PANDEMIC

Chapter 2

Matt

The moment Matt finished his meeting, he went to his cubicle and did some quick online research into the flu that Jessica had called him about. When she’d asked him if he would work from home, his first instinct had been to brush her off. He had a lot of work to do and he much preferred working in the office where he could chat with other developers. Three things made him reconsider. First, Jessica wasn’t one to overreact, so the fact that she was staying home from work gave him pause. Especially since she was planning on taking time off to visit her mom the next week. Second, in the meeting he’d just gotten out of, half of the people who should have been there had called in sick. And finally, despite the fact that the media outlets were making a huge deal about this flu, he got the sense that maybe, for a change, they might not be exaggerating.

Decision made, he picked up his phone and called Jessica, his mind in task mode as he mentally listed all of the things they should do to prepare for the possibility that they would need to hunker down at home for an unspecified period of time.

“Hello?” Jessica said a moment later.

“Hi, babe.”

Without greeting him, she said, “The news is saying this flu is pretty nasty. Some people have even died. More than is typical for a flu.”

“I know.”

“Are you going to come home?”

He could hear the worry in her voice. “Yes.”

“You are?” Now hopeful disbelief.

Matt scrolled through the long list of software bugs he was assigned to fix and tried not to feel overwhelmed. His family’s safety had to come first. “Don’t sound so surprised.”

“Okay,” Jessica said with a laugh. “When are you leaving?”

Matt turned away from his computer screen and glanced toward his boss’s office. “In a few minutes. I need to clear it with Dan first.”

“At least traffic shouldn’t be too heavy.”

One side of his mouth quirked up. “True.” He paused a beat. “I’m thinking of stopping by Costco on the way home to stock up on a few things. And fuel up my truck.”

“Is that a good idea? I mean, what if sick people are there? Besides, we have that freeze-dried stuff we bought a few years ago.”

Several years earlier Matt had gotten interested in emergency preparedness so he and Jessica had splurged on a six-month supply of freeze-dried meals for their family of four. It still had more than twenty years of shelf life left, and it had been expensive. He really didn’t want to use it if they didn’t need to.

“I’d rather not dip into that,” he said. “Not when I can go to the store and buy what we need.”

Jessica was silent. “Okay. Just, please…be careful.”

Matt laughed. “Oh, I will be.”

They discussed what he should buy, and after he disconnected, he talked to his boss and got clearance to work from home for a while.

The drive from his job in Salt Lake City to the suburb where he lived in the southern part of Salt Lake County usually took thirty to forty minutes. Of course, that was during commute time in the late afternoons. Right now it was mid-morning so traffic was relatively light. Was that because of the time of day or because so many people had stayed home from work?

Shaking his head at the idea that enough people were sick that traffic would be affected, Matt took the exit that would take him to Costco. First, he went to their gas station, and after filling the regular tank on his truck with diesel fuel, he folded back a corner of the material that covered the bed of his truck before opening the cap on his auxiliary tank. He and his family had a thirty-three foot fifth wheel RV, and when they’d looked for a truck to pull it with, they’d found one that already had a forty-gallon auxiliary tank installed. Matt loved the convenience of carrying over sixty gallons of fuel when pulling the RV. It really cut down on the need to pull the RV into gas stations not equipped to handle such a large rig. The only drawback was the cost. Dropping a couple hundred bucks on one fill-up was hard, but right now filling the auxiliary tank seemed like the prudent thing to do.

Once he’d finished filling both tanks, he parked his truck in the main parking lot. He was surprised at how busy Costco was at this time of day. Maybe it was always this busy—he’d never been there in the morning in the middle of the week. Besides, was Costco ever not busy?

Wanting a flatbed cart to haul his purchases, he looked around but didn’t see any near the entrance. He had to walk back out to the parking lot to find one, and once he did, he went inside and started shopping.

Right away he noticed something unusual. Where the shelves typically had plenty of every item, now the supplies seemed to be depleted. And there were a lot of people with entire cases of canned goods in their shopping carts or on flatbed carts. More people getting cases of food than he’d ever seen before. It looked like everyone had the same idea he did. Ignoring the spark of alarm that lit inside his chest, he focused on loading whatever cases he could get onto his cart, as well as batteries and toilet paper. On one aisle, a woman began coughing. Everyone backed away from her, including Matt. He not only backed away, he went to a different aisle entirely.

Once he’d stacked all that would fit onto his cart, he made his way to the register. Long lines had formed—more like the lines he saw just before Christmas. And it was April.

Squashing the trepidation that kept pushing to the surface, he worked to stay patient until it was his turn to check out. Once he reached his truck, he began unloading everything into the back seat.

“Hey,” a man said to him.

Matt turned to see what the guy wanted.

“I’ll take that cart off of your hands when you’re done.”

Matt had other plans. “Thanks, but I have a few more things to get so I’ll need to hang on to it.”

The man scowled but walked away without incident.

Matt managed to fit everything inside the cab of the truck, and after locking the doors, he went back inside the store. To his surprise, it looked like the crowd had nearly doubled. And more than one person appeared to be sick.

Hurrying forward anyway, Matt avoided anyone who looked the slightest bit sick and loaded his cart with more canned goods and water, then he went to the area where vitamins and other health items were stocked. That section seemed less busy so he had no trouble getting what he wanted before adding boxes of protein shakes, protein bars, and two large first-aid kits. Then he noticed a shelf with three boxes of face masks. He set all of the boxes onto his stack of goods.

“You can’t take all of those,” a woman shouted as she ran up to him.

He glanced at the pricing label above the shelf, then turned to the woman. “Doesn’t say there’s a purchase limit.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you think someone else might want some?”

Matt stared at the woman, then decided it wasn’t worth it to make a scene. He took one of the boxes off of his cart and handed it to her.

She snatched it from his hand. “I need one more.”

Laughing at the nerve of the woman, Matt shook his head and walked away.

“Hey,” she yelled.

Several people looked in their direction, but Matt ignored them and went to another aisle where he tucked the two boxes of face masks underneath other items on his cart so that they were no longer visible. Then he headed to the longer-than-ever lines at the register.

He made it to his truck without further incident, loading all of the items from this trip into the bed of his truck. Glad he had a cover over the bed of his truck to hide his purchases from prying eyes, he climbed behind the wheel. Hoping he hadn’t forgotten anything, he left the parking lot and pointed his truck toward home. On the way, he passed a sporting goods store and decided to stock up on ammo for his .45 caliber pistol. While at the gun counter, he saw a 9mm that he thought was pretty sweet. Normally he wouldn’t spend that kind of money without talking to Jessica, but he decided to buy it along with a rifle. He could always return them if Jessica objected. Since he had his Concealed Carry Permit, a background check wasn’t necessary and he was able to walk out of the store with his newly purchased weapons.

On the drive home, Matt pictured the look on Jessica’s face when he showed her all he’d bought. Was she going to laugh at him, think he was crazy, or be grateful?

Trying not to worry about that—most of what he’d bought they would eventually use anyway—he continued on his way.