THE COMPOUND is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
2013, October. All rights reserved. The reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Byzantium Sky Press, Milton, Delaware. THE COMPOUND is copyrighted and any use in any other works is strictly prohibited. Any violation will result in punishment to the fullest extent of the law.
10 weeks earlier
Gretchen turned off the coffee maker. The clock read 8:44. She was running late—then again, didn’t doctors make you wait anyway? She shouted up the stairs, “Nick, how far are you? Thought you were coming with me….”
A muffled noise came from upstairs, followed by a cough.
Her husband was awake. Just barely. “Guess not,” she muttered, gathering her purse and lightweight jacket from the kitchen table. At the door she lifted her scarf from the hook and wrapped it around her neck. It wasn’t too cold out, but she wanted to be careful—the flu was going around. “Well… I’ll be back in a couple hours then.”
More mumbling and she imagined him, dark hair ruffled and matted to one side, talking into a pillow. That’s how he woke every day.
She grinned and headed out, locking the door.
The gust was stiff and the sky blue, not a cloud in sight. Crisp, chilly air. She could almost feel the ocean salt air on her skin. As Gretchen unlocked her car door, she noticed her neighbors, the Haber’s, were packing their car. As Nancy, the wife, locked eyes with her, Gretchen nodded toward the car. “Going away for a few days?”
Nancy nodded, ushering her two and five year-old kids into the back seat.
“Do you need someone to get your mail?”
Nancy shook her head, looking frightened and panicked. She slammed the door, locking the kids in the back seat. “Take care.”
Gretchen smiled uncertainly, noticing that Nancy was still wearing her slippers and nightgown and had a few stray strands of hair coming from her short braid, as if she’d just woken. Her husband was frantically tossing things in their car: Clothes, bags and cans of food, bottles of water, sneakers, jackets. Nothing packed, nothing in bags or boxes—just tossed.
As Gretchen started down the road, she saw the rest of the neighborhood was in similar disarray. Picking up her cell, Gretchen dialed her husband.
“Did you forget your purse?” Nick sounded more awake and clear-headed.
“Look outside. Does any of it look normal to you?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Just look outside, will you, Nick? The neighbors are acting…weird.” She heard shuffling as Nick presumably made his way toward the window in their master bath.
She drew a breath. “I’m a little concerned.”
Silence from Nick.
“Nick?” She stopped at the street corner, put her car in park, and waited, taking in the chaos of frantic families and disorganized shouts of commands.
Did you grab the water?
Forget the luggage. Pack what you can carry!
I don’t think you need those where we’re going, sweetie.
“Don’t worry about it.” Nick said, followed by the sound of more shuffling and water running through her cell connection. He said, “They probably heard something on the news and are panicking.”
Gretchen heard Nick begin to brush his teeth and it took her a little bit of thinking to decipher his mumbling: “You know how people are in Delaware, they hear of the slightest chance of snow and rush to the grocery store to buy as much bread, eggs and milk as possible…” She heard him spit and then, clearly, said, “Just ridiculous. If the power goes out, two of the three go bad. Canned items are the way to go…”
She listened as Nick spoke, but she wasn’t listening to him. She’d heard this talk many times before. Ever since their move to Delaware four years ago. She glanced out her driver’s side window, still sitting at the stop sign. “Honey, I don’t think this is a pre-snow panic. The Corwin’s are wearing face masks.”
October 25, 2013 (come back next week for another scene!)