For our September Book of the Month, we brought you Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas — and asked you to imagine you and your classmates were trapped — quarantined — inside your high school. Then, we had you write about life trapped inside your high school in 250-500 words.
I can feel eyes watching me as I move down the hallway. It was stupid of me to just walk down the main hallway, carrying goods, but I wasn’t in the mood to barter with The Addicts controlling the side hallways. I may be in more danger of being jumped in the main hallway, but I didn’t have to worry about getting on anybody’s wrong side. I may even be able to count on the Artists to bail me out; they were on friendly enough terms with the Smarties.
I tightened my grip on my baseball bat, an acquisition from a trade that we made with the Sports Girls. They were more willing to barter a quality metal bat than the Sports Boys were; well, they were willing, but they wanted something I wasn’t planning to offer. I quickened my pace; I could see Aveline peering out from the door of the library, Smartie Headquarters, waiting for me to come in.
“Did you get them?” She hurriedly bolted the door as I stepped inside. I shifted through the bag, taking out a small box and handing it to her. Grabbing it, she immediately started reading the warning label. Even before the quarantine, she was always so conscientious about stuff like that.
“They’re starting to run low on medicine, Aveline. They said no more trades until The School gets more supplies.”
“But it’s been almost a whole week since we got supplies! Did you tell them that Matt was sick?”
“I did.” I kept my answer as clipped as possible, as my throat began tightening and thickening. I knew this meant I was dangerously close to crying, but I never cried in public. It’s bad form for a leader to do so.
Aveline didn’t have to worry about appearance, her eyes already welling up with tears. “I’m scared, Sophie. What if he…?” She trailed off. I caught the implication.
“That’s not going to happen!” I snapped at her, hating the way she cringed at me, hating that I always kept her sheltered, hating that I was chosen to lead, hating the whole world.
I took a deep breath, two deep breaths. I breathed out slowly, through my nose, calming myself. I counted to thirty before I decided it was safe to speak again.
“That’s not going to happen,” I repeated, carefully this time. “I won’t let Matt or anyone die. Not until we get out of here.” I finally moved away from the entrance, making my way past the dusty bookshelves to the librarian’s storage room, our sickroom now.
“But Sophie…” Her voice followed me, causing me to stop. “What if we never get out? What if we’re stuck here for the rest of our lives?”
For a moment, I just looked at her. I was so tired, I thought about giving up. Instead, I squared my shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “I won’t let that happen. No matter what it takes.”
It’s so cold. The heater broke hours ago. I hug my knees to my chest and tried to squeeze further back into the corner as if the walls can keep me warm.
On the right side of the room students are huddled together, trying to conserve warmth by holding onto their friends in groups of grotesquely cheerful Christmas sweaters. Even now, I’m the odd one out.
On the left side are the dead and dying. Mrs. Bowler succombed early on; her corpse lies splayed out next to her beloved oak desk. The only color her skin has left is in the deep red blisters spotting her neck and face. Dried blood stains her blouse.
It’s been twenty hours since Michael collapsed, vomiting his guts all over Carly’s perfect golden curls. The room erupted into screams, cells whipping out to both film the spectacle and call 911. The paramedics arrived quickly, but too late to save Michael. After one look, they turned whiter than him. Before we knew what was happening, we were locked in with an explanation that the CDC was on its way.
There was a storm of shouting, but as the hours slowly passed my classmates either fell ill or went quiet. Me? I’ve been in the corner since it began. Watching. I was the first one to notice when the CDC pulled up, though I didn’t say anything. They blocked off the area and put warning tape and police all around the school.
Over the loudspeaker, they announced that we were under quarantine due to an outbreak of a rare disease. We were not told what disease, only that help would be there shortly. That was yesterday.
I hear a whimper, followed by a sob. A girl I don’t know gets up and stumbles over to sit on the left side. The dead side. There’s a blister on her cheek. I look away from her and out the window where police lights paint the snow red and blue. A man and woman are locked in an embrace next to an ambulance, and I recognize them as Mr. and Mrs. Harley, Carly’s parents. They probably don’t know it yet, but their daughter died just after midnight.
My parents aren’t there; they died long ago. Not that they would have cared anyway. I wonder, when we are all dead and the doctors come in to examine our bodies, will anyone even recognize me? I don’t think so. If I could, I would take all of the disease within myself so I was the only one to die. Nobody would miss me. There would be no one to mourn, no hearts to break. It would be better that way.
I feel a sting on the back of my hand, and I look down. An angry red welt has risen just where hand meets wrist. I don’t cry like the others, there would be no point in it. I just stand up and walk to the left side. The dead side.
The first thing Crystal noticed upon waking, that she expected really, was that she had slept through AP Chemistry. Again. The second was that the classroom was empty. The third thing, the one that made her do an actual double take, was that the pounding was the fact that there was a man( or woman, it was hard to tell) in a hazmat suit, drilling a thick layer of metal over the door to her classroom. The man(woman?) in the suit noticed Crystal, and for a moment paused in his(her?) work. Then drilled even faster.
Leaping ungracefully out of her seat, Crystal made her way to the door. “What the hell are you doing?” she tried yelling as she laced open-handed smacks on the windows next to the door. Her voice was unexpectedly hoarse, her arms felt too weak to support their own weight. The occupant of the hazmat took off his helmet, and she noticed that he had been taking out the screws on the door.
“I’m trying to get you out of there, now back up!” It was Nakota, who was backing up, staring at the door like it was a target.
“Don’t you dare try to break down that door!” Crystal shouted, finally finding her voice. Nakota looked at her, perplexed. Crystal opened the door, and with one hand, pushed the metal wall forward, where it came to land right in front of Nakota’s feet with a heavy thud.
“I suppose that’s one way to do things.” Nakota remarked.
“Care to explain what’s going on?”
“Do you remember how all the parents freaked out when that one kid didn’t get his booster shot for the wheezing cough?” Nakota started rapidly, “Well, it turns out they were right to be freaked, but wrong about why. He was a vessel for the Atlantis Plague. The Center for Disease Control found out it was him after the outbreak at Burbank, the high school he went to before he transferred here.”
“So the CDC locked this place up?” Crystal asked.
“Well, they evacuated everyone into the tents that they set up outside…”Nakota trailed off upon the incredulous look on Crystal’s face.
“Yeah, well it looks like they forgot someone!” Crystal crossed her arms “Why would they lock me in? Why would they put a metal wall over the metal door that locks from the outside? Why wouldn’t they cover up the windows? And how in the world did I a manage to sleep through all this?
“Um…they’re not very smart, and you’re a very deep sleeper?” Nakota offered, suddenly looking very nervous.”Maybe we should go before they do another head count and realize that I’m missing, along with the suits. Here.” He threw a carrier bag in her direction, and she quickly pulled the suit out and put in on.
“Oh and, um, I forgot to tell you,” Nakota said as they exited the science building, “Tatum, Jonathan, and Killian are also missing.”