In the small town of Bruhearst, Nebraska everybody knew everybody else. The high school quarterback dated the head cheerleader, and the mayor held town hall meetings with all five hundred and forty three townspeople in attendance.
When the plague hit, rising from bacteria in the water welled beneath the earth’s crust during a massive earthquake in California, Bruhearst didn’t expect to be affected very much. The old men sitting outside of the barber shop laughed as their younger counterparts stocked up at the local grocer.
“Young fools,” they said. “We ain’t gonna be hit with no plague.”
Three weeks later, those old men were buried in the trench outside of town. The military would come by and burn the bodies under a controlled tent to prevent fumes escaping. Sammie watched as the huge trucks rolled through town, their tires leaving gouged tracks in the muddy street where the asphalt had been broken. Her baby shifted in her arms at the rumbling noise and she rocked him gently. The commanders blasted instructions to the houses at large, unsure how many survivors would actually listen to them.
“Citizens, we implore you to remain indoors. If you need supplies please call four-oh-two five-five-five three-eight-one-four. We will bring you supplies as we can.”
Sammie turned away as the voice droned on and on, seeping from an invisible man locked away inside the airtight truck. While they patrolled, making sure no stragglers were wandering the streets, Sammie and anyone else who’d been smart enough to stock up on supplies to last them three months, had been holed up in their homes for weeks. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d smelled fresh air.
The baby didn’t stir as she laid him in his crib. Sammie had switched to cloth diapers to prevent running out, and would breastfeed for as long as she needed to. She had a small garden in her locked tight greenhouse with access from the backdoor to sustain her small family.
Speaking of, where the hell was her husband? He’d left over two hours ago to visit the neighbor down the street and see if the elderly woman needed any food. He took their only gas mask and gun and still hadn’t returned. Worry seeped into her.
Settling into the rocker by the front window, Sammie picked up her knitting and began working on baby Brayden’s new winter hat again. The clacking of her needles created a soothing sound of familiarity for her, drowned out only by a periodic helicopter flying overhead or the sound of an echoing gunshot somewhere in the distance.
Sammie stopped moving for a moment, listening. Gunshot?
The back door burst open and her husband, Joe, burst into the kitchen. Sammie threw her needles to the side and slid to a stop at his side as he fell to his knees on the tiled floor. Blood dripped down from between his fingers over his shoulder.
“Joe?” Panic had Sammie on edge as she glanced towards the door, expecting the military to raid her home.
“Joe, what happened?”
“They shot me. The bastards shot me,” he managed, grunting with pain when she tried to sit him back against the cabinets so she could look at the wound.
“Who shot you?” She peeled away his shirt to reveal a shotgun wound. The buckshot had exploded out of the barrel and hit him in several spots along his shoulder. “Was it the military?” She stood and grabbed a clean towel to stem the blood flow.
“No, Sammie. Bob. Bob shot me.”
She stopped and swallowed. “Bob?” she repeated. “From three houses down?”
“Yes, that Bob.” Joe took the towel she offered and held it to his shoulder. “He stopped me on my way home, demanded I give him all of our bread stock. I told him no and pulled my gun out. But then his wife came up behind me, all wild eyed, and she knocked me over.” Joe grimaced under the pressure of the cloth.
“And then what?” Sammie backed away a few steps, realizing he didn’t have the mask anywhere near him.
“They tackled me, ripped off my mask and…” His voice trailed off as Sammie stared at her husband with wide eyes. “Oh, god.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She kept her voice low to not wake the baby, but her anger was hard to control.
“I’m sorry,” Joe whispered and struggled to his feet. He advanced a few steps. As he came closer, she noticed the beads of sweat forming on his head and the red lines shooting into his eyes.
“Christ, Joe, you’re infected!” Sammie stumbled backwards, putting a chair between herself and her husband.
“Help me, Sammie,” he said, his voice cracking as the infection began to latch into his body.
She turned and ran to the baby’s room, slamming and locking the door behind her. Brayden stirred in his crib as Joe slammed against the door in an attempt to break it down. Sammie clapped a hand over her mouth and crept backwards as the tears flowed down her face. Her fingers stumbled across a phone and she looked down with a sense of dread forming in her belly.
“Sammie,” Joe wailed from the hallway as she dialed the numbers slowly. “Sammie, help me. I need you right now, baby.”
“Emergency services,” said a nasally voice from the phone. “How may I assist you?”
Sammie swallowed and steeled herself. “I need help.”
Joe beat on the door.
“What is the nature of your emergency, ma’am?” The operator seemed almost annoyed.
Sammie sobbed silently as Joe’s fists ravaged the door. “My husband went outside without a mask."
The flashing crew:
Julie Hayes (m/m)
West Thornhill (m/m)
Pia Valeno (m/m)
Lily Sawyer (m/m)
Pender Mackie (m/m)
Heather Lin (m/f)
Ryssa Edwards (m/m)