October 28, 2028–Arlington, Massachusetts
Maria awoke to smoke and bacon filtering through the canvas. The aroma was strong as it hung on the crisp morning air. Why do I smell bacon? When she rolled onto her back the pain became more intense. It hurt so much; it kept her from going back to bed. Weariness remained in her body and that gritty crust in her eyes. She rubbed them clean and looked over at Joseph – he was fast asleep. No surprise there, he could sleep through a passing freight train. Maria lay there for two or three minutes gazing up at the roof of their canvas tent. Six months ago they were living a happy life in Charlottesville, Virginia. That’s when the early indications of the viruses released on D.C. appeared in their neighborhood. Fear seized the people when neighbors, friends and family died around them. Soon, if you attempted to approach someone for help, they shot you before you got within ten feet, whether you were ill or not. No one wanted to take the risk.
Early on a Wednesday morning they left. Rumors of a small group of survivors forming in Arlington, Massachusetts had been circulating for months. They had considered leaving several times in the past but never found the courage. Now, there was no other choice. Both of them bore a dozen viruses in their bodies. Neither of them remained contagious, but their scars had become a scarlet letter. Their neighbors treated them as pariahs. They loaded their van, grabbed Jeremiah, and left Charlottesville, Virginia at eight A.M. – never looking back.
The journey took over three weeks. Abandoned vehicles and dead bodies blocked the highways, making them impassable. They needed to take several dozen detours onto back roads that took them near hostile towns and neighborhoods. These towns set-up checkpoints to keep out plague victims and other undesirables. Three times they’d got away with their lives, barely. When they arrived in Arlington, they found a large camp in a park on the northern side of the city. Seventy-five refugees had moved here so far. They were home… for now.
She glanced at Joseph again. Still sleeping. Pockmarks from the blisters covered most of his skin. Remnants of the diseases from the Great Purge that had ravaged his body. He was still just as handsome as the day she’d married him twelve years ago. Now, holding their son Jeremiah in his embrace, he was even more beautiful. She caressed his face with her maimed hand and pulled more blankets over the two of them. The raw, damp air caused her bones to ache as she maneuvered herself up and out of their makeshift bed. She remained there for another minute, stretching and watching the ten-year-old Jeremiah sleep in his dad’s arms. A smile worked its way across her marred countenance. Throwing on her heavy winter coat, Maria went outside to investigate the faint wisps of smoke that drifted in the air.