PANDEMIC

Chapter 9

Jessica

After lying awake most of the night, Jessica got up before the sun, tiptoed out of her bedroom, went into the family room, and dialed her mother.

The phone rang and rang.

It was no more than she’d expected, although she’d held onto the hope that her mother would answer. She left a message, asking her mom to call her the moment she woke, then climbed back in bed.

“No answer?” Matt asked. She’d told him and the kids about her mom the night before in an attempt to prepare them for the worst.

Silently, she shook her head.

He wrapped her in his arms. “I’m so sorry.”

Savoring the warmth of his body curled around hers, she turned her thoughts to him and their children. A burst of gratitude that they were healthy swept over her. And she knew, somehow, that her mom was at peace.

* * *

The next afternoon as Jessica was in the basement storage room organizing all the food Matt had bought, Dylan came bursting into the room. “Mom,” he said, his voice breathless.

Knowing it would be bad news, Jessica dreaded asking, but did anyway. “What is it, honey?”

“No airplanes are allowed to fly.”

She tilted her head in question. “What are you talking about?”

“They said so on the news. Just now.”

She followed Dylan up the stairs and into the family room where the news was broadcasting. A camera was panning a huge airport where airplanes were parked everywhere.

“Still no word on when planes will be back in the air,” the news anchor said, “but unnamed sources say all planes will be grounded indefinitely due to the spread of what is now being called the bird flu.”

“What do airplanes have to do with the flu?” Dylan asked.

“Well, if someone is sick and gets on the plane, they can pass the flu on to the other passengers who can then pass it on to everyone they come into contact with. Before you know it, it’s spread all over the world.”

“Don’t you think it’s already spread all over the world? I mean, it’s been going on for a week and people have been flying all over the world the whole time.”

Dylan was right and Jessica knew it. Grounding the planes might help slow the spread, but stopping it now was impossible. “I don’t know,” she said, not wanting to alarm Dylan unnecessarily.

The news anchor turned to her guest, a man from the World Health Organization, who basically said the same thing that Dylan had.

“See?” Dylan said with a proud smile.

“Yep.” She ruffled his hair. “You’re one smart kid.”

Dylan’s eyebrows rose. “I’m not a kid anymore, Mom.”

Jessica was beginning to realize that. Because with the way the world was crashing all around them, he and Kayla were going to have to grow up fast. “I know, sweetheart,” she said, then she went to Matt’s office to tell him what she’d just learned.

His door was closed and she could hear talking. Not wanting to interrupt if he was in a conference call, she slowly twisted the doorknob and opened the door a crack, but when she saw that he was watching the news on his monitor, she walked in and closed the door behind her.

He turned at her approach. “I just heard about the planes.”

“Might be a little too late to stop this thing.” She frowned as she pulled a chair up to Matt’s desk so they could watch the broadcast together. “I’ve been doing inventory on all the food and supplies in the storage room.”

Matt turned the volume down and faced her. “And? How are we looking?”

For a change she had good news. “Pretty good.” She grinned. “You did awesome with your shopping.”

One side of his mouth quirked up. “That’s a first.”

She leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Then he gazed at her. “We’re going to get through this. All four of us.”

As scared as she was, and as sad as she was about her mom, she couldn’t allow herself to think anything but positive thoughts. “As long as we stick together, we’ll be fine.”

Matt nodded. “Tell me more about our inventory.”

Glad to talk about something tangible, Jessica said, “With what you bought the other day, plus that six-month supply of freeze-dried food we bought a few years ago, we’re actually in great shape.”

“That’s fantastic.”

Both their gazes went to the computer monitor, which was still showing the news broadcast. It was five o’clock. Time for an update.

Matt turned up the volume.

A man they’d never seen on that news station sat in the anchor’s chair, his expression stoic.

“He’s new,” Jessica said as a sense of foreboding washed over her.

“Good evening,” the man said. “My name is Kevin Burns. I am a producer, not a reporter, but today I am filling Amy Hunter’s shoes, so to speak, because she is…” The man’s chin quivered slightly, but he held it together. “Amy Hunter passed away this morning.”

Jessica shook her head. Another illness, another death.

Kevin Burns stared into the camera. “Last night Amy came down with the bird flu, and…” Frowning, he looked at the surface of his desk before facing the camera again. “That is how quickly this virus kills.” He visibly swallowed. “I have to be honest with you, folks. Amy is not the first person at this news station to…to die…from the bird flu.” He paused. “I fear she won’t be the last.”

Kevin was silent for several seconds. “We will continue broadcasting and bringing you the news as long as possible—we can get by on a skeleton crew if needed, but…” His jaw worked. “We’ve lost a lot of our people and many others are too scared to come in.” A grim smile tugged up the corners of his mouth. “I don’t blame them. But, like I said, we are here to keep you apprised of what is happening in our community and country and around the world and we will do that for as long as we are able.”

Pounding on their front door startled Jessica. Matt raised his eyebrows, then stood and headed out of the office. Jessica followed close behind.