by Michelle Pickett
Series: PODs #1
Release Date: June 4, 2013
by Spencer Hill Press
Goodreads / Purchase
The bus ride to the quarantine facility took more than ten hours. I was shoved against the window by my seatmate who slept almost the entire trip. He was a big guy, taking up most of the seat, and when he slept his body lolled to the side, wedging me against the metal side of the bus.
As we traveled, the air turned hot and dry, different than the humid, sticky climate of my coastal
hometown. The old school bus didn’t have air conditioning and the small windows
didn’t let much air in. My seatmate’s body heat didn’t help. I was hot,
thirsty, and had to pee in the worst way.
Wondering how much longer I’d be drooled on by the guy next to me, I strained my face against the window, looking for anything on the flat landscape.
That’s when I saw them.
I don’t know why I was surprised. I should’ve expected it after what had happened at the high school, but I hadn’t. It was worse than at the school—rioters everywhere. They waved anti-raffle signs and signs cursing the “
The land around the quarantine area was flat, dry, and dusty. The people lining the road sat under makeshift tents to keep out of the sun. Some stood on top of their RVs waving their handmade signs; one burned an American flag.
I watched women holding their small children toward the bus, begging with tear-stained faces for us to take them. I wanted to reach out and snatch them out of their mothers’ hands as we drove past. Several of the other people on the bus reached up and pushed their windows shut.
The National Guard at the quarantine site didn’t allow people to get close enough to touch the bus. They were shot with rubber bullets or Tasered if they tried to cross the police line. Every time I heard the shot of the riot guns I jumped. My muscles ached from tensing them—waiting for the inevitable sound.
“Why are you crying?” A boy sitting in front of me looked at me like I’d grown another head. “They’d probably kill you and steal your place in the PODs if given the chance.”
I shook my head, remembering what my dad had told me. “They’re just scared,” I said. After all, they were, essentially, the walking dead.
The rioters screamed and cursed us. They threw rocks and eggs as we drove by. An egg hit the window next to me, the slimy insides plopping against my head, matting my hair.
“Gross,” the boy sitting next to me said.
I just looked at him and rolled my eyes.
Yeah, the egg is gross. And the drool coming out of your mouth and dripping on my leg while you slept, leaning on me, was glorious.
The bus stopped in a fenced area like the one at the high school. The crowd screamed and banged the fence posts with their crude, homemade picket signs. Some climbed on the fence, pulling at it like chimpanzees at the zoo.
“Stay seated until your name is called,” a soldier yelled. “When you are called, grab your belongings and wait to be escorted into the building.”
Oh please, call this guy’s name. He needs to move before I shove him off the seat. I’m tired of being pinned against the side of the bus. I need some room.
Thankfully, my name was called soon after we stopped. I stood, stretched the kinks out of my muscles, and plowed through the massive body blocking me. Clambering over the other luggage that filled the aisle, I grabbed my two suitcases and stood in front of the bus.
The one-story brick building was large but had no windows, only a single green door. I couldn’t see the other sides, but I had a feeling there’d be no windows there, either—no glass for rioters to break through.
The soldier walked up from behind me, tapping my suitcase with his clipboard. “Follow me.”
I shuffled into the brick building, guided by the same guardsman who’d ripped me away from my parents hours earlier…
“I love you,” my mom said through her tears, her voice thick and trembling.
“I want to stay with you,” I pleaded.
“Come here, kiddo.” My dad, his face distorted with grief, folded me in a tight hug. He kissed the top of my head and told me he loved me and how proud he was of me. “I know, when this is over, you are going to do great things, Eva. you’re a fighter. I love you so much.”
A rough hand grabbed my arm, pulling me away from my dad. “Get on the bus,” the male voice ordered, yelling to be heard over the crying of parents and children saying their final goodbyes.
“I’m not done saying goodbye…” He didn’t let go, pulling me with him. My heels digging into the dirt, I tried to pull away. I needed one more hug, to hear them tell me they loved me and to tell them I loved them, too.
“MOM!” I screamed. “DAD!” Tears stained my face. The man thrust me toward the steps of the old, yellow school bus. I screamed one more time for my parents, telling them I loved them, reaching my arms out to them.
I could see my mom’s body rock with the force of her cries. Tears ran down my father’s face. “We love you, Evangelina,” I heard them call just before the bus door closed.
It was the last thing I’d hear my parents say. It was the last image I’d have of them. I pressed my hand to the window of the bus, my head bowed as I sobbed. I didn’t try to hide my tears. Everyone on the bus was crying for their families. We knew what awaited them.
I shook my head, trying to erase the horrible memory. I wanted to remember the good things about them, not saying goodbye.
Goodbyes are hard, but this one had been different. This wasn’t a goodbye, I’ll see you in a month. It was a permanent goodbye. I’d never see my parents again. The overwhelming sadness took over, like a black hole sucking me in. Fat, salty tears ran down my face, and I could feel my nose running. I wiped my arm across it. My eyes were swollen, my throat sore, and my chest tight.
I was alone. My parents were gone. No brothers or sisters. Just me—an orphan of the virus.