"Sucks we had to come back, huh?" Harper grunted as she reached around Jack to the backseat of his truck, bending her back in a way that looked like it would break at the slightest push. The air tickled at her stomach as her blue tank-top rose with her stretch. If she had been with anyone else, she would have been more careful about that, but with Jack she didn't really care. They had been best friends for over twenty years and if she was going to be shy around him now, then there was something off in her brain. Her long slender fingers finally found the sewn handles of the bags she had carried on their trip, and she came back around to the front of the truck swinging them around absentmindedly. Harper's lips stretched across her face, the skin around her neck contracting as she watched one of the duffle-bags graze the top of his head.
"Sorry," she said with a laugh through gritted teeth as she threw the bags out of the truck and onto the sidewalk. " I'll catch up with you later. Maybe breakfast tomorrow? I'll buy." The woman turned from him, her hands pushing her off the seat and onto the earth below. She had always been short and Jack's truck didn't make her feel any taller. As she closed the door and bent down to pick up her bags, the engine of Jack's truck roared and he drove away. He had been low on gas, so it made sense for him not to idle waiting on her and it definitely didn't hurt her feelings in anyway. She looked over her shoulder, watching the truck turn the sharp curve just past her house until he was out of sight. Harper sighed, rolling her head on her shoulders, her long ponytail tickling her back.
There was something wrong in the air. It didn't feel... right. For such a warm day, the children in her neighborhood should be outside playing, but she didn't ever hear the sound of a bird. She didn't entertain the crazy thought, though, as it exited her mind as fast as it had entered. A smile tugged at her lips as she began to wonder why she had been standing on the sidewalk for such a unusual amount of time. The neighbors would begin to think of her as silly, if they didn't already.
As she made her way to the front door and, after a moment of fumbling with her keys, into the house, the telephone begin to ring. "Well good grief, it's like they're psychic!" she said with an exasperated sigh, throwing her bags on the couch and bounding for the phone that sat upon her fireplace mantel. She picked it up on the third ring as the Caller ID registered the number. Harper rolled her eyes with a small smile as the cold earpiece came to her skin. "Did you have Dad outside the house watching for me, Momma?" she said with a laugh.
"Harper! Oh, it's so good to hear you. Have you see the news? Are you alright? What about Jack? You two didn't have any trouble, did you?" The woman on the other end of the line sounded frantic. By her breathing, Harper could tell that her mother was definitely worried about something.
"What are you talking about? I'm fine, Mom. Jack just left; he's on his way home now." Her blue eyes scanned the couch and the coffee table, looking for the remote, finally spotting it underneath the decorative pillow her sister-in-law had given her for Christmas. Harper took the two steps to the couch and reached down for the control. In her ear, her mother was talking but Harper wasn't paying much attention. She had always had a hard time concentrating, especially when she was multitasking. "Hang on, Mom. I'm turning it on right now," she sighed into the phone as her fingers pressed the power button and then the numbers 4 and 5.
"--- The disease that has been contracted by these unidentified citizens appears to be extremely contagious. It is advised that people stay in their homes until absolutely necessary. If you have come into contact with an infected person, please quarantine yourself and contact emergency services immediately.”
"Harper? Harper? Harper Claire, answer me! Jeff, Jeff, I-"
"I'm here, Momma," Harper breathed into the phone, her blue eyes staring at the television. What had she just heard? It sounded completely terrifying whatever it is.
"Is anyone there with you?"
"No, it's just me. Momma, what's going on?"
Harper's stomach turned at the silence on the other end of the line as she listened to her mother's labored breathing. "Channel Ten has been talking about it for the past thirty minutes. I don't really know what's going on. I'm sure you'll be alright. You're healthy, you and your brothers. Whatever this...epidemic is, I'm sure you all don't have to worry. Just sit tight and don't go anywhere." The older woman paused for a moment, allowing Harper to hear her father yelling something in the background. "Your father says he loves you and to call us back later this evening. I'm going to call Thomas and Melinda now. Love you, Harper."
"Love you," Harper whispered into the mouthpiece, as a chill ran through her. Her eyes widened with realization that she had left the front door standing wide open. Hanging up the phone with a push of the button, she walked across the living room and entered the doorway, looking out across her neighborhood. Families were starting to leave their homes, some carrying suitcases. She swallowed nervously, forcing down the lump in her throat, as she closed the door and bolted it shut. They were insane. This was only like the Bird Flu or something crazy like that. It wasn't worth getting into that big of a panic over. But no matter what her brain tried to tell her, her gut told her that it might be more than she could handle. No, Harper didn't have a good feeling about this at all.
-[Eight Hours Later]-
"You'll have to see it one day, Aldo. Monument Valley is probably my favorite locations out of everywhere Jack and I visited. The colors were so vibrant and the landscape was so beautiful, it just took my breath away," Harper commented after giving her neighbor's the digital camera to look at as she talked about the trip. "I don't know about you, but I love nature. It's absolutely gorgeous. Nothing better than-" The sharp noise of the phone made her jump and after a brief nod to her guests, she stood from the couch and grabbed the phone. When the Caller ID registered the number, she glanced at the company on the couch and made her way into the kitchen, clicking the 'Talk' button as soon as she stepped through the doorway.
"Jack? Hey, I-." Harper nearly dropped the phone as Jack's voice pounded through the earpiece. Once his voice lowered a little, she placed it back to her ear. "What you do mean? I can't leave Chicago! The television said it was just a virus outbreak. It'll be over wi-. Jack, I don't think..." She put her hand over the mouth piece and peered out of the doorway, looking at Aldo and his father. After bringing her head back into the kitchen, she removed her hand. "I have company over," she whispered back, suddenly feeling like an impostor in her own home. Leave? Why? "How-How do you even know they're -dead-? How do you know that-." She was silent for what seemed like hours, her blue eyes widening as her long fingers came up to her lips, covering her mouth with the palm of her hand. Finally, she nodded. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
Harper looked at the phone as she brought it away from ear, pressing the 'End' button with hesitation. It suddenly brought up a whole new meaning to her. Her body shuddered, causing her to grab a hold of the kitchen counter. Inhaling deeply to regain her composure, she walked out of room and cleared her throat. How would she put this? Would they come with her? She bit her lip and exhaled, forming the words in her head. "I don't know how to put this, but.. this.. thing. I know you've heard about it. This.. 'epidemic'. Apparently it's more dangerous than the news is letting on. I am leaving to meet with a friend. We are going to leave the city. We can't stay here. You can either join me or stay here, but this is your only chance." She looked at Aldo's father, "I'll leave it up to you, but I am going to go pack and I'm going to be leaving within the hour."
-[One Week Later]-
Silence. Once, she would have found peace in the calm, stillness of the outdoors. At first, Harper never wanted to believe Jack. This wasn't a movie, after all. It's real. Things like.. this, wouldn't happen in real-life. Couldn't happen. But something did. Something fucked all of this up. She looked down at her hands, scraping at the dirt inside her left ring finger with her thumb. Her arms shook with nerves that Harper didn't even know she had. Scared? Harper? Never. Not truly. Until now. She brought the finger up to her mouth, nipping at the nail with her teeth, a nervous habit she had gotten over years ago.
"James Mary, signing off." Static.
A chill ran through the woman, causing her entire body to stiffen for a brief moment, another sign of her old-self that she thought she had left behind. Her stomach growled loudly, causing a blush to rise of her cheeks with embarrassment. At least she hadn't dully reverted back to her tom-boyish nature. She reached down under her feet to the duffle-bag she had never unpacked from the cross-country trip but had added a few more things to. Cliff Bars. There were only four more left, and then they would have to find something else. She opened one, the packaging crinkling under her fingers, and then tore off small pieces and began to hand them out to whoever would take it. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.