I honestly didn’t expect the apocalypse to be so full of memorable noises. The thud of the van hitting Jason, then the thump, thump as we drove over him would never be scrubbed from my brain. Neither would the howls of those who clawed at the windows as Whitney drove onto the sidewalk and followed it until we got to the road.
“Go, go, go!” Wyatt said.
Echo’s ears went back, and he glanced around me to Anne.
“Echo is telling me Anne is about to attack someone,” I said.
“Yeah,” Wyatt said with a grunt. “I can see that.”
I glanced over my shoulder just as Whitney got us into the main road. Wyatt was sitting on Anne with his hand on her neck to keep her head down. She had her arms pinned beneath her, but that didn’t stop her from trying to bit him.
“Throw her out!” Whitney said.
“Just get us to the hospital.”
The adrenaline from Matthew attacking me must have worn off, because my arm started to throb, and the world began spinning.
“Hang on, Everly, we’re almost there,” Whitney said.
Echo butted his head against my hand, and he let me pet him until the van jerked to a stop and EMTs swarmed me.
I heard Wyatt and Whitney explaining what had happened. I felt them lift me out of the van and lay me down. I closed my eyes when the bright lights of the hospital filled my vision. I decided to leave them closed and drifted into oblivion.
Voices from far away woke me. It took me a second to focus on just one of them.
“Where are her parents?”
“They’re at the movies. Their phones won’t be on. We already left a message.”
That was Wyatt.
“Only family can be back here.”
“We brought her in.” That was Whitney. Was she crying?
“You also brought the infected girl in?”
I wrenched my eyes open and instantly wished I hadn’t. Blinding lights greeted me. I groaned and put a hand over my eye.
“Everly!” Wyatt and Whitney both spoke at once. I peeked out from behind my arm, which I realized had a thick bandage wrapped around it, and found one of them standing on each side of me. I was in a bed that had curtains around it. The emergency room.
“Are you okay?” Whitney grabbed my other hand.
Wyatt put his hand on my forehead. He had a butterfly bandage on his cheek. “Glad to see you’re awake.” He smiled.
Or maybe that was my overactive imagination. My arm didn’t hurt, which meant I was on some good pain killers.
Wyatt jerked his head over his shoulder. “Echo is in the other room going crazy.”
I tried to sit up, but found I had no strength.
“Don’t worry,” Whitney said. “We left him with a lady and her three kids. He’s entertaining them.”
Echo did like kids.
“Is he hissing at anyone?” I asked.
The siblings both gave me a confused look.
A woman in blue scrubs approached. “How are you feeling?”
Whitney moved so the woman could get to the equipment at the head of my bed. Only then did I realize I had an IV in one arm.
“Uh, fine. Actually.”
“You have a bad bite on your left arm. We’ve left it open under the bandage until you decide if you want a skin graft.”
“A skin graft?” My voice wavered. I lifted my left arm and stared at the white cloth wrapped around it as if I could see what lay beneath.
“Amy took a huge chunk of skin and muscle,” Wyatt said. He still had his hand on my forehead.
The pain killers didn’t mute the butterflies in my stomach as I took in the fact that Wyatt was touching me. “I remember.”
The woman checked the machines, shined a light in my eyes, then said she would be right back.
Whitney returned to my side. “Why did you ask if Echo hissed at anyone?”
Before I could answer, and ear-piercing scream sounded from far too close.
Wyatt leaned down and spoke softly. “That’s Anne.”
“You should have pushed her out of the van,” Whitney said.
Wyatt ignored her. “She went a little crazy on the way here.”
I nodded. I short of remembered. The butterflies in my stomach faded. Wyatt still cared about her. He’d gone out of his way to save her. I needed to remember that I had a crush on him and not the other way around. “Is she okay?”
“They won’t tell us anything,” Wyatt said, “but we’ve heard the doctors calling for security to restrain her. They’ve sedated her but it’s not working.”
Whitney looked in the direction the scream had come from. “She’s not the only one. There are five or six of them, and they all keep yelling about how hungry they are.”
“Just like Matthew,” I whispered. “And Jason.”
They both nodded.
“Echo hasn’t hissed at anyone?” I asked.
“He didn’t look happy about a couple of people in the waiting room, but no hissing,” Wyatt said. “Why?”
My thoughts were fuzzy, but this was important. “Echo hissed at everyone who attacked us before they attacked us. Sometimes days before.”
Wyatt furrowed his brow.
Whitney cocked her head to the side. “Not everyone he hissed at his attacked us.”
“Not yet,” I said.
Wyatt straightened up and removed his hand from my head. He used it to wipe his face. “You’re right.”
“Do you have your phone?” Wyatt asked Whitney.
“Yeah.” She made the word into a question.
“I’m going to go check on Echo.” Wyatt patted me on the shoulder as he left.
Whitney drew her phone from her back pocket but kept her attention on me. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking Echo can tell who is going to…turn.”
“Go crazy? I don’t know what to call it, but he can tell and that’s why he’s been acting so strange.”
Whitney tilted her head back and forth. “I don’t know. It seems a bit far-fetched.”
“And running from a bunch of high school band and theater students who are trying to bit us isn’t?”
“Good point.” Her phone vibrated, and she swiped it to life. “Wyatt says Echo has hissed at one person in the ER. He said he’s going to tell the nurse to keep an eye on the guy. Also, he sent a picture.” She turned her phone around to show me a photo of Echo sitting on the floor with his eyes half closed while three little kids petted him.
“At least someone his having a good day,” I said. Then I remembered that he’d been thrown. “I need to take him to the vet. Make sure he hasn’t been injured.”
Another message arrived. Whitney made a face. “Looks like our parents went to get your parents. And they have some guy in a suit with them.”
I heard my mother’s voice before I saw her. “Where is she?”
“This way, ma’am.”
Whitney moved to the head of my bed to make room. Wyatt, his parents, my parents, and the man in the suit poured into the small space. The curtains bulged, and I hoped no one was in the bed next to mine. If so, they were probably getting a lot of butts in their face.
“Everly!” My mom ran to give me a hug.
I was glad the drugs were keeping me a bit numb, or I probably would have dissolved into a mess of tears and snot at that moment. It felt good to have her arms around me. Safe.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Fine. Ish.” I held up my newly bandaged arm. “I got bit again.”
My dad put his hand on my knee. “You must taste good.”
The Larsen’s grilled their kids on what had happened as my parents did the same. That is until the man in the suit cleared his throat.
My mom looked at him, them back at me. “Everly, this is Mr. Conner. He works for the health department. He wanted to make sure you were okay and explain what was going on.”
“Hi,” I said. I hoped my tone didn’t indicate all of the questions I had. Why would they want to interview me? There were a thousand other people at the school. Also, why would they send someone specifically to tell us what was going on?
Mr. Conner, who was about Wyatt’s height and sported short blond hair, came to the foot of my bed. He looked around the circle of my friends and family, and spoke in a calm voice.
“The health department sent me to assure you that everything is going to be okay. The people who attacked you, and others at the play, all have trace remnants of the bad batches of soda pop in their systems. These batches were concentrated here in this area, so this is just a local occurrence. The ingredient reacts in some people more aggressively than others, which is why a small percentage of those who drank the soda have become unstable.”
The tone of his voice and the cadence of the words made me feel as if he’d said this a hundred times. Like the guy in the apocalypse movies who came to soothe the masses even though he knew everything was going to blow up.
Wyatt met my gaze, and I could see he was thinking the same thing.
Mr. Conner continued. “There are a lot of rumors flying around. I want to assure you that everyone will recover.”
“Recover?” I asked. What about Jason? We’d run him over.
“There won’t be any charges brought up against anyone who was at the play, no matter what happened.”
“That doesn’t sound feasible,” my dad said.
Mr. Conner gave him a tight smile. “I assure you that is the case.” He looked at me, and in that moment I knew that he knew we’d run Jason over. Not to mention injuring others. He gave my dad his card. “Please call me with any questions or concerns. Now I’m going to visit the other families of those who have been affected by this tragedy.”
We all watched as he walked away.
“That was strange,” Mr. Larsen said.
“They’re just trying to make sure we don’t all sue the soda company,” my mom said.
She was probably right.
At that moment my dad’s stomach growled so loud everyone stopped to look at him.
He grinned. “Sorry, I didn’t get to eat all of my popcorn at the movie.”
“You ate half of mine and yours,” my mom said.
It was then I remembered what had happened with Echo and my dad. Echo had hissed at him. My dad was hungry when he shouldn’t be. My heart stopped beating for a moment, and I suddenly felt trapped.
Would my dad turn into one of those monsters? Would he be okay? Or was Mr. Conner lying?
My eyes darted to Wyatt, who was watching me. I tried to communicate that something was terribly wrong. He raised his eyebrows in question.
The doctor, a man I hadn’t seen yet, arrived. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith?”
My parents turned toward him.
“Can I have a minute?”
My mom grabbed my hand. “We can’t leave her alone!”
“You can.” I tried to wring my fingers free. “I’m actually feeling a little light headed. I’d like to lay down for a few minutes.” Of course I was already laying down, but my mom bought my little act. “Okay, honey, we’ll be right back.”
The doctor smiled at me. “We’ll just be a few rooms away. If you need anything, hit the call button.” He pointed.
Whitney and Wyatt hung back as everyone else left. I reached out and wrapped my fingers around Wyatt’s wrist. “Watch my dad.”
Whitney glanced toward where the adults had gone.
I lowered my voice. “Echo hissed at him yesterday.”
Wyatt’s lips pressed into a tight line. He took my hand, squeezed it, and gave me a nod. “We’ll watch him.”
He smiled. “Not quite the apocalypse we imagined, eh?”
“Not really,” I said.
“Hopefully it’s just a local event, like Mr. Conner said.”
“Hopefully,” I said.
If you missed the beginning of the story, click HERE to go to Chapter 1