Suddenly, fear had paralyzed me. I was fucking afraid of what I’d find out at the other end of that line. Lindsey. I looked over quickly to my right, at a dishevelled nurse who looked like she hadn’t slept in days. She weakly smiled at me. I couldn’t bring myself to return it. Instead, my fingers slowly and deliberately started to dial Lindsey’s number. From what seemed like far away, I heard the beep of the keys, and when I put the phone to my ear I felt like I was stuck in a dream. As I listened to the rings, I can remember walking to the edge of the balcony and leaning over, surprised to find that the horizon was starting to be tinted red from the sunset. But, not just red, because the very fringes were pink and I could see a hint of the darkness waiting to come. It was startlingly beautiful, and drew me in like a fish is to water. I guess the start of that sunset sticks in my mind because… well, it was the last thing I’d be able to see beauty in, find beautiful, for days. As the phone rang, the dreamlike Gerard suddenly realized he hadn’t smoked since this morning. The sight of that sunset did something to me, put a little more of me right than my mental work by Mikey’s bedside had done. Suddenly, I was filled with this huge craving for a tar stick, and dimly realized that I could do nothing about it. The craving was so bad it made me forget why I had a phone to my ear in the first place. The ringing seemed to go on forever. I was about ready to hang up, but thank God, I didn’t. On the last ring, I suddenly heard her. I would have recognized that voice anywhere. “Hello?” Lindsey! She was still here. The woman I married was still able to answer her cell phone. The sunset deepened as my mood suddenly soared. I quickly thought back to Frank after he’d talked to Jamia. Maybe, just maybe my wife would be different than everyone else in this hospital. Looking back, I can’t believe I allowed myself to think such a thing. But, I can’t blame myself either. My world that day was nothing more than that hospital full of sick people. I could still foolishly hope that things were different in other parts of the country, the part she was in. I wasn’t even thinking about the states the news mentioned to be infected. “Lindsey?” I said happily, knowing that my one word was anything but a question. “Hey…,” was all she could get out before my already broken world shattered. Suddenly, a string of coughing filled the background. Wet coughs that sounded exactly like Mikey’s had. It was all I could do not to let the phone drop to the ground. “Lindsey!” I shouted loudly, startling the nurse behind me, and even myself. But, fuck, I wouldn’t have been able to control it if I had tried. And still, my wife coughed. “I… I was going to phone you, but you beat me to it,” she tried to say, before pausing to cough again. “Gee, I’ve got that flu. They finally left me alone so I could reach you. Fuck, everybody’s so sick!” My stomach was suddenly full of lead as I finally remembered that she was in one of the states that Kathy Harris had mentioned. Oh God, not my Lindsey. “M… Mikey’s got it, Frank said Jamia does, oh fuck, but not you!” Suddenly my voice was hysterical and high, screechy and not like myself at all. This was worse than when I was talking to Dr. James, much worse. My world had been turned inside out this morning, and now it fell into a fucking black hole. I lost myself again, worse than after I’d run away from the doctor. So badly I can’t remember anything clearly. I wish I could have, but I fucking can’t. My memory of that whole time is foggy now, but I must have been a mess. It was something I never wanted to hear in my life. Lindsey told me she’d waited until she was absolutely sure she had that flu, and then she waited some more to figure out what exactly to say to me. She told me she was in the hospital, and she… she knew she was never coming out. My wife said she loved me. She said her Famous Last Words. Lindsey told me that we’d meet in some kind of afterlife when this was all over with such conviction, but I couldn’t believe her. How could a God give us some kind of heaven after doing what he did?! I nearly broke down, finally realizing that everyone I loved was going to die. That I was going to die eventually from this, because it seemed that way. She told me that everyone was sick, and there were bodies in the streets and in pits and in houses and she was going to be one of them. But, my wife wasn’t hysterical or crying, only sad. I think the thing that was the worst to hear was how she told me she hoped that death would come quickly. Like any thought of fighting had completely left her. After she’d watched ones close to her die, she just accepted her fate like a blind robot. It took all I could not to scream at her, completely lose it and say how dare she give up. I’m fucking glad I didn’t. Because now, I realize that I’d actually accepted my soon-approaching plague death the minute I heard that first cough. Shouting would have been pure, useless denial. Neither of us needed that. I looked like a maniac. My hands and body were shaking, and my free hand was clasping the railing so hard it hurt. For her sake, I tried to keep my voice even as I said I loved her. Again, Lindsey told me that we’d meet in the afterlife, and not to worry because she loved me too, and that would never change. I can remember a single tear sliding down my cheek as I said I loved her, again and again and again. My Lindsey sounded so tired. But, she still found the strength to say it back, over and over. Her last words that she ever spoke to me were “So, I guess this is goodbye.” Before I could respond in any way, I suddenly heard the stomach-curdling sound of vomit. She’d timed it just perfectly. God, fuck, she’d known all along she was going to be sick. I wanted to shout, I wanted to cry, but it was like my voice was completely gone. Even now, I can remember exactly how hard I tried to force something out of my scream-broken vocal chords, and how exactly I failed. Before I could even tell her I loved her one last time, or even say goodbye, the line went dead. As if in a dream, my hand went limp and Frank’s phone went flying to the ground. I was in complete and total shock. Everything was a shade of grey. My wife was dying, my brother was dying, and everybody else wouldn’t be far behind. I looked down at the ground below and seriously toyed with the idea of just hurtling myself over the edge and ending it all right now. Jesus, I might have actually done it if it hadn’t been for that nurse. “Hey, my daughter was a big fan of your band. I know this won’t help any, but take these,” a completely unfamiliar voice suddenly said on my right side. I slowly turned to see the nurse standing there, with a lighter and cigarettes in her outstretched palm. My eyes scanned them blankly. “Here, they’re mine,” she added, then shoved them into my hand. “I was always meaning to quit, I might as well start now.” Numbly, I just stared at her, watching with an open mouth as she walked away. Suddenly, that damned craving was back, yet another mental failsafe, and I lit up one of those toxic tar sticks as fast as I could. The shock I was feeling was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I’d been low when I was on the drugs, but this was so completely different. I was unable to feel anything except emptiness, the kind of that made me wonder how far down jumping over the balcony would take me. But, I knew I didn’t want to go back into the hospital, not yet, not ever. So, I made my way over to the corner, by the door, so I could watch the sunset, and I smoked. With every puff I tried to drown out the names playing over and over in my head. Lindsey, Mikey, Frank, Ray, Bob, Gerard, Mom, Dad, Lindsey, Mikey, Bob, Frank…. It just went on and on. The emptiness grew and grew. Smoke wafted through the air. How many cigarettes had I had already? I couldn’t remember. But, I do know that the sun went down. It was nearly black out, and I could see the city lights when Ray came. Without saying a word, he knew who I called and what I had found out. He tried to comfort me. He softly said words that held no meaning, until he realized that it was all useless. Only when he knew what was behind my blank stare did he tell me why he’d come to find me in the first place. Mikey was awake. Suddenly, a little bit of feeling came rushing back, just enough to make me realize that while I still had a brother, I needed to spend as much time with him as I could. Somehow, I jumped to my feet and yanked Ray up at the same time, and rushed through that hallway to hell. When I got to the room, I saw that my brother was really awake. He was sweaty, clammy, and coughed consistently, but his eyes were still the same. Mikey told me that it was starting to hurt. Not just his throat, but his muscles too. My stomach churned. He asked me if we’d phoned Alicia, and when Bob and Ray looked down, that was all he needed to know. Mikey asked so many questions that night. I couldn’t figure it out, but now, I realize it was a way for him to distract himself from the pain, at least for a little while. Mikey vomited twice, and at least it wasn’t blood. I guess you really couldn’t have called it puking, but he choked up bile. Bob somehow found some food, which we all managed to choke down but my brother. When Mikey finally passed out, completely exhausted, that marked the end of April the nineteenth. The twentieth was when the screaming started. I didn’t even realize I was asleep on the floor until I heard his cry. We all jumped to our feet, only to see Mikey’s arm contorted with a bitch of a muscle cramp. Immediately, I ran to his side and put an arm around him, just to let him know I was there. I didn’t expect him to throw up blood all over me again. Once the cramp had finally stopped, I ran to the bathroom to wash myself off, trying not to puke with the idea that I was covered in his blood yet again, in my brother’s death blood. I did anyway. While I was puking my stomach out, Frank had run to try and find a nurse. He thought that they could give Mikey morphine or something. Later, he told me that he’d run down the hallway full of dead and dying, only to find it deserted. He’d gone to three different wards, only to find the few nurses remaining curled up on the floor. The one that was lucid enough told him that all the other nurses had either gotten sick or fled the city. And also, they had no pain medication left. They’d used it all up yesterday, and Mikey had gotten some of the last of the strong stuff. Frank pleaded and asked if they had anything else that would help, and the poor nurse said only Tylenol. But, that didn’t stop him. Frank got in the elevator and went to another floor, only to find it in worse shape. When he finally stumbled back into our hospital room, he looked like a man that had gone insane. At first, the only thing he said, over and over, was that he tripped over a dead man, just lying there on the floor. We only heard the rest after he’d calmed down. Sunday was the day of screams. I’ll never forget the sound of my brother asking us to stop it, stop the pain. Even on my deathbed, I’ll hear those cries as clear as ever, and I’ll never be able to wipe out the image of his body tense and twitching from those fucking cramps. His legs, his arms, everywhere suffered a convulsion at some point. They almost scared me as much as his breathing. His coughs were nearly constant now, so bad that he’d rock back and forth, and the worst of them would cause him to spit up blood and phlegm. And, fuck, they were so wet. It sounded like he had a swimming pool in his chest. That’s the only way I can think of describing it, a fucking swimming pool. Everything was so bad that I didn’t even think about smoking, and that used to be my biggest craving.