Contamination | Invasion Survivor Book One | Chapter Five
The breaking news and those words continued to flash across the screen, and Paige could actually feel the panic start to rise in her. She fought to tamp it down, willing herself not to indulge the hysteria that bubbled beneath the surface of her control.
Then River laughed like a crazy person and all heads turned in her direction. Paige didn’t like the sound of it. “Who set this up?” she asked between cackles. “Was it Brad?”
There was a second of confusion, but then it dawned on them. Paige also understood what she meant.
He was one of the goofiest people on campus. And he was always trying one or another insane stunt. Usually, he could pull them off without anyone figuring out it was him. At least, the students knew, not the teachers.
But this is maybe going too far, Paige thought to herself.
“He really went all out for this one. Best prank ever,” River continued in the same manner. “I wonder how he managed to convince all those students outside to play along...” she mused out loud, then smacked herself across the forehead, remembering something.
“He paid them of course. His mother has more money than Oprah.”
“But it’s on all the news,” Tiffany, one of the heiresses of some place in Europe interjected.
“He obviously hacked into our system,” River responded matter-of-factually, and everyone seemed to relax a little.
Paige felt better as well but only for the briefest moment until something else dawned on her. Brad was good, but not even he could make the school cancel the rest of their classes.
Besides... “Chen wasn’t faking.” Paige voiced her fear out loud. “She was seriously sick.” All that blood coming from her nose wasn’t fake. There was no doubt about that in her mind.
“And Jennifer too,” Paige added, remembering how their practice ended.
River shook her head stubbornly. “I’m telling you, this is classic Brad. And to prove it to you, I’ll call him right now. He has a thing for me, so he’ll confess everything.” River delivered this assurance with confidence and dialed his number. Then she frowned. “It’s busy. But I’m telling you, girls, this is all just a prank.”
“Last year, he stole the dean’s Bentley and painted it magenta,” Val interjected and some of the other girls chuckled, remembering the incident. He got away with it because his parents bought the Bentley for the dean—well, that was the rumor. And with all good rumors, they liked to believe they were true.
“That’s nothing. I heard he got a truckload of frogs and released them in the biology laboratory,” another other girl chirped.
As more and more girls stepped forward to say something, the more it began to feel like this was his doing.
“See,” River shouted trying to be heard above everyone else. “I told you, but he is still not picking his damn phone up.”
“Why don’t we just go to his room?” Val announced and instantly, everyone was on board.
Paige followed the mob of girls who chatted among themselves and planned how to take revenge on Brad. She tried to be on board, but something still nagged at her in the back of her mind.
The boy’s dorm was across a vast field, but the girls never actually made it outside.
They could see through the door and stopped in a huddle. A lot more affected kids walked about, many more than they’d seen previously.
Everyone hesitated, looking at one another, not knowing what to do next. Some were maybe even waiting to see what River would do since she’d become an unofficial leader of the group.
In the midst of all that, Tiffany’s own phone started to ring, and then another girl received a call as well. They answered, and by the looks on their faces, it was obvious that the threat was real.
It was no student prank but a real threat, and all their lives were at stake.
What are we to do now? The question was written on everyone’s face.
The silence felt as lethal as any killer virus. They all tried to comprehend what was happening, but when the truth was so hard, people tended to shun it.
How I wish this was just a prank, Paige repeated to herself, over and over again.
River squeezed her arm, seeking comfort, and the fear that she saw on her friend’s face matched her own.
Suddenly scared, they all returned to their common room.
Paige looked at the TV again. The horrid words were still there, but she couldn’t look away. Phones started to ring again, in larger numbers now, and that yanked them all from their stupor.
Soon, almost everyone was talking to someone over the phone.
Their collective voices carried, and sobs echoed from the cathedral ceiling and bounced off the walls, coming back to haunt them as the girls spoke to their loved ones.
“Ursula?” Paige heard River on the phone, speaking with her Mom’s assistant. She walked a few feet away in search of some privacy and instinctively, Paige reached for her phone as well.
Finally, the words of the newscast started to sink in while she dialed her sister’s number.
Chen is obviously already affected by the virus, and it’s only a matter of time before it starts to spread to everyone else. Paige’s thoughts spiraled as she struggled to grasp the magnitude of what the news had said.
None of the girls in the common room looked sick, but that didn’t mean a thing. Chen hadn’t either when she first sat down for math today. And Paige was positive all those other people outside had looked fine only a couple of minutes before.
Paige’s agitation grew when she was unable to reach her sister. She’d just thrust her phone into her pocket when it rang. It took her a moment to react.
“H-hello?” Paige answered, not being able to control her shaky voice
“Oh, thank God, Paige.” Her father’s voice sounded strained. “I’m so relieved you’re okay,” he added with obvious worry in his tone.
Paige knew instantly that the matter was beyond serious if even her always stoic father appeared shaken.
“I am, but I’m scared,” she confessed, trying not to break down
“I don’t have much time,” he interrupted her.
“Dad, what’s going on?”
“Listen to what I’m about to say to you.” His voice went low so suddenly that Paige had difficulties hearing him properly. She moved away from the group and listened even harder.
“I can’t explain much, but the government knew about the virus.”
What? “What?” She felt stupid, echoing her thoughts aloud, but this was crazy so who cared?
“They are planning an evacuation.”
And Paige frowned. An evacuation…to where? “What?” she asked again in confusion.
This virus was spreading worldwide, so there wasn’t a place on earth they could escape to and be safe.
Are we going underground? To a bunker? Paige tried to make sense of her father’s words.
“I need you to get your sister and your Mom and meet me here at NASA, Maryland.” Her father resumed his instructions.
“Why can’t you just come get Willow and me?” she countered. Paige didn’t want to sound whiny, but she was terrified. How can I travel alone with Willow and Mom to Maryland?
“Paige...” Her father sounded tense and strained. “NASA is holding us hostage,” he confessed.
Paige shook her head. Too much was happening at once. She felt like she couldn’t take any new information in.
“Dad, what...” She started to speak but knew she couldn’t finish that sentence.
“I’m working on a way to get out, don’t worry about me.”
If they were holding people at NASA against their will, then she couldn’t waste time. “How do you expect me to do this?” she asked instead.
“Get to Maryland as soon as you can. The spaceships are leaving soon. Keep your head straight and don’t tell anyone where you’re going. There aren’t enough spacecraft for everyone,” he replied in a single breath and her head started to spin.
Spaceships? This can’t be my life, Paige thought in exasperation. Of course, she knew about them.
Her father worked in a special division that organized touristic attractions for the extremely rich. It was like Disneyland but there, you got to travel to Mars with your family.
“Dad, is the virus really that bad?” She had to ask, even though she felt foolish. Of course it was bad. They were leaving the planet altogether because of it.
“Really bad,” her dad answered. “But it’ll be okay. I love you.”
“Dad, I—” Paige started to reply but his phone went dead. She released a groan of frustration because she hadn’t even had the chance to say she loved him back.
Will I get another chance? She banished that thought. Her hands shook as she looked at her phone screen, wishing it would ring again.
She tried calling back, but he didn’t answer—or couldn’t. The frigging phone remained silent.
Nothing that he’d shared made any sense to her, yet at the same time, it fitted perfectly.
While her mind raced in circles, going over their brief conversation, her chest grew tighter and tighter. Despite the open space the common room provided, Paige felt like she couldn’t take one breath of air.
Because there is none, she thought. No. She rebelled, determined not to have a panic attack, forcing herself to stop spiraling.
The last one she’d had was on the day she left home, and she would be damned if she allowed herself one now.
Willow needed her, so she would have to get over it.
Still, the only way she could successfully do that was to think about something calming.
Which this whole situation didn’t provide.
Regardless, Paige forced herself to take slow and steady breaths as everyone around her succumbed to panic. She closed her eyes, focusing solely on what was happening inside her.
A mantra formed inside her mind. Everything is okay. Willow and I are only visiting Dad at work, nothing more. She lied to herself and knew it on a surface level, but the repetition calmed her and pushed her panic back under control.
Paige thrust all her fears and worries to the back of her mind, locking them in her mental vault, calming herself further.
Everything is okay, she repeated.
Once she opened her eyes, she was ready for action.
Paige looked over at River. She was still on her phone. Her parents would look after her. She, on the other hand, needed to take care of her family.
She ran toward her room, aware that someday, her vault would crack, and all her bad memories, insecurities, and fears would come out and try to bite her in the ass.
But that day is not today!
Reaching her room that followed the Gothic style to the letter, as did the rest of the college, she allowed herself a small relapse. She sank down onto the bed, wishing frantically she was in some fantasy where all her troubles could disappear with a few strokes of a wand.
But this was a reality, not some kids’ book, so she sprang into action. She’d already wasted way too much time.
Quickly, she undressed. Her skirt and shirt weren’t practical for today’s events. She traded the outfit for a pair of jeans and a blue top.
Her mom had always got her blue tops, she thought inconsequentially. She said it was because it made Paige’s eyes pop, but as a child, she’d thought it simply made her look like a boy. It didn’t help being a flat-chested kid. It was different now. Her body had grown, and blue was her favorite color. In retrospect, it also hadn’t helped that her mom gave her a pixie cut.
Looking back, Paige knew she’d intended it to look like an elegant bob, much like all the sweet girls in the commercials had at the time. The problem was that she kept cutting and cutting, making it shorter with each attempt until there was basically nothing left. After that, everyone had mistaken her for a boy.
It went without saying that the hairstyle didn’t help her popularity. Paige had never been among the in-crowd, but after the fatal haircut, they started teasing her relentlessly.
There were no fond childhood memories from that specific period of time, but there was a silver lining to the story. Because of it, she didn’t really have a problem transferring to a boarding school and later to college, even though there were some rich snobs there.
Come to think of it, her pixie hair would be welcomed at Rosehill since it was the latest trend for all the girls. Either way, that was not her thing, though. She wasn’t interested in looking like a boy ever again.
Once she was fully clothed, she reached for her leather jacket that hung over a desk chair. It was old and worn but it was one of her favorites. The chair didn’t want to release it, moving with the tug, but with a few gentle twists, she succeeded in freeing it and put it on. She immediately felt a little better.
The soft natural fabric hugged her body perfectly and brought all sorts of memories with it.
Naturally, her other sister, Brooke, was in the center of her thoughts.
Sometimes, Paige honestly thought she could still sense her lingering around her, especially at moments like this one when she wore her leather jacket.
Paige always assumed that only meant her sister was dead and not simply missing.
But she never managed to say that out loud. And on top of all this, the anniversary is only a few days away, she thought with dread.
Getting her mom calmly out of that ward would be a challenge because she was always agitated during this time of the year—the anniversary of when Brooke went missing.
Looking at herself in the mirror, Paige suddenly realized she looked exactly like Brooke. They had the same blonde hair with blues eyes. Even their body type was similar.
Picking up the photo frame from her desk, she removed their family picture. It had been taken a short while before Brooke went missing, and looking at it now, Paige thought how they really looked like twins since they were now at the same age.
Brooke had been twenty-one when she went missing.
Paige folded the picture carefully and put it in her back pocket. Her hands no longer shaking, she straightened her spine and vowed she would not lose another sister.
She needed to get to Willow. As her big sister, it was her responsibility to be there for her—always—and to protect her.
Resolute now, she pulled her hair up so it wouldn’t get in the way and grabbed her backpack with her free hand.
Dumping all her books unceremoniously onto the floor, she threw in another family picture—one of Willow, noticing how much they all looked alike, apart from the hairstyles because Willow had heavy bangs now—and grabbed some extra clothes, toiletries, all her money, and of course, her cell phone.
All I need to do now is to escape, she thought to herself as she shrugged her backpack on.
She dialed Willow’s number again and remembered the text she had sent her with the bunch of emojis…there was a building, an apple—a sudden realization hit her.
Her class was going on a field trip to New York City today. Willow had told her something about the Natural History Museum, but Paige hadn’t paid much attention at the time.
She’d been too busy not looking—but also looking—at AJ at the time. Now, she started to panic, trying to remember if she’d heard any news about New York City specifically.
All the reports had stated that the virus was spreading, but there was nothing about specific regions. Paige wanted to scream in frustration.
Heading back toward the common room, her mind raced with all kinds of thoughts and plans of how to reach Willow, but they all seemed stupid to her.
Passing a window along the way, she heard engines roar and couldn’t tell what made her pause to look out. Still, she was happy she did.
Paige opened the window and exhaled a sigh of relief as she watched yellow school buses returning to Willow’s school. They must have come back because of the crisis, she mused, watching as they drew closer.
Willow will okay. Now, I just need to get to Mom and get her out. Paige sighed. That will be a piece of cake
As the buses neared Willow’s school, Paige leaned her head out of the window for a better look and froze, not because of the temperature but because all three buses were completely empty. There were no teachers or kids on board. Which meant no Willow either.
Naturally, she began to panic all over again. Clenching her hands into fists, she forced it all down, knowing a panic attack was the last thing she needed at that moment.
She needed to stay focused. Her father trusted her to bring Willow to him, so she needed to find a solution. If she succumbed to her fears, all would be lost, her sister included.
The best course of action was to look for Willow at her school. Maybe she had been instructed to stay in her room like they were. Maybe, just maybe, they never left. At least she hoped so.
Paige tried calling Willow again.
“But why isn’t she picking up?” she muttered in growing frustration as she tried again.
She knew a couple of ways to leave the campus unseen, and thanks to Willow, she knew how to sneak into her school as well. That was exactly what she planned to do, but then she heard a scream.
Rushing back to the common room, she looked around for the source of all that commotion and found it instantly.
Val was screaming bloody murder.
“The virus, she has it. The virus,” Val screamed over and over again.
Others screamed as well, and Paige fought to try and see over them as the fear inside her intensified.
There, in the middle of the group as if inside a perfect circle sat River, holding her hand to her nose. She looked at Paige with petrified eyes.
Oh no... River has the virus.
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