the flight to blue river
THERE HAD only been two weeks to go until the end of the semester, just a month to go until her twenty-first birthday. That’s when the world ended. At least the world Anna had always known came to a sudden halt. Not only her junior year at the University of Oregon but basically the United States Of America, as she’d always known it, came to a sudden unexpected end.
Anna was testing a newly modified storage battery at the lab, where she’d spent a great deal of time over the past three years. Majoring in electrical engineering, she spent more time doing hands-on work in the lab than she spent studying theory in a classroom. It was getting late, but she was just about finished with this round of testing when she felt the com vibrate in her lab coat. Will was onscreen as soon as she pulled the com out of her pocket.
“You better come home,” he said, without so much as a hello. The look on his face accentuated the concern in his voice.
“What’s wrong?” It was all too obvious to Anna that something terrible must have happened.
“People are dying,” was not the response that Anna expected.
Will worked at the McKenzie-Willamette hospital while doing his pre-med studies at the University of Oregon. He’d worked there since he and Anna arrived in Eugene three years ago. People always died at McKenzie-Willamette. So, why was Will so agitated?
“What do you mean, people are dying?” she asked.
“At the hospital,” Will managed to get out, before coughing.
“I’m just about finished,” she told him. “I should be home in an hour or so.”
“You don’t understand,” Will told her before being wracked by a severe fit of coughing.
He doesn’t look well, Anna thought, noticing that Will seemed too pallid, and there were beads of sweat on his forehead.
“Are you alright?” she asked, even though the answer was obvious.
“Not so good,” Will managed to get out between spasms of coughing. “Hurry,” he said, and her screen went blank.
Tendrils of fear were working their way through her thoughts as she hurriedly started shutting down the battery test. What was that all about? Will is obviously sick, but he seemed just fine when we got up this morning. What did he mean, people are dying at the hospital?
When Anna got home to the duplex they had lived in for the past three years, she found Will sitting in front of the comscreen in his favorite chair. He was wrapped up like a mummy in a blanket that he must have dug out of the back of the closet. There was a newscaster on the comscreen talking about some hurricane and an earthquake somewhere, but Anna didn’t pay much attention to the com. Her attention was focused on Will. How could he stand to be wrapped up like that? It felt like it must be eighty degrees in their apartment.
She hurried across the room and didn’t even need to touch his forehead to feel the heat coming off of him. My god, he’s burning up, she thought. He seemed to be asleep.
“Will, wake up!” she shook his shoulders. I need to get him to the hospital, was her first thought. Then, he just came from the hospital. A moan and a cough were the only responses from Will.
That fever will kill him, she thought. She rushed into the bathroom and started filling the tub with cold water, as cold as it would get anyway. With high temperatures averaging around a hundred degrees lately, water from the tap was not that cold. She added a binful of ice from the ice-maker to the water. Then she ran back to Will and pulled the blanket off of him. She gently slapped his face trying to get him to wake up. Another moan was all she got for her efforts.
Will weighed about a hundred and seventy pounds to Anna’s hundred and twenty, but Anna was a strong girl. You don’t grow up on a ranch working cattle with a family of men without developing quite a bit of strength. Reaching under his arms and wrapping hers around him, she was able to drag him to the tub and literally drop him into the water. Even that didn’t wake Will up. She had to quickly pull him back to a semi-seated position to keep his head above water. Then she faced a real quandary. She wanted to do more, though she didn’t know what. Her com was back on the table in the other room, but who could she call? Will’s words, “people are dying,” came back to her, and she was gripped by fear. Was Will dying? Was everyone at the hospital already dead? What the hell was it?
Anna coughed, and a new fear hit. Do I have it, too? She didn’t feel sick, but then Will had been perfectly fine less than twelve hours ago. And now he’s dying. That thought shook her into action. She couldn’t leave Will’s side, she had to hold onto him so he wouldn’t just slide under the water and drown.
“Raven,” she yelled at her com. Anna had always called her com Raven, after the ability of the large black birds to communicate over long distances. “Raven, call the hospital.” Not hearing any response from her com, she yelled, “Raven, maximum volume!”
“Which hospital?” her com asked from the other room.
“McKenzie-Willamette,” she yelled back.
After what seemed like an eternity, her com informed her that no one was answering. “Call PeaceHealth,” she yelled back.
After not getting through to either one of the hospitals and no answer from 9-1-1, Anna was at a loss. More than that, she felt lost. She looked at Will through tears she hadn’t realized were in her eyes and could tell that his breathing was getting shallow and ragged. This can’t be happening. The thought was a vain protest. Anna knew without a doubt that it was happening. Will Donovan, her fiancé, the man she’d followed to Oregon and lived with for three years, was dying, and there was absolutely nothing she could do.
Anna wasn’t sure if it was the sunlight streaming through the window or the noise of the newscast coming from the comscreen that woke her up. As soon as she was awake, the events of the night before came rushing back into her consciousness. Her deep brown eyes were red and swollen from crying. She couldn’t have been asleep for long, but the sun was high enough in the sky that it had to be mid-morning. Her neck was stiff from sleeping with her head on the arm of the sofa. The big comscreen on the living room wall was still on with an unfamiliar female newscaster who started sobbing on air.
A newscaster sobbing while live on the air was unexpected enough, but she really got Anna’s attention as she uttered the words, “I can’t.” Anna’s attention was riveted to the screen as a couple of military looking people basically picked up the well-dressed woman who had been broadcasting the news, and escorted her off-camera. A third man dressed in a much fancier military uniform took the woman’s place in front of the camera. Anna didn’t know much about military insignia, but she knew by the four stars that this man was some kind of general or something. She listened, almost spellbound, as the man spoke.
My fellow Americans, I am sorry you had to witness the fake news that was just forced upon you. This was a blatant attempt by certain factions in the military to sow doubt and discord among us.
Anna had slept through the news of the hurricane and the tsunami hitting the northeastern United States, so she had no idea what the general was talking about. But at least it momentarily took her mind off of Will, lying dead in the bathtub. The general continued:
Rest assured that the government of the United States is safe and secure. In order to maintain that security, the country has been placed under martial law, effective immediately. All banks and financial institutions, as well as all food production and distribution facilities, have now been placed under direct government control. A nationwide dusk to dawn curfew will take effect immediately. Please remain in your homes after dark.
The general onscreen now had Anna’s total and undivided attention.
To provide security and to protect the legitimate government of the United States from the forces that assail us, all broadcast systems and all personal communications will be shut down immediately. Please leave all coms in standby mode in order to receive further updates as they are made available. Thank you for your cooperation. God bless America.
The screen went dark and silent practically before the general finished speaking. Anna sat and stared at the screen. What was that all about? She realized she was probably in shock, but that couldn’t be driving her total lack of comprehension. What the hell was going on? Then she coughed and realized she didn’t feel one hundred percent well. Fear gripped her again. Did she have what Will died of? She didn’t really want to go back into the bathroom, but she had to pee.
She tried not to look at Will, but she couldn’t help herself. It was strange, but he mostly just looked peaceful. Like he’d just decided to take a nap, fully clothed, reclining in a bathtub full of tepid water.
I need to call his mom, she thought, and then remembered what the general had said about all personal communications being shut down. Returning to the living room, she grabbed her com just as another small coughing fit took hold. Now she wanted to call 9-1-1 for herself, but the words “NO SERVICE” were prominently displayed on the screen. She felt a chill. Grabbing the blanket that she’d pulled off of Will last night, she snuggled into the same recliner where she’d found him and wrapped the blanket around herself. Guess I’m exposed, I’m probably going to die, she thought. In all the years of her young life, Anna had never been as scared as she was right at that moment.