Stockboro Island: January 15
“What are they calling this thing now?” Kiley Fullerton asked from the kitchen, wiping down the dishes with the old wash rag.
“Cave Flu.” Her husband, Nick, called from the living room where he was watching the news. He was always watching the news these days. “CF, for short.”
“Stupid name.” Kiley put the dish in the rack and wiped her hands. “Why do they always have to come up with stupid names for these things?”
“Say they found it in a cave somewhere,” Nick replied. “Some guy wandered into one or something and got bit by a bat. Or maybe he ate a bat? I dunno, something with a bat.”
“Always the damn bats, too.” Kiley rubbed her hands nervously and stepped into the living room. Her chair was right next to Nick’s, looking cozy and warm.
Kiley sat down with a grunt. Ever since she turned sixty, the grunting when she stood up or sat down had become so consistent. She stared at the images on the screen with wide eyes.
A city on the other side of the world, filled with sick people lining the hallways of hospitals. Medical staff running up and down the halls with no purpose in mind. Stretchers stuffed with patients, some of them looking very dead. The medical staff all wearing what looked like modified space suits, their helmets fogging with each breath. All of them shouting in some language Kiley did not understand.
“Looks bad,” Kiley said.
Nick grunted. “Far away, though, hun. Far away. I’m sure the government will shut down all the travel into this country. Besides, we’re on Stockboro. Even if they get to the mainland, there’s no way they can get to us. Let’s see what else is on.
“Anything new on Netflix?” Kiley asked. “I’d like to watch something romantic.”
Nick laughed. “You always do. Let’s see.”
Stockboro Island nestled in the ocean off the coast of Maine. Surrounded on all sides by deep water, it was almost a country to itself. Within the island were just over two hundred residents. The entire island was just under ten square miles. It was enough for them to have a thriving agriculture, including some vegetables and fruits people could only find on this island. Dale Johnson had a farm with dairy cows, pigs and chickens, too, selling them in the local store, which was a bit of a tourist attraction because of the Stockboro Island branded food items it sold.
It was a half-hour ride in a ferry boat to get here. During the summer months, the island’s population exploded to over a thousand as tourists ran around filling the rooms along the one hotel on the south end. You got used to the people from the mainland stopping to take your photo like you were something odd.
Kiley worked in a souvenir shop near the docks during the busy days. Nick worked at the hotel doing maintenance, but they were very much planning to retire someday soon. Spend the rest of their life here on the island.
It was peaceful. Isolated. Sure, the winters could be harsh and a Nor’easter could really create havoc on the island, but they were a resourceful people. It was nice.
A safe haven.
The first case popped up in Florida. Nick and Kiley were in their chairs again. Just that morning, Kiley had been talking to Jessica, the owner of the shop where she worked during the summer.
“What do you think of this Cave Flu thing?” Jessica asked.
“Well, it has a proper name, you know. I can never remember what it is, though.”
“I don’t much care what its actual name is, some guy got in a cave. It’s a cave flu.”
Kiley shrugged. “I don’t think it will be much here. I mean, we’re safe from the mainland stuff, right?”
Jessica nodded. “I just hope it doesn’t become a big deal. I’d hate to lose the tourists this summer.”
“I wouldn’t worry, Jess,” Kiley admonished. “How could it jump across the ocean? It’s only January. It’ll be long gone and forgotten by the time summer gets here.”
Jessica seemed satisfied, and they moved on to more pleasant topics.
“Where did they say it came from?” Kiley asked Nick.
“Said some guy visited that place over there where all the patients were.” Nick shifted in his seat, cleared his throat. “Got on a damn plane and came down with the symptoms halfway across. Damn fool.”
“What are they going to do?” Kiley asked, her voice quaking.
“Oh, probably put him in quarantine. Bet they’ll have to do the entire damn plane. Feel sorry for the rest of them. They didn’t go to that place, just this asshole.”
“It makes me nervous,” Kiley muttered, reaching for the book beside the table. She didn’t want to see anymore of the news.
“Relax, hun. Florida is still a long way away. We can take care of ourselves here, too. Think about how far away it is from Florida to Maine. Lots of territory. They’ll lock the people on the plane down and treat them. I bet we’ve got a vaccine already.”
Nick smiled at her, and Kiley smiled back. He always had a way of making her feel better. She reached out a hand to his, and he grasped hers. She ran her thumb over the gnarled knuckles. He had spent his life working with his hands. He always knew when a big storm was coming because the joints of his fingers flared up something awful.
“We’re luckier than a lot of the other islands, you know,” he reassured. “They have to get weekly visits from the main. We’re bigger and more well-stocked then most of ‘em.”
“I know, but it’s scary to see that on television. Can we find something else?”
“Sure. Where the hell did I put the remote?
The town meeting was noisier and more well attending than it normally was. Of course, the islanders had all been watching the news. In just twenty-four hours, twenty more people had come down with CF. All but one of them from the plane. The other was a medical worker who had torn his suit while treating someone.
The news was dire. The virus struck fast, which had some experts hoping this would cause the thing to burn out rapidly. If they could contain the virus and allow it to burn out, then they could stop it. However, there were now cases in the UK and across Africa.
It started out with fatigue and a sore throat. Just a few hours later, you started burning, then shivering with fever. Vomiting was not uncommon. Then a cough started a few hours later, and the lungs filled with fluid fast. Fevers went high, and many who died did so when their brains boiled in their skulls. Others suffocated in their beds. Doctors said the patients appeared blue from lack of oxygen. Then there were the reports of people who bled from their noses and ears.
Mayor Tom Brillo decided it was time for everyone to get together and talk about it. Everyone was nervous, but a lot of the men acted bravely, talking trash about the news. Just the day before, the mayor had talked on the local island station about how there was nothing to worry about. Now, here he was looking sweaty and nervous, his prodigious belly somehow at odds with the news coming from the rest of the world.
“Thank you all for being here,” he said, looking over the podium at the crowd, eyeballing the people in attendance. “Look, can you make room for people to stand at the back, please? Please make sure the people who are elderly or infirm can have a place to sit. Donna, there’s a spot down here. Donna’s pregnant everyone, make room.”
Kiley leaned over to whisper in Nick’s ear. “Jesus, he’s really playing this for all it’s worth.”
“Never doubted him for a minute.” Nick snorted and shook his head.
“OK, I think everyone who needs to be here is here.” Tom cleared his throat and arranged his wrinkled papers on the podium. “I just wanted to bring everyone from the island together to talk about this CF thing. I wanted to reassure everyone there’s no reason to be worried about the Stockboro Island community. I am in touch with the mainland every day, multiple times a day. Since it’s winter, we don’t have to worry about vacationers yet. Even so, if anyone shows up, I am asking the ferry service to be shut down for the time being.”
There was some shuffling and moving around from everyone in their seats. Kiley cleared her throat and felt her heart flutter in her chest. Nick reached over and grabbed her hand. Squeezed.
“I know, I know, but think about it.” Tom held his hands up in the air as if he were conducting an orchestra. “It’s winter and there isn’t much tourism coming over here, anyway. So, let’s just make sure no strange winter-types try to stop by for a visit. Look, the water’s half-frozen right now. This isn’t a big deal and hopefully this will be contained by the time the busy season starts.”
“What about the supplies?”
The voice came from the back of the room. Kiley turned her head and tried to see who called out, but it was impossible to see in the crowded room. It sounded like Chris Dooley.
Tom looked incredulous. “You know we get very few supplies from the mainland. Mostly meat and a few other things. Right now, we’re keeping things open for the supplies, but we may reduce the trips soon. The suppliers say they are using all of their abilities to keep things sanitized and clean. They are taking precautions.”
“Will we need to shut down the island?”
Kiley strained again to see who this was, but still could not tell. It was a woman this time, maybe Kim Killian.
Tom turned to face this other voice, looking stricken at the thought. “Let’s not jump to any conclusions. Look, we don’t know yet how serious this disease is. There are some saying it’s really no worse than the flu. We get a flu outbreak here every year no matter how many precautions we put into place.”
“Last year Dottie died from the flu,” Nick said to Kiley’s surprise.
A murmur rippled through the crowd. No one forgot how seventy-year-old Dottie Klasten had gotten so sick just last winter. She was a tough old bird, and she didn’t want to be taken back across the water to the mainland for treatment. Then, one day, she had collapsed in the street while trying to walk to the local store. Her lungs were filled with fluid and by the time they got a helicopter out to the island then across to the hospital, she was too far gone.
“Yes, well, Dottie was older and had several health problems,” Tom mumbled. The entire town had been in mourning for days. Everyone loved Dottie. “We can’t let what happened to Dottie cloud our judgement about what’s happening now.” Tom cleared his throat. He had lost control of this entire meeting and it did not sit well with him. “Look, everyone, can we just regroup here? Let’s talk about it. We all have seen the news. We know this is potentially serious. I see the same reports you do, and I really am in contact with people on the mainland. People over there are worried. We’re all worried. I am trying to be positive. I think we all need to be positive. They’re going to stop this. They’re going to stop it from getting this far north. They’ll contain it, let it burn itself out, and then we can have a decent summer while the news cycle goes on to cover some celebrity bullshit.”
The crowd murmured again. People seemed calmer. Kiley felt a bit better. Then someone started clapping, and soon the rest of them were, too. Tom soaked it all in, looking like a pig in slop.
The news that morning was all red bars across the bottom of the screen with the words BREAKING NEWS on the far left. The main shot was of doctor doctors and scientists, all of them looking worried.
“The number of cases today stands at one thousand seven hundred and twenty-two. The number of deaths has reached nine hundred,” the sweaty man on the television said.
Kiley instinctively reached for Nick. He gasped it and squeezed like he always did.
In the weeks since the town meeting, the cases had spread up the east coast. All throughout Florida, then the Carolinas, then the Virginias. Baltimore had cases. Washington D.C. had cases. New York and Boston were scrambling to shut down traffic into the city. There was a case in Chicago. Another possible case in Kansas City. Los Angeles was prepping their hospitals and people lined up to get tested. Anyone with a sniffle panicked.
“They’re going to have to shut down,” Kiley stated. “What choice is Tom and the council going to make? We’re going to have to stop the supply runs and batten down the hatches here.”
“Relax, honey,” Nick reassured, but there was a light in his eyes Kiley did not like. He was nervous, too. “It’s not up this far yet. Maybe if they shut down New York and Boston and the other big cities, they can create a barrier and stop it.”
“Wishful thinking. When did you ever know a person from New York who wanted to do what they’re told?”
Nick laughed. “We need to watch something else. This is getting too scary. People are going crazy.”
“There’ll be a run on food soon. Tom will have to consolidate our food supplies if we have to shut down. Like we do with the nasty storms.”
Nick sighed. “Well, we’re lucky all the gardens and crops here did well. We’ve got enough stuff canned and down in the cellar to last us a year.
“I hope so.”
She had canned a lot. Their backyard garden had produced an abundance last year. The bigger farms had stored a lot, too. Kiley hoped it wasn’t necessary, but it might be. Perhaps sooner than any of them wanted.
“What about guns?” Kiley asked.
Nick looked at her curiously. “What the hell are you worried about guns for?”
Kiley looked embarrassed. “Well, we’re going to have to protect ourselves here. Think about it, Nick. How long before people on the mainland hear about us and try to come here, babe?”
“Wow.” Nick shook his head. “What are you saying?”
Kiley lifted her head. “We need to think about protecting ourselves. We have a marvellous thing going here, set apart from the rest. We need to keep that going.”
Nick studied her intently for a time. “Would you really shoot some person trying to get over to us from the mainland? What about kids? Or a family?”
“I don’t know, Nick. I’m just suggesting we need to think ahead. This is scary stuff on the TV every night. Look at the people who have the illness.”
Kiley pointed to the television. The screen showed another hospital. This one was in France. The cases had exploded there quickly, overwhelming the hospitals. The video showed patients lying on the floor all over the hallways. Most of them covered in bloodstained sheets. There were others sitting on the floor or leaning against walls with masks on, coughing. Doctors scurried around like insects, their eyes wide and distressed behind their protective gear. Blood lined the walls and right near the end, an old woman without a mask coughed up a gout of gore before the image changed back to the news reporter.
“Can you imagine something like that here?” Kiley asked. “It would wipe out the entire town in days.”
“Your mind is racing, dear,” Nick replied. “Relax. It won’t get this far. You’ll see.
Later that night Kiley went next door to talk to her neighbor Christine. Her husband completed the exchange by walking back to her house to talk to Nick. They sat in the living room as the sun went down and the porch lights came on.
“I think this place needs to start planning ahead,” Kiley said once they had finished the small talk. “People are going to try to get here, Chris.”
“I hope not,” Chris replied, sipping her tea. “But Steven and I were just talking about it before you got here. He’s got a shotgun and loads of shells. He got me a pistol last year for my birthday. I use it to target shoot. I might need to start doing some shooting again.”
“I used to be an expert shot,” Kiley said. “When I lived on the mainland, I’d to go hunting and I was always the best shot. Better than my dad or any of my brothers. I used to shoot at rabbits when it was rabbit season.”
“Next town hall meetings, we should bring this up, Kiley. Tom and the rest of them need to start thinking ahead.”
“Let’s keep hoping it doesn’t make it into Maine at all.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Kiley reckoned the same images on the news were running through Chris’ head.
“How do you put this back into the cage once it gets loose?” Chris asked.
Nick and Kiley sat at their kitchen table eating the delicious fish dinner Nick had spent the entire afternoon preparing. A single candle flickered between them and white wine reflected diamonds from the flame back at them. It was a muted Valentine’s Day dinner, but they had enjoyed it as much as they could. They had spent the day watching movies and not the news.
However, the news was not far from their minds. They both knew what the latest reports had said.
The virus had decimated New York and Boston. The entire state of Vermont was on a lockdown, but the cases still rose daily. There were a million dead in Europe, and the spike in the U.S. had caused the deaths to reach six digits. The President had gone into some bunker beneath the White House (or so the rumors said). In Chicago, a riot had broken out when the National Guard attempted to cordon off a neighborhood on the south side of the city. There had been another riot in a big box store outside Las Vegas when several people had fought over toilet paper and canned goods. The riots in both cities had spread and there were fires everywhere.
There was another town meeting tonight. Kiley was nervous because she had plans to bring up circling the wagons and arming everyone on the island. Even Nick had started to come around to her way of thinking.
“I love you,” Nick said, tears in his eyes. “I’d do anything to protect you, hun. You know that.”
She raised her wine glass to toast him. “I know. I’d do the same. I love this island. I love the people here. I’d do anything to protect all of us.”
They clinked their glasses and took hefty sips. Then they ate in silence for a while.
“This is some fucked up shit,” Nick said to his plate.
“Yes. It is.” Kiley could do nothing but agree.
The hall was once again filled, but this time everyone was very serious and the bravado from the last meeting was gone. Several times, Kiley heard people crying or blowing their nose. On the mainland, no one was supposed to be within ten feet of each other, but here, where everyone knew where every had been for months, there was no fear. No, the fear came from out there, outside the walls, across the water.
“My contact with the mainland stopped taking my calls or calling me back after I left messages,” Tom said, his tie askew, his hair a mess. The bags beneath his eyes looked large enough to fit an elephant. “I am hearing the news the same as you. As you know, we stopped taking any supplies from the mainland last week. I’m here to talk to you because I need to ask you to pull together.”
There was a slight murmur in the crowd, but this time it was mostly in agreement.
“We need to consolidate our food.” Tom cleared his throat. “I know we had an exceptional year last year, but until we can start getting new food, we have to consolidate as best we can. This will mean rationing, folks. I hate to say it, as abundant as we might be, we have to be careful. It could be awhile before we have new growth to add to the supplies.”
More murmurs. No one appeared angry.
Tom continued: “The good news is we really made sure to stock up on three times the amount of supplies we would normally get from the mainland last week. We are well stocked, if we all band together and keep calm. We can sort of hoard as a community, but not each of us individually.”
Silence greeted this statement. The reality of the situation sat down on them like weights.
“What about guns?”
The entire room shifted uneasily with the question.
“What was that?” Tom moved his head around, trying to see through the crowd and pinpoint the source. “Who said that?”
Kiley stood up. Nick gasped, reached out to pull her back down.
“Me, Tom.” She raised her hand.
“What did you ask?”
“Guns, Tom. What do we do about guns? We need to take an inventory. Look, people, if we’re talking real, we need to talk about everything. Think about it. When the rest of the mainland is dying, what will the people who have access to a boat going to do? They’re going to try coming to us. What are we going to do? Are we going to let them? If we’re talking about sealing ourselves off, boats and planes trying to land here need to be turned away. How are we going to turn them away?”
The quiet which descended was almost palpable. Kiley looked around into the faces who were her neighbors and friends. The look of shock or outright horror made her want to tell them all this was a joke and sit down. However, even as Nick tugged at her hand, she pulled away and stood her ground.
“I’m serious,” she continued. “I know this is hard to take. I know it sounds crazy, but you saw the news. You see what’s happening. Things are going to get worse. I don’t want this to happen, either. You know me. You all know me and who I am. I don’t want to be violent. I love when the tourists come, but we’re in a unique position. We’re separated from the rest of the world. If CF gets to our island, it will wipe most of us out in a couple of weeks. Things are going to get worse over there, and you’re kidding yourself if you think different. We’re going to have to defend ourselves.”
More silence stretched on and on. Outside, a dog started barking. Kiley wondered what it was barking at. Perhaps a bird? Would they be able to keep their pets alive if things got terrible? A thousand thoughts ran through her mind in this endless silence.
“Are you saying we have to shoot people?”
Kiley didn’t see who said it. She didn’t care. “Yes. I’m saying it. We might have to. Maybe we won’t have to kill anyone. Maybe if we just shoot at them, they’ll go away.”
Kiley shifted her feet. “I know this is hard, but the time is running out to make the hard decisions. Stop hiding. Look at the news. CF is spreading faster. It’s more deadly than they said at first. If we’re going to survive, we have to do whatever we can to protect it. So, what kind of guns do we have? How much ammunition and who knows how to use them? These are the questions we have to ask and answer, now rather than later.”
Kiley sat back down, crossing her arms over her chest. Nick had his head in his hands, but she didn’t want to look at him right now.
Tom once again cleared his throat. “Thank you for that, Kiley. We’ll take it under advisement.”
“I told you not to bring that shit up, Kiley!” Nick yelled when they got to their house. They had walked home in silence, the rest of the town giving them a wide berth.
“Goddammit, Nick, you have to stop telling me what to do.” Kiley ripped her coat off and tossed it on the sofa. “What are you seeing there on the television?”
“It’s a million miles away! There’s no way it’s going to get up here. They’re going to stop it.”
Kiley laughed in his face, walked across the room and turned on the television. Immediately the screen filled with images of New York on fire. A crawl across the bottom said an additional ten thousand deaths had been reported. Forty states had confirmed cases. Four more said they were testing. Radio silence had fallen across the island of Jamaica. A passing plane said the island appeared to be full of corpses on the street. Similar images came from other islands such as Haiti and some islands in the Philippines. They had reported the first cases in Hawaii, on the island of Maui.
“Look at this, Nick.” Kiley pointed to the images. Military vehicles patrolled the streets of Washington, D.C. Police with riot gears mixed with biohazard gear fought off rioters in Boston. “This will be in Maine by tomorrow and you’ve got to stop deluding yourself. Your positive attitude is great, and we’re going to need it around here, but you have to stop burying your head in the sand. Nothing will stop this. There’s no way to get ahead of it. We have to stop pretending to be polite about it.”
Nick stared with wide eyes and an open mouth. Tears streamed down his cheeks, as if this were the first time he was really seeing things. Kiley realized then he had been watching the news as if it were some reality show or maybe even written by Hollywood. Nick had hoped the government or someone would come in at the last minute and rescue humanity.
A knock at the door woke them out of their reverie. Kiley put a hand on Nick’s shoulder and answered the door. Tom and four others stood on the porch.
“Hi, Kiley,” Tom said. “Do you have a moment to talk to us?”
Bill Craddock sighed, put his hat in his hand. “We want to hear your ideas about the guns. We talked and we think a plan needs to be in place.”
Kiley nodded and looked back over her shoulder. Her husband’s hand was up to his face and the hitching in his shoulders showed he was weeping. She hated to leave him like this, but she needed to take control.
Kiley sat in her chair drinking her coffee and watched the news. This was just part of the day now. The news anchors had changed at least four times since Valentine's Day. This was a young woman who looked like a teenager. Kiley wondered if she had been an intern, or maybe was just the daughter of one of the cameramen.
"Updating our story," the young woman said, her eyes wide, her lips quivering. "Four million deaths were reported as of last night. The United States is reporting twenty million cases, with the cases rising. So far, there is no cure. The big news this morning was the swearing in of Vice President Miller as President with the President succumbing to the disease last night. All radio contact, including any sort of news reports or non-automated radio transmissions, have ceased out of England and Australia. Communication between New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, the Caribbean and other areas have diminished to such an extent, it is expected they will soon cease. The actual global death toll is impossible to calculate."
The image switched to a satellite image. It took a moment for Kiley to realize what she was staring at. The streets of Rome, covered in small dots of varying colors. The dots were all people, dropped dead in their tracks. This switched to drone footage of streets in Paris, showing a few people still moving, but more heaps of bodies. Bodies burned in a pile beneath the Arc de Triomphe. Someone had a camera on top of the Eiffel Tower, which panned around, showing how much of the city burned.
Kiley had seen footage online of New York. Residents trapped inside apartments, many of them coughing as they held their phones, filmed what was happening outside. Garbage trucks picked up bodies wrapped in plastic or blankets, depositing it in the trucks. Fires threw smoke into the air. Despite this, the number of dead on the streets, in cars, on fire escapes and rooftops, or hanging out of open windows was enormous.
"Jim Beving from the CDC released a video just a few minutes ago," the young anchor continued. "We'll show it to you, but be warned, this is very disturbing."
What could be more disturbing that burning bodies and dead people all over the streets? Kiley wondered, but held her gaze. She had to see it all. Kiley was alone in the living room, Nick having not gotten out of bed in two days.
"There's nothing else we can do," the man in the video said, his eyes red, his face flushed with fever. "This disease moves too fast for containment and there's no one left to find a cure. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything."
Without another word he lifted a pistol to his head and shot himself. There was a bang, a bright spray of blood which spattered the camera lens, then he was gone.
Kiley turned off the television. She had seen enough.
@@@ Kiley and Christine walked along the coastline, using the path frequented by tourists during the warmer seasons as a place to jog and hike. It provided high, beautiful views of the ocean. From up here, they could see the peaks from some other islands off in the distance. As they strolled along in the bright sunshine and the unseasonably warm weather, they both noticed smoke rising from one of those islands along the horizon.
“Which one is that?” Christine asked.
“No idea. Too hard to tell. For a while, the skies got really clear, but now they’re burning so many bodies in so many cities, the sky is hazy again.”
Christine kicked at a rock. “What do you think’s burning on the island there?”
“No clue. I hear Derrick has a ham radio and has been in touch with people from the other islands. People have been showing up in rowboats and motorboats. A few of the islanders ended up with the virus.”
Over Kiley’s shoulder was a deer rifle. There were no deer on the island, but this was her own gun. She brought it with for reasons she no longer remembered and sometimes took it out to shoot at targets she and Nick would set up in the woods. For the past two weeks, Kiley had been trying to teach others how to shoot. There were a lot of guns, but they had a limited amount of ammunition. If they had to shoot, each shot would need to count.
Kiley tried to change the subject. “The warm weather means people can start planting early. I hear Jenny started last week and others are also starting gardens. I’m going to get Nick out there this weekend.”
“Has he gotten up?” Christine cast her glance back out toward the ocean. The waves rose and fell, rose and fell.
“Not today. This is too much for him, but I have to snap him out of it. We need him.”
They walked in silence, the downtown area now in view. People walked along the sidewalks. Kiley noted how many of them also carried guns. It had become common.
“I hope we don’t have to shoot anyone,” Christine whispered.
The television had become almost useless. Yesterday, there had been a man who did not identify himself, from the closest station to the island, staring into the camera and screaming bible verses. Another channel said there were ten thousand cases in Maine and rising.
New York was a morgue. So was Boston. Chicago burned out of control. St. Louis clung to life, but signs were bad. Washington D.C. also burned. Roads were clogged with cars filled with the dead. Entire families hung out of the car windows, eyes wide, faces blue.
Kiley fed Nick spoonfuls of cereal in the kitchen. She talked to him, but his eyes stared ahead, unseeing. He chewed and swallowed on some automatic setting.
“Looks like it’ll be a marvellous day,” Kiley said, keeping her voice bright. Not shaking at all. “I wish you’d come with me.”
Nothing from him. Chew and swallow. Chew and swallow.
He wore his robe. She had washed him, cleansing his hair as best she could and trying to shave him.
When the cereal was gone, and she managed to get a glass of water down his throat, Kiley led him to his chair. He didn’t watch television anymore. He’d just sit there all day, staring at nothing, but perhaps everything, until Kiley got home and fed him dinner, then got him to bed.
“I’m heading out on patrol,” she announced as she shouldered her rifle and headed for the door. “Love you.”
She pretended he said he loved her back as she went out the door.
Christine and Kiley were teamed up again, once more heading down the hiking trail. The skies were clear today, the winds blowing the smoke from the burning cities away from the island. The sky was crystal blue. It was hard to believe the world was ending just across the water. Planting continued. The local island radio station had kicked back into life with music and loudspeakers broadcast the tunes all day.
“At least they have some decent music playing these days,” Christine said. “How’s the garden?”
“All planted.” Kiley studied the skies and cast her gaze out into the water. Something out there caught her attention for a moment, but then passed. “I just hope the weather keeps up this way. We may have another excellent year.”
“We’re going to need one. What do you think is going on over there?” Christine indicated the mainland with a tilt of her chin.
“Chaos. I listened to some of the ham radio calls. Few of them are on the air anymore, and so many who have coughs or sound sick. They say the streets are utter chaos and now the small towns are falling.”
“Anything from other islands?”
“Some, but they’re shutting down entirely. No one is allowed to land at the docks. They’ve had to turn people away, but people are getting desperate. There will be a confrontation soon.”
They walked along for a while, each lost in their thoughts. They disappeared into a copse of trees for a moment, and Kiley stared up into the branches. Birds chirped, flitted from one tree to the next. Nothing stopped them, she thought. Nature continued. It would continue even when all the humans were gone.
When the came out from the trees, Kiley cast her glance back toward the ocean. This time, she saw the dot on the horizon very clearly.
“What’s that?” She asked.
Christine snapped out of her thoughts. “What? Where?”
Kiley pointed. “Out there. See it?”
Christine followed her finger and studied the ocean for a moment. “Goddamn. It’s a fucking boat.”
Kiley grabbed her radio, made sure it was on the right channel and turned on. “Red! Red! Red! Boat on the horizon. I repeat. Red! Red! Red! Boat on the horizon.”
Christine looked terrified. “Oh, Lord, please let them go right by.”
“We have to hustle to the docks,” Kiley said, holstering the radio. “Come on.”
“This can’t be happening,” Christine cried.
It was a decent-sized boat. White with an open-top bridge. A man in a white shirt was at the wheel, his eyes red, face flushed in the telltale manner everyone had come to know as someone with the virus. A woman sat in the back, a girl of about eight in her lap. Another little one, a bit younger, sat opposite.
Thirty townspeople lined the docks, all of them with weapons. Tom stood at the end of the dock, always wanting to be the face and voice of authority, he held a bullhorn in one hand.
“Stop right there!” The mayor called. “Drop your anchor right there. Do not come any close or we’ll be forced to open fire.”
“My family and I need help!” The man called back. “Please, we’re trying to get away from the mainland. The cities are all on fire. We need to find a safe place to hide out. We’re not sick.”
He’s obviously lying, Kiley thought.
As if to counter his statement, he sneezed loudly, wiped his nose with his hand.
“I gave you an order,” Tom said. “Drop anchor. Right now. If you come any closer, we’ll open fire.”
The man stared at the thirty armed men and women, as one by one the townspeople drew their weapons or took them off their shoulders. He tried to speak, but a coughing fit got him instead. He held up one hand, dropped his anchor.
“Thank you. Now stay there and we’ll discuss what happens next.”
“Please!” The man cried, his voice cracking. “My girls need help. I have a family.”
“We have families too!” Someone shouted. Kiley did not see who yelled.
Tom turned back and waved several of the townspeople over, including Kiley. Of course, she thought, he wants to have a fucking meeting.
“What do we do?” he asked, looking nervous.
“You know what we have to do,” Kiley said. “We have to send them on their way.”
“But they need help,” Dale said. “Kiley, there’s kids on there.”
“If they get off that fucking boat and get over here, we’re all dead,” Kiley said. “We have to send them away and if they won’t listen...”
The silence hung in the air.
“What are you saying?” Tom asked.
“You know what I’m saying.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Kiley, they’re kids.”
“I don’t give a shit!” Kiley lied. Of course she cared, but she cared about the island more. “Now, tell them to move on.”
Just then the others started yelling. There was a splash. Kiley pushed Tom aside, leaving him sputtering behind her.
The man had jumped into the water. His head bobbed above the waves, and he pulled himself towards the docks. Behind him, his wife yelled his name over and over, standing at the edge of the boat.
“Get back into the boat!”
“Don’t do this!”
“Sir, you have to get back in the boat!”
All these commands came at once, talking over each other. The man in the water either didn’t hear, or didn’t care. He kept swimming.
In one fluid motion, Kiley brought the deer rifle up to her shoulder, cocked her head, found him via the site.
Someone yelled, “No!” More commands came from the townspeople. The man’s head bobbed up and down in the water as he swam. For an instant, just the merest fraction of a second, his eyes seemed to lock on Kiley.
The rifle barely kicked at all. The sound of the shot echoed off the surrounding buildings. A bright red hole opened in the man’s head, just above his right eye, followed by red mist out the back of his skull. His head snapped and his arms went into the air, then he went down beneath the waves.
The wife screamed. One of the children began crying.
Whether it was Kiley firing, or the fact everyone was keyed up and ready to act, Kiley would never know. Whatever the reason, the rest of the town opened fire.
Another shot came, then another. Before long, all thirty of the residents were shooting. The woman turned to shield her children, but three shots in the back, then one to the head ripped off the top of her skull. Kiley fired again and again, long after the woman and the two children were no longer visible above the transom. Kiley didn’t want to know what happened to the children. Windows shattered, they riddled the hull with holes.
“Stop!” Kiley screamed. “Hold your fire! Goddammit, stop firing! Save your ammo. Jesus Christ, another fucking person shoots at that boat I’ll put a bullet in their eye!”
The shooting stopped. The sun beat down. The smell of gunpowder was thick.
“Oh my God.”
Kiley heard weeping. She shouldered her firearm and turned away from the sight. When she passed Tom, he grabbed her shoulder. Tears coursed down his face.
“What do we do now, Kiley?” He asked.
She cast a glance back at the boat, bobbing in an almost obscene way in the water. The body of the man was face down, blood spreading.
“Burn it,” she said. “Send someone out there with gasoline or kerosene or oil. Cover the man, too. For God’s sake, don’t go on the fucking boat. Set it on fire and keep it burning until it’s gone and so is his body.”
“Jesus, what have we done?” Tom asked, his chest hitched.
“We protected ourselves,” Kiley stated flatly. “And we’ll keep protecting ourselves.”
Kiley stood on top of the hill and watched the fire burn. The air was thick with smoke and the smell of burning wood, plastic and even flesh, although she thought the last one might have been her imagination. She watched until the boat began to sink, slowly putting out the flames. The hissing sound was loud enough to be heard clearly where she was.
When she was satisfied it was gone, she turned to head back home. The sun was going down now. They had collectively turned a corner, but she was okay with it. They had to protect their island.
She had to get home and feed Nick. He’d be getting hungry about now.
Tomorrow, she’d be back and if there were more boats, or a plane, she knew she could do whatever it took to keep this island safe. She had to keep it a safe haven.
Kiley walked into the darkness.