Published by Red Adept Publishing
Karis Hylen has been through the New York City dating wringer. After years of failed relationships, she abandons her social life and whittles her days down to work and spending time with her dog, Zeke. Her self-imposed exile ends up saving her life when an untreatable virus sweeps the east coast, killing millions.
Alone in her apartment building, Karis survives with only Zeke, phone calls to her mom, and conversations with two young girls living across the courtyard. With the city in a state of martial law, violence and the smell of rotting corpses surround her every day. But her biggest enemy is her own mind. As cabin fever sets in, vivid hallucinations make her question her sanity.
In addition to her dwindling food and water stash, Karis must now struggle to keep her mind in check. When a mysterious man enters the scene, she hopes she can convince him to help her make it to the quarantine border. With the world crumbling around her, Karis discovers her inner strength but may find that she needs people after all.
“After another hour, it was completely dark, and I walked over to the far ledge. The city was a black hole dotted by scattered lights here and there around the boroughs I could see from my rooftop. I couldn’t see the shapes of the buildings. There was no iconic skyline anymore. Even the Empire State building melted into the void. Without the usual glaring ambient light, I could see a sky full of stars. They faded into the blackness of the earth, and the lights of stranded survivors blended into the star-filled sky. They’d become stars too. Looking across the endless darkness, I thought about the people behind those lights, wondering how they were surviving and whether they were sick or just willing prisoners like I was.”
“Loneliness was a different kind of claustrophobia. Knowing there were people on the other side of my walls going about their business had made it much more bearable, as though only my world had stopped. But it had started suffocating me, closing in more every day. I missed the intrusive hum of traffic, voices from the street below, and even my vibrating building, which no longer shook because the trucks had all gone. Those signs of life that I had often cursed for invading my seclusion had grounded me and kept me sane. Without them, I found myself getting stuck on irrelevant conversations I’d had with friends, with co-workers, or with Jack, my mind spinning around them until I had to shake my head and return to the present. I did a lot of sighing as I tried to fill my space with fictitious companions.”
“At the next stop a man got on and coughed as he sat down two rows away. I moved farther down the car, grabbing the poles with my gloved hands as I went. When I got to the end, I turned and saw several others had followed me. We glanced at each other in understanding. The guy coughed again, and two more people joined us. The mass exodus left the man alone on the other side. His chin dropped to his chest, and his shoulders slumped in dejection. I know how you feel.
While the train muscled through the tunnel from Manhattan to Queens, I unintentionally locked eyes with a woman standingacross from me, and I saw familiar heartbreak and solitude on her face. In that moment of shared scrutiny, we passed miserable details of our lives to each other. I held her gaze in a momentary game of chicken, wondering whose life was more depressing. As I suspected, she looked away first.”
“I felt like I was underwater, unable to surface, while everyone else was waving at me from dry land. I would sit in my living room in the dark and think about the emptiness in my house, in my heart. I feared my sadness was so strong that it floated up the walls, seeped into the cracks, and poured over people in other apartments, infecting them too. Socializing became a chore, an unnecessary exercise I performed to appear emotionally normal to the masses—if I’m going to be alone, why not just be alone? Only one of my friends had noticed my withdrawal: Lori, who I frequently met up with at the dog park. She’d texted me to ask if I was avoiding her. I’d replied, No, I’m just hibernating. See you in the spring! :-)”
“I started at Kirk’s apartment since it was across the hall from mine. In spite of the proximity of our apartments, I rarely saw Kirk. He was a quiet man who usually just nodded to me and only became garrulous when talking about renovations to his apartment. I pulled the collar of my sweatshirt up over my face and knocked softly. After a few seconds, I knocked again, louder. I pressed my ear to the door, but all I heard was a vehicle racing down our street.
I walked down one flight and knocked on the door of apartment four, which was directly beneath mine. I often speculated about the resident, middle-aged Tom, who had an impressive handlebar mustache, and his mysterious movements. I only saw him once every other month or so, and a few times, he had been with younger women. He always wore a suit, so I imagined he was a traveling salesman. But I also thought he could be married and using the small apartment as his love nest. I knocked and listened. No answer. I wondered if he was away on a sales trip and had managed to avoid the whole debacle.
I walked the few feet to apartment five, where a gay couple lived. Out of everyone, I’d chatted with Terrence and Eric the most over the years, but I hadn’t seen either of them in at least a month because they had a condo in Florida where they spent most of the winter months. I knocked four separate times, waiting for an answer and hoping I wasn’t completely alone. But my knocks went unanswered.
I ran down to the second floor and knocked at apartment two, where a single woman named Barb lived. When there was no answer, I put my ear against the door. The low sounds of a TV resonated through the door. Barb coughed, and I jumped back quickly, my back hitting the door of apartment three. My heart was beating as quickly as a bird caged in my chest. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. Turning around, I knocked loudly on Kelly’s door, not expecting an answer. After my expectations proved correct, I went down to the solitary first-floor apartment, which belonged to Mr. Tablock. He was over eighty years old and had lived in the building for forty years. I’d seen his live-in Haitian nurse, Regine, in the hallway from time to time, taking out the trash. I used to ask her how he was doing, but her response was always the same: “He’s getting old, but he’s got spunk.” I stopped asking and just said hello. I pounded on the door, praying Regine and Mr. Tablock were still there and not sick. But all was quiet. Besides infected Barb, I was alone.”
“I looked at those still in line with envy, tears sliding down my cheeks. Their freedom was still in their grasp. Mine had been denied. I’d been turned away. There was no exception to be made. No miracle would get us on that flight. I forced myself to move toward the exit while I shuffled ideas for obtaining a note from a doctor. When I reached the sliding doors, I stopped, my shoes squeaking on the rubber mat below my feet. Just outside the doors, a line of other rejects with slumped shoulders zigzagged in front of the exit. I didn’t belong in that line. I looked over my shoulder at the people in line for flight check-in, their bags sitting idly on the ground next to them. The look of hope in their eyes was hard to resist, and I felt a renewed sense of determination. Even if another agent denied me, I would be in no worse shape than I already was.
I turned around and walked slowly back to the line. My eyes darted to the policemen. Are they still watching me? It was hard to tell behind the thick plastic of their helmet masks. I watched them out of the corner of my eye, a bead of sweat trickling down the groove in my back. The policemen stepped away from their post and moved purposefully in my direction. My steps faltered, and my heart rate jumped erratically. The men walked faster, their hands on the guns dangling at their sides. I sucked in a breath and took a step back. As they closed the distance between us, I became more convinced that they were coming for me. Their eyes seemed to bore holes into mine. I averted my eyes in an effort to look nonchalant, but my chest heaved and my hands were shaking. I kept my eyes on Zeke, who sat next to my feet, looking up at me anxiously. In my periphery I saw their boots close in. This is it. I’m about to be escorted
I raised my eyes and opened my mouth to concede defeat when suddenly a man in a green jacket was thrown to the ground next to me. I jumped and watched as the policemen fought to subdue him. I hadn’t even noticed the man standing there just a foot away. Another policeman rushed over to help haul the man to his feet and drag him outside, the tips of his sneakers dragging across the floor.
He screamed, “This is illegal! I have a wristband!”
When his shouts faded and the doors closed, I exhaled in relief. They hadn’t been coming for me. But then it dawned on me that they would just drag me out too. I had no new arguments to support my case. Feeling defeated, I turned and walked through the sliding doors.”
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