His phone rang; the ringtone was familiar. “Honey, finally, I’ve been trying to reach you for hours.”
“Dan, great! I got through. The cell service is terrible here. I just managed to get a connection. I don’t know how long it will last.” His wife sounded distraught.
“What’s your flight status? I can’t get anything on the internet.” He was worried about his wife, very worried. The cable had gone out a few days ago, and since the internet was connected to the cable, he had no connection to the outside world. She would usually call every night when she was away on business, but this time she was in Canada, and the cost was too high to call. This was the first Dan had heard from his wife since she left.
“My flight’s been cancelled. I don’t know when I’m going to get the heck out of this hell hole.”
“What are they telling you?”
“Nothing. Nobody has any idea what’s going on. The place is crazy.”
“I’m having trouble hearing you.” He could barely understand her.
“My flight came into Minneapolis okay. It took forever to get to the gate. The flight attendants were not saying anything, and the passengers were getting upset. Most people had connecting flights they were going to miss.”
“Is that why you didn’t get your flight?”
“No, I had a two-hour layover. They just outright cancelled it.”
“What reason did they give you?”
“I told you, they didn’t tell us anything. Every flight on the board is cancelled.”
“The TV’s out here. There’s no news. The internet is dead. I can’t get any information. Damn cable.” He hated having cable, but in this neighborhood, that was the only option.
“They’re making an announcement. Hold on.” He could hear a muffled voice in the background, then a huge groan and the signal died.
“Honey, are you there? Can you hear me?” Silence. The line was dead. He tried calling back several times. No dice.
He was in a near panic now. His wife was stuck hundreds of miles away in a chaotic airport. She had been on a business trip for the last week and was supposed to arrive in a couple of hours, but not now. It was impossible to know when she might come home.
Dan tried calling her office, but there was nothing but voicemail. Where had everyone gone? It was a workday and they should have been there. He tried calling the airline but was put on hold for fifteen minutes before suddenly being disconnected. He even tried calling a buddy he knew who worked for the airline. His phone number was out of service. At this point, all he could do was stare out the window and wonder what his wife was going through.
Dan had been sick with a summer cold the last week and had been out of sorts. At least today, he felt better and could move around again. Charlie, their dog, a squat little mutt terrier, wanted to go for a walk. He had been confined to the back yard since Dan got sick and was ready for adventures beyond the property. Dan wasn’t really up to it, but since there was absolutely nothing he could do to help his wife, going on a walk might inspire another avenue he could pursue. Charlie was good at forcing him to get up and get moving, too. Charlie didn’t need a leash. He was the best walking dog he’d ever had. He didn’t train him that way, he just was. Charlie would never stray more than two or three feet from Dan and would always come back when called, well usually. He had a weakness for critters, like all terriers. His neighborhood had very few of them, just squirrels and an occasional chipmunk.
Dan noticed something was wrong right away. No traffic. Why would there be no traffic on the road this time of day? Things should have been bustling like crazy at 3pm. The hospital nearby had a shift change at three o’clock, and that filled the road in front of Dan’s house with crazy drivers trying to get home. Empty. Completely empty. Not a car. His upscale neighborhood seemed too quiet as well. No yards were being mowed, no workers buzzing around fixing things, no stream of delivery trucks, nothing.
Dan and Charlie walked down the bike lane toward the park, which was a little less than half a mile from his house. Charlie loved going on walks and would stop every three feet to leave pee-mail for the other dogs. It was annoying to keep stopping, but Charlie loved it so much that Dan always gave in. Dan noticed something odd up ahead. It looked like there were barricades blocking off the road at the intersection near the hospital. Construction? An accident? He kept walking and moved to the center of the road so Charlie would be dissuaded from leaving messages for his friends. As he got closer, he noticed a huge traffic jam beyond the barricade. What in God’s name was happening, he wondered.
The barricade was from the police. The road to the hospital was clogged solid with traffic. Some cars were abandoned, some idling. As he got closer, he noticed people lying in the road. Were they dead? The occupants of the cars were not moving.
They must be passed out, unconscious or sleeping, he thought.
He started to get worried that something really bad had happened. His heart started beating faster, and he noticed he was drenched in sweat. He thought it could be from his cold. Maybe he hadn’t completely healed. Should he turn around and go back home? A nice tall drink would taste good. No, he decided to find out what lay up ahead. He was no coward. Neither was Charlie. He was a brave dog, brave to the point of being stupid. He had a nasty habit of challenging any dog he came across and barking his fool head off trying to get the better of the other dog. Usually, they backed down. Even dogs twice his size did. Their owners would say things like, “What a cute little dog, he acts so big” or “Get that monster under control”. He was sweet with people, though.
Charlie ran ahead to a person lying in the road. That freaked out Dan as Charlie never did things like that. It was a man, an older one, maybe his age. He wasn’t moving at all, and Charlie started licking him on the face. No reaction. Dan picked up his hand finding a pulse, faint and slow, but still beating. He looked really bad. The car right next to this man was still running, idling, and had a young woman inside. He knocked on the window and got no response. The door was unlocked, and he opened it. She was probably twenty-five or so, unconscious, running a terrible fever, and her skin was mottled with a purple color. She was sick as heck! He looked around and yelled, “Help!” several times before deciding it was pointless. The road had thousands of similarly sick people. He could do nothing for her.
He checked several more and ran into exactly the same scenario. A few cars had a terrible odor inside, like the people had messed themselves in one manner or another. Same with the people lying in the road. No vomiting though.
Dan kept walked through the cars. Everyone was severely ill and unconscious. He came across a car that had somebody who was still awake, although barely. An older man with a woman who was in very bad shape. He knocked on the window and the man managed, with great effort, to open it.
“What happened here?” A rather silly thing to ask, but he could think of nothing else.
“It’s…the…end…of…the…world…” the man managed to cough out.
“What do you mean? How did this happen?” Still ridiculous questions.
“Armageddon… God’s will…” He passed out.
Well, that was a shocking conversation. He may have witnessed this man’s last words and they were terrible. Dan thought about what he’d said. Armageddon? God’s will?
Dan tried his phone, hoping he could contact his wife.
“The number you have reached is not in service at this time.”
Dan looked at his phone and yelled, “What? That’s a stupid message. Of course the number is in service.”
Dan tried his daughter in New York. Same thing. He looked down at Charlie and said, “Cell phone system is screwed up. So what else is new? What the heck is going on?”
Charlie just looked at him. He wasn’t going to give any reasonable answer, after all, he was a dog.
Dan’s phone rang.
“Dad, are you okay?” It was his son, a Lieutenant in the Navy on board a guided-missile destroyer, a DDG.
“Greg! Yes, I had a cold last week, but I’m okay now. Where are you?”
“We’re off the coast of California. Thank God you’re alive.”
“What’s happening? I’m standing in a sea of sick people right now.” A bit dramatic sounding, but accurate.
“Where are you? Sea of sick?” A bit of delay in the conversation made it more difficult. Greg was calling on a sat phone.
“I’m on the road to the hospital, standing in a traffic jam with Charlie. The cars are full of people with fevers, unconscious.” He cast his eyes about at the thousands of doomed individuals.
“Have you touched anyone? They have the illness, the plague.” The signal faded a bit.
“Plague? What are you talking about?” Dan’s worst fears were being realized.
“Dad, this is serious. DO NOT touch your face. Wash your hands carefully. Everyone is sick and they are going…”
“I don’t know anything about it.” He interrupted his son and missed part of the conversation. Damn delay.
“…within a week… You’re going to have to wait for me to finish talking. I’m on a sat phone.” Dan already guessed that.
“Yes, I understand. I missed the part about a week. Please repeat.” He said it slowly this time.
“People are going to start dying soon. If they have a fever now, they are basically dead already. It’s ninety-nine percent fatal.” Gary heard that clearly. He was silent.
“Dad, you there?”
“Yes, I heard you. Have you talked to your mom or sister?” Dan was on wife number two. He didn’t talk to his ex. She hated him. Dan had met his current wife while living part-time in Memphis. He was a pilot, now retired, and commuted to Memphis from his far away home like so many pilots did. It could get lonely camping out in a crash pad, and he’d just happened to run into his current wife, and, well, nature had taken its course and that ended his marriage. His children held it against him at first, but time heals all wounds. His ex would never forgive him though. She sucked the financial life out of him as a punishment. His girlfriend and later wife was an executive at an international firm headquartered in Memphis and earned twice what he did as a pilot so it really didn’t matter in the long run. That pissed his ex off even more.
“I tried calling Mom and couldn’t reach her. Cell service is terrible. I tried Katy and everyone there is fine for now. The sickness hasn’t reached Oneonta yet.” Katy, Dan’s daughter, was an assistant professor at a college in a small town in upstate New York.
“I tried Katy, too, and no luck on the cell phone. She should have kept her landline.” Katy was very modern. She had dropped her landline a long time ago.
“We have priority. Ship calls are getting through. Look, Dad, I only have a few moments before they cut me off. Have you stocked up on supplies yet?”
“Supplies? I just got over the flu. I haven’t done anything except get better.” His brain was still a bit fuzzy and he felt weak.
“You have to do that now, before everything is gone. Be sure to get whatever you can, and do not leave the house unarmed.” That sank in.
“Yes, I understand. I’ll get on that immediately. Look Gary, you take care of yourself. Don’t volunteer for anything.”
“I’ll do my best. I have to go. I love you.”
“I love you, too. Give my best to your mother if you reach her.”
“I will. Bye.” The line went dead.
Dan and Charlie headed out of the traffic mess and back toward home. He was feeling a bit weak at this point and shouldn’t have been exerting himself. Charlie wanted to stop along the way, but Dan forced him along. When they reached the house, Dan was just about tuckered out. He plunked himself down in his favorite chair, a recliner, and took a couple deep breaths. His son was worried. He could tell that. Some sort of disease was affecting…
He had forgotten to wash his hands. He ran into the kitchen and scrubbed them with dish soap and hot water. Had he touched his face? Did he contaminate himself? He didn’t know. He washed his face, too, with hot water and dish soap. Nothing he could do about it now. He was either safe or contaminated. No telling.
Dan went to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a nice, tall glass of Maker’s Mark with a few drops of water, then went back to his chair. Some sort of disease was affecting people and killing them at a very high rate. His son was safe aboard the ship. They could stay at sea for months. The Navy was on top of things, and they would keep their people safe. His wife was stuck in an airport. That sucked. He tried calling her again on the landline this time and still no good. She was amongst the contaminated for sure. He couldn’t do anything for her other than worry. His daughter was in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Maybe they had the sense to close the borders and keep out the sick people.
Dan started madly rummaged around the house for no other reason except he was going insane with worry and indecision. He opened drawers he hadn’t opened for years, went into the attic and dumped out boxes, and essentially panicked for a while. Eventually, he worn himself down and stopped. He had been a pilot, a retired military man and had been through years of training for emergency situations. He should have been cooler, more in control. He took a few deep breaths and went back and finished his drink. Finally, he became calm and could think again.
He had no idea what this was about and had no source of news or information. The internet was toast, and he was in the dark. Dan wasn’t big on technology. He rode the DC-10 into the graveyard as a widebody Captain and retired without ever upgrading to a modern freighter. He had a smartphone but had downloaded only one app called RadarNow! which he used to check for storms before venturing out with Charlie. Other than that, he used his phone to make calls only. No texts, either. Then it occurred to him that this dang smartphone he despised so much had the internet. He never used the internet on his phone. The screens on the silly devices were meant for teenagers and people with young, focussing eyes. His eyes were too old to see the intensely small characters on that tiny little screen without putting on reading glasses. He pulled out the infernal device and checked the apps. One was called “News & Weather”. He clicked it and started reading.
“Oh God!” he muttered. “You’ve gone and done it. You finally, really did it. You maniacs!” He yelled the last part. Charlie looked up, confused. He read that the disease, called HDD, a manmade virus, was spreading around the world and had infected virtually everyone. It was ninety-nine percent fatal and easily transmitted through direct or indirect contact. Memphis had been hit hard and was one of the first cities in the country to be devastated. The CDC was here in town trying to contain it. Too late. He could see that for himself. Memphis was screwed. He also read that some people were immune. Was he one of the lucky immune group? He had been out at the store the day before he got sick. It was very likely he came in contact with someone who was contaminated with the disease. It hadn’t been long enough to know for sure. It took eight to ten days before symptoms showed. Another couple of days would tell.
First order of business, organize his weapons. His gun, a .45 Colt, was a leftover from when his father passed away. He hadn’t fired it in maybe twenty-five years, or even longer. It had one clip. Eight rounds. That was it. The damn thing was essentially useless. Maybe just having it would be enough to scare people away. It might still fire. He cleaned it anyway and checked the cartridges for obvious problems. They looked okay. He had some knives, but they were the useless kitchen type. The best they could be used for was carving a roast. He had a few tools, but they were essentially of no value, either. A four-inch screwdriver wouldn’t cause anyone much concern.
Second order of business: resupply. He had to make a run to the store. Dan rigged a mask and took gloves with him, along with a spray bottle loaded with a bleach solution. He wouldn’t take anything into the house that wasn’t sprayed down, just in case. The stores were a short drive away.
He went the back way to his regular grocery store. The streets were absolutely empty and devoid of anything living at all. He made it there without seeing a single soul. He stopped at a red light, the only car on the road, and waited patiently for it to turn green. After it did, he chuckled to himself that he was a fool for waiting on a red light. The next one he came across, he sailed through like it wasn’t there. That gave him immense satisfaction for some reason. At the store, he parked in front of the “No Parking” signs in the zone marked with yellow lines. The door was smashed with broken glass everywhere. Inside, the place was stripped. Nothing of value at all. He saw some items such as flour and cooking oil, but that was about it. Absolutely worthless to him.
Another store, a high-end one called “Whole Foods” that he visited only for things like fresh fish or filet mignon, lay about two miles away via back roads. He decided to try that. Along the way, he stopped at a ransacked drugstore. It looked as though a tornado had hit. Nothing was standing except one shelf with condoms. It was untouched. He laughed at that one. Oddly, the store had a supply of bottled water. He snagged it all, a dozen cases. Water was going to be a problem when the power went out. He was sure that would happen.
The “Whole Foods” store was stripped, too. He saw a man and what looked like his child in that one. He eyed them and the man eyed him back from across the store. They had surgical masks and latex gloves. They were better prepared than he was. Dan left the store empty-handed. Food was going to be a problem for him now. He had almost nothing left in the house. He’d been living off of leftovers and noodles for the last week. At least he had water. His car was full of gas too.
He could eat Charlie’s food if it came down to that as Charlie had plenty. It was high quality and smelled pretty good. The two of them could live off what they had in the house for a week, two, maybe even three. The houses around Dan’s neighborhood would likely have something as well.
Dan came home a bit depressed about the situation. He loaded his precious water in the kitchen, got another bourbon and water, and sat down in his chair. One thing he wouldn’t be running out of: booze. His wife bought it for him by the case on the internet. It arrived like magic around the 3rd of every month. He almost never finished it off in a month and had a case unopened in the closet. Drinking was his hobby. At least it wasn’t as expensive or time consuming as golf. Dan was a good drunk and never was mean or angry. After a couple belts, he became jolly. That was probably why his wife kept him in such a rich supply.
He tried calling his wife and daughter a few times more, but nothing. He checked the internet news app again, but there was nothing new. That was it for him. He was absolutely worn out. Charlie jumped into his lap, and the two of them fell asleep in his chair.
Dan awoke about mid-morning the next day to find the power was still on but his cell phone was no longer working. He took a shower, then filled the tubs in all the bathrooms with water. He didn’t think the power could stay on much longer now that things had fallen apart. A few hours later, the power failed. The water stopped flowing shortly after. That was it. Civilization had collapsed in Memphis.
Summers in Memphis were only survivable with air conditioning, and it was miserable. Dan didn’t have a generator or a window unit for that matter. He’d have to find that stuff if he wanted to have any measure of comfort. He could tough it out, though. He’d gone through a survival course when he was in the military that showed him just how tough he was. That was thirty plus years ago, but still, he could manage.
Dan felt a lot better now. His illness, whatever it was, had completely passed, and he had enough energy to check out the neighborhood for supplies. Charlie would be a good companion as he could hear a lot better than Dan. Dan suffered from tinnitus and hearing loss from many years around screaming APU’s and jet engines on the flight line. Charlie, although old as well, still could hear really well and would always bark when someone came up to the house.
He took his .45 along for comfort, if nothing else, and decided this first trip was going to be a recon only. Charlie was at the door, bouncing around and looked a bit nervous.
“What’s wrong, boy? Is something out there?” Charlie didn’t answer. Dan opened the door and Charlie took off like a rocket down the road toward the hospital, barking his head off. Dan was in hot pursuit.
“Charlie, Charlie, come back! Stop!” Charlie didn’t listen. Charlie was going absolutely insane now. He was growling and barking, but he stopped right around the corner, out of sight. Dan rounded the corner and could see what Charlie was barking about.
A big dog, a Pit Bull, was holding his ground with Charlie doing his best impression of a fool, barking and snarling at a dog ten times his size. The Pit Bull lunged and Charlie gave out one last gasp before going limp. Charlie was dead. The Pit looked at Dan, dropped Charlie, and started towards him.
“Whoa, down there, big boy,” he said to the monster. He kept coming. Dan pulled his gun and said, “If you don’t stop, I’m going to shoot.” He pointed his gun at the dog, and the dog stopped. Dan took a deep breath. This creature had killed his beloved dog. He should have shot him on the spot, but he didn’t. Dan started to back away toward his house. The dog didn’t follow him but kept staring directly at him. Dan didn’t dare turn around for fear the monster would rush him. Don’t show fear. That kept running through Dan’s mind.
Dan made it nearly to his walkway when he saw a second dog, even bigger, standing in his yard. The first dog, the one who killed Charlie, started coming toward him again. The two of them had him trapped. Dan turned, aimed his .45 at the bigger dog and pulled the trigger. Click. Nothing happened. He pulled the trigger again, click. He yelled, “What the hell?” as he stared at the gun, wondering what had happened. The first dog hit him from behind, knocking him down. The second dog joined in, and they ripped into Dan as he let out a terrified scream. The sound stopped when the biggest one crushed Dan’s neck with his powerful jaws.
They ate their fill and then carried Charlie’s dead body off with them. They would sleep well that night.