Frozen Pandemic

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CHAPTER 16

John wakes to the sound of a window rattling in a gust of wind. He blinks his bleary eyes and frowns at the snow peppering the window. They’re going to have to stay in the cabin at least one more day.

Beside him, Jackie stirs. She rolls toward him, swishing her sleeping bag, and whispers at his ear. “Still snowing?” He can hear the defeat in her voice.

“Looks like it. “Hopefully it will clear up soon.”

“I’m going to the kitchen.” Jackie groans as she rises, shirking off her blanket.

John sits and grabs her leg. “It’s early. You can rest, if you want.”

She shakes him off. “I have to do something. Anything. I feel so…” She sighs and turns her back on him.

Sharon is the next to wake. She joins Jackie in the kitchen, starting the gas burner to make a pot of coffee. “I had a hard time falling asleep with that damn scratching noise,” she grumbles to Jackie.

Jackie nods. “You’re not the only one.” She starts poking through the nearest backpack. “I need to keep busy. I’m going to take inventory of the food and supplies we have left.”

“Pull out anything perishable,” says Sharon as she scoops out coffee grounds. “Might as well eat like kings today, if we’re snowed in.”

Jackie’s smile is dull, but she gets to work.

The smell of coffee lures John and Fresler to the kitchen.

“I guess there’s no reason to wake the girls, since we can’t go anywhere,” John says, hands wrapped around his mug as he grins softly at the snoring teens.

“They’ve been through a lot,” Fresler says. “I say, let them sleep.”

By noon, the girls stir and join everyone in the living room. They’ve all adopted some sort of tic, drumming their knees, pacing, or bouncing their legs as the stir-craziness digs in.

“I wish we had internet,” Jennifer says.

“It’s amazing that anyone survived before the internet,” replies John, tone dipped in sarcasm.

Jennifer rolls her eyes. “Thanks, Dad.” She walks over to the bookshelf and scans the titles, eventually picking out a mystery. She pulls a face as she holds it up for John, then settles into the armchair.

Smirking good-naturedly, John grabs his Stephen King novel and lounges on a corner of the couch. Tina picks up her guitar and breaks out in a mini Beatles concert. Within minutes, everyone is singing along—except for John, who insists he would rather listen.

Tina performs a full set like a trouper and passes an hour in revelry. When things start to slow down again, Sharon and Jackie cook lunch. Tina strums and sings quietly. Fresler scribbles in a notebook he found in a desk in one of the bedrooms. John is so lost in his novel that he blinks in surprise when someone settles on the couch next to him. Jackie? Jennifer?

No, it’s Sharon. He closes his book. “Everything okay?”

“Well, no.” Sharon wrings her hands. “To be frank, I’m feeling a little anxious, stuck in this small cabin.”

John nods, setting the novel aside. “Me too.”

“It’s not just about us anymore. Every day we spend here, not moving forward, more lives will be lost to this virus.” Sharon’s frown quivers, and she bites her lip to stop it.

“I know.” John’s eyes find Jennifer, braids cascading over one shoulder as she bends her head over her book. He recalls what she said before, about missing the internet. “You ever think about what your future looks like in this post-apocalyptic world we live in?”

Sharon blinks in surprise. She ponders for a few seconds, then says, “No, not really… Just taking it one day at a time. How about you?”

“If it weren’t for Jennifer, I wouldn’t either, but I can’t help but think about her future. Her life will never be the same. All the amenities in life that made things so easy are now gone. No cell phones, electricity, computers… Soon we won’t even have gasoline for our cars.”

“Wait,” Sharon says. “Why won’t we have gasoline?”

“It goes bad after a few months.”

“Ah, gotcha.”

“Jennifer was supposed to graduate from high school next year and go to college, but that’s not going to happen,” John continues. “I don’t even know if she’ll fall in love and get married… have kids.”

Sharon puts her hand on John’s shoulder. “If enough people survive, maybe someday things will return to normal.”

John forces a smile. “Maybe, but that won’t happen for quite a while.” John looks past Sharon, toward the window, and jumps to his feet. “Do you see that?”

Sharon jerks, eyes darting around the room. “See what?”

“Sunlight! Help me move the snow away from the front door.”

Fresler and Jackie rush to help as he shoves the bookshelf aside and throws open the door. Using their hands, their one shovel, and pots from the kitchen, they scoop away enough snow to open the door a couple of feet. As they step outside, the sun shines onto their upturned faces. Tomorrow, they should be able to hike into Littlefork.

For now, they relish the fresh air and the space to stretch their limbs after being cooped up for so long.

Sharon hugs herself with a sigh, relishing the warmth on her cheeks. “It’s beautiful,” she murmurs, “but we only have another hour before we have to be back inside.”

Fresler loops his arms around Sharon’s waist. “Let’s enjoy the time we have.”

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