The predawn air was cool and damp. It was a good day to die. Finally, peace reigned over the small Appalachian town again. It had been a bloody and terrifying three weeks since it all started.
Samantha didn’t know how she had managed to keep Jonathan away from the violence and death that had plagued their town. It might have been better had she just turned him over to the army doctors. He’d never hurt so much as a fly before the sickness came upon him.
Poor Jonathan, Samantha thought to herself. He’d been a well loved member of the small Appalachian community. Slow to anger and quick with a helping hand. It was his helpful nature that had gotten them into this whole mess. He didn’t mean any harm, but he’d spelled the end for this valley.
It all started when Ben Johnstone had gotten himself laid up with a busted leg. It was all his wife could do to take care of him and their five year old boy. With Ben unable to work, there wasn’t any food for the table. Jonathan had offered to help out with that. Ben, being the proud man he was, chaffed at the idea but admitted that every little bit would help. So Jonathan had gone home to fetch his rifle and set off into the hills to get some meat for the family.
He mentioned that the deer had been acting odd when he brought home not one, but three deer to clean and dress. They’d acted like he wasn’t even there. Even after firing the shot that took down the buck, the rest of the herd just grazed like nothing had happened. Not one to let an opportunity slide past, he took two more deer down before the rest of the herd took notice and trotted off slowly.
Samantha and Jonathan spend the better part of the afternoon cleaning and butchering the dear. All told there was enough to fill the Johnstone’s deep freezer with plenty to spare. Enough so that Samantha got out her biggest pots and started on a huge batch of her famous venison chili for the church potluck on Sunday. Attendance had been down, but nobody missed church when Samantha was bringing chili. Everybody loved it. Except Samantha. With her ulcers, she’d just couldn’t eat it without paying too heavy a price. She even had to make Jonathan do all the taste testing to make sure it was perfect.
By Monday morning, the first signs were starting to show. Jonathan had been up all night sick at his stomach and complaining about the room being too bright. At breakfast he was very pale and only drank coffee. Being the stubborn man that he was, he wouldn’t hear of taking a sick day. As he stumbled to his feet to get ready to leave, their phone rang. Samantha answered it since just the ringing was almost enough to bring Jonathan to his knees. She spoke as quietly into the mouthpiece as she could, so as to not cause Jonathan any more pain.
“Well, you stubborn old mule, let’s get you back to bed. That was Kenny on the phone. The machine shop’s closed today. Too many people called in sick.” Samantha told her husband in hushed tones.
“Would you quit harping on me already, for fucks sake.” Came his angry reply. But he started making his way towards bed, so at least there was that.
Samantha didn’t know what to think. Jonathan had never cursed at her even once in all the years they’d known each other. He’d never even said “damn” in front of her, that she could recall. Inside she was trembling. From what Kenny had said, all the guys who had called in sick had been at the potluck. They’d all eaten her chili. She wondered how many other people were suffering because of her cooking. She just couldn’t think of where she went wrong.
Well, Samantha couldn’t just sit there feeling sorry for herself. It might make Jonathan mad, but she was calling the doctor. Something just wasn’t right. Better safe than sorry. So making as little noise as she could, she found Doctor Simms’ phone number and called his office.
The phone rang about 8 times and Samantha was getting ready to hang up when the call was picked up on the other end. “Hello” came the voice from the other end of the line
“Doc Simms, this is Samantha Bowls, I was wondering if you could come by and take a look at Jonathan sometime today. He’s awfully sick” she asked timidly
“Well, Samantha, I’ll see what I can do, but I’m swamped already this morning. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on with Jonathan and maybe I can send a script over to the pharmacy for him. That might save me some time, and him some aggravation.”
“Well Doc, he was up all night with an upset stomach. I bet he didn’t sleep more than an hour all night. This morning he was really pale. And his head’s hurting him real bad.”
“Has he been extra grumpy?” the doctor asked with a worried tone in his voice
“Well, yea, but I just figured as sick as he is he has a right to be irritable” Samantha said, somewhat defensively
“Last question, and this is important. Is he running a fever?”
“I don’t know, I couldn’t find the thermometer this morning. I’ll go check his forehead. Can I set the phone down for a minute?”
“Sure thing Samantha, I’ll be here” the doctor reassured her, obviously trying to mask the tension in his voice
Samantha crept into the bedroom as quiet as she could can pressed the back of her hand to Jonathan’s head. She jerked her hand back almost instantly. If he got any hotter, you could cook on his forehead.
“Yea Doc, he’s burning up, that’s for sure.” Samantha told the doctor when she got back to the living room.
“OK, Samantha, what I am going to tell you may be hard to swallow, but I think I have an idea of what’s going on. First things first, Jonathan is in your bedroom right?”
“He is, Doc” Samantha replied, barely able to keep the tremble from her voice.
“Good, while he’s sleeping I want you to go in and take out anything heavy or sharp that he might be able to hurt himself with. Then I want you to leave the room and find a way to block the door. Do not let him out of that room. No matter what you hear, do not go in and do not let him out. Do you understand me?”
“I..” She paused “I guess I understand doc. What’s happening? What do you know about this?”
“Samantha, you know how I got started in medicine in the army during Desert Storm? Well this sounds a lot like something they taught us about in training. I need to make a phone call to an old army buddy of mine. He and I served together, but he stayed in after came home. I think he might know more about this than I do. I’m going to call him as soon as I hang up with you. I’ll call you back when I know more. But for now, don’t get close to Jonathan. And just to be on the safe side, stay home.”
“Doc, you’re scaring me” Samantha managed to whimper
“Yea, Samantha.. I’m scared too” and he hung up.
For the remainder of the morning and into the afternoon, things had been quiet. Too quiet, truth be told. For fear of bothering her husband with the racket, Samantha decided to hold off on doing the daily chores. That left her with nothing but time to think and worry about what might be happening.
About 1:00pm or so, Samantha heard the sound of a vehicle in the driveway. Looking out the window, she was surprised to see an olive drab Humvee coming up the drive. Three men got out, two in weird plastic looking suits and Doc Simms. She stepped out onto the porch to meet them.
“Ma’am, my name is Major Abnett, this is Sergent Danforth, we’re with the United States Army Chemical Weapons Research Division. You already know Simms here. May we come in to speak with you? I’m afraid we have some bad news.” Said the taller of the two, whose faces were barely visible behind the plastic masks
“Yea, I’d offer you something to drink, but I think the suits might make that hard to do.” Samantha said, opening the front door to let the men in.
“Ma’am, I’m going to level with you. That’s not something I get to do very often in my line of work. What is happening in your town is already classified as Top Secret. The president is being informed of the incident as we speak. To be frank, your town is under military interdiction. Nothing is going to come in and nothing is going to go out without the military knowing about it. All lines of communication to the outside world have been cut. There are signal jammers in place to prevent cellular phones and radio transmissions. Since there is no way for word to get out, I can safely inform you of what is going on.” The major said at some length
“Is this some kind of joke? Doc, what’s he talking about”
“Ma’am, there has been an accident with some of the work my people do. See, we’ve been in development of a new chemical weapon. Part virus, part pheromone, the weapon actually serves to increase the anger levels of the enemy it is used on. It causes their brain to swell in such a way that all cognitive thought becomes impossible. All the subject wants to do is kill any living thing he or she encounters. An enemy can’t fight us if they are too busy killing each other. We’re in late stages of development. We know the compound works. The only thing left to determine was the ecological impact of the weapon. How it effected non humans who came into contact with it.”
“We were testing that, and apparently some of the animals we were testing it on made it out of our containment area. We now know that the animals themselves are made more docile while humans are driven to blind rage.”
Samantha gasped “The deer Jonathan brought home”
“That’s right Samantha” Doc Simms told her “Come to find out, Ben Johnstone was the first to start showing symptoms, but we didn’t know it. With his leg being broken, his wife was afraid of racking up even more medical bills so she didn’t call me until this morning. I’d heard rumors of such a weapon being in development back when I was serving, but there are ALWAYS rumors of some sort. But when I called Ted here, I mean Major Abnett, my fears were confirmed.”
“The bottom line is, nobody is leaving this town again. The roads in and out of town have been closed off. I have men posted all around town with strict orders to shoot to kill anyone who tries to leave. We have two choices. We can let things run their course, or we can level this town and every one in it. My superiors have decided it is best to observe the compound in action in the wild so to speak. I disagree, but I’m a soldier. Sometimes in the course of a soldier’s career he’s asked to do things he normally wouldn’t do. This is one of those times.”
“If you’ll excuse us, we have to be going. I’m only here as a courtesy to Simms”. The Major said as he rose and made his way to the door.
“Samantha, I am sorry this is happening. There is nothing I can do about it” Doc Simms told her with a catch in his throat. The he reached into his pocket and withdrew a small box. “Well, there is one thing I can do. Take these, when the time is right, you’ll know what to do. Each one is a mixture of Sodium Pentathol and Phenobarbital. You and Jonathan will just drift off to sleep. It won’t hurt a bit. Wait until Jonathan is really weak before you get close enough to give him his. I’m sorry” As he turned to leave, Samantha thought she glimpsed a single tear run down his cheek.
That was three weeks ago. She’d listened at the bedroom door every day for sounds of Jonathan getting weaker. Every day her heart broke for him, and the town, and for herself. A month ago, she’d had everything she’d ever wanted. Now, it was all ashes. She’d taken the shotgun with her when she went to the Johnstone’s place to get Ben’s wheelchair. She knew they were most likely dead, like everybody else in town. But, better safe than sorry. She had work to do.
When she’d finally gotten the nerve to open the bedroom door, Jonathan was barely alive. She was honestly surprised he’d survived this long. Seeing the scratch marks on the door and his bloody fingertips made her weep. His eyes were black and obviously sightless, but his ears still worked. He was too weak to move towards her, but he knew she was there. She heaved him carefully into the chair and tied him in with ropes she’d found in the garage.
She wheeled him down town. They were the only two people left alive, as far as Samantha could tell. The gunfire had been brutal the first week. Both from people trying to get past the quarantine line and others unable to deal with the atrocities around them. Samantha knew what she had to do. She’d made her peace with it days ago.
When they got close to the middle of town, Samantha turned the wheelchair east, into the park she’d played in as a little girl. Near the now dry fountain, she found the bench she was looking for. The place he’d gotten up the nerve for their first kiss. It seemed so long ago now. It was where she fell in love with him. It was also where he’d proposed, a year later. When they’d gotten married, it had been in front of the fountain.
She wrestled Jonathan out of the wheelchair onto the bench, leaving his wrists tied together. He always sat on the north end of the bench. That’s where she maneuvered him to now. She sat down beside him in her normal spot to the south.
All of the thinking and planning she’d done over the weeks still didn’t leave her prepared for what she needed to do. With her hands trembling, she took the box with the syringes out of her jacket and put it on the bench between them. She took the first out with shaking hands and stared at it for a moment. She then reached over and felt Jonathan’s neck for his veins. Samantha pressed the needle into the flesh over the place where she felt his weak pulse. After pressing the plunger, she withdrew the needle and set it aside. Now that she was committed, she was moving with more surety. Finding her own vein was much easier.
Doc was right, this didn’t hurt a bit. She slid over on the bench and put her arm around the love of her life, one last time. They’d taken on everything life could throw at them arm in arm. They were going to leave the world the same way they’d lived.
As her eyes closed for the last time, she was sure she heard Jonathan say “I love you” in a weakened voice.