There were still a lot of people in the common room. The channel got switched to Fox News and a panel of experts was desperately trying to fill airtime by finding ways to rephrase the nothing that they knew, over and over again. She thought it was fascinating how the coverage on the Internet and the coverage on TV were from alternate universes. TV was all “terror … terrorist … Al Qaeda…” and the Internet was “zombies … zombies … zombies…”
Amy just kept walking toward the elevator and headed down, out of the building. She needed air.
The campus was buzzing. The hot dog truck was pulled up in front of the building and there was a line three wide and ten deep in front of it. Amy walked past because she wanted to wish Spiro the hot dog guy a happy birthday—his was one of the over two hundred birthdays programmed into the calendar app on her phone. He smiled and told her the hot dogs were free tonight, one per customer. Not because of his birthday, but because of the other thing.
She passed a flyer posted to a utility pole with a huge letter Z on it, which she ignored, but then she passed another one, and another. Then she arrived at the visitor’s parking lot and found one under the windshield of David’s truck (and all of the other cars) and read it:
Zombie nerds. They probably had the flyers already made up for this. There was nobody creepier than the zombie nerds, college guys who not only watched zombie movies and read zombie novels and played zombie video games, but actually formed clubs and collected zombie-killing weapons. Gun shops around there actually stocked zombie targets, and special zombie bullets with glow-in-the-dark tips. Not toy bullets, mind you. These guys would go out in the woods and train and shoot and defend to the death their right to stay in childhood until age thirty-five.
She climbed inside the truck. She wasn’t going anywhere. She had never learned to drive, her car accident happened not long before she would have been due to take her Driver’s Ed courses in high school. She never got back around to it after she went back to school and now the thought of it terrified her. She didn’t know how anybody did it. Hurtling down the highway at 65 miles an hour while a barrage of other cars come flying toward you like huge cannon shells, whipping past in the next lane, just five feet from your own squishy body. If at that moment one of you nudges your steering wheel at the wrong time, two seconds later your body is a bunch of spaghetti wrapped around bundles of twisted steel. She’d yell at David for eating while he drove, a Coke between his legs and a hamburger in one hand, steering with two fingers, at night. It’s like nobody in the world gets how fragile life is. How fragile our bodies are.
Amy got the crying to stop about ten minutes later. Her tear ducts were getting sore. She turned the flyer over and found a pen in her purse. She held the flyer to her thigh with the stump of her left wrist, and began writing with her right. She was making a list.
1. Call the Centers for Disease Control.
John said that’s who was on the scene of the house fire, which made sense because this was sort of a disease. If so, at some point they had to establish a hotline for people to get in contact with their loved ones inside quarantine. There’d be riots otherwise. They were still Americans, there was still such a thing as the Constitution. All she needed them to do was confirm that David was okay, even if she wasn’t allowed to see him or talk to him.
2. Exhaust all means of contacting David.
One way or the other, it didn’t seem plausible that the government could really shut down all forms of communication. Not in the twenty-first century. She could have John post a message to him on his blog, she would post on Facebook, she would e-mail him, she would try the cell again. Write a paper letter addressed to the Undisclosed quarantine operation sent ATTN: David Wong.
It was driving her crazy, not knowing. Where was he right now? At this moment? Wandering free around town? In a temporary CDC plague tent or something? Crashing at John’s old place? She thought for a moment then jotted down:
3. If David is in CDC custody, get him a care package.
His house had burned down. That meant he needed … everything. Clothes. Heartburn pills. Replacement contact lenses in case he lost one. Dandruff shampoo. Some Oreos. A book.
One more idea occurred to her. It should have come to her sooner. She wrote:
4. Contact Marconi?
“Marconi,” if you haven’t heard of him, was Dr. Albert Marconi. He wrote books and hosted a show on the History Channel about monsters and ghosts and stuff. David and John knew him because their paths had crossed a few times. If anybody knew what to do, he would. Heck, he was probably on his way here. Probably started calling his producer and packing his bags the moment that “zombie” video hit the news. Then, with resolve, Amy filled in the last item:
5. If none of the above can be done, get into the quarantine.
Getting out of a quarantine was hard, but getting in would be the easiest thing in the world, right? All you had to do was show up and say you were infected. She wouldn’t even need to lie—she had spent twelve straight hours with somebody who was at Outbreak Ground Zero. Just tell them that. Instant ticket in. The problem would be figuring out how to find David once she was in there—if the government had him somewhere, they may not allow them to stay together since they’re not married. If they didn’t have him, finding where he was in town could be a chore. Still, just being inside the city would put her 90 percent closer.
She folded up the paper and put it in her purse. There. Now she had a plan. She felt better. She would get some sleep and get a fresh start with John tomorrow.
7 Days, 13 Hours Until the Massacre at Ffirth Asylum
Amy started trying to wake up John at nine in the morning. He didn’t get up until two in the afternoon. He was cranky and despondent. When she suggested calling Dr. Marconi and asked him if he had a phone number for him, John mumbled that he would “take care of it.” After she reminded him six more times over the next two hours, finally he got on her laptop and started doing something or other, which she took as progress until she leaned over him and realized he was on the freaking Web site for Marconi’s TV show, trying to find a phone number. She could have done that. Eight hours ago. John wound up calling a number that she was pretty sure was for ordering DVD box sets of Marconi’s show, and leaving a rambling voice mail that no sane human being would respond to.
Then the rest of that evening was spent trying to find John a place to stay. But all of the hotels in town were booked with people unable to get back home to Undisclosed and all the news media converging on the area. They wound up having to put him up in a motel an hour away, so now John would have to make a two-hour round trip every time they needed to do anything. So here are all the other people running around in a panic trying to stock up to survive the end of the world, and Amy and John were farting trying to find a hotel and … ugh.
She wasn’t going to cry.
Oh, and Amy paid. For everything. John said he was expecting a paycheck from the temp job he had working for a DJ doing parties and weddings and stuff, but of course said DJ lived in Undisclosed so who knows if he got out or if he was dead or if he was a monster.
So anyway, that was Sunday gone.
6 Days, 18 Hours Until the Massacre at Ffirth Asylum
Amy had taken to avoiding the common room because there was almost a party atmosphere there. Sure, people would talk about it like it was this big national tragedy, but you could tell they were into it, like it was something they could seize on to break up the routine. Just one more bit of drama that played out on the big common room TV.
The big news Monday morning was that the government had scheduled a press conference, the first one since all of this happened. It was also streamed on the Internet, so Amy could follow it from her phone in her dorm room, away from the spectators. The stream on her phone was delayed by seven or eight seconds for whatever technical Internet reason, so it created a weird effect where she could faintly hear the guy leading the news conference say a line down the hall before he’d say it again on her phone a few seconds later. She was alone, John was at the hotel and her roommate was down the hall with the crowd.
First, the guy—a middle-aged guy with a young George Clooney haircut—announced a phone hotline they had set up, but said to please not call with inquiries about loved ones. The number was purely to report that you or someone you knew were showing symptoms of infection, so they needed to keep those lines free since containing infection had to be first priority. He read off the number and Amy hurriedly dug the zombie flyer out of her purse and jotted it down.
The guy also said that they had set up a patient treatment facility at the Undisclosed hospital, and that all infected and suspected infected were being transported there and given the best care possible. In the meantime, they were imposing a strict sundown curfew in the city, and they would be going house to house to check for infected individuals. The guy was good at his job, Amy found herself actually feeling better. As horrible as John had described the situation and what they had seen, this guy here seemed on top of it.
Then, something weird happened.
The guy was winding down the press conference with some generic lines about how they were busily researching the outbreak, and urged people to neither believe nor spread irresponsible Internet rumors. Then CNN abruptly cut back to the anchor and everyone in the common room screamed their heads off. This completely baffled Amy, as the anchor was just a lady in a pantsuit. But then she remembered the delay. She had five solid seconds to tense up her whole body while she waited to see what they had seen.
The anchor quickly said that they had exclusive new video that had just leaked from Outbreak Ground Zero, and in the middle of her sentence they cut to a grainy video, shot from inside a car at night. The chaos had already started before they got the camera up—there were screams and confused shouts from within the car, inhuman growls from outside. Glass shattered. A fist punched through, a grotesque face biting at the cameraman. A flash of light and a pop filled the interior of the car—a gunshot. The monster recoiled from the window. There were plenty more behind it, four or five hands now pushing in through the glass. More gunshots.