Authors: Terry McDonald


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Copyright © 2013 by Terry McDonald


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, events or locales is entirely coincidental.




July in Georgia is scorching hot. I try to sleep under the shade of my tarp during the day, but here in the Great Smoky Mountains, I’m dripping hot.

My new camp is on a little finger of land protruding out onto Lake Santeetlah. With a dense canopy of hard woods and pines providing even more shade, my sleep is fitful. The wound in my side has healed. The doctor did a good job of sewing my gut and closing the hole, but the muscles he had to cut through still hurt, like a bad bruise, and I can’t find a comfortable position.

Deciding sleep isn’t happening, I reach for the metal case holding my Enfield .303, and open the clasps. I’ll be using it tomorrow, and even though it’s clean and ready, it won’t hurt to give it another go over.

There is a narrow sand and gravel beach and a wide body of water not twenty feet from my campsite. A warm, humid breeze occasionally puffs my way doing nothing to mitigate my discomfort. Still, I’ll take the heat over the horror of the past.

Back in ‘12, a stinking bad brand of the Mers-CoV virus came to light over in the Middle East. It made people sick, like they had a bad cold, but then they got sicker. Only a few cases cropped up, but half ended with the patient dying. The virus raised the hackles of the scientists at the CDC down in Atlanta, but that particular strain was a flash in the pan, gone and forgotten.

Fast-forward six years to 2018 and the monster rears its ugly head again, only this time it’s a more virulent and contagious strain, a flash that keeps on giving.

That was this past winter. A few cases wandered into clinics over in Syria. Syria was still in disarray caused by the rebellion that started in ‘13. The rebels rousted Assad, but because coup after coup left them with an unstable infrastructure, new cases of the virus went under-reported.

The UN medical personnel dealing with the Syrian populace believed it to be a repeat of the previous outbreak.

They were right and they were wrong. It was Mers-CoV, but it was a mutated version. The twelve-day incubation period was the driving force that allowed it to spread so fast. By the time Syria realized it was in deep doo, multiple plague victims were cropping up in Turkey, Iraq and Egypt and a few in France.

People began dropping dead all over Syria. The crap spread easily. You could get if from just being around someone who had it. If an old person or a child got it, they were as good as dead. If a person was healthy and virile, they had a twenty percent chance of surviving. Not good odds.

By the time the CDC realized they had a serious problem, the damned long incubation period did us in. Cue in the fact it showed its ugly face in December, smack-dab in the middle of the heaviest travel season, Christmas and New Year’s. There, my friend, is the making of a pandemic.

The plague killed my wife, Becky, and my boy and girl. The thing is we had warning. Becky’s brother-in-law, Neal, was connected somehow with the CDC.

He parked his big travel trailer in front of our house around six o’clock one afternoon. He didn’t bother to leave the trailer, just honked his horn until we came out to see what the ruckus was. His wife Maggie, Becky’s sister, was in the passenger’s seat holding their two-year-old baby girl in her lap. She wore a surgical mask that muffled her speech, but she managed to speak clearly enough to scare the crap out of us.

“Becky, the shit’s hit the fan. There’s no way the government can get a handle on this virus, it’s spreading too fast. You all need to grab what you can and get out of town, away from population centers.”

“We have our flu shots, won’t that—?”

“There’s no vaccine for this. Look, the hospitals are overwhelmed. Even over at the CDC lines are forming outside of the buildings.”

Neal, also masked, leaned from the driver’s seat to shout, “Get your family out of the city, Ralph! Stay away from people!”

I asked him, “Where are you headed to? Do you have a place?”

“It doesn’t belong to me, I joined a group. They wouldn’t let you in at this late date. Believe me. Ralph, pack up, and run. In another few hours the traffic will be so bad you won’t be able to. ”

Before they drove off, Maggie tossed us a packet of masks. “Wear them everywhere,” she shouted as Neal put the trailer in gear and pulled from the curb.

We did get away, but once we left our suburb, the traffic on the main streets and highways was bumper to bumper. We went to Walmart first. The parking lot was full. From the street, we could see a number of police cars parked near the entrance. They were there to control the throng of shoppers awaiting their turn to enter the store.

“No way,” was all I said and drove on past.

“Let’s go to ‘All About Health’,” Becky suggested. The prices are so high I doubt it’s jammed up.”

She was referring to a store in a strip-mall near our home that specialized in organically grown foods, and she was right about the prices charged there.

I pulled into the parking lot and we donned our masks. Becky told the kids to stay in the truck and to keep the doors locked. I used the controls to open the front windows an inch and then locked the control.

The store wasn’t jammed like Walmart, but there were more customers inside than I had ever seen at one time. I counted twelve people. Four sets were couples. Like Becky said, the prices are high.

We both grabbed a cart and raced through the aisles, tossing dry goods, canned meats and stews, flour, cornmeal, cooking oil and anything else that looked like it would last without refrigeration, into the carts. The cost was over eight hundred dollars, more than half of the money we had in the bank.

Back at our house, located oddly enough, barely a mile from the CDC complex over on Clifton Road, it took us two hours to pack only the essentials. We would leave Beck’s Toyota in the garage. I removed the main fuse from the fuse box under the hood to prevent anyone from stealing it in case this emergency fizzled and we returned soon.

We hustled Jen, our eleven-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, Will into the SUV. The only place we could go was to my brother’s farm, two hundred miles south of Atlanta.

It took almost three hours to get out of the metropolitan area. After that, the traffic, while still heavier than normal, flowed at near the speed limit. Becky expressed the obvious, that most of the traffic was from people abandoning the city. Like our SUV, the overloaded condition of most of the vehicles attested to the truth of this.

Sam’s place was located in the outskirts of the tiny town of Sparks, Georgia, not too far from where we exited the interstate. I didn’t call him first to let him know we were coming because I wasn’t sure he’d say it was okay. There wasn’t any bad feeling between us, but we’d drifted apart over the years. We simply showed up on his front porch in the middle of the night with everything we could pack into my Durango.

Boy was he pissed. He was certain we’d brought the plague with us. At gunpoint, shotgun actually, he marched us to his workshop and locked us in. Told us he’d feed us and if we were still healthy, he’d let us out in a couple weeks.

We had heat from an overhead gas furnace hung from the ceiling, and there was a plastic utility sink for water, but that was it. No bedding, no way to cook.

That first night was miserable, and lord was Becky mad. She must have screamed for our freedom for an hour after he closed the door. I tried convincing her Sam was using common sense, but once Becky gets a head of steam, there’s no stopping her.

She finally wound down. We used the children’s coats and ours to make sleeping pads for them. We slept, if you can call constantly rolling on concrete looking for a soft spot “sleep”, until there was a knock on the door.

I stumbled to my feet and went to it.

“Who’s out there?”

“Who the hell you think?” Sam answered.

“Some bastard who locked his only brother up inside a fucking concrete building.”

“How about an idiot that shows up in the middle of the night without calling? How about a brother comes from a plague infested city maybe bringing it with him?”

“Come on, Sam, open this door.”

“I will, but you need to listen to me. I’m not taking any chances. You may be carrying the disease. The news said it takes twelve days to know if you’ve got it. I love you Ralph, but I have to think of mine, too.

“Here’s the deal. I looked through the windows of your Dodge. You’ve got food, and everything else you need. I put pots and pans, and a camp stove with a full, twenty-pound bottle of propane hooked to it beside your Dodge. Lucy set some padding and blankets there, too. After I open the door, you give me two minutes to move away and then you all get what you need from the Dodge. Drive it over here first, because I don’t like it sitting in front of the house. I had nightmares last night picturing germs crawling out of it. I’ll keep my boys away while you do. I’m asking you to stay in the shop until I know you ain’t carrying. It’s just for twelve days.”

I couldn’t argue with his reasoning. Becky came to my side and spoke through the door.

“Sam, I’m sorry for carrying on last night. We’ll do what you ask. You’re right, there is a possibility we had contact with someone who has the plague. We’d been staying away from people, but yesterday while we were shopping, Lord knows some of the people around us were coughing and sneezing. We were wearing masks, but there’s no guarantee we weren’t exposed.”

“Don’t sweat it. Last night you were tired and scared and I know my shotgun didn’t make you feel none too comfortable. I’m unlocking the door. Give me a couple minutes before you come out.”




Sam, thirty-eight, was five years older than me. He called his place a farm, but what he had was five acres of lawn with a few scattered fruit trees. Sam owned a wrecker; his main source of income came from being on call to haul wrecks off the highway. He never had much in the way of ambition.

I went to technical school and worked my way up in the IT field. He majored in shooting pool and hanging out in seedy bars. He got busted for growing pot in the basement of the house he was renting and went to jail for five years.

Jail time scared him enough to convince him never to go back. He buckled down and decided to live life on the straight and narrow. Meeting and marrying Lucy was his true saving. Lucy provided the ambition he lacked. She was also a good money manager. It was her ability to stretch a dollar that enabled them to purchase the five acres with a small three-bedroom house and later to buy the wrecker. Along the way, she gave him two boys, Jared and Bruce, now ages ten and twelve.

We waited until we were sure Sam had enough time to move from the area before opening the door. There was a chill in the air and we grabbed our coats from the floor before going outside. Becky and the kids stood blinking in the bright morning sunshine while I went to get the Durango. I loaded the blankets and other supplies. Driving back, I saw Sam behind the shop. He was hammering steel fence posts into the ground. When I pulled up to the building he stopped and came over, but stayed a good distance away. I left it to Becky and the kids to begin unloading and went within shouting distance from him.

“I’m putting a rope around my shop so my boys know to stay away from you all. I’d appreciate it if you’d make sure your kids don’t go near the rope.”

I sincerely did understand where he was coming from. Still, it was an effort to reply with a smile on my face. “For sure. Look, Sam, I don’t see a problem staying in the shop except going to the bathroom.”

“The old outhouse is behind the shop. It’ll be inside the rope. Lucy said you all would have your hands full getting organized. She said to tell you not to worry about cooking this morning. I’ll bring breakfast over to the rope as soon as I finish stringing it.”

Sam’s shop measured twenty feet by twenty. We spent the morning moving workbenches and shelving to make a kitchen area, and positioning the foam pads Lucy provided in an area for sleeping. We’d packed plenty of blankets, so for privacy we hung the extras from the ceiling rafters to separate mine and Becky’s space from the kids.

By the time Sam finished putting up his rope fence, we were starving, more than ready for his call that breakfast was waiting.

Becky and I went to fetch it. The fence made a closed square leaving twenty feet between it and the building. Sam stood away about the same distance from the rope.

All the food, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, biscuits and gravy, were in plastic containers.

Becky called out, “Thank you, Sam, it smells delicious. What should we do with the containers?”

“Keep ‘em. Is there anything you’ll need to be more comfortable in there?”

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