PANDEMIC

Chapter 6

Jessica

Jessica hadn’t heard back from Rochelle. She’d made several other attempts throughout the day to call her, but each time the call had gone straight to voice mail. Concerned, but not knowing what to do, she hoped Rochelle would finally get in touch with her and tell her she was okay.

That evening as Jessica was making dinner, Kayla came into the kitchen. “Mom?”

“Hi, honey.” She put the casserole in the oven and set the timer for thirty minutes.

“Mom. I don’t know what to do.”

She turned to face her. “About what?”

Kayla sighed. “Brooke keeps asking me if I can come over.”

“No.” The words left Jessica’s mouth without thought.

Eyes widening at Jessica’s tone, Kayla said, “I know I can’t go over there, but what should I tell her? I mean, her mom died and now her dad’s sick.”

Thoughts of Rochelle, sick the night before, filled her mind. “Oh no.”

Her expression must have broadcast her worry, because tears filled Kayla’s eyes. “He’s going to die, isn’t he?”

Jessica rushed to Kayla and put her arms around her. “Not necessarily, sweetheart. Not everyone who gets sick dies.” She desperately hoped that was right.

Kayla stepped back, her eyes wet and her eyebrows tugging together. “Yes, they do. I read it online.”

Had the fatality rate climbed higher? “Where did you read that?”

Kayla took her phone out of her pocket, tapped something into the screen, then showed it to Jessica, who read the headline: Fatality rate skyrockets to ninety-five percent.

Terror slammed through her. Pressing a hand to her chest, she found it hard to catch her breath. She had to talk to Matt, had to discuss what to do. But first she needed to comfort Kayla.

She put an arm around Kayla’s shoulder as they both stared at the ominous words. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

“Everyone’s going to die, aren’t they? Even us.”

Jessica met Kayla’s gaze. “No, no, no. That’s why we’ve quarantined ourselves. To stay healthy. To stay alive.”

Kayla’s forehead creased like she didn’t quite believe her. “I’m gonna call Brooke.”

Jessica loved Kayla’s compassion. “Good idea. She needs all the support you can give her.”

The moment Kayla cleared the room, Jessica hustled into Matt’s office. It looked like he was deep into coding, and though she didn’t want to interrupt him when he was in the flow, this couldn’t wait. “I have some news.”

He spun his chair to face her, his expression guarded. “Bad news?”

Jessica frowned. “That’s all we seem to have lately.”

“What is it?”

“Brooke’s dad is sick now.”

Matt’s forehead furrowed. “Oh no.”

“Yeah. Evidently the fatality rate is now ninety-five percent.”

His eyebrows shot up. “What?”

She gave him the web address for the site Kayla had shown her and they looked it up together. With a more thorough read, the news was even worse than Jessica had at first realized. Not only had the fatality rate skyrocketed, but the virus was spreading extremely fast.

Matt turned to her, his expression sober. “You realize what this means, don’t you?”

A million thoughts flew through Jessica’s mind but she didn’t want to give voice to a single one of them. Still, she had to know what Matt was thinking. “What?”

“This thing could lead to collapse.”

She knew what he was saying but she didn’t want to accept it. “What kind of collapse? What do you mean?”

His face was grim. “Total societal collapse.”

“From the flu? No.” She shook her head in denial. “No. That can’t happen, Matt. Why are you saying that?”

“Think about it, Jess.” He held up his hand and touched a finger. “If enough people die, who’s going to deliver food to the stores?” He touched a second finger and then a third. “Who’s going to run the water treatment facilities? The sewage treatment facilities?” He touched a fourth. “Who’s going to keep the electrical grid going?”

Panic, powerful and swift, crashed over her. How could a little flu bug lead to all of that? “But not everyone is getting sick.”

Matt gazed at her. “Do you think anyone who’s healthy is going to want to go to work?” He gestured to the programming code on his computer screen to emphasize his point. “I’m not.”

“Can’t they work from home too?”

He tilted his head like he didn’t want to point out the obvious because it was such a horrible truth but he had no choice. “There are only so many people who know how to run the utility companies and it’s unlikely all of them will survive this. And those who do probably have to be at the facility to do their job.” He frowned. “Then there are the truck drivers who deliver food to the stores. Do you think those who survive would want to be out among the sick? And you know stores only have a few days’ worth of food in stock.” Matt shook his head, his lips lifting in a grim smile. “Good thing we stocked up when we did. If there’s so much as a single bottle of ketchup on the shelves at this point, I’d be shocked.”

As it dawned on Jessica how this had the potential to turn into an absolute nightmare, she felt her face pale. “How bad do you think it’s going to get?” Her voice was soft, like if she didn’t say it very loud, it might not happen.

Matt grimaced. “We haven’t even discussed law enforcement.”

“What do you mean?”

“Those officers have families of their own. Don’t you think they’ll want to protect them from all the chaos? Sure, there might be a few out there trying to uphold the law, but how long do you think that will last?”

“You’re really scaring me, Matt.”

He placed his hand on her knee. “We need to be prepared for the worst.” He gazed at her. “That includes the kids.”

Jessica thought about her kids and how their lives were about to change. If they survived the flu, that is.

The thought horrified her.

The timer went off in the kitchen. Glad for an excuse to end this disturbing conversation, she stood. “Dinner’s ready.”