Hurrying through the family room, Matt held up a hand to Dylan and Kayla, who were standing near the front door with worried expressions. The blinds were down, covering the two long narrow windows on either side of the front door so Matt couldn’t see who it was. “I’ll handle this.”
They nodded and stepped out of the way. Matt lifted a slat on the blinds, peeking out through one of the sidelights.
“Who is it?” Jessica whispered from beside him.
He turned and frowned. “Our neighbor. Jack Peters.”
Pounding sounded again, putting Matt on edge.
“What do you think he wants?” Jessica asked as Dylan and Kayla huddled around her.
He shook his head. “No idea.” Matt pulled the blinds up and Jack came into view.
Jack’s gaze shifted to Matt. Wild-eyed, Jack practically pressed his face against the glass. “I need help.”
“What’s going on?” Matt asked as alarm flared inside him. Jack and his family lived two doors down. Matt didn’t know him well, just well enough to chat with him if they both happened to be outside at the same time. Jack was Matt’s age—late thirties—and married. He and his wife had two school-aged children.
“They’re all sick,” Jack said as tears filled his eyes. “All of ‘em.”
Alarm turned to empathy. “Your family?”
Jack nodded. “We need help.”
Matt had no idea what he could possibly do to help them. “Have you called your doctor?” The answer sounded lame even to him. Jack’s family would most likely die. Calling the doctor would be a waste of energy.
“Yes,” Jack said, his face nearly crumpling. “The doctor’s office just had a recording to call 911, but when I did, I got a busy signal.” Panic swelled in Jack’s eyes. “I called and called and called, but no one’s answering.”
Fresh alarm swelled inside Matt but he tamped it down. “I’m sorry, Jack.”
Jack’s eyes widened. “Sorry?! Sorry doesn’t help.”
Baffled as to what to do, Matt shook his head. “There’s nothing I can do.”
Jack turned away from the window and battered the door with both fists. “Open the damn door!”
“Don’t open it,” Jessica shouted.
Turning to his family and holding up a hand, Matt gave them a look that said I’ve got this. Then he looked back at Jack, whose palms were now flattened against the glass. Speaking calmly yet firmly, Matt said, “You know I can’t open the door, Jack. Now, go home to your family and make them comfortable.” An image of his own family, sick and dying, flashed through his head and he almost lost his cool. But he couldn’t think about that. He had to keep his composure, had to get Jack away from his front door.
“I just…” Jack began, then he lowered his head as tears dripped down his face. His head lifted and he looked at Matt, pleading in his eyes. “Do you have any Tylenol? To ease their pain?”
They had lots of Tylenol, and Matt was completely willing to give some to Jack, but he couldn’t open the door. He couldn’t chance exposing his family to the virus.
“Tell you what,” Matt said, “come back in half an hour and I’ll leave some Tylenol on our porch.”
Relief flooded Jack’s face. “Thank you.”
Glad he could do something that might help but wouldn’t endanger his family, Matt watched Jack turn around and make his way down the walkway to the sidewalk. When he was out of sight, Matt turned to face his family.
They stared at him in silence.
“That really freaked me out,” Kayla finally said, her voice nearly shaking.
“Me too,” Dylan added.
Matt’s eyes sought out Jessica, who smiled softly at him before placing her hand on his arm. “You’re a good man, Matt Bronson.”
Matt smiled at her.
“Why did you tell him to wait half an hour?” Dylan asked.
Looking at his son, Matt said, “Jack didn’t look sick, but in case he is, I wanted to give the air by the door time to clear out.”
Dylan nodded. “Makes sense.”
“Is that enough time?” Jessica asked.
Matt had no idea.
“You can’t open the front door,” Kayla said. “What if the virus is still in the air and it gets in the house?”
“Wait,” Dylan said. All eyes shifted to him. “What if you go out through the garage? Then you won’t need to open the front door.”
“You’re brilliant, son.”
“I’ll get a bottle of Tylenol,” Jessica said, then she went into the kitchen. Moments later she was back holding a small baggie with some pills in it. “I don’t think we should give away an entire bottle.” She grimaced and held up the bag. “This should be enough to hold them for a while.”
Matt knew what she was saying. Jack’s family would be dead within hours. They didn’t need an entire bottle of pills.
Leaning forward, Matt kissed Jessica on the lips, then he took the baggie from her. He put on a face mask, then walked to the door that led to the garage. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
He opened the door and went into the garage, then went to the man-door that led to the backyard, opening it and stepping outside. The sun shone brightly, belying the turmoil that lay beneath its bright orb.
Matt tilted his face toward the sun, soaking up its warmth, then he turned to the gate that led to the front of the house, reaching for the latch. He hesitated. He hadn’t been out front in days. What would he find?
Drawing in a lungful of air, he braced himself, exhaled, then opened the gate and stepped through, the baggie of Tylenol in his hand and the mask covering his nose and mouth.
Nothing. That’s what he saw. Nothing and no one. All was silent. Eerily silent. It was a spring afternoon. Children should have been outside playing, riding bikes. People should have been mowing their lawns, working in their yards. Instead, not a soul could be seen.
Frowning, Matt strode across his driveway and toward the walkway that led to his front door.
Movement caught his eye.
It was Jack. He’d been hiding around the corner of Matt’s house, but now he was barreling toward Matt, his eyes wild with fear.
Sheer panic engulfed Matt. Flinging the baggie of pills in Jack’s direction, Matt spun on his heel and bolted back in the direction he’d come.
“Wait!” Jack screamed from ten feet behind him, pure hysteria in his voice. “I need your help.”
Ignoring Jack’s plea, Matt propelled himself through the open gate, then slammed it closed behind him. A second later Jack crashed into the vinyl gate, rattling it on its hinges.
Not waiting to see if Jack would open the gate and come through, Matt burst through the man-door, shutting it behind him with a bang before turning the deadbolt. Chest heaving and heart hammering against his ribs, Matt bent over, placing his hands on his knees. He didn’t know how much his family had witnessed, but he didn’t want them to see the terror in his eyes, so he took a moment to catch his breath and gather his emotions.