Contamination | Invasion Survivor Book One | Chapter Sixteen
Paige wanted to scream out of sheer frustration because she couldn’t believe this was happening. Again. Then she realized she could and let rip.
Dave watched her with a startled expression while she had her small tantrum but didn’t comment on it. His expression reminded her that it wasn’t prudent to attract attention to them in case the museum was full of infected people, so she forced herself to stop.
“You coming?” he asked, already walking away and looking at her over his shoulder.
She sighed and followed.
Her mind racing, Paige tried to figure out her next move in case she didn’t find Willow hiding somewhere on the premises.
She still held on to a tiny sliver of hope that she was there.
Walking about through the exhibitions that always gave her the willies, they both, as if silently communicating, refused to call out for their siblings. Paige already knew what a person could do in the advanced stages of the virus infection and wondered if he’d had some similar encounters that made him this wary.
Finally, having avoided drawing any attention to themselves, they came upon a section that housed the extinct animals.
Their lifeless stares and ancient bones looked extra ominous to her that day, but she continued through all the Mammoths, T-Rexes, and various other monstrous creatures.
None of them walk the Earth anymore, she thought glumly. Will humans be extinct next?
Craning to see the real-life size skeleton of an adult T-Rex, she wondered if there would be some sort of advanced, intelligent species in the future that would create a museum dedicated to humans. Something much like this one but depicting that the entire human race was taken out by some strange and deadly virus.
She couldn’t help but shudder.
Willing herself to push those dark thoughts away, she started a new mantra.
I won’t become extinct. I will make it through this.
The notion helped but only up to a point.
“Let’s go this way,” Dave urged and he got no complaints from her. The section was empty, and she was eager to be somewhere else anyway.
She caught sight of something quite familiar and smiled. Dave noticed and raised an eyebrow.
“What?” he asked.
She simply shrugged at first but then decided to tell him. “Did you watch the movie Night at the museum?” she asked.
It was clear he hadn’t followed her train of thought but nodded nevertheless. “Sure, who hasn’t?”
“It’s filmed here. That is one of Willow’s favorite movies. I watched it like a hundred times, she even made me dress up as one of the characters with her for Halloween.”
There was something else she wanted to say, but they stumbled upon a group of what appeared to be tourists. They were all infected and gathered together in front of a set of doors. Whether they guarded something inside or prevented someone from leaving, she couldn’t say.
Paige and Dave scurried away from them without making a sound.
“So, who did you dress as?” he asked, resuming their previous conversation.
“Larry Daley, of course.” He laughed. “Tell me there are pictures,” he teased.
“Who’s your favorite character, then?” she asked in an effort to deflect where his mind was going.
“The Easter Island head, without a doubt. He is one cool dude.”
“So you identify yourself with a big rock?” Paige couldn’t help adding a little mockery. “That’s interesting.”
Suddenly, they almost fell over a woman sitting on the marble floor with her back against the wall. She was breathing quite rapidly as if she had been running.
Noticing that she wore a security guard uniform with a cheerful name tag that read, “Bree,” Paige wanted to rush over to her and start bombarding her with questions when Dave stopped her. She looked questioningly at him, but he simply shook his head before nodding in the guard’s direction.
Paige looked again at the woman more closely now and saw fresh blood flowing from her nose.
She is infected, she realized.
Thankfully, she didn’t seem to be one of the crazy types which called Paige a Seeding and went after her. It’s like it affects people in different ways, Paige thought. I only hope it’s not the next stage of the infection and that soon, everyone will be after me. The thought didn’t sit well with her. Things were bad enough already without throwing that into the mix.
The guard, Bree, also looked scared, so Paige decided to approach her anyway.
Dave sighed next to her, clearly annoyed by her lack of common sense, but this opportunity was too important to simply pass up.
She knelt beside the guard. “Are you all right?” she asked her.
Bree blinked at her a couple of times as if she was unsure of what she was doing on the floor. Even though the confusion was plain to see on her face, she didn’t make any attempt to stand. She was about to repeat the question when Bree shook her head.
“Is there anyone else here besides you?” Page tried another approach.
She received the same reply.
“Do you know what happened to the school kids who were here on a field trip?” she asked, eager to find out anything about her sister.
Dave knelt as well, clearly unable to hold back. “They were wearing school uniforms—formal jackets with a crest on.”
Bree refocused on him and it was obvious she was struggling with something but couldn’t find her way out of it.
Paige put a hand slowly on her shoulder in reassurance and comfort as much in an attempt to keep her focused.
“Bree, can you hear me?” She used her most soothing voice.
The guard looked like she was about to cry but managed to open her mouth this time.
“They…they…” She wrestled with the words while they waited on pins and needles but eventually, managed to choke out an answer. “They took them.”
Panic rose within Paige but Dave was faster. “Who? Who took them?” he demanded.
“Wha— What is happening to me?” Bree cried, getting more and more agitated.
“Listen,” Paige chimed in, squeezing the woman’s hand slightly. “You need to focus. Who took them?”
“Took who?” she countered, furrowing her brows, and Dave cursed beside them, jumping back to his feet. He started to pace, frustration rolling off him almost visible waves.
They were all on edge. Paige was aware of that but they couldn’t lose their heads, not now.
“The school kids,” Paige told Bree as if speaking to a child herself. “Who took them?”
It was really hard to remain calm under those circumstances, but since they needed Bree to tell her everything she knew, Paige needed to rein her emotions in. She wished Dave would do the same so he wouldn’t unintentionally scare the poor security guard who was already close to panic.
Bree nodded, focusing once more. Resolve settled in her face as she tried to speak.
Dave joined them once more, and Paige worried for a second that he would distract her but luckily, he didn’t.
“The men…in clothes…to protect them from the virus. They…left us here to…die.” Tears formed in her eyes and tugged at Paige’s heart. And to her complete shock, Dave took Bree’s other hand, showing his own support.
She knew she would feel beyond bad about leaving her there as well, but she needed her sister. When Dave looked at her, Paige could see in his eyes that he was thinking the very same thing. They needed to go, and now.
“In vans, they’re in vans…” Bree mumbled.
“It’ll be okay.” Paige lied to her and hated herself for it. But that phrase was something people always seemed to say in the most terrible situations, and this was no different.
“Did they take all the kids?” Dave pressed for more information.
Bree nodded. He let out a breath of relief. If his brother was with the rich kids, he would be in safe hands.
They stood almost in unison, but Bree kept staring at the space Paige once occupied as if she believed she was still there.
Willow is gone. Paige started to panic.
“What are we going to do now?” Dave voiced her own thoughts and she honestly didn’t know how to reply.
She pulled her phone out and attempted to call the last number saved.
There was no answer, Dad can’t help. He is miles away and trapped.
Looking further through her contacts, her eyes stopped at Mom’s number.
She can’t help either.
For some reason, the only person Paige thought about calling next was River. Even though a rational part of her knew that her best friend was already infected and would probably be of no use, she still pressed the dial button.
She walked away from the infected security guard with Dave in tow as the phone started to ring.
“What are you doing?” he wanted to know.
“Shh,” she replied, pleading silently for River to answer.
Come on…pick up, pick up.
“Hello?” River answered in her usual manner, and it took Paige a couple of moments to process what just happened.
“River? Are you okay?” she asked, finding her voice.
“Who is this?” River asked, a bit annoyed, and that confused her even further.
She couldn’t help but feel hurt that her best friend didn’t recognize her voice anymore.
“It’s Paige,” she replied, feeling silly she even had to utter that sentence.
“Why are you calling me? Why don’t you just come over?” she muttered slowly, not making any sense at all.
“River, I can’t come. I’m not there with you,” Paige explained slowly, thinking that maybe her friend had entered the next stage in the virus infection and become delusional.
“Yes, you are,” River replied instantly, starting to get agitated. “You’re here, Paige,” she whispered but it was phrased more like a question. As if she was doubting what she saw. Paige was suddenly really worried for River’s wellbeing.
Wherever she is, she is getting sicker, not better.
“River, do you know where Willow is?” Paige asked, even though she couldn’t explain to herself why she did it. Of course, her friend didn’t know anything. She was probably in some kind of quarantine in a government facility with the rest of the infected people.
“She’s right here…talking to you,” River responded matter-of-factly. Paige was so rattled by that, she stopped in her tracks.
“Talking to me?” She practically screeched into the phone before remembering to remain calm and keep her voice low. “Can you give Willow the phone?” she asked and waited nervously while River complied.
River must be hallucinating. Paige argued with herself, trying to rationalize the impossible.
I’m clearly not there, and neither is Willow.
“Hello?” Her little sister’s voice spoke on the other end of the line.
That is her. Paige barely suppressed a gasp. I know her voice—always.
“Willow! Are you okay?”
“Duh, I’m okay,” she replied instantly in that special way teenagers sometimes preferred when conversing with adults. With too much attitude.
It made her pause. “Do you have the virus?” she demanded.
“What? No. They brought us all back. Everything is okay.” Willow tried to reassure her, but her mind was spinning too much to stop and process everything that was happening.
“How is everything okay?” she demanded.
“Because Brooke is here,” Willow replied cheerfully.
Brooke? My sister, who disappeared ten years ago?
All right, that tidbit of information just blew her mind completely. And with that, Paige’s phone simply slipped through her hand.
Somehow, Dave managed to catch it before it completely smashed against the marble floor.
None of this makes sense, Paige thought, questioning her own sanity at that moment.
Willow must have the virus if she thinks she’s with Brooke.
“Paige?” Dave called out to her, handing her the phone.
Snapping back to reality, she snatched it and started yelling even before she placed it against her ear.
“Willow, are you still there?”
“Yeah, Paige,” Willow replied, clearly a little annoyed.
“Can I talk to Brooke?” Paige asked, still shaking her head in disbelief.
This can’t be true, she repeated over and over again, trying to quench the hope that started to bloom deep inside her.
“Sure, one sec.”
Paige waited with something resembling patience, biting at one of her nails as she heard the phone being passed around.
Her heart froze solid on hearing that one simple word and she recognized Brook’s distinctive voice.
It’s been so many years. It can’t be her. One part of her—one that was getting smaller with each passing second—tried to reason with her. Her mind must be playing tricks on her, making her think she was hearing something she wanted to hear, but that ultimately couldn’t be.
Maybe I am infected? Paige wondered with sudden clarity.
“Who is this?” Paige heard herself speak.
“Brooke,” her older sister responded.
“Look, I don’t know who you are, but stay away from my little sister. Put Willow back on,” Paige yelled with as much authority as she could muster at that very moment.
The impostor didn’t say anything else.
“Paige?” Her younger sister sounded confused.
“Willow, where are you guys? Stay away from that girl. There’s no way she’s Brooke.” Paige tried to reason with her.
“We’re at Fort Hamilton. Why are you so mean? Of course it’s Brooke. Who else would it be?” Willow said all in one breath.
“Willow, listen to me,” Paige tried again. “That is not our sister. Now, where is this place? It sounds familiar.”
She racked her brain to make the connection but couldn’t. Her nerves were stretched woefully thin as was.
“It’s on the sign every time we go visit Mom in Long Island,” Willow explained.
Then it hit her. She did remember. They always passed that specific sign whenever they took a trip to visit Mom. She could even picture it inside her head.
“Paige, she looks just like Brooke,” Willow said, changing the subject and snapping Paige out of her reverie. “Like in all the pictures we have.” She was adamant, her youthful voice vibrant with quiet conviction.
She simply shook her head, even though her little sister couldn’t see her. She definitely couldn’t deal with that. Nothing made any sense any longer.
What Willow was suggesting was beyond impossible, so Paige simply let that one slide.
“Willow, I’m coming to get you. Stay away from whomever that is and anyone who looks sick. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll be there as soon as I can. I love you,” she assured her then paused because she had to catch her breath.
“I love you too, Paige. Really, don’t worry. I’m fine,” Willow replied with surprising confidence
Paige went to hang up then stopped herself. Eric. She’d almost forgotten her promise to that poor mother at the school. “Willow, do you know a boy called Eric? Is he there?” What’s his last name? Paige tried to remember what Sophie had told her, but it felt like days ago that his mother had pleaded with Paige to help her. “Eric Connor.”
“Yes. He’s here,” Willow replied. “Why?”
“His mom asked me to check. Is he sick?”
“No sicker than normal,” Willow replied flatly.
“What does that mean?”
Willow must have leaned closer into River’s phone because her voice was almost a whisper. “He’s always picking his nose and eating his snot. He’s gross.”
Paige couldn’t hold back a laugh. She was glad they were both okay. Dave was eyeballing her. “And Peter? Is he okay?” he asked, his impatience and worry evident in his tone.
Peter didn’t go to Willow’s school, but Paige asked anyway. “Is there a kid called Peter there?”
“I don’t know any Peter. Peter,” Willow yelled, nearly bursting Paige’s eardrum. She put the phone on speaker, so Dave could hear.
They didn’t hear any kids answer.
“Nope,” Willow said after a short pause. “But there are a lot of rooms with different kids in them. He could be in another room.”
Dave face dropped, and he turned away, his expression disappointed.
“We’ll be there soon, Willow. Don’t go anywhere.”
“I won’t,” Willow replied then hung up.
Paige couldn’t even try to wrap her mind around all that had happened, even though she knew she needed to.
Dave looked questioningly at her and she almost started laughing, but it was with hysteria rather than humor.
“I just had the weirdest conversation ever,” she informed him. That was the understatement of the frigging century.
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