One generation passes away,

and another generation comes;

But the earth abides forever.

Ecclesiastes 1:4



PART I

The End of the World As We Know it

 

Chapter One


"I HOPE YOU ALL DIE!"

Those weren't the last words Lizzie had told her family, but they might as well have been. She couldn't remember what she said when Mama took Jayce and Jerkwad to the hospital, but it didn't matter anyway. They were gone, and all she could remember were the screaming fights and hateful words.

Lizzie stared out through the gap in the dust-encrusted living room blinds. The streets were empty. At first patrol cars had come by several times a day blaring, "STAY INDOORS. NO PHYSICAL CONTACT."

Now all was silent. Lizzie couldn't remember when she had last seen a patrol car.

The clock showed mid-afternoon, but the gray excuse for a day in the Pacific Northwest was fading. Lizzie hauled herself out of the threadbare recliner and trudged to Mama's bedroom. She snuggled under the covers wondering what she should eat for dinner. Mama had filled the freezer with pizzas before she left, but the same menu for a week was getting old.

Holes in the sheetrock beside the nightstand and the wires hanging out reminded her of the dead land-line. The day they went to St. Joseph's Hospital, Mama called to say Jason, Jayce to Lizzie, was in room 314. The next day the phone didn't work. At some point, fixing it became tearing it out of the wall in frustration.

Cell systems had been overloaded since state officials declared the pandemic four weeks before. With the phones down and spotty Internet, Lizzie was alone and disconnected from what was happening. She wanted to go outside. Screw the quarantine.

AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" jerked Lizzie back to her surroundings. Her cell phone? When had it started working? She threw off the covers and followed the sound to the couch in the living room. A picture of Mama that Lizzie loved and Mama hated glowed on the screen.

"Mama?" Lizzie sat on the couch cradling the phone to her ear.

"Honey... I've been trying to call on both lines." Mama's voice teetered on the brink of hysteria.

Lizzie stopped breathing.

Mama sniffed. "Doug's dead."

Lizzie sighed, her shoulders relaxed. Not Jayce. Just Jerkwad, Mama's boyfriend, Doug. "I'm sorry, Mama." She hoped it sounded sincere for her mother's sake.

"Are you okay? How's Jayce?"

"Jason's a trooper."

Mama hated Lizzie's nicknames for her little brother.

"I'm in his room," Mama's voice softened. "They didn't have enough empty beds. You have food? You're staying inside?"

"Yes, Mama." Lizzie gritted her teeth; she wasn't going to cry. "How are you?"

A cough exploded into the ear piece. "Other than too many years of smoking? Lizzie, burn the bedding. In Doug's barrel in the yard. Then come back in. Promise?"

"Okay. I will. I promise. Is Jason awake?" Jayce was eleven. Was he as freaked out as Lizzie?

"No. He's asleep, snoring. Can you hear?"

"Yeah." Lizzie laughed. Jayce could sleep through anything. She took a deep breath. "Mama. I'm sorry for all the things I said. All the times I was a bitch."

"Lizzie-girl. It's okay. I was your age once."

Lizzie didn't remember having a conversation where Mama forgave her for anything. "Mama?"

"Get some rest. We'll call you tomorrow. Sweet dreams, Lizzie."

"Mama, don't go. I—" She heard the phone click. "I love you, Mama," she whispered.

Jayce is doing good and Jerkwad is dead. Jerkwad always said he'd kick Lizzie out of the house at 18. Like mama would have allowed it. Well, I'm here, you're gone, and I'm not 18 for two months. Was Lizzie a bad person for being happy?

Mama sounded horrible. What if they didn't come home? The cat lady next door never did.

She fidgeted with her cell. It still had the picture of Lizzie and her ex-boyfriend Chad at the water slides. They had stayed friends when she broke up with him at the beginning of the summer. And in September after school started, he was the first person she knew to die. Then the names of the dead started to flow from the school loudspeaker and down her Facebook feed, one by one, until classes were cancelled and the world finished falling to pieces.

She crossed to the liquor cabinet and pulled out Jerkwad's favorite whiskey, the glass Canadian Club Reserve bottle he kept refilling from plastic ones. Lizzie pulled out the sticky cork, "Here's to you, Jerkwad." She tipped it back, her lips on the bottle. The whiskey burned going down, but there wasn't a lot in the bottle, so she took another swig.

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