PANDEMIC

Chapter 7

Matt

Matt followed Jessica into the kitchen, his mind on all the horrible things he’d told her. He deeply hoped society would make it through, but he feared a collapse was inevitable.

“Mom, Dad,” Dylan said from the family room. “Come see this.” His tone was laced with unease.

“What is it?” Matt asked, walking into the family room and standing behind the couch where Dylan was sitting.

Dylan pointed to the TV and turned up the volume. Matt’s eyes went to the flat screen mounted on the wall. It was breaking news. The anchor, a woman who was on every night, was calmly sharing the latest information on the flu with a video showing people, some of them wearing earloop masks, fighting over nearly empty shelves at grocery stores. The video changed from one location to another, covering cities in multiple states, but the story was the same over and over.

“Hospitals are full,” the anchor stated, “so if you have symptoms, the best place for you and your loved ones is at home.”

“They don’t want people to spread it,” Dylan said, then he looked at Matt. “Right?”

Matt set a hand on Dylan’s shoulder. “Yeah. I think you’re right.”

“If anyone in your home has died, authorities ask that you mark your house by painting a red X on your front door or putting a red sheet of paper in your front window. They also ask that you wrap any dead bodies in a sheet until the authorities can collect them.”

Repelled at the idea, Matt stared at the TV.

“Dinner’s ready,” Jessica called from the nearby kitchen.

Matt turned and looked at her. Anxiety was etched on her face.

“It’s ready,” she said again, as if feeding their family was the only thing she could handle just then.

“Go get your sister,” Matt told Dylan. Once Dylan had left the room, Matt turned off the TV then went into the kitchen. “You saw the news?”

Jessica nodded, but kept her gaze focused on the salad she was tossing. “Uh-huh.”

A few minutes later the four of them sat around the dining room table, each of them lost in their own thoughts.

“Brooke said her dad…” Kayla’s voice broke. “She said he looks like her mom did right before she died.” Tears overflowed Kayla’s lashes. “She’s going to be an orphan.” Kayla glanced at Dylan. “She doesn’t even have any brothers or sisters. It’s just her.”

Jessica leapt to her feet and raced to Kayla’s side, wrapping her arms around her. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

Matt watched helplessly as Kayla sobbed and Jessica comforted her. After a moment he went to them and put his arms around them both. After several minutes Kayla calmed and they went back to their seats, but no one seemed to be hungry. Even Dylan, who usually ate whatever was placed in front of him.

Matt didn’t want to add to everyone’s distress, but he needed to have a serious talk with his family. “Family meeting after dinner.” His tone was grim.

Everyone looked at him with furrowed brows.

Compressing his lips, he met all of their gazes. “I know you might not be all that hungry right now, but we need to eat while we can.”

“Matt,” Jessica started, but he shook his head. He wasn’t ready to discuss this until after dinner.

A soft sigh slipped from Jessica’s lips, but he ignored it and focused on finishing every bite on his plate.

After the dinner dishes were cleaned up, the family gathered in the family room, their faces anxious. Jessica sat next to Matt on the love seat, Kayla and Dylan sat on the couch.

Matt looked at the faces of his children. Kayla was barely old enough to drive and Dylan was just starting to get zits. Still so young, but it was his responsibility to make sure they were as prepared as possible. “As you’ve seen for yourselves, things have changed. Drastically.”

Tears filled Kayla’s eyes, but Matt could tell she was doing her best to keep her emotions in check.

“We’ve done a few things to prepare,” he said, “but there are things you need to know.” He turned to Jessica, whose eyebrows had tugged together. He knew she had to be thinking about their conversation before dinner. Would it be too much to share his fears with his children? Maybe so. He could give them hints without going into too much detail though. Enough to prepare them without scaring them to death.

“What?” Dylan asked.

Matt turned his attention back to the kids. “If things don’t change, if people keep,” he looked at Kayla, “dying…well, things are going to get rough.”

“I already know,” Dylan said.

Matt narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve seen The Walking Dead, Dad. I know what can happen.”

“This isn’t like that.”

Dylan snorted a laugh. “Right. No zombies.”

“It’s not funny,” Kayla said as she gave her brother a shove.

He turned to her, his face somber and his voice gentle. “I know.”

Kayla’s lips lifted in a tiny smile, like she knew her brother hadn’t meant any harm.

Deciding to let the kids steer the conversation, Matt asked, “What do you think is going to happen, Dylan?”

Dylan glanced at Kayla, then he faced Matt and Jessica. “A lot of people are going to die.” He bit his lip. “Maybe even us.”

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Matt assured him.

“I know,” he said, “but it’s possible.”

Matt couldn’t argue with that. Still, he wanted to reassure him. “As you know, we’ve self-quarantined and we’ll do our best to stay safe until this flu has run its course.”

“Will it?” Kayla asked. “Run its course, I mean.”

This wasn’t something Matt could be sure of, but he drew on past history. “There have been pandemics before and they always come to an end. Eventually.”

“But how long will it take?” Kayla persisted.

Matt turned to Jessica as if she would have an answer. She looked back at him, then she pulled out her phone.

“Let’s look it up,” she said, her voice businesslike. She read her screen then looked at him and the kids. “Past pandemics have taken a few weeks to several months to run their course.”

“Are you saying we have to stay locked in our house for months?” Kayla asked, her face incredulous.

“Let’s hope not,” Matt said, glad that was her main concern.

“That’s not the biggest problem,” Dylan said.

And here we go.

Kayla turned to her brother. “Okay. What’s the biggest problem? Because I don’t think I can stand staring at your face for months.

Dylan’s eyebrows shot up like he was offended, then he shook his head like his sister was an idiot. “You’ll be lucky if that’s your biggest problem.” He smiled and ran his fingers through his hair. “Besides, I’m one handsome guy.”

Kayla snorted and turned away. “Yeah, right.”

Dylan looked slightly hurt. “I am.”

“Yes you are,” Jessica said.

Dylan grinned.

Glad his kids still had a sense of humor, Matt smiled. “Back to the subject at hand.” He looked at the kids. “Tell me what you think we’re in for.”

“Worst case scenario,” Dylan said, “no food, no water, no power, no cops.”

That about covers it.

Kayla’s gaze shot to Matt, her eyes wide. “Is that true?”

“We don’t know if that’s what will happen,” Jessica said before Matt had a chance to respond.

“But what if it does?” Kayla’s forehead was creased like she had no doubt that’s exactly what would happen.

“That’s why we’re having this meeting,” Matt said with a glance at Jessica, who stared at him like she hoped he wouldn’t go there. He turned to Kayla and Dylan. “That’s why I wanted you to eat your dinner whether you were hungry at that moment or not. We have a good supply of food and we have a decent supply of water, but I think it would be a good idea to fill all of our pitchers with water as well. Plus, I’ll fill the RV’s fresh water tank.”

Kayla’s phone chimed a text. She glanced at the screen, then her eyes went wide and she cried, “No!”

“What’s wrong?” Matt asked.

Kayla looked at him, her face filled with shock. “Brooke’s dad died.”