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Contamination | Invasion Survivor Book One | Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

The image of the woman staring at Paige wouldn’t leave her alone. It repeated constantly on replay inside her head.

It wasn’t so much the matter of who she was or had been, but what she seemed to become thanks to that virus.

A freaking zombie.

But even though the truth had stared her in the face—or, in Paige’s case, tried to actually do her in, or worse—every fiber of her being rebelled against the notion.

Because zombies weren’t real. She was infected with something, that was all.

Once you kicked the bucket, that was it, game over. That was a well-known scientific fact.

Yet Paige saw with her own eyes that something had been horribly wrong with that woman.

Right before I threw her off the car, she reminded herself, grimacing at the vivid mental image of what she knew, without a doubt, was some crazed attacker.

She couldn’t help but wonder if maybe that was the next stage of the virus. Maybe it eventually made people crazy.

And what the hell is a Seedling? Paige asked herself in exasperation.

She knew on an instinctual level that things had escalated beyond sane and rational explanations. Nothing she’d known or experienced could have prepared her for this, but she simply had to roll with it if she wanted to survive.

On the horizon, Paige could see a traffic buildup that seemed to stretch all the way into the city, and she cursed.

Since she had never driven before, her confidence in doing so through a busy place was obviously pretty much nonexistent.

Plus, the traffic ahead looked brutal, and Paige really didn’t want to get stuck in it.

Traveling by car wouldn’t be the fastest way to get to NYC, but come to think of it, it never had been. And with the world going to shit, it would only be that much more difficult.

Her mind now made up, she pulled off at the next exit but continued to drive until she found the nearest train station. Hopefully, the trains were still running.

She still had those prayer cards with her, so maybe a miracle would happen again. A girl could dream.

Finding a space close to the station, she parked the car and, after she collected all her stuff, headed inside to buy a ticket. The normality of it felt utterly surreal since it was the end of the world and all that. Still, the simple, ordinary task helped to calm her a little.

There weren’t many people on the platform, and while she proceeded toward the ticket window, she scanned every face carefully and heaved an inward sigh of relief when she couldn’t detect any signs of sickness.

Passengers did, however, glance nervously at one another—and even suspiciously, once in a while—before looking down at their phones as if seeking further news about the spread of the virus.

Paige was relieved to see that according to the overhead display all the trains were running on time and that the next one to Grand Central Station was due in two minutes.

How is that for perfect timing? She gave a silent cheer to boost her sagging morale.

Then, sudden doubt washed over her.

Somehow, this all felt wrong to her.

They were all simply standing there on the platform, waiting for a train like they had not a care in the world and everything was fine…but it wasn’t.

And she’d even bought a ticket.

As if a conductor would ever check it under the circumstances.

Is the train even going to come? Paige panicked. Maybe they are running the trains so people can get home; they normally do that when there is bad weather. She continued the internal argument, alert and watchful.

In adverse conditions, they usually gave people a few hours’ notice, but this was different. They were not dealing with loads of snow but something more dangerous. A deadly virus had taken over the world. How could she even hope that the train system had remained unaffected?

Paige looked carefully up and down the train tracks, hoping for a sign that the train was coming. No sound echoed down the now silent line, only leaves blowing softly in the breeze as if mocking them all.

This was a stupid idea. She chastised herself, shaking her head, and started walking again. She had to get back to her car. Driving would be better than waiting forever for a train that wouldn’t come. Paige tried to convince herself that she could do it. She’d managed to get herself this far—and escaped a fate likely worse than death—so what was a little traffic in the bigger scheme of thing?

“Paige?” Someone called out to her, yanking her from her reverie.

She frowned and focused on a guy who was in the process of robbing a snack store. He chose a couple of things he liked, and stashed everything in his pockets, apart from one can of Pringles. With a satisfied look, he jumped over the counter.

She vaguely recognized the face. It was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place him.

“Hi...” Paige started to greet him but shrugged and trailed off. There was no use pretending she remembered his name.

“It’s Dave,” he responded helpfully.

She still didn’t have a clue who he was. He was cute in a boy-next-door kind of why, but on her Thor-meter, as she liked to call it, he ranked about a five out of ten. She did like his T-shirt, though—green with a big hammer of Thor emblazoned across it.

“Yes, I know,” she lied automatically, even though it was pointless.

“Right,” he replied and chuckled. She looked questioningly at him.

Damnit, he knows I don’t know who he is…think, Paige, think. Where do I know him from? Her brain on overload, she tried to sift her memories, but his identity eluded her.  

“Go on, then, tell me how you know me?”

Rude! Either we’re at school together, or not. If not, where have I seen him? Where?

Dave shrugged and waved his hand. “I’ll give you a break as the world has gone crazy. Your friend”—he paused, his forehead wrinkling in thought—“what was her name…Stream? Not that’s stupid. Lake—ha, that’s even worse.”

“River. Yeah, you’re a friend of River’s,” Paige interjected. 

“If you call me a friend after meeting her once and she tried hitting on me, then yes, I’m River’s friend.”

Jeez, he really called my bluff.

Dave didn’t seem to care and carried on talking. “You know, since this craziness started, people here are fighting to get out of the city as fast as possible, yet I find you here, trying to get to it.” He flashed her a half-crooked smile. She understood what he meant and managed a wobbly smile in return.

“That’s me, always the rebel,” she murmured, mostly to herself. She started to walk again but he followed her. “Where are you going?” he asked.

“Out,” she replied simply.

“You are going in the wrong direction. The platform is that way.” He gestured with a can.

“I can’t wait for the train any longer.”

“I’m sure it’s only a couple of minutes late.”

Paige sighed. Dave was right—maybe. What if she was simply overreacting?

She made a one-eighty and marched back toward the platform with him in tow.

“So what’s so important in NY? A boyfriend?” he probed conversationally.

“No. My sister is there, so I’m trying to get to her.” Paige decided to answer his question. He might be useful, and she was too weary, now, to hide her purpose.

“Me too. My little brother went on some field trip today and I lost it once I learned that. I can’t get hold of my parents, so I figured I’d better go and get him. It was hard finding the right car to hotwire,” he complained.

“Your brother’s at Rosewell Elementary school? And you stole a car too?” Paige blurted the questions before she could stop herself.

Besides, she didn’t steal a car. She simply borrowed it, she reminded herself, though guilt stirred and wouldn’t settle again.

Dave lifted an eyebrow at her. “A bad girl, ha?”

She was about to deny it, but he beat her to it.

“But to answer your question, yeah, I did,” he said, shrugging. “Wouldn’t be the first and definitely wouldn’t be the last. But this time, it was for the right reason and all that. And no, he’s not at that posh, stuck-up school. He’s at the local public school for normal kids.” He paused and exhaled loudly. “I have to find him.”

“Hey! My sister goes there, and I go to the college, and we’re normal.” His disdain needled at her and she couldn’t bite back the protest.

Dave waved his hands in what could have been an apology. “My bad. Maybe not everyone who goes there is abnormal. Just ninety-nine percent of them.”

“Clearly, you should have gone there because your math is totally off,” Paige responded, her tone snippy.

Dave grinned. “I think I’ll change my assessment—one hundred percent of the people aren’t normal.” He winked.

She rolled her eyes. “Where in the city is your brother?”

“At the Natural History Museum. They have been studying dinosaurs, and he was hugely excited about the trip. Where’s your sister?”

“Same place.”

He grinned once again. “Cool, would you mind some company?” he asked but then added, “I would totally understand if you’d prefer—”

“No, no,” she interjected. “That would be a relief, actually. I can’t believe this is happening,” she confessed.

“Me neither. It feels like the whole world went to hell in a matter of hours.” He sighed, a sound that mirrored her own emotional confusion.

“And yet here we are, waiting for the train,” Paige replied, trying to brighten the mood. It must have worked, even a little, because Dave smiled.

“I even bought a ticket,” she confessed, feeling silly all of a sudden.

He looked at her oddly as if she completely lost her mind. “Why would you do something like that? Didn’t you notice that the whole world went to hell?”

She checked the time and realized that the train was beyond late.

“I don’t think it’s coming.” She thought out loud, scowling down at the empty track.

“We don’t have any other choice if we want to get to the city,” he countered.

“I have a car, remember? And so do you.” Well, kind of. “I drove from school but then figured it would be faster to take a train.”

She left that hanging between them. Whatever he decided, she’d take the car and her chances in traffic. It wasn’t like she needed him or anything. But, looking at Dave, she realized she really didn’t mind company. Somehow, everything felt better with someone else around. Even the end of the world.

“The roads are probably jammed,” he said, massaging the back of his neck.

Paige nodded. “Yeah, but we could maybe take the back roads.”

“That could work.”

They headed back toward the car when they heard the welcome sound of a train rolling along the tracks.

The train is coming.

Paige shook her head in disbelief. “No way.”

“Way,” he replied, and they hurried to the platform and waited patiently as the silver train pulled up.

Excited now, because something was finally happening, Paige heard someone shouting in the distance.

“Seedling! Seedling!”

She freaked out.

In a flash, her mind went back to car again, that crazy woman attached to the hood like an evil ornament…trying to grab her with her bloody hand, banging against the windshield…calling her a Seedling.

Paige looked around, trying to find the source of the voice.

Unfortunately, her worst nightmare seemed to have taken on a different face.

She turned just in time to see a man in the distance, running across the road like the hounds of hell were chasing him toward the train station. To her horror, his eyes were deadlocked on her. He was dressed like a clown and that made a bad situation a million times worse.

I hate clowns!

“What is it?” Dave asked, obviously reacting to her expression, which must have spoken volumes.

“Seedling,” the clown repeated, reaching almost hungrily for her, and Paige screamed.

Dave looked at the clown too, frowning, then back at her. He grabbed her hand, yanking her beside him.

“Let’s go,” he ordered, and she let him drag her closer to the terminal. The train was really close now, but she urged it closer, to hurry the last few yards.

It screeched to a halt, and she almost sobbed her relief.

     She peered through the windows. The inside was jam-packed. A hasty look over her shoulder confirmed that the clown was approaching quickly. He jumped the tracks, stumbling only once, clearly as determined to reach her as she was to escape.

Any other time, she might have wondered why so many people were going to the city, but Paige didn’t care about them. She only wanted to get onto the train.

Come on, come on, she urged silently, bouncing on the balls of her feet in her impatience.

The doors finally opened and Paige cheered.

They shoved inside, and Dave moved to stand at the opposite door. Now, though, she wanted them closed, and quickly.

“Where is he? Do you see him?” she inquired, rising on her toes to see through the crowded train and too afraid to look through the door.

Is the clown going to make it? she wondered frantically.

The door closed with a low hiss, and she was about to release a sigh of relief when the clown banged against it with his whole body. He smashed against the glass, screaming his very clear rage and frustration.

“Seedling! I need to take her!” He used his hands and, to Paige’s horror, even his head to try to break. Blessedly, the door held true.

The train pulled away slowly and the man released an inhuman screech. He seemed almost to be in physical pain that she was getting away. That thought disturbed her much deeper than she wished to admit, even to herself.

“A friend of yours?” Dave asked, straight-faced.

“Don’t even joke about it,” she replied, shuddering, and surprisingly, he let it go.

“Let’s remain as close to the exit as possible,” he advised, and she agreed. Maybe that was a little paranoid, but she preferred the term vigilant.

Looking over the car, Paige noticed a few empty seats available, but they appeared to be beside those who showed signs of the sickness.

The healthy people—or at least those who still looked normal—made a point to stand as far from them as they could.

All the windows were sealed, of course, so they were all basically breathing infected air. Paige registered this truth with glum resignation.

That is if it is airborne. She allowed herself this faint sliver of hope.

But still, that only showed her how little she thought about things before acting on them. Being stuck in an infected metal box wasn’t one of her finest moments.

Yes, she would get to NYC faster, but that extra time came at a steep price. She might get infected if she wasn’t already.

But that is a chance I will have to take. She was resolved as she watched the station disappear from sight as the train picked up speed.

As if her mind needed a reprieve, her eyes landed on a poster that hung on the wall. It was for a movie, Deadpool 3, and she couldn’t help but chuckle as she remembered all her favorite scenes from the other Deadpool movies. That small spark of good humor vanished almost instantly.

“Hey, what’s up?” Dave nudged her, clearly noticing her frown.

Deadpool 3 is out,” she said, nodding toward the poster. “And I didn’t have a chance to see it.” She whined the complaint, knowing fully how ridiculous she sounded at that moment.

“Fellow geek,” he said, smiling. “I didn’t have a chance to see it either. But you know what,” he asked rhetorically before continuing. “Once this is over, and we survive, I will take you to see it—my treat, to celebrate the end of our adventure,” he proclaimed with a smile.

“Deal,” Paige replied instantly.

She couldn’t be certain if he meant it, but it was still nice having something to look forward to.

After that exchange, they both drifted into their own thoughts and she resumed her study of the people around her.

The gazes of the non-sick people were mostly glued to their phones as if they hoped that if they hit refresh, everything would change, and the news wouldn’t be so glum anymore.

Sadly, Paige caught herself doing the same, wishing she would find something about a cure or that things weren’t as bad as they thought. Which was pretty ironic considering what she’d seen on the way there.

She searched for a while but could find nothing new, just more of the same useless information she already read while back at school and in the car.

She couldn’t take any more bad news, so she put it away.

“That good, ha?” Dave asked and once again, Paige was relieved she wasn’t alone.

“Yeah,” she replied with a sigh.

She spotted another poster, this time of Mac D’s chicken nuggets being dunked into her favorite dip, sweet and sour. She’d kill for a box of nuggets right then.

Much to the obvious relief of all the passengers, the train didn’t stop at any other stations on the way. Instead, it zoomed past them, affording swift glimpses of the shocked expressions of all those waiting on the platform.

A part of Paige felt bad for them, but on the other hand, if more people boarded, they would have to move closer to the infected people. The healthy ones were already packed together like sardines as it was.

“Hey,” Dave called out suddenly. “Do you know what position Bruce Wayne played on his baseball team?”

At first, his question confused her, but then she realized he was trying to make a joke. So, she played along.

“No, what?”

“He was the bat boy,” Dave replied, not missing a beat, and Paige chuckled despite herself.

“That is a terrible joke,” she teased.

Dave shrugged. “It still made you smile.” He was right. It had made her smile, and she was happy not to think about what was going on around her, even for a short moment.

“Do you know why he’s called Batman?”

She looked at him in horror. “Of course. Because he’s scared of bats.”

“Baseball bats?” Dave laughed. “Only joking. So, what’s are you scared of? Other than all the weird stuff happening today.”

Paige paused for a moment as she thought about what she was scared of. The world being screwed up today is top of my list… Monday mornings—nope, that’s boring. Friday afternoon because class is over as if the darkness…jeez, he’ll think I’m a right wimp if I tell him that.

“Boy, you’re thinking hard about this one. You must have a few to select from,” Dave mocked.

“Just thinking. I need to make sure my superhero name is cool.” She tapped her lip as she thought.

Growing old, staying young, is that the best you can do? Dave looked impatiently at her. “I’m going to say spiders. You can be spider girl.” He grinned.

“Hey! I’m not scared of spiders. I’m scared of the darkness.” Damnit! I said that out loud.  

“Wait, what? You’re scared of the dark?” He looked at Paige, obviously confused.

“No, it’s not like that—” She paused, not knowing what to say. How could explain that her mother used to lock her and her sisters in the wardrobe to keep her away from the Shadow men?

Dave held his hands up. “Hey, darkness girl…nope, that’s not good. Maybe lady of the night.” He laughed, which was greeted with a punch to the arm.

“Ouch, you’re strong.” He winced as he rubbed his arm. “Night Girl, that has a good ring to it.” She had to agree.

“So, what are you scared of?”

“That’s easy. Well, not really scared of…more bored of, I guess. School.”

“That’s totally lame, School Boy.” Paige couldn’t help but laugh at his superhero name. He joined in, apparently unfazed.

In a superhero voice, Dave said, “Night Girl and School Boy are off to NYC to save the world.” He lifted one arm out in front of himself, mimicking Superman. Paige grinned and followed suit. They no doubt looked like fools messing around on the train without a care in the world.  

Through the window and still in the distance, the outline of NYC appeared.

I’m almost there, Paige thought as a sense of relief washed over her.

Her feet ached from standing for so long, and thinking back, she wished she’d put her sneakers on instead of the heavy black boots. But it was too late for thoughts like that, and they did go with her new Night Girl look.

 ***

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