Apophis, the destroyer that is the name they gave to the asteroid that hit the Earth and changed life as we knew it into a daily struggle to survive.
The first time Apophis came close enough to Earth, in 2023, the major powers tried to turn the asteroid away from earth. It was a grand experiment. The UK crashed a space shuttle on the asteroid hoping to put enough weight on it to tilt it away from the Earth. The US and USSR sent their own shuttles, these were trying to use rockets to change the trajectory of the asteroid. The effort looked like it may have worked.
The world breathed a sigh of relief, until the asteroid re-appeared from around the Sun.
Apophis had moved slightly but as it neared the Earth, scientists and their computer models predicted a direct hit; a direct, devastating, literally earth-shattering, hit. Computer models showed a collision that would leave the Earth scorched and uninhabitable. Again the major powers went to work. Shuttles were sent, people walked around on the asteroid, they set off bombs, they tried the rockets again. Nothing happened, the asteroid kept coming.
In a last act of desperation every nuclear power fired everything they had at the approaching asteroid.
Missiles fired every two hours for over a week, from all over the world. Many missed the target completely, hitting orbiting satellites instead. At least two or three collided with the Moon, leaving additional craters. The ones that hit Apophis succeeded in breaking pieces off, sending in a hail of hot pebbles, all over the Earth. One and only one large nuclear warhead landed on the asteroid, and detonated in the last crucial moment just above the ionosphere.
The asteroid burst into millions of pieces, again sending pebbles rocketing to Earth. There were some very large pieces still, which managed to smash into Earth. One particularly large one crashed about 100 miles north of the Black Sea. It sent a cloud of dust shooting into the sky that could be seen from space; that is if one of the missiles had not wiped out the space station.
Another large piece smashed into Long Island, New York. The devastation was massive and widespread, the tall skyscrapers in New York City, rocked and tumbled from the tremors. The dust cloud caused by the asteroid fragment was nothing compared to that of the buildings that collapsed under their own weight from the shifting earth beneath them.
Yet another fragment hit in the Pacific Ocean about 10 miles off the coast of Japan. This sent a massive Tsunami cascading in on Tokyo, as well as Hawaii. By the time it reached California, most of the power of had dissipated. But, that was not the end of it. The asteroid fragment and some other smaller ones that were pelting the Pacific Ocean set off a chain of events that no one expected.
Just as the people of California and Oregon were breathing a sigh of relief that they had faired very well through the falling asteroid, major earthquakes began. But that was not all, every mountain in the Cascade Range as well as around the Pacific Ocean, in what was termed “the ring of fire”, broke open, violently. Mount St. Helen’s started it and was followed by every other mountain. The night sky was filled with hot lava shooting into the air. Earthquakes shook night and day, any buildings even the low to the ground one story ones, collapsed.
The Midwestern United States, was not hit by an asteroid fragment, but the tectonic pressures on the earth’s crust as well as the volcanic action in other parts of the world, caused miniature volcanoes. One wiped out Chicago, while an associated earthquake toppled many buildings in Dallas and Houston.
New Orleans flooded from the Tsunamis and the damage to the polar ice caps. A mini volcano burst forth, rather violently from a spot near the Tennessee-Kentucky border, flattening parts of Memphis and Louisville.
Such was the case around the world. Though the asteroid bombardment only lasted a couple of days, the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions lasted for months before settling down.
The face of the earth changed dramatically. Millions of people were killed in the first bombardment. But, then the dust churned up by the asteroid fragments brought germs that humans had long since forgotten, to the forefront. These ancient, dormant germs came to life when they were exposed to the heat of the sun and oxygen in the air. Many people fell ill. Hospitals were unable to keep up with the demand. Antibiotics failed. Millions more died.
The Electromagnetic Pulse that was caused from the asteroid exploding so close to Earth plunged the most advanced countries into darkness, and silence. Communications became non-existent, automobiles became inoperable. The human race, at least what was left of them, was shot back in time 200 years.
The darkness, the everlasting twilight, began within 24 hours of the first major asteroid strike. It only got worse as the volcanoes erupted, putting up more and more dust into the sky and blotting out the sun. Crops failed. People, already weakened by disease began to die of starvation. The stronger people preyed upon the weaker, and those that were not killed by the asteroids or disease, started to kill one another.
Many gated communities, closed their gates, to keep the traveling bands of marauders from taking what they worked so hard to save. People on the inside of the walls instituted a system of martial law; people on the outside, were lawless and violent, many were thought to carry disease and were not welcomed inside.
As the darkness thickened and the cold settled in, the winter came. The relentless cold of nuclear winter turned everything into a snowbound wonderland. Snow covered everything and showed no signs of stopping. The frigid white landscape made people almost forget what had happened. Almost.
The snow was eight feet deep, and it was still snowing. Carmen stood in the window of her second floor apartment and watched it fall. She was one of the lucky ones, the building that she was squatting in was a comfortable three stories. Though one side of it had collapsed due to a minor earthquake, she didn’t claim that side. Now, the first floor, was totally beneath the snow. She worried how much longer the building would stand, and if she would have to brave the cold, again, to find another home.
“It’s beautiful,” said a woman from behind her.
“It’s snow, Mama,” she said.
The woman shook her head. “I’m not your mother, Carmen. Heck, I’m not even responsible for you; so why do you insist on calling me that?”
“Because Monique was my mother’s name; it just feels right.”
Monique scoffed. “Have it your way.” She turned, and then turned back. “It’s your turn to take out the trash.”
Carmen smile slightly and nodded. “I’ll get it in a few minutes.”
“If you wait too long, we will be infested with those nasty bugs again.”
“They have to eat too.”
“Right, after all that the Earth has been through, you would think cockroaches would be extinct by now.”
Carmen shook her head, her long black hair tossing back and forth. “Ma, I mean, Monique, you are funny. I’ll get the trash now.” She left the woman standing in front of the window, as she made her way down the hallway to the staircase. Parts of the stairs were missing, and the angle was unnatural, but she was still able to get to the first floor without incident.
“I have never been so cold in my life,” whined a young blonde haired girl in the corner of an apartment on the first floor.
“I know, Elizabeth, but I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
“Have you found any more blankets, Carm?”
Carmen shook her head. “No, but if you move toward the center of the room, away from the walls and windows, it might be warmer.”
“Can I live with you?”
“Don’t you live with Monique?”
Elizabeth looked at the floor. “Yeah, but she’s really strict.”
“She has to be.” Carmen looked around. “Where’s the trash?”
Elizabeth pointed toward several large black bags piled in the corner of her room.
“Okay, thanks.” She reached for the heavy coat, next to the door. Then she donned another large rain slicker. Then she pulled on three stocking caps and two pairs of gloves. She hefted the large black plastic bags over her shoulder and opened the door. The wind whipped through the small passageway through the snow that someone had made. Snow was still falling, and piling up, at a much faster rate than earlier in the day. She made her way about 500 feet to the demolished remains of another apartment building. She flung the bags as high on the pile of rubble as she could and made her way back to the comfort of her own place.
“It looks like it’s snowing harder,” said Monique as Carmen passed by her.
Carmen shrugged and climbed the stairs. Another cold night, she thought as she located her blankets. At least those two downstairs have each other. She sighed. Her breath came out in a cold cloud. “Yep,” she said out loud, “it’s getting to be night. The temperature is dropping.” She crawled under the pile of blankets and pulled them over her head. It may not warm up much during what should be the day, but it gets really cold at night. It’s hard to tell, it’s just endless twilight; never really dark, never really daylight. She thought as she scrunched further under the blankets. “I wish I had someone to share these blankets with,” she said as she closed her eyes and fell asleep.
Carmen was awakened by Elizabeth’s strident voice piercing through the haze of sleep. “What do you want?” She said, maybe a little too harshly.
“Wake up,” said the young woman, “the building is falling in.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is, the third floor has caved in and now my walls are creaking.”
Carmen sighed. “No matter what, we should be fine here until in the morning.”
Elizabeth slid under the heavy blankets with Carmen. “Thank you.”
“She was on the third floor.”
“Why was Monique on the third floor?”
“There were strangers out in the courtyard. She wanted a better look,” Elizabeth cleared her throat, “they were military and,” she sobbed, “they shot her.”
“Are you sure that’s what happened? I didn’t hear any shots.”
The young woman shook violently. “She’s dead! They’re all dead! The military killed them, all of them!”
“Lizzy,” Carmen said, holding her as close as she could, “that was months ago. All the military men are gone. Remember?”
“Yes, we hid out in the rubble of building 24? They went right by us? You remember, right?”
“Carmen, what’s happening? Why do I have these, I guess nightmares? Why am I always cold, and why am I depressed? I don’t like this.”
“I believe they used to call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
“Shell Shock; your mind is reliving those bad days.”
“But that wasn’t the worst day, we’ve had worse, like when the asteroid showers started. Like when Kevin and I escaped from the rising water in Houston, the days and days on the road. Why, now, why that day?”
Carmen shrugged. “That might have been the last straw for your fragile mind, I don’t know.”
“Will you protect me?”
“Sure kid,” she lied.
The younger woman snuggled closer to Carmen and went to sleep.
Carmen woke up, in what should have been the morning, to an empty bed, as usual. She looked out the window and saw the snow creeping its way toward the middle of the window. I may have to relocate, she thought. Building 16 is taller, and it’s snowing harder everyday.
“Good morning,” said Elizabeth with a big smile on her face.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was down the hall. There are some nice things in that one on the left.”
Carmen shrugged. “I’m not that fond of leather.”
Elizabeth smiled as she pulled the heavy mink coat tight around her shoulders. “I wasn’t talking about the furniture.”
Carmen shook her head. “It was too small for me, I’m glad you can wear it.”
“Hell, yeah,” she said as she flounced down the hall and out of sight.
“Whatever,” said Carmen looking at a box of Pop Tarts that she had been hoarding. “It’s time to have breakfast.” She opened the box and withdrew an open package. Then she took out the one pastry that was left in its foil container; she sniffed it on all sides. “Heaven, simply heaven,” she said as she took a tentative bite. Food of any kind was scarce, but anything with sugar was very rare indeed. She had gotten luck a month ago when she arrived in this apartment complex, and this apartment in particular, the former inhabitants had stocked up. They were most likely survivalists, or Mormons, she estimated there was at least a year’s supply of food for a family of four in the second bedroom. The only thing was, there was no family. No one had been in this apartment for months.
“Great place, down the hall there,” said Monique coming into the room.
“Yeah, but I’m partial to this one.”
“You just like all the food.”
“I see,” said Carmen eying the can of spam in Monique’s hand, “you don’t like the food.”
Monique blushed and made her way out of the apartment, spam in hand.
Carmen finished her pastry and then made her way downstairs.
Elizabeth and Monique were warming their hands in front of an electric stove, which had a blazing fire burning inside. The fireplace in the corner of the living room also had a blazing fire.
Carmen looked into the fire and saw that there were several beautiful claw foot table legs just catching. Next to the fireplace there were several shattered pieces of an antique wooden table. “So,” she said, “I see you are burning the Louis XIV.”
“Yeah,” said Monique, “it got pretty cold last night.”
“I know. I am willing to bet that it will just keep getting colder.”
“Its winter,” said Elizabeth. “Isn’t it now?”
“No,” said Carmen, “it’s barely fall.”
“Um,” said Monique, “by my calculations it’s November.”
“Yes, I think November the 3rd, to be exact.”
“That’s great,” said Elizabeth. “How did you figure that out?”
“Well, the asteroid started hitting on April 12th; the major pieces fell on the evening of the 15th.”
Both women nodded.
“So, well, nature doesn’t lie.”
Elizabeth looked at her and blinked.
“Monthly cycles,” said Carmen, snapping her fingers.
“Right,” said Monique, “we all have them. How many have you had since the fall?”
Elizabeth counted silently on her fingers. “Six, they come around the middle of the month. I should be getting it soon.” Her face went blank. “Oh, I get it, that’s how you know what day it is!”
Carmen smiled. “I agree with your calculation, except it may be closer to the 6th of November, it’s hard to tell exactly.”
Monique nodded. “So, it’s fall, but late fall.”
Carmen sighed. “That means at least four more months of this cold and here in Dallas, February is the coldest month.”
Elizabeth looked at the ceiling. “With four more months of snow like this,” she said, “the whole building will be crushed under its weight!”
“Exactly why I thought we could move on.”
“Yeah, where will we go?”
“Well, building 16 is a 35 story building, I thought we could move in there.”
Monique nodded. “Okay, grab your stuff and we’ll move out in the next few hours.”
“Should we take the food,” said Elizabeth.
“As much as we can carry,” said Monique, “if we need to we can come back for more.”
Carmen knew that within a week there would be no evidence of the three story building they had been living in, but she didn’t want to frighten Elizabeth. She sighed. Liz had it all, she thought, a new husband, a new life, a great job. Then this. Her husband contracted the plague, but carried on until he was sure she was being taken care of. Then he died. The military men she dreams about, tried to keep us out of this complex last month. We introduced them to Kevin’s plague riddled body and they let us in. She smiled. Actually, they left.
“What are you smiling about?”
“I was just thinking about Kevin.”
“Oh, well, don’t tell Liz.”
“We’re going to go right by where he’s buried.”
Monique shook her head. “Liz doesn’t know that, we need to keep it that way.”
“She still thinks that the guards killed him, doesn’t she?”
“Something else that we will keep to our selves, okay?”
“Sure,” said Carmen, “but what if we run into the guards again?”
“We won’t. I’ve figured we can take over one of the higher floors. There can’t be that many people over there.”
“True, since the guards were exposed to the plague.”
The trip to Building 16 was grueling. The weather had gotten much colder, though it was still daylight. It took the women an hour to battle their way across the courtyard to within 30 feet of the entrance.
Elizabeth stumbled and fell on her face with a puff into the snow.
“Come on,”said Monique, “we have to get going.”
Liz waved her hand in a motion to tell the others to go on.
“No,”said Carmen, “if you stay here you will freeze to death.”
“I don’t care,” said she said, “at least I’ll be with Kevin.”
“Kevin would not want you to do this! He died trying to keep you safe. After all look at what we’ve been through. If you give up now, he will have died in vain.”
“I can’t go on without him!”
“Yes, you can, everyone has lost someone dear to them. We’re not just giving up, are we?”
Liz looked up. “No.”
“Then get up,” said Monique, “before we all freeze to death.”
Liz stood up, and took one tentative step, then fell to one knee again. “I can’t walk, I think I broke my ankle.”
“We’ll help you,” said Carmen. “Just lean on me, it’s not far.”
“Oh phooey,” said Monique, as she grabbed Liz around the waist and hefted her over her shoulder. “I’ll carry you the rest of the way.”
Carmen shrugged and followed Monique, with Liz slung over her shoulder, the last few hundred feet to the front door of Building 16.
The building was a 40 story high rise that contained at least 400 apartments. It was constructed of glass, steel and concrete. The front entrance was 2 stories high, and the mezzanine was visible from the front door. For some reason, this building had very little snow accumulated around the entrance, and there was very little piled up around the outside.
“That is really strange,” said Carmen.
Monique set Liz down on a clear spot on the short wall that surrounded the entrance. “No, not really,” she said, “this building is heated. It is meant to keep the snow from piling up during a hard winter.”
“It seems to be working.”
“I wonder what source of fuel they are using?”
“I don’t know. But if this lasts much longer, they’ll be in worse shape than we were.”
Monique shrugged. “We need to get in.”
“Why don’t we knock,” said Liz.
“It’s worth a shot,” said Carmen. She walked up to the large double glass doors and raised her hand. But, as she got close, the doors opened. She shrugged and the three of them entered the building.
The lobby was huge, with ornate baroque carvings on the walls and decorating the elevator doors. There was a large glass chandelier suspended from the second floor ceiling that illuminated the entire area with soft yellow light. The reception desk was made of walnut and carved in the same baroque style.
Monique set Liz on an antique wing chair, and propped her foot up on the ottoman in front of it. “You wait here,” she said and then she joined Carmen at the reception desk. “Liz is fine for now. What have you found out?”
“I don’t know,” shrugged Carmen, “this is so different from the squalor we were living in, I don’t know where to start.”
Monique reached out and rang the antique bell on the desk.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” said an older male voice from a room behind the desk.
Monique and Carmen shrugged at one another.
“I’m in the middle of a football game,” said a small gray man, in a blue bathrobe and pink fuzzy slippers. “So make it quick.”
“Um, sir,” Monique began, “we need a place to stay, and some help for our friend.”
The man looked over the counter at Liz and nodded. “We have a couple of rooms left,” he withdrew a large leather bound book from under the counter. “I need ID and the fee is $125 a night.”
“If you can’t pay it, you can leave.” He looked out at the snow falling and shrugged. “It’s a terrible night, I wouldn’t be caught dead out there.”
“Okay, okay,” she reached into the pocket of the fur coat she was wearing and withdrew a credit card. “Do you take plastic?”
The man smiled. “Certainly, how long with you be staying?”
Carmen stepped up to the counter. “Until it stops snowing, if that’s alright with you.”
The man nodded. “I’ll set you up for direct billing. That means, your card will be charged $825 every week.” He looked at the snow falling again. “It could last for awhile. But we are warm here, and there are lots of things to do. We have a heated pool on the roof, a karaoke bar on the 17th floor, and a the best barbeque joint in town just on the other side of the elevators.”
The man handed her three plastic cards. “Here are your room keys. I gave you Suite 1612, I figured there would be enough room for the three of you and that you wouldn’t get in one another’s way.”
“Now, you take the elevator to the 16th floor, room 12 is the last one on the right.”
“Okay, thank you,” said Monique reaching for the card keys.
“Your card first?”
“Oh, yeah,” she handed him the credit card.
He took out an old imprint machine and slid it across the card. Then he wrote, “weekly billing, $825/week” on the slip. “Please sign this at the bottom, Ms. Gastineau.”
Monique took up a pen and signed the slip.
The man tore off the top copy and gave the bottom to Monique. “Keep this,” he said, “for your records. It will show up as Hotel Baroque on your credit card bill. Remember, when you check out, bring the cards here, and check out before 2:30 pm.”
“What about our friend,” Carmen demanded, “she’s broken her ankle.”
“Ice can be very bad,” said the man, “I’ll have a nurse sent to your room in say, 15 minutes?”
“Sure?” Carmen tried to keep the surprise and shock out of her voice, but failed.
“Twenty minutes then?”
“What, oh, no sure as soon as you can. Thank you.” She turned in time to see Monique, with Liz slung over her shoulder, heading for the elevator. “I don’t get this,” she said when she was close enough to them.
“Me either,” said Monique.
“It’s fine,” said Liz, “a little pricey, and that barbeque place is not all that good.”
“You’ve been here before?”
“Yes, Kevin and I spent our honeymoon here.”
Carmen held the elevator door as Monique and Liz boarded. Then she selected 16 and the elevator rose slowly.
“I hate elevators,” said Carmen, pressing herself against the far wall.
“As far as elevators go,” said Monique, “this one is nice.”
“What I don’t get, is, how is it running?”
“I know,” said Liz waving her hand, “I know.”
Carmen looked at her. “So, tell us.”
“The building has a nuclear power plant in the basement. It keeps the building warm, heats the rooms, and provides power to the whole building.”
“I thought those were outlawed years ago.”
“This one is the only one of it’s kind, and the reason they were outlawed.”
Carmen shook her head.
“The steam that keeps the building and the rooms warm is radioactive. After extensive exposure, people can develop radiation sickness. But that usually happens if you spend more than 6 months here.”
Carmen opened her mouth, and then closed it. Die of radiation poisoning, or frostbite? She thought. I’ll take radiation, besides; maybe they’ve found a cure by now; given the circumstances.
They walked into room 1612 and found that it was adorned with ornate gold leaf furniture and pictures of ladies in large bustled dresses or gentlemen with walking sticks and ruffled shirts. The room had three bedrooms off of the main room, plus, there was a large well stocked kitchen. In the main bedroom, there was a very large marble enclosed oval bathtub, with Jacuzzi jets. Gold swans served as the hot and cold faucets and there were gold faucets for the lavatory.
The other two bedrooms had standup showers, enclosed in marble as well, with gold accents.
“I’ve died and gone to Heaven,” said Liz as she flopped down on the bed in one of the smaller rooms.
“Well, Monique,” said Carmen, “do you want the room with the Jacuzzi tub?”
“I wonder,” said Monique, “how much radiation there is in the hot water around here?”
“Does it really matter? By the time we start feeling the effects of radiation, we may very well be dead from something else anyway.”
“That’s a cheerful way to look at things.”
“No, seriously, this place has been here for years, and you can’t tell me that they haven’t noticed a problem with the radiation? Don’t you think they would also have found a way to counteract it?”
“Fine, I’ll take the tub, but don’t come crying to me when you want to soak.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.”
Carmen closed the door to her room and flopped down on the king size bed, adorned with a heavy brocade comforter and five matching pillows. “Wow,” she said, “it’s actually warm in here.” She took off the heavy fur coat, and gloves, then removed her stocking cap, and sweaters. She took off the two pairs of heavy snowmobile pants she was wearing along with the heavy boots. She stood at the edge of the bed wearing a pair of jeans, heavy wool socks and a baggy black t-shirt. She looked into the mirror and noted that her brilliant auburn hair looked dull and stringy. There were dirt stains on her face, and her hands bore the impressions of her gloves. She looked at the bathtub, shrugged, and turned on the hot water. She was surprised to see actual hot water come out of the tap, and begin to fill up the tub. When it was about half way to the top, she turned it off. She touched the water with her hand and then turned on the cold water, which when she accidentally got some on her hand nearly froze it. “Well, I know where they get the cold water.” She turned it off quickly. Then she took off her socks and sat on the edge of the tub to finish disrobing.
“Carmen,” said Monique from outside the door.
“The Nurse is here for Liz.”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” she said zipping her pants back up and making her way out the door.
A tall woman, with graying hair wearing a nurses outfit was standing next to Liz. She had the girls hand in hers and was checking her pulse.
“I’m Carmen,” she said.
“Nurse Cardenas,” said the nurse.
“Can you help our girl?”
“Yes, I have already set her ankle and I just gave her a sedative. She needs to stay off of it for at least two weeks.” She indicated Liz’s other foot; the toes were black at the ends. “She needs to stay inside as well.”
“Oh, no problem there.”
“Good, I’ll come back in a couple of days to check on her.”
“Thank you. Oh, by the way, what is the risk of radiation poisoning, if I were to say, take a bath?”
The nurse shrugged. “No more danger than walking around outside unprotected from the cold.”
“I mean, there is radiation in all of the water, but it is in such a small concentration, it would take years of constant exposure before you would notice.”
“Has anyone died of radiation sickness?”
“Only a few of our long term residents,” she shrugged, “those that didn’t die of the Plague when the militia brought it in.”
Liz started to say something, but Monique shook her head.
“I’m glad you survived,” said Carmen.
The nurse nodded. “We suffered the same fate as the rest of the world when it came to the Plague. We lost a third of our population. If we hadn’t, you would not have any place to stay.”
“Thank you for that.”
“How long have you been traveling?”
“It seems like forever.”
Nurse Cardenas nodded again. “It’s a good thing you didn’t stop at the building across the courtyard.”
“It collapsed in on itself about thirty minutes ago. The snow was too much for it.”
“Wow,” said Monique, “I guess we were lucky.”
“The poor squatters that were in there, were killed instantly.”
“Wow,” said Carmen, “I’m glad it wasn’t us.”
“You will be best served by staying here, at least until Spring.”
Carmen and Monique nodded. “We will do that.”
Nurse Cardenas turned on her heels and stalked down the hall toward the elevator.
Carmen nodded to Monique, and disappeared back into her bedroom.
The next morning, or whatever passed for morning in the Hotel Baroque, dawned early and the warmth of the nuclear heating system over powered Carmen as she slept in the most luxurious bed she had seen in ages.
“What the heck,” she said sitting up straight in bed. She looked around and realized where she was. “I’m getting as bad as Elizabeth.” She lay back down and closed her eyes.
The clock on the bedside table read 2 PM when Carmen woke up again. She sat on the edge of the bed and then stood up, very carefully. She looked down at her feet, and could see the tell-tale signs of frostbite. “Great,” she said as she pulled on her white cotton socks, “I can’t afford this. I hope Nurse Cardenas can fix it.”
“I’m sure,” said Liz standing in the doorway, “Nurse Cardenas can fix anything.”
“Liz, you’re up. You look great!”
“Actually, I feel great; except, my ankle itches.”
“Don’t scratch it.”
Liz smiled and tried to scratch the ankle with the cast on it, using the other foot.
Carmen laughed. “When you are better, and have that thing off, you can use my tub.”
“Thanks, Carmen,” Liz hugged her. “Oh, we have lunch in the kitchen. I’m afraid you missed breakfast.”
“It’s okay, I’ll survive.”
The next few weeks were unremarkable. Liz steadily improved with the help of Nurse Cardenas. Carmen got treatment for her feet and was pronounced in perfect health. Monique was the glue that kept everything together.
The three ladies decided to venture out of their apartment and downstairs.
“Hey,” said Liz, “let’s try out that barbeque place?”
Carmen shook her head. “I would worry, what was being barbequed, since I haven’t seen any animals around here.”
Monique shuddered. “I would hate to think about it. In fact, I think I’ll stick with canned stuff or salads.”
“Oh you guys,” said Liz, “where is your sense of adventure?”
“Okay,” said Monique, “you’re on, we’ll go to the barbeque place.”
“Who knows,” said Carmen, “it might be pretty good.”
The elevator doors opened on a beautiful ornate restaurant, with big gold leaf chairs and brocade table cloths. The dinnerware was rimmed in gold, as were all the glasses and flatware. A huge chandelier hung in the center of the room, the light it cast made all of the gold sparkle and shine. Strains of Vivaldi’s Spring floated gently across the room.
“Nice place,” said Carmen.
“Hello, ladies,” said a tall balding man in a tuxedo, “may I show you to your table?”
“Sure,” said Monique.
He lead the women to a table, by the window, that looked out on the quickly accumulating snow. The table was round and set for four. The women positioned themselves around the table and the man removed the fourth place setting. “May I take your drink orders?” He said.
“I’ll have ice tea,” said Monique.
“No, just some lemon please.”
“And for you Miss,” he said turning to Liz.
“Do you have Coke?”
“Coke it is.” He turned to Carmen. “And for you?”
“I would like hot tea, please.”
“Herbal, or plain?”
“Do you have English Breakfast?”
“Certainly, I will have your drinks out in a moment, and Jimmy will be your waiter.”
The women nodded and watched the man as he left the table.
“I’m glad we came,” said Liz.
Monique looked around. “There are a few people here that I don’t know. I’m going to go introduce myself.”
“There’s lots of people that I don’t know,” said Carmen. “I think I’ll just stay here.”
Monique stood. “Have it your way,” she said as she walked away from the table.
Liz watched her go and turned to Carmen. “What’s up with her? She never has been that nice. Not since we got here.”
Carmen shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Both women watched as their companion shook hands with an elderly couple two tables down. Then she moved on to a table with a young man and woman, and five small children. She smiled and patted each one on the head. Then vigorously shook the woman’s hand, before making her way into the kitchen.
“Where is she going,” said Carmen.
“Looks like she’s going into the kitchen,” said Liz.
“I can see that. But, why?”
“Maybe she has a boyfriend?”
Liz looked like she had been shot. “Monique is going to kill me.”
Liz sighed. “Monique met this guy a couple of days ago. They’ve been inseparable since then.”
“Our waiter, Jimmy.”
Carmen shook her head. “Great.”
“You don’t sound happy for her.”
“I’m not, I don’t trust strangers, and well, it’s just been too good since we moved in here. I’m waiting for something bad to happen.”
“So,” said Liz folding her arms across her chest, “you’re a glass half empty person aren’t you?”
“I never used to be, but with everything that’s happened. I am now.”
Monique returned to the table with her long black hair slightly messed up. “What did I miss?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Liz.
“You told Carmen didn’t you?”
Liz looked down at the table and didn’t meet Monique’s stark green eyes. “Yes.”
Monique looked at Carmen. “It just happened. It’s been such a long time. I was lonesome.”
Carmen nodded. “It’s okay. I hope you’re happy.”
“I am, I really am.”
“Good, when do we get to meet him?”
“Right now,” said a soft male voice from behind her. “I’m Jimmy, and I’ll be your waiter tonight.”
Carmen turned to see a tall black man wearing a black tux, holding a tray of their drinks. “You’re Jimmy?”
“Yes,” he said placing the drinks on the table in front of their respective recipient, “you must be Carmen?”
“Why, yes,” she said extending her hand.
He shook it. “This must be Liz?”
He tilted his head politely in her direction.
Carmen noticed that he had a beautiful smile and that his dark brown eyes were very sincere.
“So, may I take your order?”
“I’ll have the roast beef, with the brown gravy,” said Monique.
“Of course, and peas, please.”
“Liz, what about you?”
“I’ll have the chef salad, with mango salsa.”
“An excellent choice.” He turned to Carmen.
“I’m not very hungry.”
“Monique said you would be like this the first time. I can assure you all of our food is grown right here on the property. We have pastures and fields on alternating floors, we are very self-sufficient.”
Carmen shook her head. “I’m still not very hungry.” She stood. “In fact, I’m just going back home.”
As Carmen exited the restaurant, a tall man with blonde hair and steel blue eyes entered the elevator ahead of her. She stood at the door and waved. “I’ll take the next one,” she said.
He shrugged and the doors closed.
She stabbed at the button to call the elevator and turned around.
“Oh,” said a man with curly brown hair and beautiful blue eyes, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you here.” He stepped back about two paces. “I’ll wait for the next elevator.”
She looked at him and blinked. “No need,” she found herself saying, “I would be glad to have you share my elevator.”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“My name is Carmen DeLaRosa.”
“Pleased to meet you Ms. DeLaRosa,” he said inclining his head toward her. “I’m Jeff Donovan.”
She inclined her head toward him. “Likewise, Mr. Donovan.”
“Please call me Jeff, I haven’t heard that name in months. In fact, I haven’t spoken to anyone since it started snowing.”
Carmen smiled. “I live with two other women.”
He nodded. “I got a room here after the first day. I just haven’t been that inclined to speak to anyone.”
“We arrived a couple of weeks ago. One of my companions was injured, Nurse Cardenas helped her.”
“She’s good. I was sick with the Plague when I got here, and she got me back to normal. Well, almost normal.”
Carmen smiled. “What do you mean by that?”
“I have large scars on my back and shoulders and my legs don’t work as well as they used to.”
“I see. Well,” she cleared her throat, “I had frostbite on my toes.”
Jeff’s mouth fell open. “Are you okay?”
“I am now. My feet are fine, but whenever the apartment gets cold, my feet ache.”
“I guess you can’t go for long walks in the snow then, huh?”
She smiled broadly. “Are you asking me on date?”
He smiled back at her. “Maybe.”
The elevator door opened and they entered together.
She looked into his eyes, and sighed. “How about we take this slow. I would like to see the farming floors, can you take me there?”
“I’ve not been there myself. Maybe we could do something easier, like sleep together first?”
Carmen slapped him in the face.
“Okay,” he said holding his cheek, “I deserved that.”
“You did at that.”
“I would bet that the waiter knows where the farming floors are.”
Carmen sighed. “Okay, I’ll get Monique to find out. Then you and I can go there.”
“Miss DeLaRosa, are you trying to seduce me?”
“Mr. Donovan, is sex all you can think of?”
He blushed deeply. “It has been a long, long time.”
She looked at the floor of the elevator. “Yes it has.”
Then the door opened.
She looked up. “This is my floor.”
He smiled and pretended to flourish a non-existent hat. “Until we meet again, milady.”
“Tomorrow, at 6?”
He was smiling broadly as the elevator door closed.
“Hurry Carmen,” said Liz, “he’ll be here any minute.”
“I know,” she said fumbling with the buttons on a thin pink shirt. “I can decide what to wear.”
Liz looked at the pink shirt and tan shorts her companion was wearing. “Loose the shorts,” she said tossing her a pink wraparound skirt. “This will look better.”
Carmen shrugged and began to unbutton the shorts.
There was a knock on the door.
“I’ll get it,” Liz said slamming the bedroom door and racing to the front door.
Jeff Donovan stood in the hallway, holding a bouquet of red roses.
Liz opened the door and let him in. He took a seat on the couch and said nothing.
“Carmen, your date is here,” she shouted.
“I’m coming,” Carmen said, through the door.
“She’ll be right with you,” Liz told Donovan, as she retreated to her own room.
Jeff sat quietly on the couch.
Carmen opened the door to her room and stepped out. The door jamb framed her like a portrait. She had decided on the blue low cut dress, with a diamond choker and tall silver heals.
Jeff inhaled sharply. “You look beautiful.”
“These,” he handed her the roses, “are for you.”
“I haven’t seen any of these in a long time.”
“I’ll show you where they are growing them.”
“I am so looking forward to that.”
“But first I thought we could hit the 27th floor, for a drink and maybe a bite to eat.”
“I’ve never been there,” she said looking at the floor.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “it’s a nice place. You’ll like it.”
She nodded and took his arm as they walked out of the apartment.
“He’s cute,” said Liz.
“Not bad,” said Monique.
“He’s a good guy,” said Jimmy, from the bed in Liz’s room. “Why don’t you ladies come back to bed?”
They giggled and shut the door.
Monique, lay in her bed, her olive skin, pale as the ever accumulating snow outside. She had lost half her body weight, and could not keep anything that she ate down.
“Monique,” said Carmen slowly sitting down on the bed next to her. “I brought you some chicken broth.”
Monique sat up. “What a heck of a New Year’s treat. I can’t keep anything down.”
“I have faith in my soup.”
“Okay, I’ll try it.”
“Just take a sip; you need to keep your strength up.”
“I’ll try, but nothing tastes good, I just don’t know.”
Carmen took her hand. “It will be alright, everything will be alright.”
Monique looked her in the eye. “That’s what we told Kevin.” She sighed. “I don’t have the Plague. I know it’s not radiation, so what is wrong with me?”
“Nurse Cardenas said that it is another of those mutated antique viruses, like the Plague. It’s mutated so that there are no antibiotics that work.”
“How did I catch it, and you and Liz didn’t?”
Carmen shrugged. “I don’t know.”
There was a knock at the front door.
“Monique, its Jimmy,” shouted Liz from the front door.
Monique sat up a little straighter and tried to smile.
“Let him in,” said Carmen.
She had no sooner said that than the very tall black man appeared at the doorway to the bedroom. “Hello, sweetness,” he said in a deep Barry White type voice.
“I guess,” said Carmen, “I’ll just go see what Liz is doing. Could you please get her to eat?”
He nodded politely. “As you wish.”
Carmen slipped out the door and closed it behind her. She doesn’t know where she caught this virus? She thought, I bet I know.
“Nurse Cardenas,” said Liz, “doesn’t know where Monique got the virus. But, I bet it was from Jimmy.”
“You’ve been with Jimmy as much as she has, why don’t you have it?”
“I must have a stronger immunity.”
There was a knock on the door.
Liz bounced over and opened the door. Nurse Cardenas stood in the hallway.
“Susan,” said Carmen, “Monique is much worse. She won’t eat anything. What can we do?”
“I came over to tell you that I’ve found something else.”
“Oh, wow,” squealed Liz, “that’s so great!”
Carmen and Nurse Cardenas looked at her.
“Well,” said Carmen, “it is, or would be, if Monique wasn’t dying!
“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.”
“In the old days wasn’t there a way to keep the mother alive while the baby grew inside her?”
“Yes,” said the nurse, “but that was through intravenous feeding and kidney dialysis, and other types of life saving machinery that we just don’t have here.”
“Could you take the baby from her and implant it into someone else?”
“That could be done, especially since she is only about 7 weeks along, we’d have to do it right now.”
“Shouldn’t you ask the father,” said Liz.
“Yes, I will do that now.” The nurse entered the bedroom and shut the door.
There was total silence in the living room; until a piercing scream came from the bedroom and then a whooping.
Liz and Carmen threw open the door. Monique was even paler than before. Her soup bowl was upside down on the floor.
Jimmy was dancing around like a football player who had scored the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl.
“That went well,” the nurse said.
Monique stared at her friends. “A baby?”
“Yes, sweetie,” Carmen said.
“Nurse Cardenas said that she thinks it’s the baby that’s making me sick.”
“She’s going to take it out and put it in someone else, I don’t understand how that works, but she said it’s safe for all of us. She just has to find someone willing to go through this.”
Carmen opened her mouth. But Liz raised her hand, “I’ll do it,” she said. “I have always wanted a baby.”
Nurse Cardenas looked at her and smiled. “You would be perfect. You are young and in good health. We will do the surgery in the morning.” She turned on her heal and stalked out of the apartment.
“Wow,” said Jimmy, “why so fast?”
“Because Monique is dying.”
“Okay, I guess I’ll stay with her until the morning then.”
Carmen glared at the man. “Yeah, you do that.”
Monique’s surgery went well. But she was still very sick, and not getting better. Jimmy spent every waking hour with Monique, in the small bedroom.
Liz was absolutely glowing, bouncing around making plans for when the baby was to arrive. “July 17th,” she said, “that’s when she’s due.”
“How,” said Carmen, “do you know the baby is a girl?”
“Nurse Cardenas told me.”
“Oh, wonderful,” she said with no enthusiasm in her voice. “What are you going to name her?”
“Sounds good enough as any for me.”
“You sure are a spoil sport. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t thing this is the type of world we want to be bringing a baby into. There is nothing left of the life we had, and it’s just too dangerous.”
“That’s why we need Hope.”
“Yeah, sure, you keep thinking that. I’ve got to get out of here.” Carmen exited the room and made her way out into the hallway.
Jeff Donovan was coming down the hallway from the opposite direction carrying a large box of candy. “Hey, Carmen, where are you going?”
“Jeff,” she said running to his arms. “I can’t stay here any longer. I have to go. I have to get away from Monique and Liz is just insufferable.”
He shrugged. “I was taking this candy to your room mates in hopes that it would keep them occupied while I asked you something.”
She sighed. “You can take them the candy anyway, but I’m leaving. So, ask your question now.”
He got down on one knee.
“Oh, get up, I know what you are doing, and I don’t want a long term commitment. You never know what’s going to happen from one day to the next.”
“That’s why I want something permanent.”
She sighed. “I have to leave the hotel. If you want to go with me, then I would not complain. Otherwise,” she shook her head, “I just can’t stay here any longer.”
“It’s the first of April, the weather should be better, I’ll go with you.”
She smiled. “I know it’s going to be hard on you. But, I really appreciate it.”
“Not as hard as you think, our walks have strengthened my legs. It’s your toes I’m worried about.”
“I’m going to bring a ton of socks!”
“Fair enough, let’s spend the night in my room and you can pick up your stuff in the morning.”
“Jeff, I love you.”
“Carmen, you complete me.”
“Don’t get sappy on me,” she said through a sigh as she kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll get my stuff tonight and we can leave first thing in the morning.”
He nodded and followed her into her room.
“You can’t leave!” Liz shouted. “What about Monique?”
“I can’t stay here,” said Carmen. “It’s time for me to go.”
“What will we do without you?”
“I’m going to miss you,” Monique croaked from her bed in the other room.
Carmen ran to her and gently touched her face. “I’m going to miss you too, but I have to go.”
“Are you going to take what’s-his-name — “
“Yeah, Jeff, with you?”
“Yes, we are traveling together.”
“Ha,” said Liz jumping up and down, “I knew you wanted him more than us.”
Carmen turned to Jeff. “Now you see why I have to get out of here?”
He handed the box of candy to Monique and took Carmen’s hand. “Get your stuff, I’ll help you.”
They disappeared into Carmen’s room.
The next morning Carmen and Jeff left the hotel. Never to be heard from again.