The most feared pandemic takes out half of the population in a few weeks before people realize that they need one another to survive.
Chapter 1 Awakening
I awake on my couch with a start. Sweat pours from my face and I have a dry taste in my mouth. I reach for the bottle on the floor next to me, untwist the cap, then take a long drink of the warm liquid. I guess by the temperature of the water that she’s been gone for hours.
I glance at my watch. It’s 5:47. On a notepad left for me by Cynthia–or was her name Claudia–I scribble the exact time of day as if my life depends on it, and I guess it does.
I stand, wobbly at first because, hell, I haven’t been on my feet for more than a week. I haven’t been coherent for five goddamn days. Will this nightmare ever end?
I walk to the kitchen, look at my answering machine while I round the breakfast nook. Thirty-seven messages. People are desperate, just as I will be in a few hours if one of those thirty-seven isn’t a match.
I open the fridge and see that Cynthia/Claudia left me some fried chicken and a cold beer. Both are almost impossible to get during these days of shortages.
I grab a chicken leg, the bottle of beer, and sit at the kitchen table in my dinky kitchen. I push the button of my answering machine. “Beep. . . This is Frank. My awake time is 12:37pm July seventeenth, 2016. My number is. . .” I disregard the call altogether and delete the message. His time is not right.
“Beep. . . This is Caroline.” She has a deep-throated, sexy voice, but I’m not interested in sexy voices these days. “My time is 2:24am July twelfth. Call me if you’re a match.”
The chicken has a slight smoked flavor and I devour three pieces before I’ve deleted all the messages without finding a single match remotely close to mine. Damn, I hate the first hours of being awake. I feel so frantic. The timing is never right because so few people are left.
I re-enter the never-ending nightmare of phone calls and more phone calls, hoping someone out there will match my time who lives close enough that they can attend to me during my incapacitation.
I pick up the telephone. Thank god the phones still work. I open the phone book randomly to the “S” pages and key in my first set of numbers. “Beep. . .Hi, this is Tammy Steel and my time is seventeen thirty hours, July fourteenth. Leave a message if you’re a match and I’ll call you back. Please tell me your phone number slow and clear.” She lets out a short, teenage giggle, not one of playfulness, but a nervous, frantic titter.
I hate people who do military time. Let’s see. Seventeen hundred, twelve hundred is noon, so seventeen would be 5:30 in the afternoon. Can I be that lucky? I mean right off the bat I find someone.
The second beep has come and gone before I realize I’m supposed to leave a message. I call back. “Hello,” I say in a jerky manner, “My name is Jason Oakley and my time is 5:47.” I look out of my west window and see vestiges of the sun through the trees. “It’s morning,” I shout. “I live on Bloomfield Road here in Nevada City.”
I’m so excited, I almost forget to tell her I just woke up. I look at my watch and its little calendar reads, July 17. I hang up and hope against hope that she is the one. Because I can’t be sure, I have to keep calling until I find a positive match.
I lose count at twenty-two calls, when the phone rings. I snatch the receiver.”Hello?”
A timid voice breaks three seconds of silence. “Mr. Oakley?”
“Yes, this is Jason Oakley. Whats your time?”
After another moment of silence, she speaks in her high-pitched female voice. “This is Tammy Steel.”
“Tammy, do we have a match?”
“Yes, I can care for you.”
I let out a deep lungful of stale air and take in a fresh breath of relief. “I’ve been awake for an hour, and things were already looking pretty shaky.”
“It’s okay, Mr. Oakley, I can take care of you, and because you live on Bloomfield Road I can almost walk. I’m on Nubian Way.”
“No need Tammy, I still have gas coupons from last month. I’ll come get you when my time comes.”
“That would be nice, Mr. Oakley. Thank you.”
I’m about to say goodbye when she speaks with a soft, unsure voice. “Umm, you don’t by chance know anyone who might match me?”
“What?” I yell. “You don’t have a match yet? You’re about ready to go into your cycle and you don’t have a match?” My entire moment of relief returns to panic. If she doesn’t have a caregiver, she could die while I go into my second phase of this nightmare, then I could expire myself of over-exposure, especially in this heat. “Jesus Christ, Tammy, why don’t you have a caregiver at this late date?”
She says with her annoyingly nervous titter, “He died during the last cycle. I guess his caregiver wasn’t real accurate with her timing. Geez, Mr. Oakley, I hate all of this.”
I calm. “I hate it too Tammy, but until the scientists figure out a cure for this thing, making these calls is our only choice.”