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Blight

It was the last day of September, one month into the fall. It was a time when the temperature had started to plummet and the leaves had the lost their green hue. The first month of school had come and gone, and with that the summer as well. The almost endless fields of crops were teaming with life, legions of matured sprouts just waiting for the harvest to begin. I could still remember how the week had begun. The blaring sound of my alarm clock awakened me to the light of the early morning. Pulling myself from beneath the covers I turned to my alarm clock, still continuing it’s blaring chant. The time read 6:32 in bright red light, signifying it was time to get up. The feeling of exhaustion persisted as I walked towards my dresser. I turned to face my reflection in the mirror. Hints of darkened rings appeared beneath my eyes, an allusion my repeated lack of sleep. Quickly changing into clothes prepared the previous night, I had exited my room and descended down the staircase by 6:45. I could hear mom call my name as I entered the kitchen. The fans above the stove had been roaring since I had woken that morning and continued so. 

I quickly made my way to the stove, walking around the center island in the process. My reflection once again stared back at me through the glass surface of the stove as I stood beside mom. She had been tending the stove since before I had even woken, evidently seen by the plate of eggs which sat at the far corner of the stove.  Carrying the plate in both hands, I would leave it at the center island before opening a nearby cabinet to reveal two neatly organized cutlery racks. The silver sheen of each utensil stared back at me as I grabbed a fork.  I returned the center island pulling up a stool before sitting down. I would begin to eat, reading through my phone as I did, the normal atmosphere of silence filled the room; the only noise being that of the stove and the radio. Our family was one of few words, and the silence of the morning was evidence of that fact.  Soon enough mom would break the silence as she called Laura down. Laura would appear soon after, walking down the stairs. With a half-awake expression on her face, she to would go to the stove before sitting beside me on the center island. Meanwhile, mom remained busy, depositing a frying pan and spatula into the near kitchen sink before turning to the blender at the far side of the center island. The air would soon be mixed with the combined chorus of the blender and the radio as Laura finished her breakfast, with my plate being cleared soon after as well. Allowing my plate to join the frying pan in the sink, I soon left the kitchen as the clock struck seven.  Ascending the staircase at the same pace which I had descended, I made my way directly to the bathroom. Laura had beat me to it and was already brushing her teeth. I would quickly follow suit grabbing my toothbrush off the alabaster counter, before squeezing a single blob of blue toothpaste onto the bristles and brushing my teeth in the most timely manner possible. I looked down towards the silver analog clock which sat on the bathroom counter. The time read 7:04. Laura had already returned to her room by the time I had exited the bathroom. I would make one final trip back to my room before leaving for the bus. I quickly grabbed my watch and wallet before returning to the kitchen. There I would grab my lunch off the kitchen counter, slinging my backpack over my shoulder as I did like any other day. Wishing mom a farewell, quickly left through an already ajar garage. 

The warm weather of the early fall struck me as soon as I exited, the temperature having past the boiling points of summer yet still above the colder temperatures of Colorado in Autumn. I began to walk down the street at a moderate pace, the school bus coming closer with each passing moment. I would arrive at the bus stop just as the bus had completed its previous stop.

The roaring sound of the bus filled the air as eventually came to a halt at our stop. Releasing a momentary hiss as the twin doors opened allowing my peers and I to climb aboard. The bus was sparsely filled, the majority of the kids including Laura either drove or carpooled to school. That would leave the bus full of a handful underclassmen such as myself and a sizable number of middle school kids. The mechanical hiss of the doors returned once more as the doors closed. The motor once again roared to life, and the bus was off. Turning at the nearest corner, the bus proceeded to exit our neighborhood. The ride to school was a short one, only lasting at the most, 10 minutes. The bus would spend this time traveling through the back roads of Harding destined for a single stop before arrival at school. These back roads much like the rest of Harding would be dominated by the sight of the colossal snow peaked mountains coupled almost endless fields of crops. These staples of the town would fly by as the bus continued down its route. The bus would pull into the school parking lot minutes later making us the first to arrive. 

The school would appear empty, derelict to a certain point. Not a single person could be seen from the vantage point of the bus. The air was filled with nothing but the roaring hum of the bus’s motor and the commotion of conversation. I could hear those closest to my seat, their voices unavoidably being heard. The most audible of these voices was that of Brendan and his unmistakable high pitched voice. I could see Brendan from my seat, his freckled face unmistakable from a close or afar. He had been in conversation with Kara, a dark-haired girl since before I had even got onto the bus. The two were constantly talking to each other, almost to the point that you would think they were made for each other. Both Brendan and Kara lived in my neighborhood, and from what I could gather, they had practically known each other since birth.  Their conversation would be the most audible as we awaited the arrival of other buses. 

Soon enough a dozen or so mustard yellow had cloistered together in the parking lot and with that, the doors hissed open once more. In an instant conversation had stopped, and half the bus began to file out. The parking lot was now filled with both buses and students. The combined sound of buses droning out any audible sound of conversation. Like everyone else, I began to head towards the red brick facade of the school. Each step would bring me closer to the two glass doors which garrisoned the interior of the school. I would reach the doors soon after, falling into a line of people opening the door. Quickly shuffling in, the sounds of the buses was instantly replaced with the voices of other students echoing throughout the near-claustrophobic hallways. I paused for a moment, quickly taking in the image of the hallway before moving forward. The countless displays embedded into the walls were empty save the handful filled with shining trophies. Students began almost fly by as I continued down the hallway, turning right at the first intersection. The blank walls and display cases had been replaced with legions a burgundy lockers with the occasional door. Students continued to fly by as I made my down the hall eventually coming to a halt outside one of many doors. The numbers 104 would be embossed next to the wooden, flax seed colored door atop black plastic in a white acrylic. The glass, wire-framed window gave candid view to a dark classroom, a clear sign that Mrs.Moore had yet arrived. I would be the only there for a short while, being joined by Justin. Justin was taller than me by a couple of inches and wore a thick-rimmed glasses. I had met him a few years back and he was one the most intelligent, yet quirky people I had ever met.

“Hello”

I responded a simple: “Hey”

     “So how was your weekend.”

     “Fine, how about you?”

     “Ok, I mean I did nothing productive but it was a good weekend.”

     Our conversation would continue from there, the topic bouncing in every single direction. 

     As we continued to talk, more students would begin to cluster outside the door with similar events occurring outside other classrooms. My conversation with Justin would soon expand to include our peers Mark and Georgie.Justin and I were friends with both Mark and Georgie and both naturally joined our conversation. I had known Mark since elementary school thereby making him one of my closest confidants. He to, like Justin had glasses albeit thinner in size.  Mark would also wear his black hair with gel, giving off the impression of Elvis. Georgie or George was about my height and was most easily identified by his bright red hair. His nickname, Georgie from what I could recall had originated from a bright yellow jacket a few years back.  Whether it had been me, Mark, Justin, or someone else, someone had automatically associated that jacket with a certain character who was dragged into the sewer by a certain clown. Soon enough Mrs.Moore had arrived walking in moderate stride. She would quickly unlock the door and we would all file in.  I would promptly move to my seat at the very back of the classroom, a stigma of having a last name which starts with Z.  Having leaned my bookbag on the nearest leg, I took my seat just as the morning announcements arose with a crackle, the television jumping to life with the image of two students .

The upbeat voice of one of the student filled the room as the announcements had begun. “Good Morning Harding Area High School! Today is September 30th, 2017, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and we will return momentarily.”

In near mechanical unison, the entire classroom stood in silence awaiting or the daily pledge to begin. 

Those words, repeated for years rolled off the tongues of everyone as the pledge ended moments later. The school day would begin to run its course soon after, with the first two periods of the day flying by.  Lunch would arrive soon enough, and like usual I would find myself sitting Mark and Georgie along with several other of peers. Lunch initially appeared to run its course normally. The cafeteria was equal parts crowded and loud, the conversation out our table had devolved into a heated debate, and it felt as if the day would continue like any other. This illusion would be shattered soon after as the crackle of the loudspeaker flooded to the room, all conversation briskly dying down. 

Silence would be momentary as the monotone voice of a woman quickly replaced the silence. “Attention all students and faculty, be advised, a code-white has been established. All students should be in a classroom at this time.” 

With a second crackle signifying the end of the broadcast the sound of hundreds of voices once again filled the room. With code-whites signifying a medical emergency, usually of a minute nature, I, like everyone else assumed that the emergency would be over soon enough and nothing more would arise.  That thought was what I remembered the most about that day. The thought that a temporary emergency would remain just that, a temporary emergency. Yet, the next month and a half would appear to prove me wrong.

The sound of my alarm clock began to fill my ears as I opened my eyes to the darkness of the early morning. Forcing myself from beneath the covers, landed my bare feet on the cold carpet as I turned to face the clock; still continuing its screaming chant.  The time would read 6:40 in the vibrant red light. Muting the device before turning to face the dresser, I promptly walked up to the dark brown dresser. I changed as quickly as possible grabbing my wallet and watch before descending down the staircase. Mom had already turned on the radio, a routine which had become more crucial over the last month.  I had entered the kitchen after the initial opening of the broadcast. However, hearing the broadcast midway through did not prevent me from completely understanding the content. 

The only voice present was that of a man. A voice I had heard countless times before, yet one which I was unable to put neither a face or name to. “Moving forward, today marks the 45th day anniversary since the beginning of the Harding quarantine. The CDC has raised the number of fatalities in the isolated Colorado county to 345, with an indeterminate number of people infected. Meanwhile, outside of the containment area, the CDC has identified 20 separate cases of Harding Flu within the continental United States. At this time government sanctioned curfews within the containment area have remained in effect along with the severing of most forms of cellular communication.”

I began to walk to the stove,  continuing to listen to the broadcast as I did.

“Anti-GMO groups have seen a resurgence in light of the quarantine with the main source of blame being the Steinholden Agricultural Genetic Research Laboratory located on the outskirts of Harding. The agricultural branch of the world-renowned conglomerate has been involved in GMO research for nearly two decades, using the vast farms within Harding county as testing grounds for genetically modified corn and potatoes.  Designed to be resistant to blight, it is these that may be the potential culprit to the current crisis within the county. Previous research by multiple groups has drawn a link between the consumption of GMOs and increased chances of cancer along with highly fatal disease potentially being transmitted to a consumer. This research has been the key argument for the explanation that genetic modification is responsible for the current situation. Anti-GMO groups and the CDC have also identified the effect these GMOs are having on the local ecosystem. GMOs synthesized by Steinholden have been identified outside of selective fields becoming invasive to the area. With these GMOs having been genetically designed to fend off low temperatures and disease, these foreign crops are slowly strangling and killing off local plant life. The EPA has identified this increased spread of GMOs into native ecosystems as a crisis in its own right with or without these crops being the catalyst for disease.”

I would get my plate of eggs from the stove and sit at the center island like usual. Laura would descend the staircase soon after with the same half awake expression as always. However, as I finished breakfast and returned back upstairs, the information of the broadcast plagued my mind. The already underlying feeling of fear was exemplified as it appeared that whatever had begun during that code white over a month ago had expanded its reach. A fear of being the next person to fall victim to the flu also irked me as I entered the bathroom. I would scrub my hands beneath a torrent of warm water for what felt like minutes as fear and paranoia would overtake me momentarily. Sanitation had become a constant and I wanted to assure that it remained that way. I would quickly brush my teeth before returning downstairs.  With minutes to spare, I

quickly grabbed both my lunch off the counter and lifted my book bag away from the ground. As I was about to enter the garage, I quickly turned back to the kitchen. There was something I had forgotten. Atop the center island lay white cardboard box, the top having been removed prior to that moment.  The box would be sparsely detailed save for several artistic blue streaks encompassing the box along with the words: surgical masks. I would quickly pull one from the box before re-entering the garage. Promptly opening the larger of the two doors, I quickly headed out pulling the mask over my face as I did. Laura would join me soon after and we would begin to walk to the bus stop. 

With fall coming to an end, so to did the green of summer go with it. The trees were now painted with shades of red, orange, and yellow if they did not remain bare.  The temperature had dropped significantly since the end of September evident by the sweatshirt which I had donned before leaving the house. As we continued to walk down the street, the signs of the change over the last month and a half began to show. A house which we had walked past countless times now stood covered with streams of yellow tape. The word “quarantine” emblazoned in solid black. The walk to the bus stop would be silent, our inner fears of each passing day proving to be a replacement for words. Like countless times before, we would arrive at the just as the bus came into view. The wait would be short as the bus would arrive moments afterward, the doors once again opening with a hiss. As I stepped on, I could see that the bus driver and everyone else on the bus had donned similar masks. In addition, the bus noticeably emptier than usual. Whether as a means of avoiding the virus or having already fallen ill, the bus was simply half empty.  I would take a seat near the door with Laura sitting nearby. As the engine roared to life once more, I could once again hear the conversation between Brendan and Kara.

I could hear Brendan voice initially with a sense of irritation in his tone.”You’ve heard what they’ve said on the radio right? They’ve said literally nothing that tells us what going on!”

Kara would soon after respond, irritation dotting her response. “Brendan calm down,  just because they haven't said anything doesn’t mean they won’t say anything.”

“I’m completely calm, my problem is with the fact that we could die at any point and we’re not being told why.”

Brendan’s words could be considered what everyone felt. It was completely true that we had been given next to nothing in regards to an explanation.  The month and a half since the outbreak had been plagued by a maddening lack of information. 

As the bus continued down the backroads, we would once again pass the countless mountain and fields of corn which dotted the town. The mountains, once providing a sense of safety and defense now felt akin to a gilded cage of metal and stone.  The snow-tipped peaks now watched over us with the same captivation and reserved fear as the outside world. The sides of the road would be dotted with a combination of both men in military dress coupled with those dressed from head to toe in white along with gas masks.  Our arrival at the school would occur moments later, and once again we would be the first bus to arrive. With the time that had passed since the school year had begun, the wait for other buses had become shorter and shorter. The time between our arrival and the arrival of the other buses would pass effortlessly, and soon enough, we had begun to file out of the bus.  I would exit the bus to meet countless other students, the majority also wearing some form of a mask.  The remnants of normality would remain visible as the air would be filled with conversation.

The day would flow smoothly, each class seeing different repercussion from a lack of technology. As the time had reached noon, and the lunch period began, I would find myself sitting with Justin and Georgie among others. With the entire town having been reduced to nothing more than a cellular black hole, we were noticeably talking more than usual. 

“Did you guys hear what those anti-GMO groups have been saying?”

Justin promptly responded, a hint of sarcasm dripping from his tone. “Let me guess, the genetics lab is causing disease.”

“Yup, that's what’s has been happening.”

Georgie would soon enter the conversation with his own input. “You know, at this point there using literally anything to prove that GMOs are bad.”

Justin would then go on to support Georgie’s argument. “I know right! These people are saying that eating GMOs will give you cancer or the flu. But there's literally nothing that proves this. The only thing that is negative about GMOs is that they become invasive and kill bees, that's it. If you want to handle those problems all you have to do is watch the land around your crops, and if you see even one sprout outside of a certain area? Then you just get rid of it, simple as that.”

Georgie and Justin would continue to discuss the actual problems with the GMOs in the local area with my additional input added on occasion. Our conversation would be interrupted momentarily as a folded piece of paper would be dropped before me. I would turn to face the messenger, yet they had already vanished.  Quickly unfolding it as the captivation of Justin and Georgie began to encroach on my personal space I began to read the content

    Written in neatly written pencil read the message: Do you wanna help us break into the Steinholden Lab?




To be Continued?