By late May, hospital emergency rooms throughout California and along the East Coast were packed with people complaining of severe flu symptoms. Interestingly, the U.S. doctors gave it the same name their Chinese counterparts did—the “Black Flu” because of the effect it had on people’s skin. There were other symptoms emerging, such as white sores and bleeding from the mouth and ears, but it was the jarring sight of darkened bruised flesh that was causing a panic among the nation’s citizens.
It was clear to U.S. health officials that this illness was the same one Jasmine Bradley had contracted at Energy Solutions Arena. They had never revealed photos of her body, but she’d been covered with dark splotches and sores by the time she passed away.
The president’s cabinet met secretly on the Wednesday before Memorial Day, and as they listened to updated reports on the spread of the Black Flu, it became clear that the Salt Lake attack wasn’t the origin of the illness. They realized other attacks had been successfully completed on both coasts. Something had to be done immediately or else the nation would be completely crippled by the illness. That afternoon the U.S. president appeared on TV in a special broadcast from the Oval Office.
“Good evening, my fellow Americans,” the president said. “At this time, our country faces a major challenge even more destructive than the natural disasters we’ve recently faced. It’s called the ‘Black Flu.’ Many of you in our larger cities are experiencing it firsthand within your homes and neighborhoods, while other areas aren’t affected yet.”
He cleared his throat and added, “Unfortunately, all indications are that the survival rate for this flu is terribly low. Our scientists are laboring day and night to come up with a vaccine to combat this illness, but we are still weeks away from achieving a satisfactory result. For this reason, I’m issuing an executive order that all domestic air travel cease immediately to halt the spread of this virus. We will also begin restricting travel across state lines.”
The president paused, knowing the strong reaction this announcement would create across America. “This is a decision I haven’t made lightly, because I know the impact it will have on folks across this land. However, this is a matter of national security. A series of checkpoints will be established throughout the nation to ensure that the virus is contained. Citizens who show symptoms of the illness should be treated with compassion, but they must be isolated to halt the spread of the disease.”
The president then stared into directly into the camera. “I don’t want this crisis to divide our nation, but I urge any communities that are not yet affected to create ‘quarantine zones’ so that this terrible illness won’t infiltrate your neighborhoods as it plays itself out. I’m confident that as we work together to overcome this national trial, we’ll emerge as a stronger nation.”
In Chicago, Marie Shaw joined her co-workers around a TV in the lobby of Naples & Austin to watch the president’s announcement. They looked at each other in shock afterward.
“What are we going to do?” Bianca asked in a panic. “I’ll bet hundreds of infected people have already passed through O’Hare Airport, so it’ll start spreading here quickly.”
Gretchen emerged from her office, where she had also been watching the president’s message. “Our option is quite simple,” she said. “This is our home until the epidemic passes.”
“What do you mean?” Marie asked.
“This office is where we’ll stay,” Gretchen said. “We need to act quickly to stock up on food and water, but otherwise we could live here comfortably for weeks—and even keep working on our projects.”
Gretchen ordered all of the male employees to go down to the shopping mall on the building’s lower floors and buy all the food they could. They returned an hour later with bags of food, but it wasn’t nearly as much as they’d hoped.
“It’s a madhouse down there,” one man said, showing a torn shirt. “The president’s message has sent everyone into a panic. We need to barricade ourselves in, because it won’t be long before people start coming up here searching for food.”
“I’ve got some food in my apartment,” Marie said. “Can I go get it?”
All eyes turned to Gretchen, since about a dozen employees had condos in the building. After a moment she said, “Yes, that’s a good idea, Marie. Everyone who lives in the building go retrieve anything useful. After you return, we’ll block off the elevator door and the stairwells.”
Within a few moments, Marie was in the elevator heading to her apartment. She entered her living room, and it struck her how meaningless all of her possessions now seemed. She went through the cupboards and the refrigerator, and soon she had three plastic bags filled with items.
Then she heard a voice that seemed to come from inside her.
“Don’t go back there.”
Marie stopped in her tracks.
“You’ll die if you rejoin them. Leave this building.”
Then Marie’s mind was opened to a quick view of her future if she returned to the Naples & Austin office. The images were frightening and disturbing, and included her own violent death. It reminded her of a statement she’d once heard—”The average person is only a couple of layers away from being a savage.”
Marie dropped to her knees, overwhelmed by what had just occurred, but she knew it was the Spirit talking to her. She hadn’t necessarily listened to heavenly promptings very well during the past couple of years, but there was no denying it this time.
“Thank thee, Heavenly Father. I will leave.”
Just then her cell phone rang. The caller ID showed Gretchen’s number, so Marie let it go to voice mail. Once the call was completed, she listened to Gretchen’s anxious message—“Marie, where are you? I talked to a friend who works in the mall, and things are getting even worse down there. So we’re barricading the doors in fifteen minutes. Do you need help bringing your things? I’ll send Vince down to help you. Return my call immediately.”
Marie shuddered and rapidly filled a duffel bag with some granola bars, tuna, snacks, and a few bottles of water. She was terrified that her co-worker would show up any moment, but she quickly changed out of her business attire into a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.
She grabbed the duffel bag, slammed the door behind her, and hurried toward a nearby stairwell. It would be a long winding walk down, but she didn’t dare use the elevator in case another employee happened to be on it.
As she entered the darkened stairwell, she heard Vince call her name from the hallway. She looked back over her shoulder and locked eyes with him briefly, then took off down the stairs. She had never moved so quickly.
Marie heard him enter the stairwell and shout, “Marie! Where are you going?”
“You can have everything in my apartment,” she shouted back. “Just leave me alone.”
Vince didn’t respond, and she kept moving downward. The stairwell soon ended at the edge of the building’s main lobby. She saw hundreds of people in a big commotion. She entered the lobby and ducked her head as she tried to plow her way through to the main entrance, but she kept getting jostled around. Suddenly a large man was in her face shouting, “The end has come! The end has come!”
Marie shoved past him and fought through the frantic crowd until she reached the street. There was only one place she’d felt close to heaven during her time in Chicago—the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. She broke into a trot and headed in that direction, arriving 20 minutes later at Navy Pier.
Marie could hardly fathom that it had been less than a month since that peaceful Sunday afternoon she’d enjoyed on the pier. The area was once again filled with hundreds of people, but this time no one was leisurely walking along. Everyone looked agitated and nervous. Thankfully, they all seemed to be hurrying somewhere else. However, a woman ran by and snatched at Marie’s backpack, nearly ripping it off her shoulder. Marie yanked it back and gave the woman a threatening look.
“Get out of here, you piece of white trash,” Marie snarled, causing the woman to scamper away. Marie was happy to still have her backpack, but she was surprised at the primal venom that had come from her own mouth.
“How could one simple announcement cause all of this fear?” Marie thought. Then it dawned on her that America had been teetering on this kind of chaos for quite a while. The president’s announcement had simply unleashed this underlying tension. Now it was suddenly every man, woman, and child for themselves.
Marie went directly to the museum, where an older woman was putting on a jacket near the front desk.
“Sorry, but we’re about to close,” the woman said.
Marie stepped inside and smiled politely. “I just want to look around for awhile.”
“Are you crazy?” the woman asked. “Didn’t you hear what the president said today?”
“I did, but I have nowhere else to go,” Marie said. “I feel peaceful when I’m here.”
The woman motioned dramatically at a display. “Well, I’m glad you like the place, but I’ve got to lock up. Scram!”
Marie just stood still. “Don’t worry about me. Go ahead and lock me in. I’ll turn off the lights and shut the door behind me when I leave.”
The woman stared at her in surprise, then threw her hands in the air. “Fine! Stay here if you want, but I’ve got to get home to my family.”
“Thank you,” Marie said. “I really appreciate this.”
The woman merely gave her a strange look before rushing out the door. Once she was gone, Marie made sure the door was indeed locked, then she jammed a chair under the door knob and dragged a table in front of it. She suspected the woman wouldn’t ever be back, and Marie didn’t want any company.
Once the table was in place, she sank to her knees and prayed, “Heavenly Father, thank thee for helping me find safety. Help me to do thy will.”