Judy’s last memory of Helena was a bloody handprint on the train window as it sped away. It was somewhat larger than the painted handprint that hung in a square frame on the wall of her office, but she would never see that treasured handprint ever again, whereas this horrible red one would linger by her side until…
Until I die, Judy thought grimly. The familiar loops and whorls of Helena’s bloody fingerprints on the glass as the world rushed by outside were something for Judy to focus on, but they were poor comfort – her daughter was gone. Left behind, and only 12 years old.
“Quickly!” Judy whispered in a panic, grabbing Helena by the arm and pulling her out of bed. “We’ve got to go! Now!”
Helena woke immediately and followed her mother out of her room into the upstairs hallway. They had all taken to sleeping in their clothes, never wanting to be caught off-guard, but Helena’s feet were still bare. Judy bit her lip in a kind of annoyance with her daughter that was almost akin to contempt, but brushed away the ugly feelings as quickly as they surfaced. She knew that they stemmed from fear, and that she wasn’t really angry, she was…
Something smashed against a wall somewhere else in the house, and Helena let out a startled cry.
“Shhh!” Judy hushed her, holding a hand firmly over Helena’s mouth. The older woman’s heart was trembling in her chest, and her mouth was dry and cottony. She licked her lips and whispered: “We’ve got to get out of the house.”
Helena nodded and pointed to the stairs, and as she looked down, her eyes paused for a moment at her bare feet, and she jerked up her head in panic. A silent apology passed between them, and Judy reached out and cupped her daughter’s face with one hand, her thumb caressing Helena’s tear-streaked cheek. She was so young and so beautiful.
What have we done to her world? What have I done? Judy thought. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They promised that we would be safe.
Judy’s contract stipulated that she and her family were to be exempt from the Acclimation, as they were calling it. All the families of employees were supposed to be safe.
Somebody at PharmaCon obviously had other plans, Judy reflected, miserably.
Helena quietly crept back to her room and pulled her well-worn Chuck Taylors out from under her bed, then made her way back to the stairs. Each step threatened discovery, so Helena tried to avoid the creaky boards. Once the disease progressed to the third and fatal stage, the Infected were faster than anyone would have believed.
Downstairs, the television clicked on, suddenly perforating the silence with the disorienting din of static. Helena bolted from her room and leapt into her mother’s arms.
“Come on,” Judy whispered. “I don’t know where your father is.”
“He’s not my father,” Helena said petulantly, tears welling up.
“Yes he is,” Judy said, wanting with all her heart for that to be true, but knowing that it wasn’t. Like a good mother, she lied to her daughter. “He’s just sick. And a lot of really smart people are trying to make a cure, okay? But right now…”
“Right now, he might hurt me,” Helena whispered almost inaudibly.
“Yes,” she agreed, nodding, thinking of what the first outbreak patients had done to each other in the lab and shuddering. “Yes, he might hurt you.”