One week later
They buried Amelia at the end of the yard. No funeral, no words, no prayers. It was too painful to process. To hide from it all, Luke threw himself into his work. He and Avery worked every day on erecting a fence around the house, hoping that it would help keep the infected out.
One afternoon Luke entered the house, breathless and exhausted. It wasn’t easy work, and Avery had yelled at Luke. Work faster, or I’ll drop ya right back off in Palm Sands! Luke hoped he was joking, but then again… Avery was never that fond of him.
Anna’s mom, Priscilla, was much nicer to Luke. She was always thrusting various baked goods in his face, and she made sure to tell him she appreciated his hard work. She was also handy – she knew how to do things like hunt deer and fix a leaky faucet. Luke originally assumed she learned those skills from Avery, but in the years he’d gotten to know them, he decided it was the other way around.
Priscilla was in the kitchen, preparing a dinner of canned tuna and rice. The radio played off her computer as she worked. She smiled at Luke as he pulled a diet coke out of the fridge.
“We have an important announcement,” the radio blared. “An antidote has been found for the disease that has claimed so many lives in Palm Sands.”
Luke turned the volume up, his interest piqued.
“The antidote cures those who have the virus – and it also makes those who haven’t gotten it yet immune.”
Luke’s smile faded.
We could have saved Amelia? He felt dizzy, numb, terrible. If I hadn’t opened the door… we could’ve kept her locked in there. We could have kept her safe until she was cured.
He took a seat at the kitchen table, clasping his hands together to try and stifle their trembling as the announcement continued.
“You can get the antidote at any pharmacy within ten miles of Palm Sands. The CVS at the city limits, the Walgreens on 7th… they all have it stocked.”
Luke eyed his shoes, next to the door. I could be there in ten minutes. I’ll get it for Anna, for Jackson, for Avery and Priscilla.
“Just ask for the little gray pill. Thank you for listening. Remember – the sun always shines on 90.9!” the jingle sang, merrily.
He turned the computer screen towards him.
NOW PLAYING: WQPS 90.9.
“No,” Luke said. “That isn’t true. They’re lying! My office was across from that station. I saw what happened there.”
“Luke, what are you talking about?”
Priscilla rushed over to him, eyeing him like a concerned mother hen.
“They’re all going to be infected.” He turned to the family room. It was empty, save for a few blocks and an overturned police car. “Priscilla, where’s Anna and Jackson?”
She looked at him blankly, as though asked a dumb question.
“They’re at the CVS right now.”
Luke broke a few laws on the way to his family, but fortunately there were no cops around to pull him over. A stop sign was ignored; a red light went unheeded. After an illegal left turn, Luke was speeding towards the CVS, his hands shaking so hard that he had to fight to keep the wheel steady.
Almost there, almost there.
He made a right on to Oak Street, and his heart skipped a few beats when he saw the old wooden welcome sign.
Welcome to Palm Sands! Population: 206,453.
It was vandalized. Spray-painted over it, in thick red letters, was the word INFECTED. Behind it, a line of orange-and-white barricades spread across the road, their reflectors flashing in the sunlight. Two police cars guarded the border, their windows black and impenetrable.
Beyond the barricades was chaos. Empty shops had their windows punched out. Garbage was scattered across the sidewalks, and debris filled parts of the streets. The stench of rot and swampy air blew in through his window, almost making Luke vomit.
He made a sharp left onto 4th street, and the CVS came into view. Luke screeched into the parking lot. He leapt out of the car and dashed into the store. The glass automatic doors whirred open in front of him.
The place was a madhouse. The line snaked through the aisles, down past the register and even outside the back door. He ran, nearly knocking over several people and a display of M&Ms. He almost gave up, but then he saw them.
“Luke, what are you doing here? I was going to bring back one for everyone.”
“No, it’s a trap! Those gray pills are what’s causing the epidemic, not curing it.” He took in a breath, slowed his speech. “They aren’t handing out an antidote. They’re handing out Earl Grey.”
He spoke so loudly, the people nearby began to murmur.
“But the radio said...”
“I work across from WQPS’s office! Remember? That’s where this all started! How could you forget?!”
The anger flared in his chest. It was the same rampant, fiery anger he felt when he killed Rudy. When he accused Anna of causing Jackson’s illness.
He took a deep breath, trying to steady his emotions.
“Listen. That day, through the window, I saw one of them take the pill. You know what he did after that?”
Anna shakes her head.
“He decapitated the secretary.”
A hushed silence fell over the line. Some people just stared at him; others backed away.
I don’t care what they think of me. That’s the truth, and the truth needs to be heard, he thought, staring right back at them.
“If that’s true… then we need to warn everyone here.” Anna glanced over to the pharmacy window, where a man was taking a brown paper bag from the woman behind the counter. On each arm was a little girl, giggling and squealing.
Luke raced down the aisle, shoving several people over in the process.
The man turned around. One of his little girls pointed to Luke.
“Who is that crazy man, Daddy?”
Luke snatched the brown bag out of his hands.
“This isn’t the cure, it’s the cause. This is all a trick! WQPS is tainted, you can’t trust them!”
Hands grabbed him roughly by the shoulders. He whipped around. One of the CVS employees was holding him tight, her eyes narrowed at him.
“You’re causing a disturbance, sir.”
Her chin was too long. Her eyes were too close together. She looked slightly distorted, deformed, inhuman.
Like Dorky, like Rudy.
“You’re one of them! One of them! They’re all lying – don’t take the gray pill!”
More workers swarmed around him. One grabbed his legs, and another looped her arms around his waist to hoist him up. Anna ran over to them, Jackson bouncing wildly in her arms.
“Hey! What are you doing to him?”
“He’s causing a disturbance.”
“So what? That doesn’t mean you can shove him around like that!”
She stood as tall as she could, trying to look as intimidating as she possibly could. Jackson began to wail at the top of his lungs. The employees exchanged a look, then continued to drag Luke towards the double doors in the wall.
“Everyone needs to be properly immunized against the disease to prevent it from spreading, ma’am,” one of them said to her. “Whether they consent to it or not.”
“Anna!” Luke yelled, his voice muffled by one of their hands. “Anna...”
The doors swung shut behind him.