Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quarantine

Another Excerpt from The Unanswerable.

“You can’t do this to us!”  Diane’s face got red.  The man was wearing a full hazmat suit and made no indication that he had heard her.  The rifle in his arms glared at us.  My son buried his face in the back of his mother’s knees.  I placed a hand on the back of his head.  He looked up at me and put on a smile, but then with the next shove of the crowd, buried his head again.

He was too young to even know that he was going to die here.  That this was the last attempt we were making to get out of the city.

Diane’s nostrils flared.  “I have a son, he’s three!  THREE!  And you are condemning all of us just because a few people are sick?”  Her voice pierced the air, but was drowned out quickly by the screams of all the other people in the crowd.

It wasn’t a few people.  A few people would indicate that it could be contained.  No, it was everyone.  And whatever it was had somehow only managed to manifest itself in the major cities.  Biological warfare, whatever you wanted to call it.  It didn’t matter what it was, or had been, what mattered now was the mass of people that were pushing against the two lines of soldiers.  If anyone got too riled up, a rifle would shoot them down.  So we stayed at the barrier, eyeing the men in the hazmat suits, wishing they would give us more hope than the blank stare.

It was three days ago.  The word quarantine sent the city into a panic.  My wife and I huddled on the couch with our son and flipped to another channel.  His eyes lit up as some Disney show came on the screen. 

“What are we going to do?”

They had already walled up the borders.  There was no way out.  “We wait a day, then go.  Too many people will be headed out tonight.”  As if on signal, screaming and horns sounded from the street below.  Our son was too zoned in on the television to realize what was happening.  It was just another day in New York City to him.

I grabbed Diane’s hand and heaved my son onto my shoulder.  We edged our way through the crowd, away from the hazmats, away from the border, away from hope. 

“What are we going to do?”  She asked me again after we had taken shelter in a basement.  People, women, children all huddled together like scared rats.  The condition for staying in his house:  If you sneezed, you were sent away.  That was the first sign.  Sneezing. 

We hadn’t met any more sick people after the first three days, but the media said it was spreading.  We watched the screen, it cast a dim glow around the room.  It was our only light source, and the only link we had to the outside world and mayhem.  And that’s when we heard the announcement.

Stayed tuned for “Zones” on Z is for Zones for the next installment!

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