PREVIEW OF QUARANTINE: THE LONERS

originally posted June 5, 2012

CHAPTER ONE

Someone must have bitten off her nose.

David remembered her. Julie Tanaka. She used to be gorgeous. He’d spent an entire semester of biology class fantasizing about her. She was perpetually tan and had a physique that always rendered David speechless. But now she looked like an old sewer rat. The tip of her nose was gone, like a piece of string cheese with the end chomped off. Her arms were spindly, and her bony joints jutted out like thorns. Her skin was brittle and dry. Her white hair was dirty and frayed. David studied Julie’s eyes. They were full of hate. She seemed hungry to get a little payback for what over a year in this place had done to her.

She’d get her chance any minute now. David surveyed the quad. Hundreds of kids stood along the perimeter, staring up at the massive gray veil that obscured the sky. The dim daylight that passed through the translucent canopy cast dull shadows down David’s lean face. He took stock of his competition. Some kids hopped up and down; some stretched their muscles. Others wrung their hands. They were grouped by hair color. The blue-hairs stood together at the south wall, the reds at the east opposite the yellows, and so on all around the quad.

But David had no group. He had only his brother, Will, at his side. A familiar rumbling echoed in from the distance. It was almost time. Anxious chatter got drowned out as the rumbling grew into a quickening thunder. The gray sky began to wobble and shake. The noise settled right above the quad, and the canopy convulsed like the ocean’s surface in a violent storm.

David shouted a staccato command at Will. “Southeast corner!”

He could barely hear his own voice over the swelling roar above. It didn’t matter. Will knew where to meet. David still reminded him every time. And he always got back the same exasperated nod from Will.

David trained his eyes back on the gray canopy and saw what everyone was waiting for. A thirty-yard incision split it open from the outside, revealing a brilliant slash of aqua-blue sky. Kids too timid to step foot onto the quad leaned out of windows and doorways for this brief contact with the outside world. Many of them stretched their arms skyward. Some of them sobbed. Others clapped their hands together in prayer. They came for this moment only, to catch a glimpse of the blue sky, to feel the warmth of the sun. They didn’t have the courage to participate in what would happen next.

A black military helicopter eclipsed the view of the sky and lowered its giant cargo through the opening. Pallets of food, water, and supplies were lashed together into a single block the size of a school bus. The mass of supplies breached the slash and hung there, suspended by a cable forty feet above them.

The cable detached with a plink. The block of pallets fell. It cracked into the ground and broke apart, scattering supplies all over the quad. As the helicopter retreated, an unseen mechanism mended the slit in the gray canopy. The kids on the perimeter bolted toward the mound of supplies. Colors collided. All around David kids kicked, clawed, and stomped each other to get at the food.

David never thought high school would be this hard.