Ebola aren't airborne. See Richard Preston's 'The Hot Zone' for a detailed account of the Reston incident.
One of my own theories is that Ebola's ability to go airborne is dependent upon certain atmospheric conditions such as temperature, humidity, and gas mixture. This is based on the primary difference between the Reston outbreak and others, which was that Reston took place entirely inside a building with humidity, temperature, and gas composition being altered by ~450 monkeys and a malfunctioning air conditioner. Some experiments in the past that have shown Ebola to have an airborne capacity inadvertently mimicked some of these conditions by taking place inside plastic or glass cages. It's not only mammals, insects, and fish that will change their behavior because of climate change, but everything will in some way, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. I don't believe it's in our best interest to leave such a fact out of theories involving Ebola, Zika, or other somewhat new, dangerous pathogens.
My other thought is that Ebola is simply more infectious through sweat than we currently believe and that those infected shed virus particles into the air around them, creating an 'Ebola Aura'. These particles are carried in the air and land on surfaces or people, causing infection by being absorbed through the skin, ingested, or rubbed in the eye.
Regardless of how Ebola is transmitted besides direct contact, or what genetic changes, out of the 341 documented, are responsible for the scope of the West African epidemic, the fact remains that we've learned enough during this last/current outbreak to realize how much we didn't know about Ebola.
We got lucky this time. There is a fire in West Africa and embers were foolishly transported all over the world during its peak, burning out before they caused too much damage. However, this epidemic has died down several times and came back to life. Sometimes because latent virus particles waited until the hosts' immunity had faded, sometimes because people came into contact with the unknown vector again, but maybe, because of asymptomatic cases that were first discovered in January of 2015, or because of a transmission method we have yet to figure out.
The largest Ebola epidemic in history, now at the two year, five month mark, isn't over and will claim more before burning out. Then we wait to see what the next one brings...
Thanks for reading,
“May you live in interesting times.”
Fake Chinese curse
Day 9, Tuesday, December 8, 20--
THEY’RE going to kill us all, I thought, watching the city of Tampa burn across the water. The low clouds reflected the fires set by irrational, crazed people who roamed the streets, taking their anger and frustration out on anything they came across. I’m glad not to be on the streets, sitting on the boat is better than whatever hell is out there.
I can’t help but think that I’ve got ahead of myself.
Things weren’t like this a few days ago. Now, anyone who took even a casual glance at the world would believe that humanity had reached the end, or maybe everyone wished the end would arrive so that the horror would cease. Either way, things don’t look good for anyone who survived the initial carnage. This wasn’t how things were suppose to turn out. We got cheated by a bug that shouldn’t have been. A freak of nature turned the world on its head with the ease someone picked up a sheet of paper.
I've gotten ahead of myself. What could be the last written record of this should contain the whole story, not half-mad rumblings I decided to put down once it dawned on me that things weren’t going back the way they were.
I’d watched the situation in the city disintegrate for days. Plenty of people are left to cause trouble and more would flock south from their powerless, northern cities when winter got here. I don’t know how the electricity held up elsewhere, but Tampa had been dark for more than a day without a sign anyone who could fix it cared to. Most people had left the city if they could. Those who'd stayed roamed the streets or barricaded themselves in their homes.
The end of November. So long ago, yet only yesterday. November. It wasn't the best time of my life, but not the worst. Still, I’d rather relive that one month over and over instead of write this account by candle and riot light.
Day 1, Monday, November 30, 20--
ON one of the last days things made sense, I smacked the alarm clock off at seven in the morning, showered, brushed, and ate an energy bar. I watched some news, but there was nothing special on. Some teacher had gone nuts and led the police on a four-hour joy ride. They'd found half a kilo of coke in her car. She probably won't teach again unless it's in prison. As if it was news. Teachers screwed the kids, so they may as well peddle them drugs, too.
At a quarter till eight, I locked the apartment door and began the trek to work. It started at half past eight and ended at six. Easy money, easy work.
The 'Money Cow' cash advance office had little business on Mondays. Even when not, how hard was it to cash checks, write money orders, advance money, and answer stupid questions? Not hard, that's for sure. I doubt I could've done less without being a security guard, and I had no need to waste money on gas when work lay five blocks away. Not that I didn’t have a car, but it normally sat in the parking lot, collecting dust. The walk got me going in the morning and was the only exercise I ever had.
The first day of my last week of work was somewhat standard. Sometimes, I wished someone would rob us.
Me and my office clerk, an intense night school student by the name of Boose, pronounced Booze, Harrison, took turns smoking in the alley between our building and the neighboring office complex. Otherwise, he sat with his nose buried in a school book while I perched on a stool in front of the computer, browsing the net and waiting for the next customer. When government checks showed up, the door barely closed as everyone rushed to pay their loans and borrow money back, or to cash their check because no bank would have them. Only Marcus Smith's, our district manager, daily stop to make sure we had cash broke the monotony.
I ticked off the closing list in my head as I locked the front door at a few minutes after six. Nothing had been left unfinished.
"Swing by if you don’t have school," I said. He was one of the few people I hung out with and currently my only friend that didn’t have an evening job.
"Not today." Boose shouldered his backpack. "I have a big test tonight. Probably will tomorrow."
"That works. Have a good one."
It was our standard end of the day conversation. The simple things are what I miss the most.
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MY first stop was at the bank to throw the deposit in the steel box built into the brick wall. Then I dodged a car, whose driver never slowed, as I ran across the street. I wagged a middle finger in the air after him as he sped away. Once on the sidewalk, I turned down an alley to the next street. A Family-owned grocery store was at the other end. I'd almost forgotten that I had nothing to eat.
I got back to the apartment just before seven and sighed with relief when I kicked my shoes off and set the bags on the kitchen counter.
The answering machine flashed a '1', so I poked the play button to listen while I opened a frozen pizza and turned on the oven. The message added to the dull Monday. A salesman rattled off his pitch for 30 seconds before the machine decided that his time was up and cut him off.
The oven needed time to preheat, and I relieved myself before throwing the pizza into it on a piece of foil. I set the microwave timer for 10 minutes and hoped the directions were right this time. Last time they were off by a lot. My apartment had smelled of burnt cheese for three days because I'd thought I had time for a shower while it cooked. At least it'd tasted different than the package, although not better.
I cleaned the few dishes from the day before while dinner cooked. There weren't many dishes when you lived alone. One plate, a glass, and fork. I wiped everything down with a rag, grabbed the newly washed glass, and poured myself the last cold soda from the refrigerator.
I carried my drink to the coffee table in the living room while I waited on the pizza to finish. The television was tuned to the last news channel I'd watched. A ding from the microwave told me that my dinner was done or burnt as the picture came into view.
Done, I seen, and lifted the pizza from the oven to the stove top by the foil underneath it. Foil was the most convenient thing in the world. I loved not having to dirty more dishes than necessary, and a mitt wasn’t needed to take it out of the oven. I went to the couch with the cut pizza on my damp plate.
I would've set out to enjoy that night more if I'd known more at that time. Instead, I apathetically watched the reporter speak about an Ebola outbreak in the Congo and shoved food in my mouth. I didn't really pay attention to it that first night, after all, bad things happen and people die all the time.
Day 2, Tuesday, December 1, 20--
IF a person woke on the first day of the end of civilization and didn't notice anything wrong, would they know that the end was on the way? I didn't. Even if I did, would I've believed?
The day started with me running late, because I'd stayed up playing games and watching movies, but normal otherwise. I showered and ran out the door with dripping hair and less than 30 minutes to get to work.
Boose was in a foul mood when he arrived a few minutes after me. It must have been the first time I'd seen him angry. He had a good reason.
"You wouldn't believe what happened," he said when he noticed my look. "Some jackass mud kicker," mud kicker was Boose's name for anyone who drove a truck and listened to country music, "pulled out in front of me this morning, and I had to jump a curb to keep from hitting him and popped a tire. Then he pulled over and wanted to fight because I'd flipped him off, but a cop was two cars behind us. Finally, after the cop threatened the guy with mace, things calmed enough for us to give statements. I had the satisfaction of him getting a ticket for reckless driving. Of course, the donut spare is on my car." Once it was all out, Boose relaxed a bit and some of the redness faded from his face.
"Sounded like you had fun. Now, you know why I walk to work," I said, smiling a little. "Ride the bus and you can bypass all that bull."
"That'd just mean different stupid people," Boose said. "And I couldn't listen to the stereo that cost me an arm and a leg."
"Got a point there," I said.
We lit our last cigarettes before we opened for business.
The remainder of the day was stress free. We didn't have any irritating customers or annoying people that wanted us to do something that we couldn't. It was a peaceful stint at work, and I didn't have to walk home since Boose came over to hangout. Never hurt my feelings to save my soles for free.
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THE answering machine had a message from my ex-girlfriend to ruin an otherwise fine day. I didn't have anything to say to her and couldn't think of anything beyond the usual drivel that she could say to me, so I erased the message without listening to it.
"You want something to drink?" I said, opening the refrigerator. It was always well stocked, if not with food.
"Of course, no class tonight," Boose said. He settled on the floor and rummaged through the backpack that never left his side.
I sat a bottle on the coffee table next to the brass pipe, kicked my shoes off to the side, and settled down on the couch.
"You want to pass on the Brass Ass today? I have papers, unless it's rank and won't matter."
Boose grinned. "This stuff is so harsh you won't know if the weed or pipe has made you cough a lung up."
I clicked on the television and flipped to the comedy channel, which was the only thing watchable while high.
"The usual, then," I said. "No need to waste a good paper."
I shoved a hand between the couch cushions to the cut in the back where my stash was hid. I unrolled the bag with a practiced flip of the wrist, then dropped a bud on the table for Boose to break apart.
"Maybe our horrible weed and your shitty pipe will turn out nice tonight," I said.
"We could get lucky."
I took a swallow of the cold beer before I put a DVD in the player. There was nothing on the tube. I often wondered why I kept the cable hooked up.
And so the evening passed. We smoked, we drank, we laughed, and my friend Tom called, but we were too drunk to go out on the town. Boose stood at half past midnight to sway to the garbage with his last empty bottle.
"You're walking like a sailor on shore leave," I said.
"I feel like a sailor on shore leave." Boose stumbled a couple steps. "I'll be fine when my butt is in the car."
I stood, staggered, and steadied myself with the couch arm. "See you in a couple days, don't get in trouble without me."
"Have a good day off." Boose waved a floppy salute, laughed, and zigzagged down the hall to the elevators.
I turned the television to one of the 24-hour news channels to listen while I cleaned up from the fun. Vaguely, I heard the reporter say that the Ebola outbreak had spread, and that fear ran rampant that it'd spread farther before it burnt itself out. She said a lot more, something about France, but the words didn't register on my clouded mind.
Day 3, Wednesday, December 2, 20--
I hated to be woke up by the phone, especially on a day off. Half awake, I rolled out of bed and stumbled through the apartment, rubbing my forehead. I hoped it would ease my headache and knew it wouldn't. I forgot to check the caller ID. Sometimes you know right away that it'll be an off day.
"Hello," I murmured.
"Moss! Where the hell are you? I've tried to reach you all morning, not to mention yesterday."
It was my former better half, Amy.
"What's so important that you wake me up this early?" I rubbed my eyes. Four messages were on the machine. She must have called all morning. “You’re not going to stalk me like your last boyfriend, are you?"
"Christ, turn on the fucking news," she said.
I found the remote. "Yeah, whatever, you're pissing on my day, this had better be good."
A female reporter stood in front of planes at the airport. The dull gray of the aircraft paint contrasted harshly with the red border that said 'Breaking News'.
"Normally, you couldn't hear me here," the reporter said, "but you can this morning, and that's bad news for the airline industry.
"As of this morning, all international flights have been canceled due to the Ebola outbreak threatening international travel. A young boy, Jon Louis, who arrived in France yesterday, has shown symptoms after flying from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on France flight 308. The boy had been in the DRC with his parents who'd gone there two months ago to study endangered monkey populations. His parents have also fell ill, prompting the world’s airlines to cease operations until the situation has been contained. More than one hundred who entered France on the same flight are unaccounted for at this time. It is feared that many have moved on to other countries. Authorities are trying to contact each passenger, but have only tracked down a handful of them."
The camera switched to a seated reporter who talked about rising coastal waters.
I sighed. "You got me up for this?"
"Keep watching. They said that some of the passengers may have taken flights to the USA, including Tampa. Better keep an eye on things since you aren't far from the airport. You can go back to sleep. Goodbye." Amy hung up.
I let the phone drop to the floor and flopped down on the couch. I wondered if this was how Amy had started stalking her last ex as I feel asleep.
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I turned on the news when I woke up. The situation had gotten worse in the hour since Amy's call. Not only were international fights canceled, but so were state bound flights. They'd determined that 30 passengers from the France flight had made it to the states. Two entered the country through the airport here in Tampa and three more in Miami. The others were spread all over the country between New York and Los Angeles. The government searched for them.
I didn't fly, so there wasn't a reason for me to concern myself with planes that weren't allowed to leave the ground. None of it had anything to do with me. I climbed into the shower.
The rest of my day was spent doing things I didn't have time for otherwise. I restocked the cupboards, did laundry, vacuumed the carpet, scrubbed up beer stains, visited the bank, refrained from killing someone in the post office, and picked up Chinese for dinner.
Finally, I sat down and enjoyed the day once the largest part of it'd passed. I purposely avoided the news for the rest of the evening, thinking it couldn't get worse.
Day 4, Thursday, December 3, 20--
THE first day of hell started off slow. It was impossible to know that panic would march across the country in an unstoppable storm by the end of that day. Maybe it's best some things blind side us. If we knew what came, would we face it or curl up and wilt away?
The first sign of an abnormal day was when I arrived at work and found Boose there before me. He'd never beat me to work.
"This is a first," I said.
"I wanted to get here and see what the situation was."
"Situation? It's another day at the office."
"You don't know?" Boose raised one eyebrow.
"Apparently not. Do we have a surprise audit or something?"
"I wish that was it. Take a look." Boose dug in his backpack for a second. Sitting back up, he held out a mini TV that had an one inch screen. It was one of the many gadgets he carried with him that served little or no purpose.
I took it from him and flicked the on/off switch.
"Make sure you're on channel nine," Boose said.
I nodded and watched the picture.
"...what you see is the mass burning of bodies by the DRC government in an attempt to rid themselves of the Ebola virus ravaging the country." A video clip played that showed something burning with clouds of black smoke swirling in the wind. A hard gust pushed the flames back to reveal arms sticking out of a pile of bodies.
"No one knows why this outbreak is so deadly, but teams from the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta and the World Health Organization have arrived to determine the depth of the problem. The outbreak has claimed 957 lives in four days and an estimated 3000 are sick."
The video clip switched to a picture of a man dressed in a lab coat. "Dr. Joel DuLou is the first medical professional to fall sick, and his condition has deteriorated rapidly. There is fear that this strain is spreading by an unknown route. One French doctor insists that it has mutated to an airborne form, but officials from CDC have assured us it hasn't. This has been..."
I flicked the power switch. "That's interesting," I said. "But we don't have anything to worry about."
"They'd said there was an unconfirmed case in Tampa. They should have an update soon."
I sighed and shrugged. "Everyone is freaking out about nothing. Two weeks from now, no one will remember what all the uproar was about."
"I hope you're right."
"How long will the batteries last on this thing?"
"Not long, a couple hours at best."
"We'll check on things later."
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I don't know if it was the bad news or one of those rare days, but things were insane even for the third of the month. We were hit with a barrage of new and old customers. All of them had the same thing to talk about. We didn't have to check the news.
People who'd been in contact with passengers from the France flight were in isolation across the country and authorities looked for others. Everyone spoke with a certain unease in their voice, and I could see panic in their eyes. Leave it to the media to cause a mess of things. A few knew nothing, but not many, and they found out from other customers as they waited in line. It didn't take long for bad news to spread among the herd.
Lunch time finally arrived. We normally took turns, but we waited until the place was empty and slapped a 'Gone to lunch' sign on the door. We hid in the back room to get the latest news while we smoked our lunch and got a few minutes of peace.
"...that's the current status on airline flights. We've received word that the second Tampa passenger was found in an Orlando hotel. The man, David Leckworth, arrived at Tampa International Airport on December 1, returning from a hunting trip that'd taken him to the DRC and home through France. It's believed that he was headed home in Daytona beach when he stopped in Orlando. He rented the room for two nights, mentioning to the clerk that he had the flu and didn't want disturbed. That was the last time anyone seen him alive. The room remained locked until the body was discovered. All residents and employees of the hotel have been quarantined inside the building.
"The other passenger, Alabar Robins in Tampa General Hospital, has had his condition lowed to critical. He became sick yesterday and turned himself in to authorities. Alabar had returned to the country after he visited family members." The reporter shuffled some papers. "We've gotten word that two in France have died from the virus, and a German passenger from the same flight is hospitalized. We'll have more information later." The scene cut to a Viagra commercial.
"That's some shit," Boose said, stubbing his cigarette out in our makeshift, foil ashtray.
I nodded. "No doubt, but these things only last as long as it takes to isolate those infected."
"You're right, but it explains why we're busy. A lot of people are worried."
"They're like animals, spook them and they run far enough not to see the original problem."
Boose nodded toward the TV. "Looks like cool weather coming."
I looked in time to see the animation of an advancing cold front. "Good, I've waited all year for winter. Let's smoke another before we open for business."
We stared at the walls and puffed for 10 minutes, waiting for more news on the outbreak, but the producers had decided the virus had taken up enough time for now.
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THE rest of the day was nonstop. The four people at the door after lunch were the precursor. Some wanted money to leave town, some to stock up before the mad rush on food that'd happen sooner or later, others wanted cash in their pockets in case the ATMs went down, but all talked about the same thing. Many repeated illogical, elaborate theories.
"They let it over here, you know?" One new customer said. He was a middle-aged man dressed in a faded jean jacket and a hat that proclaimed 'They're Coming'. He continued before I could respond. "There are systems in place to prevent bugs from getting from one country to another and they didn't work. You know why? Because those dirty French bastards knew this would happen and our government let it happen to get rid of the poor people."
I raised an eyebrow, smiled, and handed him his money. "I'm sure the government could deal with the poor easier than that."
The man gave me a look that said I was One of Them, spun on his heel, and hurried out while other customers gave him odd looks.
I smiled. "Next."
One old lady blamed it on God.
"Are you baptized?" She croaked the words between gasps for air. "The time of the Lord has cometh, and He is angry with our wasteful ways. The children of His flock will be safe, but only if they are ready to leave this earth of sin to the contaminated and accept His way as their way."
"No, but that may be a good idea," I said, handing over her cash with my standard Public Smile plastered on my face.
"Oh! It is! You come down and we'll take good care of you!"
And so the day went. When I thought I'd heard it all, someone came in with a crazier story. One man claimed that aliens had infected us to clear the way for settlement. Another said Africans had got back at us for the slave trade. Another insisted that Middle Eastern terrorists had a hand in it. Many mentioned Revelations and the horsemen. More than a few said it'd spread. At least, that could be true. Everyone looked on the verge of panic.
We listened to the latest news while we finished paperwork at the end of the day.
"...no one wanted to hear. Alabar Robins is the second victim of the outbreak in the US. He was pronounced dead after a short fight with the virus. All family members he had contact with are isolated at the same facility where he passed away. An autopsy will be carried out to determine the cause of death and to provide information that'll enable other healthcare workers to give better treatment.
“In Orlando, two of the hotel staff who had contact with David Leckworth have reported severe headaches, high fever, body aches, and bloody sputum. They've been separated from the other guests and employees inside the building. It's thought they became infected after handling a pen Mr. Leckworth signed in with.
"The virus hasn't just caused panic in the states. In France, Dr. Joel DuLou is the first medical professional to die from the virus during the current outbreak. It's believed that he was infected while doing an exam of Jon Louis, the source of infection on France flight 308, before anyone determined that he carried the virus. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the death toll is 1489 and more than 5000 are sick. Only those involved in relief efforts are allowed to cross the border into the DRC."
I turned off the TV and handed it to Boose. "If the news gets any funnier, I'll jump from a bridge."
"It may be better that we do if this keeps on."
People still came to the door while me and Boose locked up. They weren't happy, but closed is closed.
I lit a cigarette. "Are you swinging by tonight? One of my buddies from the army, John, is supposed to be in town today. He'll be eager for a drink, but I don't know if he made it in. I should know when I get home."
"Not tonight, I have another test at school that I can't miss."
"Have a good one, then."
"Good as it can get."
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THERE were several messages on the machine when I got home. I looked at the caller ID. One was Amy, one a private listing, and one from a pay phone. I pushed the play button.
The first was Amy wanting to know if I knew what went on with the virus. The second was the hissing of a blank recording.
I cared about the last message. It was John. He wouldn't make it. He had to take a bus from North Carolina because of the airline shutdown and wouldn't be in town until the next day. Nothing goes right when you want it to.
I sat down at the computer and checked my email, which was something I hadn't done for several days. Then I made the rounds of a few websites to find more information than what was on TV. One site had a map with cases plotted that I printed to show Boose.
I rolled a joint while I looked over the printout. The DRC should've been colored red. There were so many dots it was hard to see anything else. Ten were spread across western Europe. Five in France. Several were scattered across the US, with nine of them between Tampa and Orlando.
I zoned out staring at the map with the unlit joint in one hand. The doorbell startled me. I pushed the contraband under the side of the keyboard and answered the door. It was Boose.
"I thought you had school."
"The teacher put off the test and sent everyone home because half the class didn't show."
"Half the class?"
"Yeah. Everyone is scared stiff. People have left town in droves." Boose kicked his shoes off and sat down.
"They're overreacting. The exodus will reverse itself," I said. "Want a beer?"
"What else is there to do?"
I went for drinks.
"Where's your friend?" Boose called from the living room.
"Should be in tomorrow. He had to ride a bus to town since they closed the airports." I walked into the living room with a beer in each hand and stood next to the computer table. "Take a look at that map."
Boose stepped over.
"That," I said, handing him a beer, "shows where people have gotten sick."
Boose raised an eyebrow. "That looks like more people are sick than they said earlier."
"I think a lot has happened since earlier."
"Or they aren't telling the truth on TV," Boose said.
"Maybe, I haven't checked news since I got home."
"It's time to."
"Do that while I fire this up."
Boose found the remote while I tried to dig the joint out from under the keyboard with one hand and failed. I put my drink down and picked up the keyboard. I sparked it up and passed to Boose, flopping down on the couch.
The reporter came into view to match the sound. "...panic has spread across the state in response to our report that more cases of Ebola have been confirmed. Five more people in Orlando, all employees at the isolated hotel, have been added to the infected list, along with family members of the other American victim, Alabar Robins. Despite assurances by CDC officials that the virus is contained and can only be spread by direct contact with body fluids, people have poured out of the Tampa and Orlando areas."
Video from a helicopter over the reporter's shoulder showed a highway with miles of cars creeping along. "Instead of escaping, many are caught in traffic jams. This video of I-75 was taken minutes ago, but this could be any of the northbound highways at this time. The Highway Patrol issued a general request for everyone to be patient. Numerous accidents have been caused by people driving in the breakdown lane and middle median and fights have broken out between drivers."
The video switched to a Shell station with a long line for each fuel pump. "Those who need gas are also asked to be tolerant. Despite efforts to keep fuel available, filling stations across the area are running out, creating long lines for those lucky enough to find gas for sale. Most places say they'll have fuel shipments tonight. The shortage shouldn't last more than a few hours. More after the break." The scene cut to a commercial.
"You fill up?" I asked.
"Did yesterday," Boose said smugly.
"Are you bored with this?" I motioned to the television.
"Yeah, up for a game?"
"Fine with me. I've had enough death and destruction in the real world."
For hours we drank and smoked as we caused animated havoc. Then we realized it was after midnight and fatigue hit me. I saw Boose out, shut everything off, and went to bed, not knowing that I didn't have to be up in the morning.
Day 5, Friday, December 4, 20--
I woke up before the alarm sounded. Rain drummed on the window and thunder boomed, rousing me from a strange dream. I couldn’t remember much of it, but I'd been running from something that couldn't catch me because it already had. I rubbed sleep from my eyes and sat up. The dream faded as the shower called my name.
To kill time before work, I sat down at the computer and checked the weather. Rain was expected most of the day. Maybe it wouldn’t be too hot.
I checked email and played games until it was time to leave. The phone rang on my way to the door. I wasted two seconds wondering if I had time to answer.
“Moss, is that you?"
It was my district manager from Money Cow, Marcus Smith. “Yeah. This is a weird time for you to call. What’s up?"
“You have the day off. Most of the day. I just need you to make sure everything is secure and tell Boose he doesn’t have to work. Hang around for the paychecks if you want."
“Boose is probably on the road now. Why are we closed?"
“Check the news. About 50 cases of this Ebola shit have been found in the city and many think it's an airborne form. The autopsies on the guys in Orlando and Tampa show that the virus attacked lung tissue as a primary target. Many of the new cases are people who hadn't had contact with either man." Marcus continued after a pause. "The authorities want businesses to close for the weekend to keep everyone at home." He sighed. “I tried to check out the Saint Petersburg store and had to turn back. Almost everyone is closed. Traffic is bumper to bumper."
The headset sagged in my hand. Marcus didn't exaggerate. As an accountant, rattling off facts was like reciting numbers.
“For the weekend? We’re closed tomorrow?" I didn’t mind, salary pay ensured that my check would be normal.
“Yeah, tomorrow. The boss is worried about being robbed in the confusion. Easier to avoid the risk. Don’t go near the airport. People in biohazard suits roam the place like orange ghosts. Anyone who gets too close is whisked away to god knows where."
All this didn’t register properly in my head. I nodded as if Marcus could see it and cleared my throat. “Okay, talk to you later. I have to go before Boose opens the store ahead of me."
“Call if anything happens." Marcus hung up.
I stood with the phone in my hand, thinking for a few seconds before making myself move. I grabbed an umbrella and jacket before hurrying out the door.
I was confronted by total chaos outside the building. Traffic clogged the street. Horns blared. People yelled out windows. Engines were goosed impatiently.
I shivered. The rain was cold and wind tugged at my collar, but the sidewalk lay empty. I hurried to work without trouble.
Å Å Å
I arrived minutes before we were scheduled to open. The front door had been blocked by a sizable group of people who hoped to get money.
I walked to the back door to avoid kicking anyone out of the store. They would've tried to push their way inside to be first at the counter. Boose sat in the back room with his TV and smoked a cigarette.
"Shit is going down," Boose said. "Those people were here 20 minutes ago."
"They're going to be pissed off, soon. Marcus said we're closed throughout the weekend. The Mayor asked everyone to shut down until Monday."
Boose was silent for a moment. "I thought that was a bad joke, I didn't think they were serious."
"They are. I'm supposed to make sure everything is good, tell you what I just did, wait for paychecks, and go home."
"I'll wait. I'd like my check." Boose motioned to the front. "And you'll need backup if things turn ugly. They'll take the news bad."
"Fine with me. I think you're right about the masses out there." I looked through the door at the front. The throng seemed to have doubled in size since I'd arrived. "We're not opening that door. A note on the glass will do."
"Good idea, this could be a decent day if we're not ripped apart by a murderous crowd."
I nodded and walked to the store counter. I scribbled a note with a thick, black marker so no one could say they hadn't seen it. I put tape on the corners and went to the front door. I gave them my best 'There's nothing I can do about it' look. Their faces were disappointed as they walked into the rain from under the awning.
The sound of breaking glass didn't erupt as I hurried to the back room. Nothing indicated that the crowd had turned into a raging mob.
"Give them a while to disperse before we sit out front for the checks." I lit a cigarette and locked the back door. “Do you have enough juice for us to watch news?"
Boose shrugged. "Yeah, but it's all bad." He sat the TV on the break table.
He was right.
All but one at the hotel in Orlando were sick. Many suspected cases were in hospitals. Three more had died. The interstates heading north looked like parking lots. Meanwhile, someone from CDC insisted the rumors about an airborne mutation were false and that no one should concern themselves about such a thing. I wouldn't have worried much, but he didn't look like he believed himself.
People died from Maine to California. Hundreds of cases had been reported in France with 50 deaths. Germany, Belgium, and Spain reported scattered cases. Things were more bleak in the DRC. More than 3000 had died and 9000 were thought infected. Every country had closed its borders to travelers.
I shook my head. "This is crazy. I'll stock up on food before the shelves are cleared."
"If a place is open," Boose said.
"Someone will be. There are always people who'll take advantage of the chance to make a buck."
I looked out the front of the building. The crowd had cleared. Someone had spit on the glass. It was fine with me if that's all they did.
"They're gone except a few walking up. They might bang on the door if they see us, stay put."
"What about checks? We have to know if the delivery guy is here."
"I'll put another note up telling him to slide them under the back door."
"You think he'll do it?"
"We'll find out. I wonder if they'll get here today."
I peeked through the doorway again. The last people to walk up had wandered away. I ran to put the other note up, making it back in time to avoid being seen by more people who walked to the door.
"Now, we wait," I said.
Boose nodded, lighting a cigarette.
I did the same.
Å Å Å
THE wait wasn't as long as I thought it'd be.
Something scrapped outside the back door just after eleven, and we looked up in time to see a white and blue envelope slide into view. I ran over and knocked before opening the door. The delivery man didn't look surprised.
"I thought someone would be around for these." He smiled and held out an electronic pad.
I took it and signed. "Sorry, we didn't want anyone to see us out front. It would've been a problem with the sign that says we're closed."
The man nodded. "Have a good day, it's a madhouse out there."
"Thanks for the warning."
He turned away as I eased the door closed.
Me and Boose stepped out the front door within seconds. The rain had ceased.
"I'll stop by later," he said.
"That's fine. I'll get some things before I go home. John should be in sometime today, and I might have to pick him up, but otherwise I'm not going anywhere."
"Later," Boose said.
"See, ya," I said, but it was lost in the din of horns and car engines.
Å Å Å
I stopped at the bank, deposited my paycheck via the ATM, and pulled out my daily maximum. It'd be a good idea to have cash if the banks were closed for any length of time. I hurried home to get the car. My normal shopping didn't include but a few days of food, and I had to venture out for more.
Traffic was horrible. It took an hour to drive five miles to the nearest shopping plaza. Most places were closed, but apparently Miss Piggy supermarkets didn't have the same worries as everyone else. They were open, but not for long, according to the sign over the main door. They'd close in 45 minutes by my watch. Enough time to get what I needed.
The place was nearly deserted. Most people wanted to leave town, not stock up to stay. I headed for the canned goods aisle and filled the cart half-full of cans of stew, chunky soup, green beans, corn, Vienna sausages, and other stuff that wouldn‘t go bad. Grunting with effort, I moved the cart and found crackers. I topped the cart with two gallons of orange juice, four cases of beer, and five cans of powdered tea. I looked at the overladen buggy and wondered if I was being stupid.
Better safe than sorry, I thought, struggling to push the cart toward the checkout lane. If nothing else, my time wouldn't be wasted in the supermarket for a while.
A few people gave me weird looks. One lady watched me stop behind her in line and waved me forward, pushing her mostly empty cart back into the store. I guess she'd seen something she'd forgotten.
"Stocking up for the winter," the pimple faced girl at the register said.
"Just for a week or two."
She rang up things while a guy who resembled a rhesus monkey put everything in plastic bags.
"When will you be open again?" I slid my debit card through the reader.
"We have the same hours for the rest of the weekend," she said. "Eight until one." Braces flashed in the light each time her lips parted.
"Good, make sure the canned goods are stocked."
I mentally kicked myself in the ass all the way to the car. The place was so empty that I could've made smaller trips instead of fighting the overloaded cart that tried to run away. I barely kept it under control. My car looked like it squatted to take a dump when everything was loaded in the trunk.
Å Å Å
THE ride home took longer due to an accident, but was as uneventful as a drive through insanity could be.
I sat for a few minutes once I parked to figure out how many trips the pile of food would take. More than my legs would like, I decided, and got to work.
It took five trips to transport everything. By the time I finished, my lungs burned and my fingers hurt from the weight on the thin, plastic handles. Thankfully, none of the bags broke during transport. I probably would've left whatever dropped.
I pushed everything to one corner so it wouldn't clutter the floor, grabbed a beer, and sat on the couch. My body ached from the exercise. I flipped through channels, trying to find something worth watching and relaxed.
Å Å Å
I must have dozed off. The phone jerked me awake, and I spilled the half full beer still in one hand. Shaking my head to clear the fuzziness, I stumbled to the phone in the half dark, noticing it was late in the evening.
"About time you answered," Boose said. "I'm at the door, I've been out here for 10 minutes."
"Be right there," I said.
The clock showed just after six, but it was almost completely dark already. I turned on the dinning room light and opened the door.
"I fell asleep," I said, stepping aside to let Boose in. "The TV bored me right off."
"You weren't watching the right channel. I hope you picked up food. All hell is about to break loose."
"Like I said, you weren't on the right channel. Get some news on that thing while I roll one." Boose sat on the couch and dug in his pack. "I made an extra stop. This was the last my guy had." He tossed a sandwich bag on the coffee table. "I figured you'd want to split it." He pulled out a smaller bag, dumped it out on the table, and picked out seeds.
I'd found a news station. It's incredible how fast things fall apart once the first piece breaks loose.
"...National Guards will be stationed around the city to enforce the eight o'clock curfew. They will also be on duty to maintain the quarantine." A roadblock was visible over the female reporter's left shoulder as she talked. Spotlights illuminated all four lanes of the highway. Soldiers ran back and forth, directing oncoming traffic to turn around. “We want to remind everyone that these precautions are for the public safety. They aren't meant to intimidate or scare anyone."
The scene changed to a man at a news desk. "As many know, Tampa, Orlando, and other major cities have been quarantined due to the latest information from the CDC. They've determined that the new strain of Ebola is an airborne form despite all reassurances to the contrary in recent days. This was verified after a CDC worker became sick.
“The worker, who won't be named until his family is notified, fell ill after complaining of a severe headache. He's an engineer and didn't come into direct contact with infectious materials. This prompted tests that confirmed the spread of the illness by droplets. This solved the mystery from the autopsies in which the lungs were the most damaged of all body organs. It confirms the fears of scientists and doctors who've been outspoken about the current outbreak and the quickness it has spread. Seek medical attention if you notice the following symptoms: high fever, severe headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness followed by bloody sputum, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. The initial symptoms are similar to the Flu, but they will progress faster. More information can be found on the CDC’s website."
The camera switched to a woman in front of a world map. "In the DRC, deaths have passed the 5000 mark and more than 12,000 are feared sick. This count includes the first CDC worker and three more who've become ill since. Scattered cases have showed up in Sudan, Uganda, Angola, and Zambia from refugees who carried the virus with them.
“In Europe, the scattered cases have turned into a flood. More than 1000 are sick across Spain, Germany, Belgium, and France, which accounts for more than half reported cases. The death toll has reached 87 in France and more are expected to die by morning.
“Stateside reports show nearly 100 have died and more than 500 are sick in Florida. Another 500 cases have been reported between New York and Los Angeles, and there have been 50 deaths between those two cities. Officials encourage everyone to stock up on food and wait this out, except where quarantines have made this mandatory. All travel by jet, private plane, ship, or helicopter is prohibited until further notice. The Air Force and Coast Guard will intercept any attempts to do so and will patrol all airports and waterways."
I turned the volume down. "Now, we're trapped and can't leave."
Boose nodded. "Until further notice." He finished the joint and twisted the ends.
I looked at him. "Did you get food?"
"Some," Boose said.
"The Miss Piggy is supposed to be open tomorrow. We can go first thing in the morning."
"We'll have to fight for anything we can get our hands on by morning, so it'd be good to go as a team. Speaking of manpower, has your friend called?"
"No. They may have stopped his bus outside the city limits."
"He won’t get here if he's not here by now." Boose held out the joint.
I took it, inhaled, and thought. No one could get in and no one could get out. We were trapped in a city full of frustrated people. "You know anyone else we could call?"
"Not really. There's one or two we could try, but everyone else is out of town."
I nodded. "Same here. I bounced around the state and know a lot of people, but none in the city limits. By the way, what do I owe you for half that bag?"
"Only $120. I got a deal since he wanted the money to leave town with."
“Good thing I grabbed cash," I said.
We stared at the walls, lost in our thoughts, passing the joint between us. Finally, Boose broke the silence and suggested we play a game. It sounded like a good idea. The rest of the evening was wasted slaughtering animated characters.
John never did call, but I wasn't very worried about why. I already knew. I thought.