As soon Anna got outside, she called the police.
“The employees at CVS assaulted my husband,” she said, steadying her shaking voice. “They dragged him into a back room, and locked the door, and wouldn’t let me in. And...”
“Okay, stay calm miss,” the officer responded on the other line. He had one of those sweet southern drawls that melted even the coldest of hearts, and it instantly helped calm Anna. “Which CVS is it?”
“The one on Kerry Street, a few minutes outside of Palm Sands.”
“Okay, miss. We’re going to get a squad car out there right away. In the meantime, tell me what happened, as best you can remember it.”
“Well, he was being a bit loud and argumentative. He was trying to persuade everyone not to take the antidote.”
“He said he, uh, saw someone take one of the gray pills – just like the antidote. The guy went insane and decapitated someone, or something. Luke was trying to warn everyone else not to take it.”
“Listen, we’re under strict government orders here,” the officer said. His tone turned ice cold. “We have to administer the antidote to everyone. If even just one person doesn’t take it, they could risk the whole community becoming re-infected.”
“But, they took him and locked him in a room. They won’t even let me see him! I was yelling and banging on the door, and they wouldn’t let me in...”
“As I said miss, we’re operating on strict government orders.”
There was a click, and the line went dead.
Was he one of them?
Anna glanced in the rearview mirror. Jackson was crying. His face was red, and tears were streaming down his face. One of the ‘infected’ people Luke was talking about? Tears began to run down her cheeks, matching her son’s.
If even the police are infected, then we don’t stand a chance.
When she arrived home, she collapsed onto the floor.
“Anna?” Priscilla hurried out of the kitchen. “Oh my God! Anna, are you okay?”
Jackson’s face was beet red. It looked like he’d been crying for hours. Anna didn’t look much better, and she didn’t turn to face her mother.
“They took him. I can’t believe it. They just took him.”
“Who took him? You’re not making any sense.”
“The people at CVS.”
She explained everything in a jumble of words that tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them. Her mother didn’t understand, but she wrapped her arms around Anna and held her for a long time.
Thump, thump. Avery’s heavy boots shook the floor as he came back inside. “We got the fence lined up all ’round the property. Barbed wire and all. Ha! I’d like to see Perry’s fat old dog try to shit in my yard now, ha!”
“Avery,” Mom hissed.
He looked around. When his eyes fell on Anna and Jackson his face dropped.
“What’s wrong?” His eyes darted around the room. “Wait – where’s Luke?”
“Gone,” Anna sobbed.
Luke opened his eyes. He was sitting in a small cell, eight feet squared. The walls were concrete, and there were no windows. There was just one door, with a panel of glass that looked out into the hallway.
No one answered. He looked down. His legs were fixed to the chair with rope. He wriggled as hard as he could, but the chair only nudged forward a little.
Minutes passed, or maybe hours. It was hard to have any concept of time when stuck in the same room, the same position.
The door swung open, and a woman walked in. She was the same employee that restrained him. He remembered her curly black hair tied back in a ponytail, her chocolate-colored skin. She had the same distorted look of the others – the gaunt cheeks, the eyes set too close together. Definitely one of them.
Her name tag read MYRA.
“Guess what, Luke?” A crooked smile formed on her lips. “You’re going to die tomorrow.”
“You’re going to kill me?” He tried to portray confidence and failed. Myra kept her eyes locked on his.
Then she burst into laughter.
“Nah. I’m just playing with you.” She rolled a gray pill between her fingertips. “I’m just here to tell you about this little thing called Earl Grey.”
“I’ll never take it. It’s the reason my daughter’s gone. The reason that hundreds of people have died in this city.” He let out a bitter laugh. “And, before all of that, my coworker already tried convincing me. It didn’t work.”
“That’s because Rudy’s an idiot.”
“What? You know him?”
“Once the pill is taken, we all know each other. It’s some freaky, hive-mind shit.” She let out a chuckle, almost like a normal person’s. “It’s not perfect, not yet. Sometimes I pee my pants, thinking I’m the girl sitting on the toilet in the Palm Sands Food Mart. Or vomit, thinking I’m the guy who just drank too many tequilas at Blue Veranda.”
Luke stared at her blankly. The rope cut painfully into his wrists.
“Anyway, about Rudy: well done!”
“Well done on what?”
Luke’s throat tightened. “What?”
“He was the chaff.” She locked eyes with him again, as she paced around the room. A smile crept up her lips. “You killed him – just like you were supposed to.”
The room twirled around him, and he suddenly felt nauseous.
“Wait, what are you talking about?”
“Your boss, Kevin Donahue, has been spiking the water cooler for years.” Click, click, click – her heels clapped against the cement, as if applauding her. “You’re what we call a dormant. You’re already infected; you have been for years.”
“Years. How many years?” The gears were turning in Luke’s mind; a terrible realization sunk in his chest.
“Mmm, probably about three.”
The world spun underneath him. The rope cut into his legs like fire; his head pounded in bursts of pain.
Jackson is one and a half.
“Does it affect children?”
“What do you mean?”
“If I fathered a child, after I was infected, what would happen?”
“Oh, you’re asking about Jackson.”
“How do you know his name?”
“The pill basically makes us mind-readers, remember?” She leaned over him. Her eyes darted across his face, pausing on his eyebrows, then his mouth. “I can read the name of your child from the expressions on your face. From the lilt of your voice. It’s as easy as telling time.”
“Then answer the question,” Luke said, his voice beginning to crumble. “Is that why Jackson is ill?”
For a second, they just stared at each other. Her face looked so distorted, so strange, like it was some sort of robot with a wax face stretched over the metal. Or a crude sculpture of a woman, by someone who didn’t quite understand human anatomy.
Slowly, she nodded.
A dull ringing filled his ears. “So he’s going to die, because of me.”
“Not exactly.” Myra began pacing the room again, her heels clicking against the cement floor. “When he’s activated, all of his symptoms will disappear.”
“But then he’ll be one of your pawns. Killing the chaff, carrying out orders from whoever leads all of you.”
“Well, yes. But it’s not a bad lifestyle, Luke! Not at all.”
“What about me? When is it going to happen?”
“You were going to be activated months from now,” she said, twirling a lock of black hair around her finger. “But because of your little outburst we’ve moved the timeline up. Can’t have you calling from the rooftops don’t take the gray pill! Don’t do it!” She cupped her hands over her mouth, mocking him with a contorted, desperate expression. “Oh please, don’t take the gray pill, everyone!”
“So what? You’re going to activate me now?”
“If I told you when we were going to do it, that’d ruin all the fun, wouldn’t it?”