“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value, rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
-C. S. Lewis
March 15, 1 AE (from the journal of Danielle O’Connor)
If someone had told me three months ago that 90 percent of the people in the world were about to die, I would’ve laughed. If someone had told me the survivors would develop unbelievable Abilities, I would’ve called them crazy. If someone had told me I’d find love with the least likely person, I would’ve rolled my eyes. And if someone had told me that, after everything, the people I cared about most would be torn from my grasp, I would’ve walked away.
I wish I could walk away now.
Cringing, I glared at the stinging, red paper cut on the tip of my index finger and muttered, “Damn hand sanitizer.” I’d always been a fan of good old-fashioned soap and water, and I was irked that my dissertation advisor had forced the slimy, astringent goop into my hands when I’d left his office.
Unfortunately, the compulsory germ-killing reminded me of Callie, my pathetically sick roommate. I’d driven her to the campus clinic first thing that morning. She’d been sitting on our couch in pajama bottoms and a purple pea coat, mumbling, “I’m going to the doctor right now…just give me a second…,” and staring at the floor. I’d immediately hustled her out to the car and zipped her to the doctor.
“It’s just a bad case of the flu, I’m sure,” the doctor had claimed, barely perceptible worry tightening her eyes.
Callie’s ashen coloring had been troubling, but not as much as the doctor’s instruction to take her to the hospital if her condition worsened…like the other sick students…dozens of them. I couldn’t believe a flu outbreak was forcing so many healthy people into the hospital. It wasn’t like we lived in a third world country or something.
The handful of students missing from my morning study group only intensified my concern—a handful is a lot when there are only eleven students to begin with. As I cleared the last crosswalk on the way back home, being careful to avoid the puddles left by the morning rain, I wondered if the outbreak would end up being as deadly as the Spanish flu was nearly a century ago.
I shook my head, dispelling my unusually grim thoughts. It’s just the flu, I told myself for the hundredth time. She’ll be fine. They all will.
As I entered my turn-of-the-century brick apartment building, I distracted myself with thoughts of how incongruous the classy exterior was with the 1980s-remodeled interior. The décor was tragic—pastel and gold foil abstract art hung on the walls, and the carpet was a tacky combination of mauve, coral pink, and faded turquoise…and that was just the beginning. The apartments themselves included worn blue carpet—no doubt covering handsome hardwood—stained linoleum, and appliances with chipped plastic. Such a waste…this place could be exquisite. But, at least the rent’s low…
I walked to my ground floor apartment, unlocked the door, and shifted my computer bag to brace myself for the impending “happy Jack attack.” Except when I opened the door, it didn’t come.
“Jack?” I called out, curious.
Following his whimpered response, I found the 120-pound, adolescent German Shepherd staring forlornly at Callie’s closed bedroom door.
“Hey, Sweet Boy,” I said, crouching down to scratch his shoulders and to let him sniffle my neck. “She probably just wants to sleep. Want a treat?”
Jack wagged his way into the kitchen while I quickly peeked into my roommate’s bedroom. Inside, Callie snored softly as she slept. She’s fine.
After rewarding Jack’s amazing abilities to sit (“sit”), shake hands (“nice to meet you”), and play dead (“bang”), I plopped down on my bed and opened my laptop. Jack hopped up and settled in next to me, causing a bed-quake.
Cam, my adorable boyfriend, wouldn’t get home from work for another half hour. Rubbing Jack’s velvety ear, I decided to write a nice long email to my best friend, Zoe—she hadn’t answered when I’d called during my walk home nor had she responded to my texts. The woman worked like crazy, and we hadn’t chatted in days. Besides, writing to her would kill time and help me avoid doing anything productive on my birthday. Genius.
Date: December 4, 4:30 PM
From: Danielle O’Connor
To: Zoe Cartwright
Subject: Birthday Heresy
Zo! I can’t believe we’re apart on a birthday. It’s practically heretical! Thank you SO much for the amazing drawing...it’s totally perfect. I can’t believe how many details you remembered from that night. Cam was super impressed too.
Anyway, how was your date with Mr. 58 (or was it Mr. 85)? You promised to give me juicy details, but alas, I’ve heard nothing from my wayward Zo. It was the blonde guy, right? Or was that the last one? Gah…I can’t keep up. Give me an ooey-gooey, nitty-gritty description of EVERYTHING. Please.
On a totally different note, the flu is getting pretty bad over here. Is it bad in Salem too? This morning I took Callie to the doctor, and Zo, I’m really worried about her. She’s so pale and weak—a soft gust of wind might send her tumbling. Actually, she looks just like you did when you had that H1N1 virus a few years ago. The doctor told us she’s seen dozens of cases of this flu virus over the past week. Looks like another little outbreak. Cam’s been making soup for Callie…he’s so sweet. Besides, his cooking is a gazillion times better than whatever I’d conjure up. My food might make her feel worse…
So…I’m sure you want to know about tonight’s birthday plans. Cam (sigh, drool) is taking me to his restaurant and then to that Irish pub—you know, the one where you had too many Long Islands and danced on the table... Anyway, Cam said he invited “everyone we know” to the pub. But, considering that over half of Seattle seems to be sick, I’m guessing less than a dozen people will show. Whatever…I’m just excited to get out and have some fun.
Oh…gotta go...Cam just got home and is harping on me to get changed for dinner. I guess soggy jeans aren’t classy enough. I’ll give you a recap of the birthday night tomorrow, assuming I’m not too hungover to open my eyes.
We’d been at the pub for several hours when Jamie’s pink, designer stiletto jabbed my shin. “Did you hear about that student who died today?” she asked.
My food and alcohol-induced semi coma receded momentarily, allowing me to process her eager words. Always the drama queen, that Jamie. She never knew when to keep her mouth shut, so we constantly butted heads.
Sighing, I grumbled, “What are you talking about?” The question was a concession I hated but needed to make. I had to know; it was too juicy to pass up.
“Ohhhh…so you don’t know.” Jamie’s eyes narrowed with vindictive pleasure.
Not for the first time that night, I mentally cursed Cam for inviting her. “Evidently not,” I replied dryly.
“Yeah.” Her chest heaved with delight as she explained, “some undergrad died of the flu. You know, the one that everyone has right now. You do at least know about that, right? So now people are dying from it. Doesn’t Callie have it too?”
Hateful bitch, I thought viciously. I’d never really liked Jamie, and my concern about Callie clouded my judgment, along with the three vodka tonics and the glass of Champagne. “You’re a hateful bitch,” I retorted.
The statement earned shocked stares from several of the young Seattleites sitting around the corner booth, including Cam. But I wasn’t done. For days I’d been worrying about Callie, and stupid Jamie had just implied the worst. She’ll be okay. It’s just the flu.
With a sickly sweet smile I cooed, “Callie’s doing much better, thanks for asking. But you, Jamie…you’re looking quite pale. Are you sick? Or, have you just had too much to drink? You do at least know about your reputation as a lush, right?”
A growing silence encompassed our table. As I opened my mouth to continue, Cam interceded. “Let’s get a drink, D,” he said through gritted teeth.
I was quickly ushered out of the booth by his firm grasp. His unusual forcefulness was more than a small turn on, and suddenly, I was really looking forward to returning home with him.
By the time Cam and I left the pub, the confrontation with Jamie was nearly forgotten. We entered our apartment, eager to reach our bedroom, and noticed that Callie’s bathroom light was on. When I went to turn it off, much to my shock, I found my roommate curled up on the tile floor. The air was thick with the rank smell of vomit. Oh my God…
I fell to my knees beside Callie and turned her onto her back. She was burning hot and coated in sweat. Jack, curled up next to her, kept nuzzling her cheek and watching her face for a response. There was none.
While we’d been out eating, drinking, and being generally merry, Callie had vomited what looked like all of her insides into the toilet. I stared at my friend’s non-responsive form, unable to move for several long seconds. And then I started panicking.
“Callie! Callie, wake up!” I implored, nudging her gently. She didn’t respond. I shook her harder, watching her sway like a rag doll. She looked so pale, so young. “Cam! We have to take her to the hospital!” I screeched. When I looked behind me for Cam’s unfailing support, I found him on the phone. He was repeating our address. Oh…9-1-1…I should’ve thought of that.
“Thanks,” he said, ending the call. “They’ll be here in fifteen or twenty minutes,” he told me.
“But, she’s…,” I began but didn’t know how to finish. Sick? Comatose? Dying?
“I know, D, but they said it’s an unusually busy night,” Cam said, filling two glasses with water from the kitchen tap. “They’ll get here as fast as they can.”
When the paramedics finally arrived, Cam had to pry me from my prostrate position beside my unconscious friend to give the emergency crew enough room to help her. We followed the ambulance to the hospital and watched as Callie was rushed through the emergency room and into a restricted area. FAMILY ONLY, read the sign taped to the door. All we could do was sit…wait.
As I looked around, my mind returned to a mostly-sober state. I wasn’t in an emergency room waiting area but a stifling, body-packed cage. People crowded in on all sides, milling, mumbling, mourning. They all looked sick. Hundreds of them. Shouldn’t the hospital be taking care of these people? What if they infect me? Infect us?
Cam sat beside me, holding my hand. He looked just as ill as everyone else in the crowded room. What if he is sick? Like Callie…oh God…like the guy who died…
The air grew perceptibly hotter and viscous. Clammy chills consumed my body. Stay calm…stay calm…stay calm…
Hours passed, and then I saw her. I recognized the silky blonde hair and pink stilettos. Jamie. You’re a hateful bitch, my words replayed in my head.
I watched as they wheeled her through the stuffy room, unconscious. Just like Callie. I’d been honest in my earlier assessment of her; she really had looked ill. You’re a hateful bitch.
Jamie disappeared through the same metal doors as Callie had. FAMILY ONLY. Medical staff and unconscious patients were the only people who’d passed through them. So far, only the medical staff had returned.
Desperately, I looked at Cam, hoping he could somehow give me the air my lungs couldn’t seem to capture. But he appeared ready to pass out, completely unaware of my emotional flailing. Zoe, I thought, I need you!
2 SENT TEXT MESSAGES:
Callie’s in the ER. She’s in a coma. Cam and I came in with her a little after 2AM. Been here for hours, but the docs still haven’t told us anything. Worst birthday ever. Wish you were here.
December 5, 6:00 AM
BTW, I’ll call Grams in a bit to check on everyone back home. How are YOU feeling? Me? I’m freaking out…
December 5, 6:04 AM
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Genre – Science Fiction
Rating – R