AS SOON AS THE LECTURE THEATER WAS EMPTY Will strode swiftly across campus to Wesley Hall, where the Anthropology department was housed on the third floor. He unlocked the door to his office, digging his phone out of his pocket with his other hand. He’d tried to get through to Abby on the way over without success
Will turned to see Boyd Bradley do a slow, exaggerated jog toward him, each step emphatically quivering his jowls, his checked shirt straining over his belly that despite being cinched in spilled over his belted trousers. Boyd reminded Will of a big peach. Peachy hair, round peach face with its short, turned-up nose, peach plaid shirt. Boyd usually ignored Will unless he absolutely had to speak to him, despite having been in the same faculty together since Will joined seven years ago. So to see Boyd pointedly running towards him now was nothing if not out of character.
“What do you need, Boyd?” Will asked, keeping his voice pleasant. He looked back down at his phone and pressed redial.
“We need to talk.”
“About campus closing?”
“What?” Boyd asked in that nasal tone of voice that set Will’s ears off. He waved the papers in his hand in the air dismissively and followed Will into his office. “No, Carter. We need to discuss why you continually feel the need to undermine me with Dean Mitchell.”
Will stopped pushing his books and papers into his bag to look now at Boyd in disbelief. “You’re kidding me, right? Campus is closing, the students are scared and this is what you’re worried about?”
Boyd’s lips thinned to narrow bands of peach-coloured flesh and he blinked rapidly. “You know as well as I do that Perkins is retiring.” He spoke slowly, forming each syllable with exaggerated precision. “Don’t think I don’t see what you’re trying to do. Offering to take on a bigger course load, expanding your hours. It’s obvious and it will not work.”
Will sighed. “This might be a foreign concept to you, Bradley, but I care about my students and this department. We’re going to keep getting smaller and smaller until we disappear. This isn’t Engineering or Bio-chem. We’re an Arts faculty. There’s no money for us and enrolment is down further every year.” Will kept his voice even. “We all need to work harder, tenured or not.”
“That position is mine,” Boyd said. Will almost expected him to stamp his foot like a little girl. “Stay out of my way.” Boyd turned on his heel and stalked off.
Relieved to see the back of his colleague, Will sank down into the tattered leather chair at his desk. It had belonged to the previous occupant of his office and he saw no need to replace it, despite the fact that one arm rest was held together with duck tape. Abby had offered to buy him a new chair but he’d told her he’d rather have a nice dinner or a bottle of scotch. Abby had laughed but a few days later he’d come to his office to find her and a bottle of Oban. They’d toasted Will’s new position then rushed home while they still had a couple of hours before the boys got back from school. Will slid open his bottom right desk drawer and stared at the half-full bottle of scotch for a beat, sorely tempted though it was still before noon. Boyd Bradley had that effect on people.
His phone rang.
“Abby, I’ve been trying to get you!”
“Will, thank God! I heard about campus. We couldn’t reach you either, there’s something wrong with the lines.”
“Must be a high volume of calls. The high school is closing too. Are Sam and Ben with you?”
“Yes, the boys are right here. My client’s flight was cancelled so I was home when they got back.”
“Good. I’m on my way home now too. I’ll stop at the store and pick up some supplies, we might not be going anywhere for a few days. There was mention of a quarantine.” He didn’t say it was Carol who’d suggested it to him. Abby had teased him enough about his ‘girlfriend’. After almost twenty years of marriage she didn’t get too excited about campus crushes but he was still respectful of her feelings.
“It’s all over the news now, they’re saying this could be worse than the 1918 flu pandemic. I don’t understand how something like this could happen so fast,” Abby said.
“I’m not sure either, but try not to worry. We’re going to be fine.”
“Can you get some cash out of the bank as well? As much as you can.”
“Do you think that’s necessary? It’s not like the power is out.”
“No, but we should be ready for anything, shouldn’t we?”
“I don’t think we need to panic. But it’s good to be prepared, you’re right.” Will paused a moment, the reality of the morning setting in. “Uh, Abby? You’re feeling okay, right?”
“I’m fine, I’m not sick. Boys are fighting with each other over the last Coke so they’re obviously well,” she laughed once before getting serious again. “You’re not…you’re feeling okay?”
“I’m good.” Will exhaled the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “I better go. See you shortly. Love you.”
He ended the call and made his way to the minivan. They had planned on trading it in for a four-door once the boys were out of strollers and didn’t need so much stuff, but then the baby stuff turned into soccer balls, hockey bags and friends. So the van stayed. It was old, but reliable. The campus lot was almost empty. He watched Boyd Bradley peel out in his little red convertible, a vehicle wholly inappropriate for Maine, but it was Boyd’s pride and joy.
Will signalled in the opposite direction and headed to his bank, a few blocks away. When he got there he saw a crowd gathering and a piece of white paper taped to the door.
He spoke to a young man in paint-splattered coveralls walking away from the bank back to the parking lot.
“What’s going on?”
“What about the ATMs, can’t we still access them?” The machines were supposed to be accessible 24 hours a day so the bank being closed shouldn’t matter.
“The ATMs are out, man.”
The man started coughed violently, caught his breath then continued walking toward the convenience store across the street.
The crowd around the bank was growing louder as more people became aware that it was closed and they were unable to get their money. Will remembered there were a couple of bank machines on campus. He did a quick u-turn and headed back the way he had come.
Campus was already deserted. His footsteps echoed as he walked through the halls toward the student union building. Security guards were rolling down metal screens. He nodded to one he recognized and saw frequently in his building, then made his way to the closest ATM. Fortunately the machine still had cash and he withdrew his full daily limit of $1000, kicking himself for not raising it like Abby had bugged him to do every now and then. It was eerie walking around the empty university campus on what would normally be a busy Monday morning. Back at his van he heard crows cawing as they settled in the treetops around the barren parking lot. The sound sent chills down his spine.
Will then headed back the way he’d started out originally, to the big Super Save-it on the edge of town. It was on his way home and he planned to run in and out quickly, grabbing a few necessities to get them through a few days of having to stay in. He tried to call Abby to ask what he should pick up but the lines were down again. He’d figure it out when he got there, he guessed, and drove on toward the grocery store. It took him far longer than the short drive warranted. Traffic was thick and moving slowly, many cars heading out of town. He flicked on his turn signal and rolled into the Super Save-It parking lot.
What he saw was unbelievable.
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