“Yes, this is Brenn.”
“Hi, Dear, it’s Ann over at Lincoln El? Just checking in on Janie. Is she sick today?”
“What? She’s not in school?”
“No, she never arrived. Lynn Johnson was by-she said Janie never showed at her place, either. You might have a message from her. She said she left one. You were expecting her to be in school, then?”
“Yes. Let me call you back. Something must have happened. Please call me if she comes in late?”
“I will. Let us know what you find out.”
“Thanks, Ann, good-bye”.
Brenn hung up her end and hit the auto dial for Bryce’s cell phone. One of them must be sick, but it didn’t make sense that he hadn’t called, unless his phone had died.
The phone rang and rang, then went to voice mail. “Bryce? It’s Mom? Are you o.k? Is Janie alright? Call me.”
Bryce stared at his phone. He didn’t want his mom to worry, but he couldn’t pick up the call. He had no idea what to say, first of all. “Hi Mom, Gran stopped by and told us not to go to school today.” wasn’t going to fly. He’d have to lie. She thought Janie’s issues were because of Dad dying. They all went to a therapist once a week to talk about how they were feeling….as if saying, “My Dad died and I’m sad.”, using different adjectives every week would make things better. Whatever. He knew his Mom was doing the best she could. She wouldn’t give them permission to stay home if she knew the truth, but he couldn’t take Janie to school and leave her there alone. Also, if Janie was right, then they needed to get Mom home. A text was the obvious solution.
Brenn’s phone beeped, signalling a new message. Bryce. Thank God.
“Hi Mom, Janie doesn’t feel well. I gave her 2 tsp of children’s Tylenol and she’s sleeping. Can you come home?”
“Did you take her temp? Is she throwing up? I will be home as soon as I can. XO Mom.”
Brenn called back Ann at Lincoln and left a message that Janie wouldn’t be coming in after all, thanking her for the follow-up. Then she called Lynn Johnson to let her know that all was well and to apologize. She’d have to speak to Bryce about communicating better when these things happened. He was mature for his age, and so responsible that it was easy to forget sometimes that he was still a child. After the calls were made, she reached for her purse and dug out her keys. She was headed out the office door when the lights went out. Strange, she thought. The weatherman had predicted a sunny day. Was it storming out? A few seconds later the school generator kicked on. She locked up, and walked down the corridor to the principal’s office. When she got there, she was surprised to find that no one was around. She was headed to the teacher’s lounge to see if anyone was there when something on the front door security monitor caught her eye. The principal, his secretary, Joan, and the school’s janitor, Mike, were all gathered at the door. The janitor seemed agitated about something happening outside. Brenn headed down to the first floor to see what all the commotion was about.
“Hey guys, what happened to the lights? Everything ok?”
Pete, the principal, turned towards her. “Depends on how you define ok. You ever see anything like this?” He gestured towards the window. Outside, hundreds of insects could be seen in the playground area. The ground was covered with them. None seemed to be moving.
“It’s the attack of the locusts”, Mike joked. “Must be all the rain from this summer, but that don’t explain how they all got here so fast. They weren’t here an hour ago.”
“Ewwww”, Brenn said. “Global warming doing its thing, I guess. Can’t say I’m sad to see a bunch of insects bite the dust but what a mess! Not to change the subject, but I have to leave. Janie’s sick. Bryce is home with her. I’ll give you a call as soon as I have it all sorted out.”
Pete’s phone rang, and he answered, holding up one finger in the universal “wait a second” sign. “Pete Bishop here…”
“Hi Jenny…Yes, we have it here, too…..don’t let anyone outside? What’s going on?….Ok, I’ll let everyone know. Thanks for the call.. We’ll wait to hear from you.”
Pete tucked his phone back into the breast pocket of his suit jacket. “That was the superintendent’s office. There have been some problems….the mayor wants everyone to stay put until they figure out what to do. The county has declared a state of emergency. Brenn, can you call your kids and tell them to stay inside for now? I’m sure it will be resolved in no time.”
“What?” Brenn asked. “What do you mean, ‘problems’?”
“I mean that they’ve got guys in hasmat suits outside testing the air because they aren’t sure it’s safe to breathe. Stories are out on the AP that a number of areas are experiencing issues similar to ours. People are showing up at the hospital in droves with some kind of flu. Until they’ve ruled out natural disaster or terrorism, they want everyone to stay inside.
“Oh my God. I can’t stay here. My kids are home alone! No offense, but the mayor can take a flying leap. I’m going home.”
She made it about twenty feet from the door before she started to feel nauseous. She clasped her hands over her ears, attempting to shut out the vibrations, and sank to her knees as her legs began to give out underneath her. Pete and Mike were suddenly by her side. They each grabbed an arm and pulled her, stumbling, back into the building.
“Holy Fuck!” yelled Mike. “Sorry! Brenn, are you ok?” Mike was leaning over at the waist, one hand against the wall and the other on his knee. “What the hell was that?”
Brenn was sitting on floor, leaning over with her head between her legs trying get control of the nausea. “I’ll be ok, just give me a sec”
After a few minutes, Pete heaved himself up off the floor.
“Ok, then, it looks like we have a situation here. We need to get the word out to all the classrooms, but without causing a panic. We’ll have to go door to door. Anyone that needs to call home and check on their families can use their cells or call from the office. Brenn, after you get in touch with your kids, can you go to the teacher’s lounge? Mike, you go to gym. All kids and teachers should go back to their classrooms. Make sure all the windows in the school are closed. Close the shades over the windows, for now. Most importantly, nobody leaves. Joan, the phone is probably going to start ringing off the hook shortly. The message should be consistent. The school has been secured, everyone is safe and inside, parents should not come to the school to pick up their children until the all clear has been given by the mayor’s office. Got it?”
“Got it, Pete”, said Joan. “You coming with me, Brenn?”
“I’ll be there in a minute. I’m just going to give the kids a quick call.”
“Bryce? It’s Mom. How’s Janie? How are you?”
“We’re okay, Mom, Gra…”
“Listen, I can’t come home right now, honey. I’m at the Falls school. The electricity is out, and something seems to have happened in the neighborhood. We’ve been told to stay inside. I’m sure it’s nothing serious. As soon as I get the go ahead, I’ll be home, okay? Can you handle it until then?”
“Mom, it’s okay, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. Grandpa’s here.”