“We interrupt this broadcast for an emergency alert,” the radio blared. Anna rolled her eyes, only half-listening. The last alert had been for a tornado four-hundred miles away; she’d lost her faith in such “emergency” alerts.
“An outbreak of a deadly disease is underway in Palm Sands. We urge everyone to stay inside their homes.”
Palm Sands? She fumbled for her cell phone, the pickup swerving as she rapidly pressed buttons.
“The death count estimate is...” Static.
“Come on, pick up,” she breathed, the phone sweaty in her hand. No answer. Biting back sobs, she clicked over to the next station to see if it would come in clearer.
“This just in from Palm Sands. Police have now erected a temporary blockade around the city. No one is permitted to enter or leave. We have a quarantine. I repeat, we have a quarantine.”
Quarantine. What a shit word. She managed a half-deranged laugh through her tears. A cutesy little name for a death sentence, for the lives traded for the ‘greater good.’ She clicked the radio dial forward.
“We still don’t know what’s going on inside the city, but it may be related to the drug Fenilhexocane, commonly known as ‘Earl Grey’,” said a second, raspy voice. “I wish we knew more, but the city’s station, WQPS 90.9, has gone radio silent.” She heard their forced laughter, but paid it no mind.
The first voice cut back in. “All we know is that, in a matter of minutes, thousands of people were infected. Some are dead, and as for the rest the rest? Well, we don’t know.”
I’ll go back, I’ll make them let me in. She jerked the steering wheel; it slipped under her sweaty fingers. Bring out my gun if I have to. She glanced in the mirror for traffic, but caught a glimpse of Jackson instead. He was sleeping peacefully, his left cheek squished against the side of the car seat.
Jack. No, I can’t bring him there.
She sped home instead, gripping the wheel as the pickup jostled over gravel, kicking up dirt and dust. In minutes she pulled in to her family’s driveway, her mind focused on just one thing.
The gray house with the white gables rolled into view. In its day the house must have been grand. It boasted sprawling rooms, tall columns, and even a captain’s walk. Now the columns were gouged with rot, and vines clung to the brick facade. Even the windows were smeared with grease, blurring the shadows moving within.
Anna clicked off the seatbelt and swooped Jackson into her arms. His eyes blinked open, and he looked around in a daze. She ran inside, shouting for her father.
Avery Livingston was laying guns out on the dining room table like a fancy buffet when she barged in. Her mother, a plump-faced woman who usually wore a smile, was stone-faced and amassing canned food.
“The crazy stuff is always because of drugs,” her dad grunted, loading a rifle. His salt-and-pepper mustache vibrated with each word. “Ban ’em all, I say. Only a matter of time ’till something like this happened.”
“Anna!” her mom cried. “Thank God you’re safe. I was so worried...”
“She knows how to take care of herself, I told you,” he mumbled. Click – another gun loaded.
A little girl ran over to Anna, throwing her arms around her waist. As usual, her face was covered in a film of grime, her hair tangled up worse than a bird’s nest. “Mommy! Mommy! You’re back!”
“Yes I am, Amelia,” she said, slinging an arm around her daughter. Then she turned to her mom, tears brimming in her eyes. “Have you heard from Luke?”
Priscilla’s face dropped. “What do you mean? He was with you, wasn’t he?”
“He went back to the office after the appointment,” Anna choked out. “He said he had work… and now he won’t pick up his phone.”