Contamination | Invasion Survivor Book One | Chapter Six
The blood continued to pour from River’s nose, and everyone in the room backed slowly away from her.
Val was in hysterics, but some of the other girls rushed to her side to try and calm her.
They were all scared, but Paige held her ground. River was her best friend. They had clicked from day one. After a deep breath for courage, she took a step in her direction, then another.
“Don’t go near her. You’ll get the virus,” she heard one of her classmates say but ignored the warning.
She shut out all the voices, those from within as well as without, as she reached her.
River now looked like every other infected person they’d seen so far. She stared forward into empty space, completely oblivious to the world around her. With one hand, she covered her bleeding nose, but that wasn’t enough.
Blood seeped through her fingers, staining her clothes and even dripping onto the wooden floor, forming a small puddle between them.
“River?” Paige tried to get her attention, standing directly in her line of sight, but there was no response. River had no reaction to her whatsoever.
“Get away from her, Paige,” someone else urged, but she simply shook her head.
Her mom always told her she was too stubborn for her own good, and maybe this proved that, but she could not leave River alone when she needed her.
The slamming of the doors in the silence that followed told her all the girls had retreated to their rooms. She didn’t hold that against them.
They didn’t want to be near the virus and possibly get infected, and neither did she. Nevertheless, she remained beside her friend.
“River?” She tried again.
Pulling up her sleeve, her hand shaking slightly, Paige touched the other girl’s shoulder. She didn’t budge.
Throwing caution out the window, she grabbed her more firmly by the shoulder and squeezed gently, shaking her one more time in the hope of getting through to her.
Finally, River blinked her eyes slowly, and Paige released a sigh of relief as she watched her gaze appear to come back into focus.
She looked at her, confused and scared. “Paige…what’s happening to me?” Her voice sounded muffled and distorted as her hand was still pressed against her nose in an effort to stop the bleeding.
“I…I don’t know. We have to get you to the nurse,” Paige added hastily, not wanting to make River even more scared.
“Am I going to die?”
Paige started to shake her head as her throat closed. She didn’t want to have that conversation with her friend right now, and not ever. It was heartbreaking and terrifying and at that moment, she realized this must be how her parents felt every time she’d asked them about Brooke and if she would ever home.
“I don’t know.” She managed to choke the words out, stifling her own emotions because this moment wasn’t about her.
“Let’s get you out of here.” She placed an arm around River, walking her slowly out of the common room.
Some of the girls opened their doors and peeked out, checking their progress, and the relief on their faces at seeing them leave was immense. Again, Paige couldn’t really blame them. She would probably respond the same if someone else was in River’s place.
Once they reached the hallway again, they encountered security personnel leading other kids from their rooms.
Money is always helpful, especially when it’s the end of the world, Paige thought with disdain then immediately felt guilty about the meanness behind it.
Rich or poor, these kids were all sick and in the same boat together.
Get a grip, Paige, this can’t really be the end of the world. Can it?
Her dad said they knew the virus was coming. So that surely meant they were already working on the cure.
Yes, Paige agreed with herself.
Besides, if they could send tourists into space, they could find a cure for whatever virus caused all this.
But until they did, Paige had to find Willow and her mother and lead them to safety.
Maybe she could even ask one of her classmates if they could catch a ride with them. She liked that idea and wished she’d taken the time to make more friends so she could have more options available.
Her nose was always stuck in some textbook, and River was the only one who could ever pry her away from one successfully.
Unfortunately, the time for socializing had officially passed, and she had more pressing matters to attend to.
Paige didn’t like how River looked, so she wracked her brain to find a way to engage her in some way. There had to be something to divert her mind, for even the briefest of moments, from the fact that she was suffering from an unknown disease.
“Remember that trip to Chicago we took for your birthday?” Paige asked suddenly as the thought popped into her head like a lifeline.
River nodded, even though it was clear she didn’t understand the abrupt change of subject.
Chuckling—or at least as close to that as she could in her condition—she said, “You got drunk from one beer.”
Actually, it was only half a beer, Paige corrected mentally but decided not to share that tidbit with her friend. That night was embarrassing enough, as it was.
“And you had to drag me all the way to our room.” Much like she now dragged River.
She banished that thought, even though the reality of their situation was probably why that specific story came to mind in the first place.
“And the elevator was busted,” they said in unison and smiled.
River actually looked slightly better as she continued to chuckle. “You had mistaken some random guy for Thor because he had long hair. Begging him for an autograph. And he did, too.”
Groaning, Paige tried to defend herself. “He looked just like him—muscular, tall, even had leather pants on.”
“He was a biker, Paige.”
“Yes, I remember,” she replied, faking indignation. “And it was very kind of him when he offered to take us for a ride on his motorbike.”
“He offered you a ride.”
“But we are a package deal,” she countered, hugging her friend to emphasize her words. “Next time, I will definitely say yes.”
River gave her an incredulous look, which was both comical and terrifying since her bloody hand still covered her nose.
“What?” Paige asked, faking ignorance.
“The day you accept a ride from a random biker, I’ll become a prima ballerina.” River deadpanned behind the gory hand.
“You look good in tights.”
“I look good in everything, but I would rock that outfit,” River agreed.
“So, it’s a deal. But he wasn’t a random biker,” Paige corrected. She leaned in to whisper in River’s ear. “He was Thor.” They both laughed.
Continuing to tease one another, they made it to the nurse’s office. It only ever saw a few kids in a normal day which, as it turned out, this wasn’t.
Far from it.
All the beds were filled with kids who looked as pale as Chen had and River now did.
They pressed bloody tissues hopelessly against their noses in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
The medical area overflowed beyond maximum capacity, so some kids sat pressed against the wall or even lay on the tiled floor. Blood stains all around them made the whole scene look like a horror movie special.
River was still conscious, at least, and Paige released the breath she’d been holding for God only knew how long. This was the place people went to get help, to get better, she reminded herself.
That was the moment the truth hit her. Like the rest of them, Paige didn’t know anything about the virus.
How did you get it in the first place?
Is it airborne? Or did you have to have contact with someone already infected?
Either way, she was already exposed to it, she realized, looking at a spot of River’s blood that stained her jacket, mocking her.
Paige didn’t feel remorse, though, because she did the right thing getting River there.
“I don’t want to be here,” River whispered. Her breath felt hot against Paige’s skin and she didn’t like the fact that her friend also had a fever.
Knowing she was already exposed to the virus, Paige removed some of the loose strands of hair from her friend’s face, trying to soothe her. One touch on her skin confirmed her hunch. River was radiating way too much heat.
“I know,” she replied in her most soothing voice
She didn’t want to be there either, but it couldn’t be helped.
Her gaze took in all the kids who were also forced to be there. Paige hesitated when she spotted a familiar figure in the far corner of the room. It was Chen.
The first person Paige had ever seen infected with the virus.
Chen stared up at the ceiling and the light that was fixed directly above her bed. She seemed to not need a tissue anymore. A crust of dried blood had formed around her nose, but apparently, it had stopped bleeding.
There was no way to know whether that was a good or a bad thing.
Chen’s eyes flickered every once in a while, and Paige was relieved she was still alive.
Maybe the virus doesn’t necessarily kill everyone.
The school nurse, Ms. Butcher, had a paper mask on over her mouth and nose. She moved from one student to the next, tending to their needs, but by the color of her skin—or rather the lack of it—Paige knew it was too late for precautions. She was already infected.
Still, it looked like it was still in the earlier stages because her mask was spotless, without traces of blood
“Paige.” River’s panicky voice snapped her from her reverie. “What should I do?”
Paige was in the process of answering when someone interrupted her.
“Are you infected?” A deep, male voice boomed from behind her, making them both jump a little.
Paige turned, only to see a really tall man in a protective suit. Unlike Ms. Butcher, he wore a full mask with a helmet. A small plastic window in the front allowed him to look through and showed a small snapshot of his features. He looked like a spaceman, and suddenly, Paige had a vision of him walking on the moon.
Banishing those thoughts, she concentrated on the question.
“Wh-what?” she asked, a little distracted by his surprise appearance.
“Are you infected?” he repeated, and she was about to answer him when she spotted others dressed like him, walking past them and entering the nurse’s room.
She wondered what that was about but then refocused on the man before her
“No…no, I’m not,” Paige replied with confidence.
Or at least I hope I’m not, she added to herself.
He scanned her from head to toe, looking for the sign of the virus and clearly trying to decide if she was telling the truth.
“Is this your friend?” He nodded at River who still stood beside her.
“Then you better get out of here and back to your room before you become infected. I’ll take her from here,” he commanded, the authority in his tone denying any argument. Not that she would. Still, she had to ask.
“Where are you taking her?”
“That’s classified information,” he replied, then took a step toward her, bending slightly so she could look him in the eyes.
“If you stay in here, you will also be infected if you’re not already. So go while you can,” he advised.
“Is the virus really as bad as they say on the news?” Paige had to ask, even though she already had the answer from her dad.
The man looked at River, and that made Paige turn as well.
River’s face had taken on its blank expression once more, and she looked lost in her own world.
“Yes,” he replied more softly than she expected.
“Is there a cure?” She asked another question, not able to hide the panic in her voice.
He looked at her for a couple of heartbeats, and Paige was sure he wouldn’t answer. The silence between them continued to grow. But then, like something in him shifted, he spoke.
“We’ve not been informed. If there was, these kids would be the first to know.” There was an edge of envy in his tone.
He was right. These were the kids of some of the most powerful people in the world. So, if there was some kind of cure available, it would have been delivered already.
Paige couldn’t fault his logic. He probably had family who in all likelihood couldn’t afford anything close to the special treatment these kids were so accustomed to.
In her peripheral vision, she saw one of the people in protective clothing speaking with Ms. Butcher. She nodded in River’s direction but then she turned and stared at Paige.
She returned the favor and was surprised to see that Ms. Butcher didn’t have the same blank stare as the other people with the virus had, but rather, one of hope.
That lifted Paige’s spirit immediately because she was certain these people were there to help.
She looked at all the faces in that overcrowded sanctuary, at friends she thought she would never see again, and that was when she spotted AJ.
Paige couldn’t suppress her gasp on seeing his condition. He was practically unconscious, blood was smeared over his once pristine white shirt, and he looked as ill as the rest of them. Maybe even slightly worse.
Still, she was relieved to see one of the men in a protective suit tending to him.
Suddenly, AJ looked at Paige and smiled, catching her completely off guard. He looked genuinely happy. Is it because I’m not infected? she wondered.
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