One of Many


I know I haven’t posted in a while.  Ever since my Comp II class, I haven’t felt like writing anything, not even a short post here to let people know I’m alive.  Honestly, I haven’t felt like doing much of anything since this time last year.

This month, I have Introduction to Literature.  This class is a bit more interesting than other Lit classes I’ve taken.  The first paper written is our own continuation of a short story written by Tananarive Due.  Her short story is called Patient Zero and is a diary type story that comes from the point of view of a ten year old boy who survived a deadly sickness.    The project as for each of us to write our own ending to this short story since Patient Zero ends quite abruptly and eaves a lot to the imagination as to what happened next.

We had a limit of no more than 1000 words and I kind of blew that away without realizing it when I turned it in.  Thankfully, I was allowed to do some serious editing to pare it down from the 2,954 words to a mere 997.  For those who are curious, I did get a 92 on it.  Yay!

Without further ado, my continuation of Patient Zero.

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            Getting to the parking lot proved to be harder than what first Jay thought.  The elevator couldn’t go to the first floor is what Ms. Manigat said, but she didn’t say if there was another way down or not.  All she said was look for the big red ‘Exit’ sign and he’d be able to leave the building.  Simple.  Or so he thought.

His belly growled loudly, urging him to find food and quickly.  None of the offices had food left in them; not a single one of them.  All he found were the bodies of those who had taken care of him up until a couple weeks ago, including Ms. Manigat resting peacefully in her room.  He was afraid to approach her but he could tell that she wasn’t breathing.  Though his heart ached at seeing her lifeless form on the cot, he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, cry.

Grief was overridden by a sudden need to leave the building.  Panic was setting in, making his hungry body shake.  6-4-6-7-9-4-3. The numbers ran through his mind, begging him to grasp them and hold on to that last memory of her being alive before it was too late.  If he broke down now, he may never find a way out or food before his body gave up.  She wouldn’t want him to give up.  Ms. Manigat wanted him to live and be free of those cold lifeless walls.

Much to his dismay, no elevator he found would work.  He tried and tried, but none would go to the first floor.  Through tears of frustration and panic-born sobs he spotted a red sign next to the stainless steel doors with a stick figure walking down what looked like stairs and beneath that simple picture, the word in bold letters “Stairs” and an arrow pointing to a simple grey door just a few feet away in a shadowy alcove.

The plaque above the door was faded, covered in dust and grime, but he could make out the word stairs.  Debris which had fallen propped the door open.  Wiring, some metal rods, what looked like a pipe littered the landing and gave him his only escape from the second floor.  Freedom!  Jay jumped then squeezed through the door.  He descended the stairs as if a demon were coming up behind him, jumping over debris and trying hard not to stumble or fall.  Even he, a healthy young lad, could hurt himself if he fell down in the stair well.

He burst through the door into the hall connecting to the lobby with the bright sun guiding him toward the broken windows and doors of the entry.  The brilliant sun stopped him in his tracks, blinding him until he could see the quiet, late winter, world around him.  Even where he used to live, Mid-February had a certain chill and night would bring more cold.  Only briefly did he return to the building to find a coat, eventually finding some lab coats and someone’s old parka in one of the closets behind the receptionist’s desk.  Before taking his leave permanently, he decided to return to his room and grabs a few things; his blanket, the can opener Ms. Manigat gave him at Thanksgiving, and some extra clothes, remembering what she told him about how to live outside.  Though he didn’t realize it at the time, she was preparing him for this moment.

With everything stuffed into a duffel bag he found in the employee locker room, he went back to the parking lot.  Once outside, he looked around, scared for the first time in a long while and wondered where he should go first.  Only a single look back to give a mental goodbye to the one person who cared for him the most was given then he followed the one road leading away from the CDC building.

Survive.  That is what his tutor and family would want him to do.  That is what he had to do.  As he walked to the empty guard station, he wondered to himself if there were others who lived through the sickness like he did.  Surely he couldn’t be the only one.  There were three little girls in China who lived, so why couldn’t others?

The only exit at the guard station was blocked by a tall metal fence on wheels with cars up against the other side so it couldn’t be opened.  His escape couldn’t be thwarted, so he followed the brick fence until it stopped and was replaced by chain link and barbed wire about eight feet high.  He couldn’t climb that part of the fence so he kept following it.  Out of sight of the guard station and the CDC build, he found a spot where someone had cut their way out, leaving a gaping hole big enough for him to slip through.

As quickly as he could, he found his way back to the road he was following and returned to his original plan, find someplace that still had food.  By the time he found the first store, he becoming weak from hunger and still had not found any water to drink.  During his whole trek, he didn’t hear a bird or dog, nothing except for the wind whispering through the barren tree limbs and the rustle of dried grass waving at him from the road.

Though the windows of the store were broken, he could see inside empty shelves and trash scattered all over the floor.  It smelled like something was rotten inside and rats were skittering about carrying bits of food to their nests.

His explorations found the gruesome sight of a partially eaten corpse huddled in a back corner beneath some fallen boxes.  What food he did find was some jerky hidden in the dirty, smelly, bathroom, and a couple boxes of Twinkies in the back office.  It was better than nothing and he couldn’t be picky.  What he had was just barely enough to take the edge off his hunger, but it was enough to let him concentrate on finding more food and, hopefully, some shelter before the sun went down.  It was already late afternoon and the shadows were getting long.

Those first weeks were spent the same, finding food and sufficient shelter.  When the last of winter faded, allowing spring to warm the earth and the grass and leave to grow, he stayed close to the city, moving from store to store and apartment to house, keeping as far from the dead as he could and taking only when he needed to live.  Eventually, he found clothing he could wear and a better coat in one store and in another, luckily, plenty of food in an army surplus outlet.  In there, he found all he needed from a tent and backpack to the small things to eat with and cook.  Ms. Manigat told him all about them and she knew he could understand the instructions so he wouldn’t get hurt.

In many of the places he slept, he found animals just barely alive and just as hungry as he was.  He set them free and even shared some of his food with them.  One, a black and white mutt, stayed with him, helping him to find edible food and decent water until he found a place with lots of bottled water.  Never had he been so happy to see clean water in his life.  Though picked apart, the sporting goods stores he found offered little but the few larger retail outlets offered what heeded to make drinkable water.  But, he knew, eventually, he would have to leave the city and search for other survivors like him.

With the weather better for travel, he left the city behind and followed the highway.  Days melted into one another as he put the city further and further behind him.  The dog followed him faithfully and gave him someone to talk to during those long quiet hours.

One bright and warm afternoon while he and the dog were playing in a stream, his dog, he finally named Benji, stopped and faced the far shore, his fur raised and a growl rumbling loudly from his curled back lips.  Jay stopped his splashing play and looked in the same direction as his beloved pet.

At first he saw nothing, then as the rustling of leave set itself apart from the normal sound of the warm breeze; he spotted something moving in the shadows.  “Hello!” He called out; trying to sound friendly though he was scared and shaking on the inside.  “Hello?  I… I’m Jay.  Are… Are you friendly?”  His voice wavered then he went quiet, hoping against hope that this person was friendly.

“Wha’d ya want, kid?  Git outta here.  We… I ain’t got nuthing you could want.  Git!”  The stranger sounded male, definitely, and old; kind of how Dr. Ben sounded but not quite the same.  Over the rustling of leaves, the sound of a click was heard.

That sound made Benji bark and bound up onto the far shore, growling loudly, threateningly, at the stranger.  He didn’t back down even though Jay yelled at him to stop.  Naked as he was, Jay dashed after his canine friend and wrapped his arms around his friend’s neck to hold him back.

All that time as Benji was making his advance, the stranger was yelling and cursing until Jay, he thought, had him secured.  “Keep that dog away or I’ll kill it,” the stranger snarled back.  “I got him in my sights and I ain’t above eating mutt for dinner, either.”

“Don’t!” Jay cried, scared for himself and his dog.  “He’s just trying to protect me.  That’s all.”

“Don’t rightly care, kid.  The both of ya git outta here.  Git!”  Then, the man stepped out, clothed in rags and carrying a shot gun.  He held it ready to fire at the both of them.

Just when it seemed he was going to pull the trigger on the retreating pair, another stepped out of the brush and grabbed the gun’s barrel in her tiny hands.  “Carl!  Don’t you dare harm that boy!  He ain’t gonna hurt no body.  Can’t you tell he’s just as hungry as we are?  Jeebus, put yer glasses on before I smack ya for being stupid.”

The woman was a petite, her dress was little more than rags with patches holding the threadbare strips together.  Her white hair looked like a fluffy cloud had settled on her head and her face looked kind.  Though she was just as thin as the man, she looked like she tried hard to keep herself looking as clean as possible compared to the dirty and nearly bald man.

“Get yourself dress, young man,” she said gently, “Ain’t no one gonna hurt ya.  We ain’t got much, but we’ve enough to share.”

Relieved, he slowly let go of Benji then did as he was told.  They were the only humans he found alive and he was relieved.  Quickly he dressed and gathering his packs.  With Benji protectively close to him, they crossed the stream, trusting the couple wouldn’t hurt him or his dog.  “Um… thank you, ma’am,” he said softly, almost too scared to talk to either of them.

The woman smiled, her bright blue eyes sparkling brightly with intelligence and a generosity that went beyond the need to survive.  “Aw, now, sweetling, don’t be afraid.  You can call me Momma.  Everyone does, ya know.  Or did before they all got sick and died.”  She sounded so sweet, and welcoming, there was no way anyone could deny her.

While the man grumbled he put his gun back on his shoulder and scowled at them.  “We don’t got enough for another mouth, Momma.  We barely got enough for us.”

Jay blinked at them, not sure if he should trust them.  It seemed too good to be true.  “Uh, um, okay, Momma, ma’am.  Uh, I’m Jay and this is Benji, my friend.  He was just protecting me.  Honest.”  For some reason, he felt the need to justify the dog’s actions to her.

“That’s okay, Jay.  Don’t worry about it.  We had dogs once, before all of this sickness and stuff.  They didn’t live through it.  Too small I would guess.  But looks like yours managed just fine.”  She gazed down at Benji, measuring him then nodding to herself.  “Course, he looks pretty thin, too.”

Jay nodded slowly, still unsure but glad to be around another human.  “I found him a while back.  He’s helped me find food and stuff and been catching stuff on his own.  His name’s Benji.”  Then, suddenly, he remembered something and stopped.  “Did you get sick with the others?”

Momma paused and Carl kept on walking the path they were on.  She looked at Jay with a sad look in her eyes before nodding.  “Yes, we all did.  Carl here is my brother.  We both lost families to that dreaded disease and so much more because we were both too sick to take care of the livestock proper until we were well.  Nothing has been easy since the radio went quiet and the power went out.”  Then, suddenly, she put on a happy face, looking as fake as the mannequins he saw in the store windows in town.  “Let’s not talk about that.  We’re alive and that’s all that matters.”

That was all that mattered.  They were alive, and healthy except for not having enough food, Jay thought.  He had some with him and a bunch of other stuff he thought would be useful later when it got warm.  “Okay.” He spoke softly, afraid he had upset her.  “I don’t need to stay.  I got my own stuff.”

“I see that,” she said gently.  “Looks like you’re prepared for a long trip.  What do you have in there?”

“Proud of himself, he smiled and puffed out his chest.  “Lots of camping stuff, clothes, and some army food I found in a store.  Got some other stuff too for water and some seeds.”

Her brows shot up, surprised by all he had but even more surprised at what he had in his possession.  “Seeds?  You have seeds?  Oh, Jay, you are a life saver.  God above has finally smiled down on us.”

Surprised he looked at her with the most confused expression.  “Yeah, I do.  Got lots of different ones my teacher said were good to grow when it got warm enough.”

Her smile was filled with tears as she bent down to look him in the eyes.  “Would you mind giving Carl and I some of your seeds?  We weren’t prepared for this kind of problem and our truck ran out of gas months ago.  We have had no way to get into town for anything.  All we have is what we could catch and find on our own.”

Without thinking twice, he nodded.  “Um, sure.”  Her reaction seemed odd to him, but he had more than enough for him.

“We’ll give you some fresh food in trade for them, honey.  I promise.”  She grasped his hand hurried down the path.  After several minutes, they came upon the old run down farm house.  It looked like it needed some work, but it was in good repair and behind it he saw several cows and heard other animals though he couldn’t see them.

Carl was just climbing the steps to the porch when Momma called out to him the good news.  He waved them off and went inside.  All that mattered to her was there was going to be more food.  The rest of the afternoon was spent looking over the seeds and deciding which ones they needed or wanted.  The rest Jay put back into his pack.

The old MREs made for a decent meal for all of them, leaving them feeling sated along with the ground meat Momma cooked to go with it.  Some of his other supplies were also given to them so they could enjoy good water.

Because they were so old, Jay decided to stay and help.  Eventually Carl accepted him and let him help as much as possible, even teaching him how to use the shotgun and other things about farm living.  There was a lot both Momma and Carl taught him.

Spring turned into summer, then into fall.  The weeks passed one by one and when winter came, they celebrated with small feast, careful not to make too much.  With Benji there and a strong young lad, so much more could be done and the farm began to thrive.

A lucky find of an old HAM radio lured other survivors to the farm, some bringing supplies and others just bringing themselves and other survivors found along the way.  Years passed and eventually old age took Momma and Carl, but others took their place in leading the small community.  Little by little, they all learned to live off the land and how to make those things required for life like the pioneers did.  Survivalists came and went, teaching them more about how to live comfortably on so little.

Among the many newcomers, Jay met a girl of his age.  Their friendship grew and, when they felt like they were old enough, started a new generation; one strong enough to not fall prey to the disease they had lived through.  Death came far too easily without the medical care they were used to having.  As long as they worked hard and took care of themselves like their ancestors did, the human race could live on for a while longer.  Maybe, this time, they’d be more careful and respect the Earth more.

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