Jacob, whose name had once been Charlie, rode in the back of a borrowed Sedan with his brothers. As they drove down Abercorn he couldn’t help but note how few cars there were on the road. Gas was getting more expensive and people could hardly afford to drive anymore. They passed groups of people with backpacks walking together, some running. Some attacking others over what was in their packs.
“Things are getting worse,” Father Andrew said from the driver’s seat. “Jacob, how many women have you seen since we’ve been driving?”
He knew the answer before Jacob responded and was likely trying to make some point. “I haven’t seen any females on the road today, or on foot. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen any females in the last week.”
“And why do you think that is, my son?”
“They’ve all been called home,” brother Thomas said from beside him.
“I asked, Jacob.” Father Andrew said with a warning in his voice.
There were times when having Father Andrew’s attention on you was like the sun shining through clouds on a dreary day, and other times when he felt the man’s gaze to be a physical assault that speared him right through the chest.
“Most of them are sick. I would say they’re all crowding the hospitals.”
That was the correct answer. Father Andrew smiled.
“The females are sick, they’re suffering in fact.” He stopped at a red light and pretended not to see the two men beating each other over a ration kit on the corner of the street.
“We must pray for them,” Thomas chimed in. He made the sign of the cross across his chest. He had been Catholic before his conversion and hadn’t rid himself of all the habits. Thomas was more optimistic than most despite how hopeless a situation seemed.
“Yes, we shall pray for them indeed, but God also helps those that help themselves. We have a duty to those suffering females and to those that aren’t yet fallen ill.”
Father Andrew turned on Waters Avenue and Jacob realized where they were going. He hadn’t said anything when they’d loaded the car that morning, it wasn’t Jacob’s right to question his motives.
An airfield Jeep rolled past the and Father gestured to their handkerchiefs around their necks. “Put them on now, boys. As a precaution.”
Jacob and his brother Thomas did as they were told. He felt a growing weight in his belly as they drew near the hospital. The big brick sign that once read, “Memorial Health,” was now missing a few letters and read “Memor Heal.” The authorities never caught whoever vandalized the sign.
Instead of turning right into its parking lot, Father Andrew turned left and pulled into the lot with CVS Pharmacy across the street. The CVS had closed long ago due to vandals and looters – its windows permanently boarded up with spray-painted profanity over the boards.
Father Andrew parked the car and turned off the engine. He turned around to face them both, a somber look on his pale blue eyes. “It’s up to men like us to take hold of this situation. We have to be the ones to put an end to everyone’s suffering. The scientists can’t stop the disease, those soldiers at Hunter can’t stop the violence.”
Jacob looked at Thomas, and tried to keep the fear from his eye’s He’d only converted one month ago but Thomas had been around much longer. Jacob thought that in time he would gain the perspective and outlook on life that Thomas seemed to have. “Do you need a volunteer, father?”
“I knew you’d understand, my boy. Thank you for your dedication to our cause.” He got out of the car and popped the trunk to retrieve something.
Jacob was alone with Thomas for a moment. “You will never forget this day, my brother. You will be my witness.” He clapped his hand on Jacob’s shoulder and gripped it tight. He pulled a strand of beads from around his neck and gave them to Jacob. “Keep these safe for me.”
Jacob was only fifteen and had lost his own father so recently he’d come to look up to Thomas as an adopted big brother. No matter what bad thing had happened, he’d had Thomas there to talk him through it. He reached out with both hands and hugged the man who he’d come to accept as his family. “Do you have to go? It’s so dangerous with the soldiers guarding the doors.”
Thomas smiled and shook his head. “It’s alright, the Lord is with me. You will see me again.” Without saying goodbye Thomas exited the backseat and exchanged muffled words with Father Andrew. Father Andrew gave him something small that he placed in his pocket and took off across the street toward the hospital. He passed right through the soldiers in the parking lot who typically parked in front of the ER doorway. Thomas turned and looked right at them and waved.
Jacob clutched the beads tightly in his hand, it’s little wooden cross dug into his palm, but he didn’t notice the pain.
Something was wrong.
The soldiers were shouting and running toward his brother. Why did they have so much hate?
He opened his car door when Father Andrew snapped, “Stay where you are.” He started the car’s engine and pulled out of the lot heading aback toward Abercorn. As they passed by the back of Memorial and Jacob finally had a clear view of the ER side, Father Andrew held up a small remote and depressed its single button.
The world went mad with fire and fury, Jacob screamed, and Father Andrew drove the car.