Mad World (Book 1): Epidemic, page 1
Copyright © 2012 Samaire Provost
All rights reserved.
For Stephen, for giving me the chance.
All myths have a basis in fact
Zombies. Who knew? No one. In early 2012, scientists at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, began to recreate the microbe that had caused the Black Death in 14th century Europe. They were successful. They awoke this deathly illness, and then it jumped to modern times, and they discovered some details not previously known. There was a reason those mass graves were so hastily dug, so quickly filled. There was a reason the sickness spread so quickly, a reason so many died. Stanford’s team couldn’t have known that the microbe’s virulence would be impossible to contain.
But I jump ahead of myself. The Stanford scientists were in the middle of their experiments when my Advanced Acting class at Bullard High began planning our year-end senior trip to NYC. It was April of 2012, and six of us had been chosen to make the trip east. By the time we had flown across the country, seen our Broadway Play and toured the Big Apple, Stanford was already well on its way to dooming our country, and eventually, the entire world. I wrote down everything that happened, so that there would be a record of how the world went mad. My name is Alyssa Gonzalez, and this is our story.
We first heard about the emergency about the same time it was leaked to the rest of the country. It was pretty late in the evening, and we had all settled down after a day of sightseeing.
“Coach Turner says nobody can be reached in Palo Alto at all,” I overheard the conversation coming from the boys’ room as I passed down the hall. Hurrying to the room I shared with Caitlin and Emily at the far end of the corridor, worry burned in my chest.
“Emily, have you got a signal yet?” I asked as I burst into our room. Emily was 17 and a tiny, slight Japanese girl with short black hair, dark brown eyes, and an infectious laugh. Her size was deceptive: she was an excellent actress and friend, plus she was so sweet that everyone loved her. She volunteered on weekends at our local animal shelter, walking the dogs and spending time with the other animals to socialize and keep them from going nuts in their ridiculously small cages.
“No signal. Calls aren’t going through,” Emily said.
Caitlin had switched on the room’s TV set and was listening intently. “Shhh! There’s something on about the blackout in California!” she hissed. Caitlyn was the friend who could win ‘Most likely to save the planet.’ She was an earth child, very into saving the planet and not ruining the environment. She had long, thick brown hair and brown eyes and favored blue jean and T-shirts about skirts and sandals. A girl after my own heart. I also lived in blue jeans and T-shirts.
I was the ringleader in our group of friends. I’d excelled in our debate and speech classes and last fall was voted class president of our school. Some people might have called me bossy; I preferred to think of myself as decisive. I took after my grandfather, Miguel Gonzalez, who owned several businesses in town. Casa de Sabores, which my mother managed, was the best Mexican restaurant in the valley and was my grandfather’s biggest business. Abuelo also owned two dry cleaners. His son, my father, was stationed in Afghanistan and had been for six months. We missed him terribly. Captain Gonzalez was expected home in two months, and I couldn’t wait.
We all huddled around the TV.
“No word yet on what exactly is going on in California. The government has grounded all flights and trains to the area,” the announcer said. “The president is expected to make an announcement in a few moments.”
We paused expectantly.
Minutes later, President Obama appeared behind a desk.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Minutes ago, I finished conferring with my team and I have news regarding the events in central California. Scientists at Stanford University in Palo Alto have had a breach of a highly sensitive, highly contagious microbe from their lab. The entire area has been sealed. No air traffic is allowed near the containment site. As we speak, troops from all over the Southwest are converging on the area. Marines from Camp Pendleton have already arrived.”
“What?” said Caitlin, nervously running her fingers through her hair. “They got there already? That base is a day from Palo Alto. This happened earlier?”
As if anticipating our questions, the president continued:
“The timeline for these events began late last night. I was informed of the breach in the early hours of the morning. I immediately dispatched our soldiers to the area to lock it down, to avoid spread of this deadly contagion.” The president continued. “Please be calm and stay patient. We ask that you not travel into the central valley region of California until the crisis is averted.”
“Well, that’s easy for him to say!” Emily whispered. Our families all lived in Fresno. Our acting class was from Bullard High School. This year-end trip with our acting coach was supposed to be a treat. Now all we could think of was our families back home.
“I am not staying here while my mom and brother are in possible danger,” I said shakily.
“Yeah, me neither,” said Emily. “Let’s go ask Coach Turner what the plan is.”
We got up and hurried down the hall to the room where the boys from our class were staying. The door stood open. As we entered, we saw Coach Turner and all the guys huddled around their room’s TV too. We gathered around them, watching the set for any new information. The president just repeated the earlier warning we’d heard in our room.
Turner mumbled, “Dear God…” and turned down the sound on the set. “Guys, we don’t exactly know what they’re dealing with. The government wants us all to sit tight where we are. But I’ve got my wife and twins out there back in Fresno and I have to think about what I’m going to do. Has anyone been able to get a cell phone call through yet?”
Everyone shook their heads no.
“Well, keep trying. Meanwhile, I’ve got some ideas. Can you kids stay here while I go and check around?”
Coach Turner had been our acting teacher for the last two years. He had done some acting in Hollywood and then turned to teaching when the supporting roles in which he was cast failed to pay the rent. His wildly curly brown hair, framing a round face, was a familiar sight on campus. He had also coached girls volleyball for the past eight years, and was a much loved figure at our school.
“Coach, what do you have in mind?” Jacob asked. Jake was a tall 18-year-old who I’d known since grade school. His light brown hair and green eyes had captured
Since I’d turned 17 last fall, I’d sort of blossomed, thank goodness. I was tired of being the Plain Jane type I’d been in my pre-teen years. With longer hair, and my maturing, both physically and mentally, I’d come into my own. I hoped Jake had noticed.
My attention was pulled from contemplating Jacob to Coach, who was talking again.
“I’m going to try to get us some kind of transportation,” Turner said. “If they’re not allowing flights in, maybe we can at least get close to our families by land. And I need to get to an ATM.” He checked his cell phone. “Listen, it’s almost 7 p.m. I don’t want any of you wandering around at night in this city. Just hang tight, order some room service, and wait for me. OK? I shouldn’t be more than a couple of hours.”
“You got it, Coach,” said Conner, a muscular African-American weightlifter who had decided to try acting junior year and realized he loved it. Conner had lost his father, a police officer, the year he turned ten, and ever since then he’d been determined to follow in his footsteps and enter the Police Academy. He was on the track team with Jacob and they had a friendly rivalry going at each track meet. He favored black and red cross trainers and jackets that matched and had dark eyes and very dark, ebony skin, which the girls loved. Unfortunately, he had no interest in them at all, and neither did his boyfriend Charles.
Turner got up, grabbed his jacket and room key, and hurried out. Before the hotel room door completely shut, he stuck his head in again. “And keep the door locked, you hear me? People tend to go a little nuts during emergencies. You’ve got to stay safe.” Then he exited the room, shutting the door firmly behind him.
“Man, this is scary,” said DeAndre, a tall and gangly senior who might have qualified as the class clown. You know how they call people characters? DeAndre was a character, and a character actor, as well. He usually played supporting roles in our class productions, but he also frequently stole the show. DeAndre’s short curly brown hair and warm smiling brown eyes, and his bright smile and easy manner had captured plenty of female attention. His complexion was lighter than Conner’s, because D’s mom was white.
“It will be okay. Coach will take care of us. We just have to sit tight and wait for him,” said Jake. He smiled to reassure us.
“Let’s order room service, okay? But guys, can we all stay in this room tonight? I’m a bit freaked out,” said Emily, dark eyes glistening from beneath a high forehead, her dark hair pulled back behind her. Coach called her “the sweet one.” Her grandparents had been forced into the Japanese internment camp in Pinedale, just north of Fresno, during the second World War, and she said they had told her stories of that time to help her stay strong.
Now definitely seemed like a good time to be strong.
It also seemed like a good time for that room service.
“Yeah, of course,” Jake said.
We were too nervous to eat much of anything we ordered from the hotel kitchen. Mostly we just watched the TV for updates. There weren’t many. We girls eventually fell asleep on the beds, while the guys bunked on the floor. We all dozed restlessly. A few hours later, Turner unlocked the room and let himself in.
Conner raised his head sleepily, “Coach.” He wiped his eyes. “What happened? Did you hear anything more?”
“No, Conner. I didn’t get much more news, but I was able to rent a van and get money and some food. The van is all ready. I think we should head on out now, before the morning rush.” Turner began rousing the other kids. “Wake up, everyone. Get packed. We’re heading out as soon as possible.”
“Are we going to take turns driving, Coach?” Caitlin asked as she pulled her shoes on.
“Eventually, yes. But I’m going to want to get at least 6-8 hours in myself in the beginning. You’ll all have a chance to sleep the rest of the night,” Turner said. “Hey, I want all the pillows and blankets from our rooms packed up too. We are in survival mode, people.”
“Sure thing, Coach.”
We all packed up quickly, and were down in the hotel parking garage and loading into the van when we heard a huge explosion.
“What the hell?” said DeAndre.
“Just get in! Hurry!” Turner hustled them all in and started up the big passenger van. He pulled out of the underground garage. It was nearing midnight and the streets were quiet. The few people on the street were all running toward a smoky area, likely where the blast had gone off.
“Perfect,” Turner said, turning the other way. “Gives us a chance of getting out of this city.”
Turner turned around and his determined eyes met our frightened faces. “Guys, just try and get comfy and sleep as much as you can. I am going to drive until sun-up, and then we can take turns. We should be able to make it home in 48 hours or so. It’s about 3,000 miles. So: sleep now. Try to get some rest. Okay?”
“Coach, do you think our families are all right?” Conner asked.
“I don’t know, Conner. Let’s hope for the best and get there as fast as we can,”
“But what if the military won’t let us get into town once we get closer?” I asked, “The news said the National Guard and the Marines had been called out to Palo Alto.”
“We’ll get as close as we can then,” Turner replied, “We’ll do as much as we can.”
I sat back and looked around. The others were settling down with blankets and pillows. Staring out the window, I felt determined. There was no way anybody was going to stop us from getting back home. I needed to get to my family. As I watched the street lights go by, all I could think of was my grandparents, and my mom and my baby brother.
“Alyssa?” Emily whispered from the seat behind her, “I’m so scared.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied, trying to sound stronger than I felt. “Let’s just concentrate on getting as close to home as possible. Don’t imagine more trouble than you have to.”
Emily sniffed back unshed tears.
“Just try to get some sleep, okay?” I said, patting her arm.
“Okay.” Emily sat back and closed her eyes, her head resting against the pillow.
I looked out the window again. The night was pitch black. We were just entering the Holland Tunnel. Soon we’d be in New Jersey. Two miles down, 3,000 to go. I thought.
We drove all night and through the next two days, each of the four drivers taking turns. We made sure to keep the phones and iPad plugged in to the car chargers, so they’d always be ready. We eventually pulled into a Nevada gas station for a bathroom break, grabbing energy drinks and snacks as Coach filled up the tank. Coach Turner questioned the cashier while he paid for everything.
“Any word on the California situation?”
“Mack, they went black about three hours ago. Ain’t no word - not a sound. I’m packin’ up the missus’ and we’re heading east to her motha’s in Iowa. No way we’re stickin’ around for this mess.”
Turner grabbed the food and everyone bundled up in the van. He turned to us.
“Looks like everyone else is going in the opposite direction. But I still want to try and get as close as we can to home. No telling what we’ll find in Fresno, but I can’t stay away from my family and just leave them to whatever is going to happen. If some of you want to stay out of California, I understand.”
“Coach Turner, I’m worried about my grandparents, mom and little brother,” I said. “I want to get to them as fast as possible.”
“Me, too,” said Jacob. “Hey, I don’t care what the authorities say. I want to get home now.” The others agreed. Turner nodded.
“I just needed to make sure. We don’t know what we’re facing. It could
Everyone’s faces remained resolute. The danger didn’t matter, or at least we weren’t thinking about it. We were determined. Tired and travel weary, we just wanted to get home. Every face looked worried. But we were determined.
We all piled back into the van. I took a seat close to the back, and put my face against my bag and looked out the window. Exhaustion and worry battled for ownership of my head. My stomach churned with stress. I pulled out the almonds I had bought in the store, and took a swig of the RockStar energy drink in my lap and looked out the window. The stars twinkled in the clear night sky. Everything looked so peaceful. The heavens seemed oblivious to all the turbulence happening down here on Earth. What would we find when we pulled into town?
I dozed off within a half-hour and enjoyed three hours of sound sleep. That’s what happens when you’re exhausted. I woke up as the van slowed to a stop, lifting my head up for a look outside. We were stuck at a roadblock. Several police cars with flashing lights were parked in a V formation in the middle of the road, and officers were diverting all the traffic onto a side street.
Coach Turner stopped the van.
“Stay in your seats and sit tight, guys,” he said, and then got out to see what he could find out from the cops.