Contamination | Invasion Survivor Book One | Chapter Eight
Paige pulled up carefully at the guard security gate which prevented her from entering Willow’s school. “Hey, Joe, is Willow here?” she asked the grey-haired guard whom she’d known since her sister first enrolled.
“Hey, Paige. Nope. Willow is in the city. Why aren’t you at college? Have you not seen the news? They’re telling people to stay indoors,” Joe told her, his expression one of concern.
Paige was gutted that Willow wasn’t there, but she checked the instinctive gasp of dismay. “Can I go in and check? Maybe she didn’t go with them.” She could only hope for a miracle, though it didn’t seem likely.
“Sure, I hope you’re right, Paige. It’s real sick what’s going on. Are there many infected at the college?”
Joe shook his head. “Damn.” He pressed a button and the gate opened, giving her access to the grounds.
“No problem.” She drove on, grateful that he was too preoccupied with the virus to notice that she’d suddenly somehow acquired a car. “Borrowing” it was one thing, but she didn’t trust herself to lie about it without giving herself away.
Paige stopped quickly in the nearest parking space to the school. The parking lot was full, and she looked around furtively. A red soccer-mom type car parked beside hers. In the back were three car seats. Two held babies and the middle one was empty.
A parent must be in the school looking for a kid, she realized. She hoped they’d both have good luck as she flung herself out of the vehicle and hurried inside.
She headed to Willow’s classroom, but it was deserted. Damnit! They must be at the museum.
Next, Paige headed to Willow’s dorm room, but she wasn’t there either. Her clothes were scattered on her bed like she had planned to throw them on the floor when she got back. She allowed herself a small smile. Her sister never saw the point of neat and tidy surroundings, especially when there were better things to do.
A girl around Willow’s age lay in one of the beds. Dried blood crusted around her nose. She was infected.
“Have you seen Willow?” Paige asked her.
It took a few moments before she responded. “She’s on the school trip.”
Paige wanted to call her again and reached into her pocket, only to remember she had left her phone and everything else in the car. A little panicked now, she ran outside.
She almost collided with a frantic-looking woman.
The woman was clearly flustered. “Do you know where everybody is?” she asked in a high-pitched voice.
“My sister was supposed to go on a field trip today...the Natural History Museum in the city. A sick kid says she went there.”
“My son Eric as well,” she responded, her eyes searching the area in a dazed, unbelieving kind of way. “I checked the school grounds twice and there’s nobody here. They have to be there—where else could they be?”
“The kids are still at a museum,” a new voice said, and they both startled and spun around.
A man approached them.
“How do you know?” the woman asked, her expression desperate now.
“I work here. I’m professor Jenkins, the music teacher.” He introduced himself and that immediately put them at ease. They recognized the name, at least, so he should know the details.
“I was supposed to go with them but didn’t feel well,” he announced, and Paige wanted to take a step back. He must have seen something in her face because he continued in a rush, holding up a hand as if to calm her. “Just a migraine. I took some sleeping pills and woke up to this”—he waved his arms wide as if trying to define the magnitude of it all—“but I got a message from another teacher informing me where they are.”
Paige was immediately relieved. It complicated things, of course, but she now knew where to go.
“So they are still in the city?” she inquired, needing to be certain. The last thing she needed was to rush off and discover too late that he was mistaken.
“Thanks,” she replied and starting to run again toward her car.
The pair yelled something behind her, but she was too focused on her mission to pay attention.
Paige heard the pounding of boots behind her. “Please—wait up,” the woman shouted.
Paige paused and let her catch up.
Out of the breath, stopped beside her. “Where are you going? Are you going to find your sister? Are you going to the city?” she asked frantically as she scrabbled around in her purse.
She pulled out her phone, swiped it a few times, then showed it to her. “This is Eric…can you find him? I can’t take the twins to the city.” The woman paused and began to cry. “I love him…but I can’t risk taking them into the city. It will be full of the infected. It’s not that I love them more than Eric—I don’t, but…I—” She dragged in a breath as if to hold in her emotions, but her face crumpled, and her shoulders sagged as she broke down.
“What’s your name?”
She replied between sobs, “Sophie Connor.”
“I’m Paige. I’m sure Eric will be with Willow at the museum. Can I take a photo of his picture?”
Sophie nodded frantically and held the phone so Paige could take a picture. Eric had bright red hair with matching freckles. “What’s your cell number?”
She recited the number, then repeated it as if unsure that she’d had it correct the first time. Paige smiled, trying to give Sophie some hope. “I’ll call you when I find him.”
She grabbed hold of Paige and hugged her tightly. “Find my baby.”
Paige gritted her teeth against a sudden urge to cry. She forced her own emotion back, digging deep because she knew she had to be strong for Willow and Eric.
Sophie released her, and Paige hopped into the car.
I’m coming, Willow and Eric. She sent the assurance out into the ether, a silent cry that buoyed her determination. She could do this—she had to.
As she drove away, she caught a glimpse of Sophie in the rearview mirror. The woman stood beside her vehicle, wringing her hands as she watched Paige drive away, obviously hoping that she would find her son for her.