Garrett Foster felt a deep pounding in his head, and his entire body ached. It felt like he was lying on pavement. He could hear the buzzing of flies around him, and as he took a deep breath he was assaulted by a mixture of foul odors.
He opened his eyes and saw a blue sky above him, and then he turned his head just enough to see a nearby sign that read “Huntington Memorial Hospital.”
He vaguely remembered Vanessa frantically driving him to an emergency room in Pasadena. “Vanessa!” he cried out hoarsely. “Where are you?”
With great difficulty he raised up on one elbow and looked around him. Terror filled his chest as he saw he was in the midst of hundreds of dead bodies spread across a parking lot. Some bodies were covered with sheets, but most of them appeared as if they had been unceremoniously dragged there and abandoned.
Garrett looked at his hands, which were covered with dark blotches. Had he somehow survived the Black Flu? He swatted at the flies landing on his face and staggered to his feet. Thankfully, the people who had dumped the bodies had left a small path across the parking lot.
He walked slowly along, looking at the corpses around him in hopes of seeing Vanessa, but most of the bodies were decomposing and were hard to even look at. Finally he picked up his pace toward the shade of a tree in a grassy strip along the parking lot. He barely made it before a wave of nausea engulfed him. He collapsed on the grass, feeling so miserable that he could only close his eyes and moan. For a brief moment he wished to be dead like everyone else around him, but he sensed there was a purpose that he was still alive. For the first time in years he cried out in sincere prayer.
“Dear Father, I suppose I deserve this torment. Let me die if it is thy will. Otherwise, direct me where to go.”
As he said those words, he looked under a nearby bush and saw a Gatorade bottle. He crawled over to it and was astounded to find it was unopened. He cracked the lid and sipped it slowly. It was warm and salty, but it was like manna from heaven to him.
Within a few minutes he felt stronger, and he stood up to get his bearings. He didn’t know Pasadena very well. Vanessa had actually done all of the driving once they had reached California, since she knew the area better than he did. He doubted he could find her siblings’ houses again even if he remembered the addresses.
He leaned against the tree in despair. His memory of what had happened since they left Utah was so foggy he hardly trusted it. All he knew was he was alive, and Vanessa was probably dead. He could hardly comprehend life without her.
Clang. Clang. Clang.
Garrett turned and saw a disheveled man riding a bicycle down the middle of the street toward him. Four metal watering cans were hanging from the bike’s handlebars, banging into each other and making the racket. When he was within twenty yards, Garrett called out, “Hey! Over here!”
The man slammed on his brakes so fast he nearly went over the handlebars. He climbed off the bike and pulled a knife from his pocket. “What do you want?” he shouted.
Garrett held his hands out as a sign of peace. “I don’t want any trouble. I’ve been sick and I don’t know what’s going on. Can you help me?”
The man shook his head. “Stay away. I’m just going to get water for my family.”
“That’s fine, but where is everyone?”
The man shrugged. “They’re gone. A lot of people died, and those who could got out of here once the flu started to spread. I heard there are some people living by the ocean, though.”
“It just seems hard to believe,” Garrett said. “There were millions of people here.”
The man frowned. “Not anymore. Don’t go downtown. I heard it turned into a bloodbath as things got worse. People were fighting over everything. It’s terrible.”
“Worse than this?” Garrett said, pointing to the parking lot.
Garrett shook his head at how society had seemingly collapsed so quickly. He pointed at the cans dangling from the handlebars. “Where are you going to get the water?”
The man’s face hardened. “None of your business.” He started pedaling away, and Garrett helplessly watched him disappear around the corner.
Garrett walked to the front of the hospital, hoping to find a doctor or nurse, but all he found was more dead bodies. He imagined the hospital staff had become so overwhelmed they had finally just fled to preserve their own sanity and find their own families.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d gone without food, but he sensed his body starting to shut down. He was going to die if he didn’t find something to eat soon. Garrett remembered the man had said something about the ocean. All he could think of was endless salt water, but maybe people were catching fish there. He started walking west, knowing he’d find the seashore eventually.
“What have I got to lose?” he muttered. “I’ll just follow the sun.”