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DescriptionIn book three of the Chasing Destiny series, the first adult members of the community begin to fall ill, and the first adult dies. Hannah struggles with feelings of guilt, since she foresaw this day, and could do nothing to prevent it. A desperate group of youth from the nearby town reach the community seeking shelter, food and protection from the riots that threaten to destroy the human race. Will they be welcomed to the community, or sent away to near certain death?
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Excerpt:Hannah couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes as she and Justin carried their things to their new apartment over the legal center. It felt as if everyone in the community was standing there watching them. Each service building had been built with two apartments. Justin and his parents lived in one with his younger brother Jason. Justin and Hannah would take the second apartment.
Hannah felt all the eyes on her. She knew everyone blamed her now that Ray was sick, but she’d tried to stop it and couldn’t. She knew they’d have a full week’s reprieve before anyone else was sick, but it was time to start digging the graves. Before everything was said and done, they would lose one-hundred-twenty-seven of the two-hundred-twenty-three member community. They would lose all the adults and some of the children. She’d been warning them this was coming for seven years, but now that it was here, her standing would change. She was no longer the savior. Now she was the one who could have changed things but didn’t.
They walked along in silence and stepped into their new apartment. It was brightly decorated with streamers and a sign reading, “Welcome home Mr. and Mrs. Ryder!” Hannah brushed away a tear as she looked at the banner. Would they have still been so kind if they’d known Ray would be sick before they even came home?
All of their things had been moved to the new apartment during the week they’d been away. Someone, probably her mother or Justin’s mother Leah, had unpacked everything and made it look homey. She took her dirty laundry to the hamper. She’d take it to the community laundry that afternoon. She’d even work with them so she could keep her mind off everything going on.
Hannah had never apprenticed at a specific job the way the other teens in the community were required to do. Because of her role as advisor to the council, she needed to be free as much as possible. Instead, she worked with different groups every day, always doing her share of the work, but never working with the same people more than two days in a row. It also helped her to understand each of the occupations there, so she could be a better advisor, because she could talk from multiple points of view.
Part of the reason she’d never apprenticed was because it was so hard for her to be with people, and become close to them, when she knew they’d die soon. It was hard enough with her own parents.
She sank down onto the couch in their tiny living room, trying to keep the tears at bay. She’d hoped she was wrong. She’d have given everything to have become the laughing stock of the community by being wrong about the epidemic that would kill off all the adults.
Justin sat beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “Stop beating yourself up. It’s not your fault.”
She buried her face in his shoulder. “That’s not how everyone else feels. They all blame me.”
“The only person we’ve talked to since we got back is my dad. He didn’t blame you. Are you suddenly omniscient and know what everyone else is feeling?” His voice was steady and reasonable.
She smiled at that. “Not that I know of. I just think I’d blame me.”
Justin sighed. “I don’t think there’s any way anyone blames you. They all knew what they were in for. You never said you could save anyone but the kids, and only by creating a separate self-sufficient community could you save the kids.”
“I’m sure you’re right. I just hate that I couldn’t save everyone. I felt like it was my job, but I just didn’t know how!” She’d have given anything to have been told how to spare everyone, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“Well, we need to go down there. I need to give the orders for the graves to start being dug.” He paused, looking down at her. “What are we going to do for coffins?” Even Justin was shocked at how easily he was discussing the death of every adult they knew and loved. How could he be so callous? But how could he not?
“There’s a warehouse in the woods, way back up against the Northwest wall. It’s filled with coffins.” She sighed. “I had your dad bring in enough to bury our population twice over. I couldn’t give him the exact numbers.”
He shrugged. “And we all know there will be more deaths over the years. No one lives forever.” He stood, reaching down a hand to help her up. “Let’s go talk to the council.”
Jim, Justin’s father, was waiting for them outside the small apartment. “I’ve gathered the council. I knew you’d need to meet.” His eyes were serious as he squeezed Hannah’s arm to help bolster her courage.
Justin nodded. “Thanks, Dad.”
They walked in silence to the community center where the meeting would be held. Justin kept his new bride’s hand tightly in his. Hannah was surprised to see her dad at the center. He didn’t usually attend the meetings. Of course, it made sense for him to be here. He was the one who’d followed the disease outside their walls and was now the primary caregiver for the only member of their community dying from the pandemic.
Seeing Hannah, Ryan walked across the room and drew his daughter in close. “I know this is hard for you, baby, but we’ll get through this week together.”
She nodded glad to have her father’s support.
Justin, the community leader, called for order to the meeting. Everyone took a chair around the large round table in the middle of the room. “I’m sure you all know why we’re here.” He squeezed Hannah’s hand. “Hannah and I have been gone for a week, so I’d like to start the meeting by hearing the news of the outbreak outside our walls.”
Ryan stood, drawing all attention to himself. He was the community doctor, and had been the one to communicate with doctors outside their walls for news on what was happening. “The disease started in Mexico. The airports and borders were immediately shut down, but there’s obviously a long incubation period on this. They’re calling the disease creptio lethargus from the Latin for seizure and coma. No one has had time to study it. Within forty-eight hours of the outbreak, it had killed over sixty-million people in Mexico alone, which was over half of the population there.
“The outbreaks after that have stood no rhyme or reason. Over a quarter of the population of Europe is gone. Over a third of Australia. Just under half of Asia. The United States has already lost over one-hundred-fifty-million, and people are still getting sick all over. No one has been able to do anything. They tried quarantining the first of the outbreaks in several countries and it did nothing.”
Ryan took a deep breath, hating being the one to bear the bad news. “I would have to guess this has been in the population for years, and somehow something set it off now. Even if we’d closed ourselves off a few months ago, I don’t think it would have changed anything. I’m going to make people as comfortable as I can when they come down with it. There’s nothing more I can do. Thankfully the pattern seems the same worldwide. After chills and seizures, the patient goes into a coma. They die within twenty-four hours of the initial outbreak.
“There have been a few survivors, mostly teens. Some young children have caught it, but most have died. No one over the age of twenty-two survives it from the reports.”
There were a few gasps. The council had some members who were over twenty-two. They all turned to Hannah with wide eyes. She stood, knowing it was expected. “I’m sorry. I wish I could have done something to stop it, but all I was shown how to do is keep the human race alive. That’s going to have to be enough.” Her eyes pled with them for understanding, and then she steadied herself to go on. “We need to start digging graves. No one else in our community will be sick for another week, so now we have to get ready for the deaths. We need one-hundred-twenty-seven graves dug. Before the week is out.”
Hannah returned to her seat and watched Justin stand. “We have two backhoes in the woods for this purpose. We need to get people out there operating them.” He paused looking around the room. “I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for making our community what it is. I know many of you came here hoping to survive. Most of you came here knowing you would die, but hoping to give your children a chance at life. By doing that, you’ve given the human race a chance. Thank you.” He sat down, feeling every eye in the room on him and his new bride.
Jim stood. “I’ll make an announcement at lunch that graves are being dug, and ask everyone to stay out of the Northwest corner of the property where we’ve decided to place the graves. Please don’t give out exact numbers to anyone who doesn’t need to know them.” He took a deep breath. “This will be my last announcement for the community. From now on, I’ll simply be acting as an advisor to Justin and answering questions if he has them. It’s time for the younger generation to start actively running things, while we’re still here to advise them.”
Even though the teen council had been in charge for the past three years, all the positions had still been a joint effort with the old officer advising the younger, and doing the bulk of the duties. That needed to stop immediately.
They all stood, and slowly walked out of the room. In the group, only five people were under twenty-two. There were over thirty people in the room, and at least twenty-five of them would die. It was hard to keep going, knowing everything you did would be for someone else, because you had no hope of survival.
Lunch was a subdued affair with the only break in the monotony being Jim’s announcement that the Northwest corner of the property was being transformed into a cemetery and asking everyone stay away.
Emily sat beside her sister, Hannah, her eyes wide with shock. “It’s not that I didn’t believe you. I did. I just wouldn’t let myself think about the fact we’d actually be losing so many we love. I’ve spent most of the day at Ray’s bedside. After the tremors were gone, and he went into the coma, there was nothing to do but wait it out.” The tears drifted down her face. “All the things Dad’s taught me have made me think medicine could do anything. I was sure we’d beat it. But we can’t. We’re going to lose so many people we love.”
Hannah turned to her sister, holding her tight. “I’m sorry, Em. I tried to tell you.” She felt eyes on the two of them, but when she looked there were no recriminating expressions. The people here were even kinder than she’d given them credit for.
Justin and his brother, Jason, exchanged sad looks. Jason had been apprenticing under the sheriff and would soon take over as the sole police officer of the community. They were unsure of how the children would react after the adults were gone. They’d all been planning for this time for seven years, but that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be mass chaos.
They ate their lunches quickly. “I want to go with you to the medical center after lunch, Em. I at least want to see Ray.” Hannah knew it was her responsibility to do it, but it was more than that. She genuinely cared for the man. The community had become so close in their years together, she felt as if each of the older men were an uncle or even a grandfather.
Emily nodded. “There’s not much to see, but you’re welcome to come. Dad doesn’t think he’ll make it through the night.” Emily’s voice held a great deal of sadness. She’d need to be able to get through that to be the doctor she was destined to be.
He won’t. Hannah kept her thoughts to herself. At least after Ray died they’d have a week, but then it was going to be crazy. They’d start dropping like flies. It wouldn’t take a full month to lose over fifty percent of their population.
Justin could see what Hannah was thinking and squeezed her hand, silently telling her it was okay.
After lunch, Hannah walked back to the medical center with Emily. They’d built it, with one large open hospital ward. Everything had been done with the pandemic in mind. Hannah went to her father and gave him his lunch. With Ray in the state he was in, they hadn’t felt safe leaving him alone, so Emily had stayed with Ray while Ryan went to the council meeting, and Ryan had stayed while Emily went to lunch.
He automatically took the bowl of stew and bread from Hannah. “Thanks. You holding up okay?”
Hannah nodded, even though she knew it was a lie. A little piece of her was dying inside. She walked to Ray’s bedside and saw him hooked up to an IV. “How’s he doing?” She sank into the chair beside his bed, still warm from his wife who had just gone off to get some lunch.
Ryan shook his head. “I’ll be shocked if he makes it through the night.” His face looked grim. He knew it wouldn’t be long before he was lying there on one of their hospital beds with an IV in his arm, and his daughter was going to have to deal with it. Emily was holding up fine for now, but this was her first real crisis.
Leah, Hannah and Emily’s mom, stepped into the room then. “Do you need me to spell you?” she asked. Leah was a psychiatrist, and while she didn’t do a lot of healing, she was a fully licensed MD and had the credentials to do whatever was needed.
“We’re okay for now. I think I’m going to send Emily to bed so she can take the night shift. We’ll need someone who can.” Ryan sounded weary already. The next month was going to be horrific for their little community, but most especially for Emily as she dealt with death after death.
Leah shook her head. “I’ll sleep now and take the night shift. That way you have as much time with Emily as you can while there’s still time. The more she can learn from you now, the better the community will fare in the future.” She didn’t wait for an argument.
Leah walked across the room and hugged Hannah tightly. “Why don’t you come upstairs and talk to me for a while before I go to sleep? I can only imagine what you must be going through to see all of your worst nightmares coming true.” She pulled back looking into her daughter’s eyes and reading the tension in them.
“I will. I want a couple of minutes alone with Ray and then I’ll be up.” She turned her attention to the man lying quietly on his bed taking his hand in hers.
Her father stood. “Come on Emily. Let’s go.” He took Emily by the shoulders and steered her out of the room. Leah followed them quietly from the room.
Once alone, Hannah leaned over Ray’s hand and finally released the tears she’d been holding in all day. She’d known, better than anyone, what was coming, and even how it would be. What she hadn’t known was how it would affect her once it happened. Her slim body was wracked with sobs. “I’m so sorry! I knew you’d be first. I should have told you. I should have told your family, but I didn’t want them locking you out.” She drew in a deep breath, trying to get ahold of herself. “I feel like it’s all my fault. I wish I knew how to make you better, but that’s not what I was shown. I only know how to make the human race survive. Not individuals. I couldn’t save you. I tried. I swear I tried.”
Finally she was able to stem the flow of tears. She knew she looked horrible, and it was obvious she’d been crying, but she was about to go see her mom who would understand better than anyone. Without her mother, she’d never have been able to convince anyone to come here to their little community. No one ever would have listened to a lone twelve year old. It was hard enough to convince people with her mother in tow.
She pressed a kiss to Ray’s forehead and dried her tears. Going to the door, Hannah called for her father and sister to come back. “I’m going to go talk to Mom.” They didn’t mention her red eyes, and neither did she.
PandemicBy: Abigail Denver