Home > Among Monsters (Red Hill #1.5)(4)

Among Monsters (Red Hill #1.5)(4)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“I hear what you’re saying. I’m not saying not to worry. With words like epidemic and now pandemic being thrown around…it’s a worrisome situation. But we’re safe here, and that’s what we need to focus on now. Panic won’t solve anything.”

“Is it the terrorists?” someone yelled.

“No,” the governor said, amused. “I’ve been told it’s a virus.”

“What kind of virus?” someone else asked.

“We’re not exactly sure yet,” Governor Bellmon said.

He was being honest. I’d give him that.

“There are reports in Mississippi!” a man said, holding up his phone.

The crowd erupted, and the governor leaned over to whisper something in a man’s ear. He was dressed in a suit, and he nodded before leaving the stage immediately. He walked over to Tom, the fire chief, just feet away from where we stood. Tom listened intently to the man in the suit and then waved to his men to come closer.

“The governor has ordered we gather water and supplies. We’re going into disaster mode, guys. I know most of you came in for the photo op, but you’re getting called in. Let’s get going.”

The men gave a nod and turned for the back door. Dad looked around and caught Tom as he was making his way toward the police chief and the mayor.

“Tom, I’ve got my little girls here,” Dad said.

Tom looked down at Halle and me and then nodded, giving Dad an unspoken pass, before he continued on.

“Now what?” I asked.

“We wait for the guys to get back and help as best as we can.” He leaned in, whispering in my ear, “Do me a favor, Jenna. Stay off your phone. I don’t want any of the stuff on the news to scare your sister.”

I felt a small hand grip mine. I knelt down beside Halle. Her stringy blonde hair was a ratty mess as it always was after school. Her clothes were mismatched, and her heather-gray hoodie jacket was tied around her waist. She pushed up her black-rimmed glasses, her ice-blue eyes glistening.

We couldn’t look more different—Halle with her light-blue eyes and tiny frame and me with my honey-brown irises and chestnut hair. I was always athletic, always pushing against boundaries, vying for independence, even when I was little. Halle just always seemed so fragile.

As if she could hear my thoughts and personify them, she squeaked her next words, “I want Mom.”

“I bet she’ll head this way as soon as she gets off work. She’ll want to be here with us,” I said.

Halle shook her head. “She won’t come here, Jenna. She’ll go to our place.”

“Red Hill? That’s just if something bad happens, silly.”

Halle looked around at the roomful of frightened people. “This is bad, Jenna.”

I stood and squeezed her to my side.

Chapter Three

THE CONCRETE WALLS AND FLOOR OF THE ARMORY seemed so much smaller than when I had been here for the National Guard’s open house the year before. It was just one giant room, but even back then, when the huge military vehicles had been parked inside, the space had seemed bigger. Now, the vehicles were parked outside, but with so many people packed inside, it made me feel a little claustrophobic. Still, as the news reports worsened and the news that the governor was in Anderson, more people were finding their way to the aging brick building.

Dad was helping the other firefighters pass out water and blankets, and they were also plugging in fans to every outlet they could find. Governor Bellmon was standing on the stage, speaking words of comfort, while holding out his hands between moments of wiping the sweat dripping from his brow. He looked like a doomsday preacher during an outdoor revival, only we were crammed inside a run-down building that was older than my dad.

I couldn’t imagine how hard it was to be responsible for keeping so many people calm in such a frightening situation. I was glad it was him and not me.

“I can’t breathe,” Halle said.

Her moist skin made her glasses slip down her nose so often that she’d resorted to pushing them atop her head like Mom would do with her sunglasses. When she tried to focus, her left eye would turn in.

I patted her nose with the bottom of my blouse and lowered her glasses in place. “Your crazy eye isn’t behaving,” I said with a wink.

Being premature, Halle had been sick a lot as a child. Mom had said that Halle coming early explained why she was the only one with glasses in our immediate family and why she was so much smaller than everyone in her class. Mom would also insist that Halle was as strong as any of us and to definitely never, ever give Halle a complex about her lazy eye. Mom would say all of this while babying Halle, of course. But when her glasses or lazy eye were mentioned, we would rarely make a big deal about it, and if we did, it was to proclaim how weird it was that one of her classmates had even noticed. We’d call it her crazy eye instead.

Halle pulled her mouth to the side. “I’m hungry.”

I led her over to a table with laundry baskets full of snack food. I picked out four small bags of potato chips and put four bottles of water in Halle’s backpack. We walked together through a rickety wooden door to a grassy yard surrounded by a tall fence, the ominous kind with curly barbed wire on top. A few rusted Humvees and military trucks were parked there. I even noticed a tank that I was sure was just for show.

Some of the other townspeople were grouped together, discussing theories on the origin of the virus and making phone calls. Halle picked out a spot in the corner of the yard, and we sat down in the grass, already green from the overabundance of spring rain.

Just as I thought about texting Chloe, Halle hopped up. “My pants are wet!”

I jumped up, too, checking my backside for the inevitable damp spot. I sighed. “Sorry. I’ll find something for us to sit on.”

I walked back into the armory and found several packages of plastic table covers. I took a package and opened it with my teeth while rejoining Halle outside.

“Here,” I said, spreading the plastic on the ground. “Our own little picnic.”

“I’m cold,” Halle whined.

“It’s cooling off,” I agreed. “And you were sweating inside. That’ll make you colder faster.”

She untied the sleeves of her jacket wrapped around her waist and put it on. “Sweat will?” she asked, confused.

I shrugged and zipped up her jacket. “That’s kind of the point.”

Halle munched on her chips as we watched more vehicles drive down Sixth Street. The drivers seemed to be searching for places to park.

“Why are so many people coming here?”

“Probably because the governor is here, and they think it must be safe.”

“Is it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “The cops and firefighters are here, and the National Guard is coming. I’d say we’re safer than most.”

That brought Halle a moment of comfort, but it only lasted a few seconds before she frowned again. “I want Mom.”

I pressed my lips together. “Me, too.”

Several young men in hunter’s camouflage came through the wooden door and out to the yard, yelling at people to get back inside the armory. I grabbed Halle and pulled her out of the way before wadding up our tablecloth and stuffing it into her backpack.

Dad’s voice called our names from inside, and then he appeared, rushing over to us. “Where have you been?” he said, angry.

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