#saturdayscenes from my upcoming Deserted Lands novella - Toils & Snares, a companion piece to ALL IS SILENCE and STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS. This is my third draft of the opening scene and I think it's getting there in the tension and storytelling. Near future realistic SF.

1200 words. 

Samuel Hernandez placed his hand on his wife Anna's pregnant belly. Stay calm. "Everything will be okay." His head pounded as he leaned into her, resting his chin in the curve of her neck.

"Sam," Anna said. "We have to leave now. Leave Portland. Go the wilderness, like Moses. Go where there aren't any people," her voice rose, still a whisper, but too loud.

"How many times, Anna?" he said, softening his voice, hoping she would do the same. "I won't leave Maria again."

"If we don't leave Portland and one of my kids gets the plague...." She spun at him, eyes stabbing, voice still rising. "What then?" She turned away again.

"Honey, shhhh... Let's not scare the kids any more than they are already." Samuel placed his hands on her shoulders. They were tight, knotted. "They're my kids, too. Just like Maria." He slid her long, dark hair from her face and kissed her cheek. "It's not the plague."

"I don't care what you call it. They might get it. The hospitals are closed. There's no reason to--"

Sam watched her reassess her words.

When she spoke again she no longer attempted to be quiet. "None of us have it yet. People are looking at us funny."

"Who is looking at us funny?" Samuel couldn't imagine that anyone had even seen them. Most people were dead or dying and staying inside as they were told.

"People." Anna grabbed his face and held his gaze.

Had the stress finally kicked her back into mental health watch mode? How could he calm her? Why was he calm? Inspiration fired in his brain. "I'll find Maria. Then we'll go. We can go to your grandpa's place up at Lake Quinault. That's the middle of no where."

"Yes. That's perfect." Her lips pursed. "Thanks for not thinking I'm losing it again."

"Honey, I never-" But he was thinking it.

"Go see Brad." Anna nodded.

"I called him three times, maybe four."

"He's not going to call you back. Go see if he and Pam are-- Ask him for help. Ask them to come with us."

Samuel sighed and stood. "Okay. I'll go talk to Brad." He paused at the door facing it. "If I haven't found Maria... Maybe you can leave with them." He turned around and watched Anna's face harden.

"Go," she said. "Go to Brad's." Her mouth worked. "Be careful. I love you."

"I will. Love you." He could see that she wanted to say something else. "What is it?"

"If they are--" Anna couldn't say the word.

Samuel kissed her forehead. "I'll do what needs to be done, honey. Lock the deadbolt." The looters hadn't been active in weeks, but the level of lawlessness they represented made Sam nervous.

Samuel climbed into his truck, and turned the heater on against the October chill. He backed out of the driveway and flipped the radio on to the oldies station. Bill Haley told him the time as the song wound down.

The streets were deserted in the fading twilight. He didn't want to run into any cops asking questions about why he'd broken curfew. Samuel's phone buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket feeling guilty for checking it while driving. An alert flashed on the screen.

He pressed the bluetooth speaker button and a recorded announcement overrode the radio.

"There are reports of a secondary virus. Stay in your homes. The Portland area hospitals will not be accepting new patients until further notice. This message will be repeated and rebroadcast through bluetooth networks and all other emergency systems. Stay in your homes. May God save us. Goodnight."

Sam glanced up, realizing that he was rolling through a flashing red light. "Shit." This was it. The twenty percent survival rate might not be where things stabilized.

Maybe Anna was right. Maybe God had taken enough of their children. Maybe a miscarriage, losing a baby to SIDS and a toddler in a car accident gave them some sort of pass. Samuel didn't believe it, despite the decades of Catholic guilt. He couldn't believe in the God that carried Anna through, that watched over every human action.

Anna believed it, but she had to. Belief in God had saved her sanity. She knew one day she'd see her kids again.

He flipped his phone open. "Call Maria."

When the line connected Maria said, "Yeah?

He hated her voicemail. It was so real that everytime his heart thought she was there. But the voice on the other end continued. "Leave a message if you want to, but I won't promise to call you back. Send me a text."

He'd tried text, too. No good. Samuel spoke. "Ria. It's dad. We're leaving town. Call me now." Was she still alive? His oldest daughter had always been the wild one. Instead of facing the pandemic, she might do something stupid and go off on her own road trip.

Samuel shook himself out of those thoughts. He hated being held hostage to his fear. There were riots in New Orleans, D.C., New York City and other bigger cities. Some people in Portland were convinced the government was holding out on them, convinced that the cure was out there, or that a government project had gone wrong. But there hadn't been much violence here. Not yet.

The streets were nearly empty. An old drunk, or one of the secondary casualties lost in his head, stumbled down the middle of the street. How far away from that was Samuel? If he lost his family, give it a week and would probably look nearly as bad. But his family was alive, against all odds. Where they immune? Why?

Part of Samuel did not want to check on Brad and Pam. His oldest friend, but it had been more than a year since he'd seen them. Maybe even two. Brad had gotten angrier and angrier at the world and Samuel found reasons to not be around him.

He pulled into the driveway of the 1970s era split level. The lawn was high and the lights were out. The only car in the drive was Pam's Trans-Am. Maybe the family had gotten out already; that's why no one had answered his calls. He didn't know what he expected to find at their house, but there might be extra survival gear even if they were already gone.

Samuel opened the truck door and stepped down. The dark of night was held back by the flimsy veil of street lights. Most of the other houses were dark, too.

He reached under the porch, hoping the key would still be there on the nail. Yes. He pulled it off and stepped to the door and knocked. He waited a moment, then pushed the key into the lock. It slid right in, the tell-tale WD-40 drip showed that Brad had applied it in anticipation of the coming winter. He always took good care of things mechanical. The cold knob turned silently. Inside was more darkness.

Samuel reached for the light switch, but a sound broke the silence. He recognized it as belonging to Brad--the click of a handgun's hammer snapping open. He froze, his hand on the switch.

<<<Scene Break>>>
I am currently running a Pubslush Corwdfunding campaign for the next novel in the series Straight Into Darkness. You can find out about it here. https://pubslush.com/project/1961
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