The gravel road led them to the three-storied Tudor-style mansion. Only the windows in the lower part of the expansive building were lit. Lance parked the Humvee in front of the stone turret that’s being slowly claimed by vines.
Meg was the first to slide out of the vehicle. “The lights on, but where’s everyone?”
Lance rounded the back of the Humvee and was there in time to open the door for Sam. She glanced up at him and he gave her a slight nod.
“Lance?” Meg persisted.
“Inside, sis.” He said as he walked past her and towards the large wooden door with an old-fashioned latch door handle.
Sam followed him with Meg tailing them. First thing she saw as she entered the building were another wooden double doors. The floor was tiled all the way through. Lance was already gone so she quickly pushed through the swinging doors and found herself in an enormous lobby with a pair of old dark wooden stairs, one on each side of her.
She glanced to the right where the check-in counter was located. Meg already there, leaned against it as she peered over the ledge.
“Humph. No phone.”
Sam moved beside the woman. “Not sure if the phones would be working if all the power’s out.”
“Well they’ve got power here. I don’t think it’s all run by generators either.” She sniffed.
An elderly woman suddenly appeared before them which caused the ladies to jump.
“Oh, I am so sorry if I’d startled you both.” The old woman smiled. “Welcome to Ebenezer Mountain Inn. I’m Florence Crazonovo, but you may call me Flo.”
“Do you work here?” Meg asked.
“Yes, I do.” Flo said pleasantly.
“I hear there are hot showers and food here. Is that correct?”
“The hot showers are limited to one shower per day per person. We have plenty of food left though not quite up to our usual luxurious standard.”
“How’s your power situation?” Meg continued to pester.
“We’re good in that department so don’t you worry your pretty head.” Flo’s smiled grew wider.
“How are you getting power?”
“Electricity by generators, and the heat’s coming from the wood burning furnace in the Powerhouse behind the mansion.” The elder woman stated, her smile never ceased.
Sam cleared her throat loudly which cut Meg off before she could continue to berate the worker. “We so appreciate your hospitality and a place to stay.”
“You’re very welcomed, young lady.” Flo’s smile warmed towards Sam. “If you would follow me, I can show you the Fellowship Hall where everyone has gathered for the time being.”
Flo was considerably shorter than the two of them, but her gait was quick and smooth like a young woman. Sam and Meg followed her down a wide hallway, and through another set of double doors which opened to an expansive room. Enormous windows lined both the long sides while the other shorter sides were filled with elegant mirrors.
“Wow.” Was all Sam could say.
“Once upon a time this used to be our ballroom.” Flo replied.
Encompassing the entire perimeter of the room were people of all shapes and ages, and with them cots and blankets. In the center stood several rows of long tables, bare of any items and chairs.
“If you’d been here a few days ago, you would have seen how spectacular this place was decorated for the holidays.” Flo said as she clasped her hands together in excitement. “It would rival the old Saint Nick himself!” Her hands then dropped as did her smile. “How quickly things have changed. Hard to believe that the day after tomorrow will be Christmas Eve. Suddenly things don’t feel quite so…festive.” She shook her head as if to shake away her gloominess. “Never mind me, ladies. These two cots are available to be used. Lights will dim in 30 minutes for the night. Breakfast served here by 7am. Good night.”
And she flitted away before they could say a word.
Sam tossed and turned all night. Every time she’d closed her eyes, images of Joey and Joe filled her mind. Images of them trapped in their master bedroom with the infected just outside the door. Joey, hissing, tied to the banisters of the bed. Each time, Joe stood next to that door and turned directly to her.
“Why did you leave us?”
And every time, she’d wake up with a start.
What if Joe was still alive?
She buried her face into the thin pillow and tried to muffled her sobs.
Somewhere in the distance, children laughed.
Sam opened her eyes and stared up at the ceiling. Several large wooden beams lined the entire surface of it. For a split second, she couldn’t remember where she was.
It was morning, and she wasn’t in her own bed.
“Sam?” It was Meg.
She forced herself to sit up. Meg was sitting in her own cot next door.
“You look like hell, girl.” Meg muttered as she pulled a brush out of her purse and began to run it through her mussed brown hair.
“I feel it.” Sam replied as she hugged the teddy bear.
“They’ll be bringing out breakfast soon.” Meg shoved the brush back into the handbag. “Hope they’ll have coffee. Don’t know how I’ll function without it.”
Sam turned her head away so Meg wouldn’t notice the rolling of her eyes.
Across the way, she saw probably a dozen of cots, mostly occupied. Half of them by kids. They all couldn’t be more than 10 or 11 years old.
So young to be experiencing such traumatic and horrific things. Will they live long enough to grow into adults? To be able to pursue their dreams? Perhaps get married and have kids of their own?
Will this outbreak be over soon?
At that point, three women in uniform rolled out trays of food, and began to set them out on the tables.
Normally Sam enjoyed the smell of eggs and sausages and pancakes, but today, after losing her entire family? It made her stomach churn in sour bile.
She stood up, and dashed for the double doors.
“Hey, where are you going?” Meg called out.
Sam jogged down the wide hallway, and turned down another, and then another until she came to another set of doors and burst through them and into a room full of shelves and books. The heavy musky smell nearly caused her to vomit but she bit down on her tongue, hard enough to draw blood.
The pain took her mind off her queasiness for a few minutes as she slumped to the floor.
“Ma’am, are you alright?” It was Lieutenant Lance Shirley.
Where did he come from?
“Um, just needed to clear my head.” She muttered.
“Here, give me your hand.” He held his wide meaty hand down to her.
After a moment of hesitation, she accepted his hand as he gently pulled her up to her feet.
“You really shouldn’t be away from the others.” He said.
“Yeah?” She looked up to him, and for the first time, noticed how green his eyes were. “Aren’t we safe in here?”
He paused before answering. “For the time being. It’s just easier for us to keep track of everyone if everyone’s all in one place.”
“Okay, that makes sense.”
She then noticed how tall he was. Gosh, must be at least six feet.
“Have a question for you.”
“Go ahead.” He said.
“Is your sister always that chatty and bossy?”
An eyebrow rose as he tried to stifle a smile. “Sometimes, worse.”
Sam wanted to smile, but lacked the emotional energy to do so.
“Okay, be square with me for a moment, k?”
“Will try.” He replied.
“This isn’t your run of the mill virulent outbreak, is it?”
He shook his head. “Not even close.”
“We’re not getting out of this one alive, are we?”
Here’s that pause again. “Don’t know the answer to that one.”
“Are there anything the military not telling us?”
He studied her face before replying. “Yes, just can’t tell you.”
“What can you tell me, Lieutenant Lance Shirley?”
He straightened up. “Just stay put in the Fellowship Hall. If things get hot, I’ll know where to find you both.”