“Or maybe it’s just the humidity,” I said, smiling.
Just when we entered Mrs. Siders’s room, she held up her hand, signaling us to be quiet while she worked on hooking up the Smart Board cables to her laptop.
As more students came in, the murmur and chatter grew louder.
Mrs. Siders swept back a curly piece of long hair that had escaped her loose low bun. “Please! Quiet!” she said as we found our seats.
After a live feed of the national news began to play, Mrs. Siders took a few steps back and hugged her middle with both arms. I watched her, knowing that the teachers would never intentionally let on that they were afraid, so she probably didn’t realize she was even doing it. That made me worry even more.
Mrs. Siders shook her head as the bell rang.
I trained my eyes on the anchorman detailing the chaos displayed in the small square beside his head. Yellow words trailed across the bottom of the screen, listing countries.
“What’s going on with those countries?” Tryston said. He had just walked in, late as usual.
“They’re the countries that the UN has lost contact with,” Mrs. Siders said.
I frowned. “What do you mean? How is it possible to lose contact with an entire country?” I asked.
Mrs. Siders didn’t turn around. “The Prime Minister of France just declared a state of emergency. In the last half an hour, the UK has reported cases of the virus, and they said it’s spreading uncontrollably.”
“Should we be watching this?” Tryston swallowed, his barely burgeoning Adam’s apple bobbing.
“Would you like for me to turn it off?” Mrs. Siders asked.
“It’s kind of scary,” Morgan squeaked from the back of the room.
“Not as scary as not knowing what’s happening,” I said. “We should leave it on.”
We watched the same channel for the duration of class. No one talked. Once in a while someone would gasp or sigh to remind me where I was.
Germany had been the first to go. The countries to the north, like Norway and Sweden, hadn’t been heard from since half past eight. France had gone quickly, and then Spain, Italy, England, Ireland, and Greece had all reported cases.
An amateur video with a cell phone flashed for just a few seconds. The anchorman blanched, and I felt sick to my stomach. People were running from something with absolute terror on their faces, but we couldn’t see what they were running from.
“It won’t cross the ocean, right?” Tryston asked.
“Right,” Mrs. Siders said.
As she glanced back at our class, I could see the worry in her eyes. When she turned back around, I texted my dad.
Are you watching the news?
Yes. How are you?
It’ll be fine. Gov. Bellmon just rolled into town. He wouldn’t have come if he were worried about it.
Love you. See you soon.
Chloe fidgeted. “I heard on the radio this morning something about a scientist and dead people in Germany. The news lady said they were trying to neutralize the cadavers, but my mom said that didn’t make any sense. I think it makes perfect sense. The Bible says the dead in Christ shall rise, you know. It also says that whosoever eats of Christ’s flesh and drinks of his blood shall live eternally.”
“That’s gross, Chloe.”
She sighed. “And yet so poetic.”
I pushed my phone back into my pocket and looked over to my friend. “My dad says the governor is in Anderson for some kind of photo op with the firefighters. I doubt he’d be going through with a fundraiser if the government was worried about an epidemic.”
Concern weighed down Chloe’s usually bright and cheerful expression. “You don’t think it’s possible…the dead coming back and attacking the living?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
“Sounds like freakin’ zombies,” Tryston said.
First, a collective gasp sucked the air out of the room, and then everyone erupted into panicked chatter.
“Can we call our parents?” one of the girls asked.
“I’m calling my mom!” another girl said.
“Okay, guys,” Mrs. Siders said, holding up her hands, palms out. “No cases have been reported in the US yet. Let’s all just calm down. Take a deep breath. The school will keep a close eye on this, and if we hear of a reason to worry, they’ll dismiss everyone. Until that happens, there’s no point in getting upset.”
The bell buzzed, and we gathered our things. With Chloe just behind me, I rushed down the stairs and put my things in my locker. Chloe did the same, one section down, and we reconvened to head to second hour.
“Come get me!” a girl shrieked into her phone. “I don’t care! Come get me right now, Daddy!”
The principal and vice principal were manning the halls with grave expressions on their faces.
“I have a bad feeling,” Chloe said. “When you hear about war or whatever on the news, it doesn’t feel real. It’s over there, ya know? It doesn’t feel in your face. This feels close.”
“Too close,” I said.
THE HALLS WERE EERILY QUIET. If the kids spoke at all, it was in whispers, as if speaking of their fears too loudly would make them real.
Chloe and I walked downstairs where there were radioactive signs that I hadn’t paid much attention to before that moment. Bishop Middle School was a designated fallout shelter since before my grandparents were born and could supposedly withstand tornadoes and anything else that might come our way—except for a fast-spreading virus. Plus, being underground made me feel trapped, not safe.
Mom and I were apocalypse junkies, and we would watch end-of-the-world prep shows. It was kind of our thing. We’d even been to a couple of conventions. I wondered if Mom had the same red flags going up as I did. Something deep and inherent was screaming for me to run even though I didn’t know where to run or from what I should be running.
I pulled out my phone to text her.
Chloe set her books down on her desk two rows behind me. Mr. Holland hadn’t allowed us to choose our own seats in the beginning of the semester like Mrs. Siders had. He didn’t have a Smart Board in his room either.
“Okay, put your phones away,” Mr. Holland said. “I know a lot is going on in the world right now, but it’s not going on here. Until Principal Hall announces dismissal, we’ll go on as usual. Capisce?”