It all started with a cold.
Not a cold snap that makes people cover their prized petunias and drink cocoa in front of a fire, or a cold bitch who won frienemy-of-the-year award. No, those colds would never happen again—all because of a tissues-won’t-keep-the- snot-off-my-face cold.
Before the news channels cut off and everyone dropped dead, reporters and scientists told the world that a new strain of influenza had been discovered…and that’s all Ginger could remember.
Sixteen was not the age when people generally started watching CNN, so she wasn’t too pissed about missing the rest of the story. It’s not like knowing the facts would bring her parents, brother, friends—anyone—back.
She was alone, alive, and stuck in a world full of corpses. Luckily, none of the dead bodies hopped up and started sniffing for brains to eat, but that was probably the last bit of luck she’d ever get.
Ginger's mom succumbed first; she went to bed with a headache and never woke up. Ginger was glad, in a way, that it happened like that because her mom didn’t see anyone else suffer. Her brother, who was only five, practically coughed up a lung the next week. He was delirious by the end, and kept asking Superman for help.Of course, he pleas went unanswered.
Ginger didn’t know she had so many tears, and her dad cried right alongside her; they were so wrapped up in their grief that they didn’t notice the rest of the world going to hell. The mailman stopped coming, the neighbors didn’t walk their annoying ankle-bitters, and the sound of traffic from the highway puttered out.
It wasn’t until her dad spiked a fever that Ginger realized how deep of a shitstorm she was in. She called 911 and no one answered. She banged on her neighbor’s doors, shouting that she need help, but every house she went to was quiet and dark. She drove to town looking for flu remedies, only to end up a spectator as a mob ransacked Walmart. She watched her English teacher beat an old man over the head with a tire iron just to get a pack of Sudafed.
By the time she got home—empty-handed—her dad was gone. His wide, glassy eyes stared down at Gulliver’s Travels, his favorite book, for the last time. Part of her was glad he’d died doing something he loved, but part of her was angry he’d left her alone. The child in her was just sad.
Ginger had dropped to her knees in front of him and sobbed. For three days she stayed in the house, until the smell of death and rot permeated her pores. Knowing there was nothing left for her, she packed a bag and left.
But death had settled like dust on her town, her family one of many to perish. She drove through the streets, honking her horn like a mad person, hoping that someone—anyone—still survived. But no one peeked out from behind lace curtains or yelled at her to stop making such a racket. Eventually, even her car’s horn died.
She went to her best friend’s house, but couldn’t make herself go inside when no one answered the doorbell. Instead, she got back in her car and drove to the grocery store. The windows were broken and jagged glass gaped around the edges like teeth. She hopped inside and wandered the dark isles; nothing but the medicine section was disturbed.
Rows and rows of food sat before her, neatly stacked on shelves and boxed like delicious presents. Hers alone for the taking. A last bit of luck. A morbid gift from the universe—an apology for leaving her alive while the rest of humanity perished.