Tess carefully folded the letter and slid it back in to the envelope, and set it down on the corner table. Her hand brushed over the wooden object.
Daddy built this for Mom.
Without another thought, she walked back to her bedroom, and sat down on the bed. Her eyes, glazed. Thoughts and images permeated her mind. Memories. She glanced over to the nearby desk and saw it riddled with medicine bottles.
Of all times to come down with the flu, it had to be just before her sixteenth birthday party. All of her friends were to be there. There would have been dancing. Movies. Lots of cake and ice cream.
Mom helped her plan for this extravagant bash for two months.
It was the day before the party. Tess woke up with a low-grade fever, and her body ached. Both of which she'd never experienced before, so naturally Mom panicked and took her to see their family doctor, Doc Mac. He confirmed that Tess had the flu.
"Seriously?" Tess' mouth dropped.
"May I ask which strain is it?" Mom's hands on her hips as she stared at the middle-aged man.
"It's none of the strains now ongoing," he replied as he studied the sheet he held. "In fact, it seems we are dealing with a new strain. One I've never seen before."
The doctor couldn't tell them any more except for her to go home, and get plenty of bed rest and fluids. When they got home, Mom ordered her to the couch where she remained through that night.
Tess slept fitfully, but she distinctly remembered Daddy sitting in his recliner with Mom on the other side of the couch, massaging her feet and calves. They were watching the TV. Her parents were conversing about something when Daddy's voice went stern.
The sound of the television grew louder as a male newscaster's voice inched into her mind. "We interrupt this programming for the following breaking news. We're receiving word of several fleets of Russian and Chinese ships just off the coast of Alaska."
"Oh, my ..." Mom murmured.
"We're also getting reports that the President and all critical government officials are being moved to undisclosed safe locations. From there, the President plans to speak to the nation about what is currently transpiring in the Pacific Ocean."
"Al, let's move up to our bedroom so she can sleep," Mom said.
The next thing she remembered was Mom shaking her shoulder hard.
"Tess, wake up! We need to go down in to the basement."
"Huh?" Tess replied as she struggled to sit up. Her head was pounding. "Why?"
"I will explain when we get down there."
Mom led her down the carpeted steps to the expansive basement that Daddy had claimed to be his "man-cave." It was decorated with posters and emblems of various college and professional football teams. However, before she entered the basement, she glanced at one of the windows in the kitchen and noticed how misty it was outside. It held a strange bluish hue to it. Was it some kind of a freak snow storm? Then a scent caught her nose which nearly made her throw up. It smelled like burnt vanilla frosting.
Once in the cool room, Tess plopped down on the sectional couch. Mom placed a pillow under her head. A fleece blanket then covered her body. Though she desperately wanted to know what was going on, her eye lids were too heavy to keep open, so she closed them.
The next thing she grew aware of was a cool, wet cloth on her face. Her vision was blurry as she struggled to open her eyes.
"Mom?" she asked.
"Don't try to talk, sweetie," Mom said. "Just rest."
Tess nodded once as she turned her head slightly, and noticed a small round table beside the couch. There were several wrapped gifts on it.
"Happy birthday, my dearest," Mom whispered.
A smile appeared briefly on Tess's lips before her eyes closed. A faint pounding sounded from nearby.
"I'll see who that is," Dad's voice came from somewhere.
She heard footsteps going up the creaky steps, and a door opened. Two male voices mumbled and then a set of feet coming back down the stairs.
"It's Mr. Conlan," Dad replied. "The haze's now gone."
"Thank goodness," Mom answered.
"He's been going house to house checking on everyone."
"How's his family doing?"
"All right, but there's a lot of town folks who's scared out of their wits."
"I can imagine."
"I'm heading up to assist him with checking on the seniors at the Woodland Manor."
"If you must, dear, but please be careful," Mom said.
"I will. Stay down here until I return."
The low roar pulsated through her head as Tess squeezed her eye lids tight. Her eyes burned. Sleep wouldn't come, so she just lay there. Suddenly, her body swayed back and forth.
"Tess." It was Mom.
"Umm?" Was all she could mutter.
"Sit up, dear." Mom placed a hand on her arm. "It's okay to go back up now."
"'Kay." She allowed Mom to pull her up to a standing position. Tess stumbled up the steps, and into the freezing kitchen.
"Why is it so cold in here?" Tess asked.
"We lost power overnight," Mom answered as she led her teenaged daughter into the living room, and to the overstuffed couch. Tess all too gladly sat down with a huff. Mom covered her up with a fleece blanket.
"Rest here. I will see about making you a hot bowl of chicken soup."
Mom replied, "Remember we have all the camping gear? Its coming in handy for us."
Tess just nodded as she lay down on one side, and found herself facing the blank screen of the 55-inch flat paneled tv. "When will the power come back on?"
"I don't know," Mom answered from the kitchen. "But I'm sure they're working on it."
Pots clanged in the room next door, and a cupboard slammed shut.
"At the hospital."
"Mr. Conlan is ill, so Dad has taken him there."
"They're not sure."
Tess didn't have any more energy to carry on the conversation as she slid deeper into the couch. Every joint ached, but the warmth from the blanket helped some. Her face burned though, and her head pounded with each heartbeat.
"Am I going to die, Mom?" She hadn't meant to speak the words out loud. Now they were out there. Too late to take them back.
"No, sweetie." Mom appeared suddenly in front of her, setting down a steaming bowl of chicken broth soup. "You will recover. Just need to eat, er, drink this soup to keep your strength up."
The front door suddenly swung open as frigid air blew over Tess' body causing her to shudder violently.
"Al?" Mom's voice came out hoarsely.
Tess closed her eyes as she heard them shuffle up the stairs, their voices fading. The smell of the soup made her stomach turn, so she forced herself to roll over, and fell to sleep.