This story is by Stephanie Maree and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The late February wind felt unseasonably warm as it whipped through the elm trees. She was on her way to work, just like any other Wednesday. Due to poor decisions the night before, she hadn’t had time to preen her appearance. The blazer, that was two sizes too large for her slender frame, was slightly wrinkled. A small bleach stain on her pants the size of a dime peeked out from under the blazers hem. The Wednesday shift always started earlier than any other, on account of the weekly rundown of upcoming events. Sucking down the last drag of her cigarette, she composed herself, and buzzed herself into the building. The flight of stairs up to the conference room felt like three, as her knees and ankles snapped and cracked in protest. As per usual, she was the last to join the congregation. Three minutes late was all it was, better than her average. Despite Olivia’s tardiness, not a soul uttered a cry of disapproval. She pulled out her laptop in preparation for what she was under the impression was supposed to be a busy meeting. She would have never anticipated what happened next.
“The sheets have been sent out for the week, everyone pull them up, please. Events team will start.” The timbre of Larry’s voice always carried so seamlessly through the open space. His eyebrows slightly dancing with the cadence of his words.
A strained sigh echoed around the room and the stress that emitted was palpable. The sigh had come from the events director, Alice. She was perceptibly the smallest person in the room, not only in overall size, but most markedly in stature.
“It’s um…it’s a little complicated.” Alice squeaked.
“Complicated? It’s happening isn’t it?” Larry’s eyebrows swam along with his words.
“That seems to be the case, the Johnson wedding cancelled, the Morgan event cancelled and the rest of the events on the books for the rest of the week seem to have followed suit. It’s looking like a dead week on our end. A loss of about $32,000 give or take.”
No one glanced in Alice’s direction. It was almost as if everyone was in a trance, staring blankly at their computer screens. They had been warned this may happen. The warnings were coming to fruition.
“Ok, we’ll move over to concert.” Larry seemed to be getting more exasperated by the moment.
“Much of the same over here,” Jennifer exhaled through slightly pursed lips. “It seems like what everyone’s been talking about is happening. I think the world is actually shutting down.”
The management staff had been circulated a brief warning in the meeting the previous week. An airborne pathogen the likes of which the world had never seen had emerged from a remote Eastern European village and was spreading at a concerningly rapid pace.The pathogen had such an odd affect on humans that all of Europe was already in complete lockdown. It would seem in the days that followed the foreboding meeting that the same fate was likely to happen in the United States as well.
The train ride back to Olivias 4th floor walk up felt like years. Now armed with an unfamiliar fear, she collapsed on her couch and clicked on the television. She surfed through the news channels until she found her favorite, non-politically bias program. The lump in her throat, that had recently been ever present, grew as she watched images flash across the screen. First they covered the happenings in Europe, the outbreak was still severe, but seemed to be halting. What she had seen in Europe was mainly people staying indoors. It wasn’t really touching upon what actually seemed to be happening. The coverage of the Unites States was what troubled her. Photos and videos of perfectly normal people turning into something so outside of the realm of possibility it didn’t seem real. Skin was turning to a pallor verging on grey and the infected were said to have developed a need to ingest blood. Human blood to be specific.
The phone trill seemed to last forever when, finally, a familiar voice spoke through the other side.
“How are you? What’s happening over there?” Olivia spoke rapidly.
“We’ve been told to stay indoors. I have no idea whats going on. I’m scared.” Olivia’s sister Trina replied. She was studying abroad in Romania which was supposedly at the heart of this bizarre happening.
“Have you seen anyone that has been affected? They’re saying where you’re living is ground zero. Have you contacted the US embassy to see if you can be extracted?”
“They haven’t been answering my calls. I’m assuming everyone is trying to get out. I’ve seen some scary things from my balcony though. Thankfully, I’m on the 9th floor, but I’ve seen a few of them attempt to make the climb. It’s just terrifying to know I have no control, and no-one seems to be doing about anything except tell us to stay inside until they know more.”
“Ok. I’ll talk to Josh and see if he can do anything.”
“Thank you, I love you.”
Olivia sat in silence for a moment. This was the most uneasy Olivia had ever felt in her life. From the reports that kept scrolling across the screen, it seemed as if this was only the beginning.
Her next step in trying to find a semblance of control and understanding of the situation was to get a hold of Josh. She didn’t know his exact role in the government, all she knew was he had a decent amount of power, clearance, and information that she wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. The only problem was that Josh was her ex-husband, and they didn’t exactly end on the greatest terms. She didn’t expect him to answer her phone call, so she decided on a delicately worded email. Hitting on all the important points was paramount. Josh never had a problem with Trina. Olivia always expected he may actually prefer Trina’s company to hers. Worst case scenario, she wouldn’t receive a response or she would receive a curt dismissal.
After sending the email, which took her longer than she had originally hoped it would, she sat in silence with her laptop in front of her. She had muted the TV so she could sit in silence with her breath while she watched the stories roll in. *Bing* Her computer chimed at her. Could it be already? Has he responded so promptly? She hesitantly clicked open the newest message in her inbox. It was from Joshua Clifton.
I hope this message finds you well. There are only a few things I can tell you from this method of correspondence. You will be receiving a phone call at approximately 7:53 from a private number. This correspondence is entirely confidential and you must not tell anyone, including Trina, about what is discussed within this call. You will only have three rings, maximum to answer. After that point, the correspondence will be terminated.
She stared at the screen emotionless. Glancing at her watch, she realized she had a little over thirty minutes. Great, she thought, now I’ll be in limbo until I understand whats going on. Sitting and focusing on her cellphone screen started to make her eyes go blurry. Still ten minutes left. Harnessing every ounce of energy in her body, she pulled herself off of the couch to make a quick cup of instant coffee in the microwave. She plopped her mentally and physically exhausted body back on the couch and her phone finally rang.
“Hey, Liv, I’m going to have to make this quick so I ask that you don’t speak. What we know about this pathogen is that it only affects people with certain genes, and once it has taken one family member, no matter how removed, the others are apt to follow. You and your sister were tested by my department to see if you could be an organ donation candidate for one of my friends. I’m sorry to tell you now, but that was a lie. Trina was much more susceptible to the pathogen, so we secured her departure to Europe through the study abroad program. Only those who have genes specific to your family, which has been found inferior by the government, will be subjected to live in the darkness, crave human blood, and thus be exterminated. I’m sorry Olivia, but this decision was made long before I met you. I wish you the best in your following days. I recommend running when possible.” Josh cut out.
Following the message were eleven automated words.
“You have been warned. It is advised you end it now.”