The Passage Page 40

WASHINGTON, July 10-President Hughes ordered U.S. military forces to abandon the Chicago perimeter today, after a night of heavy losses when Army and National Guard units were overwhelmed by a large force of Infected Persons moving into the city.

"A great American city has been lost," Mr. Hughes said in a printed statement. "Our prayers are with the people of Chicago and the fighting men and women who gave their lives to defend them. Their memory will sustain us in this great struggle."

The attack came just after nightfall, when U.S. forces positioned along the South Loop reported a force of unknown size amassing outside the city's central business district.

"This assault was clearly organized," said General Carson White, commander of the Central Quarantine Zone, who called this "a disturbing development."

"A new defensive perimeter has been established on Route 75, from Toledo to Cincinnati," White told reporters early Tuesday morning. "That's our new Rubicon."

When questioned about reports that large numbers of troops were abandoning their posts, White replied that he had "heard nothing of the kind" and called such rumors "irresponsible."

"These are the bravest men and women I've ever had the honor to serve with," the general said.

New outbreaks of the illness were reported in cities from Tallahassee, FL, and Charleston, SC, to Helena, MT, and Flagstaff, AZ, as well as southern Ontario and northern Mexico. Casualty estimates provided by the White House and the Centers for Disease Control now top 30 million. The Pentagon placed the number of Infected Persons at another 3 million.

Large portions of St. Louis, abandoned on Sunday, were burning tonight, as were portions of Memphis, Tulsa, and Des Moines. Observers on the ground reported seeing low-flying aircraft over the city's famous arch moments before the fires broke out and quickly engulfed the downtown area. No one in the administration has confirmed rumors that the fires are part of a federal effort to disinfect the major cities of the Central Quarantine Zone.

Gasoline was scarce or nonexistent virtually everywhere in the country, as transportation corridors continued to be choked by people fleeing the spread of the epidemic. Food was also hard to come by, as were medical supplies from bandages to antibiotics.

Many of the nation's stranded refugees found themselves with no place to go and no way to get there.

"We're stuck, just like everybody else," said David Callahan, outside a McDonald's east of Pittsburgh. Callahan had driven with his family, a wife and two young children, from Akron, OH-a journey that ordinarily would have taken just two hours but that night had taken twenty. Nearly out of gas, Callahan had pulled off at a comfort station in suburban Monroeville, only to find that the pumps were dry and the restaurant had run out of food two day ago.

"We were going to my mother's in Johnstown, but now I heard it's there too," Callahan said, as an Army convoy, fifty vehicles long, passed on the empty westbound side of the roadway.

"No one knows where to go," he said. "These things are everywhere."

Though the illness has yet to appear beyond the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, nations around the world appeared to be preparing themselves for this eventuality. In Europe, Italy, France, and Spain have closed their borders, while other nations have stockpiled medical supplies or banned intercity travel. The U.N. General Assembly, meeting for the first time at The Hague since vacating its New York headquarters early last week, passed a resolution of international quarantine, forbidding any shipping or aircraft from approaching within 200 miles of the North American continent.

Across the U.S., churches and synagogues reported record attendance, as millions of the faithful gathered in prayer. In Texas, where the virus is now widespread, Houston Mayor Barry Wooten, the bestselling author and former head of Holy Splendor Bible Church, the nation's largest, declared the city "a Gateway to Heaven" and urged residents and refugees from elsewhere in the state to gather at Houston's Reliant Stadium to prepare for "our ascension to the throne of the Lord, not as monsters but as men and women of God."

In California, where the infection has yet to appear, the state legislature met in an emergency session last night and quickly passed the First California Articles of Secession, severing the state's ties to the United States and declaring it a sovereign nation. In her first action as president of the Republic of California, former governor Cindy Shaw ordered all U.S. military and law enforcements assets within the state placed under the command of the California National Guard.

"We will defend ourselves, as any nation has the right to do," Shaw told the legislature, to thundering applause. "California, and all that it stands for, will endure."

Reacting to the news from Sacramento, Hughes administration spokesman Tim Romer told reporters, "This is absurd on its face. Now is obviously not the time for any state or local government to take the safety of the American people into its own hands. Our position remains that California is part of the United States."

Romer also cautioned that any military or law enforcement personnel in California who interfered with federal relief efforts would face harsh sanctions.

"Make no mistake," Romer said. "They will be regarded as unlawful enemy combatants."

By Wednesday, California had been recognized by the governments of Switzerland, Finland, the tiny South Pacific Republic of Palau, and the Vatican.

The government of India, apparently in response to the departure of U.S. military forces from South Asia, yesterday repeated its earlier threats to use nuclear weapons against rebel forces in eastern Pakistan.

"Now is the time to contain the spread of Islamic extremism," Indian Prime Minister Suresh Mitra told Parliament. "The watchdog is sleeping."

So there it was, Wolgast thought. There it was at last. There was a term he knew and thought of now; he had heard it used only in the context of aviation, to explain how, on an otherwise clear day, a plane could fall so quickly from the sky. OBE. Overcome by events. That was what was happening now. The world-the human race-had been overcome by events.

Take care of Amy, Lacey had said. Amy is yours. He thought of Doyle, placing the keys to the Lexus in his hand, Lacey's kiss on his cheek; Doyle running after them, waving them on, yelling, "Go, go;" Lacey leaping from the car, to call the stars-for that's how Wolgast thought of them, as human stars, burning with a lethal brightness-down upon her.

The time for sleeping, for rest, was over. Wolgast would stay awake all night, watching the door with Carl's .38 in one hand and the Springfield in the other. It was a cool night, the temperature down in the fifties, and Wolgast had set the woodstove going when they'd returned from the store. He took the paper now and folded it into quarters, into eighths, and finally sixteenths, and opened the door to the woodstove. Then he placed the paper in the fire, watching with amazement at how quickly it disappeared.


Summer ended, and fall came, and the world left them alone.

The first snows fell in the last week of October. Wolgast was chopping wood in the yard when he saw, from the corner of his eye, the first flakes falling, fat feathers light as dust. He'd stripped to his shirtsleeves to work, and when he paused to lift his face and felt the cold on his damp skin, he realized what was happening, that winter had arrived.

He sunk his axe into a log and returned to the house and called up the stairs. "Amy!"

She appeared on the top step. Her skin saw so little sunlight that it was a rich, porcelain white.

"Have you ever seen snow?"

"I don't know. I think so?"

"Well, it's snowing now." He laughed, and heard the pleasure in his voice. "You don't want to miss it. Come on."

By the time he got her dressed-in her coat and boots but also the glasses and cap, and a thick layer of sunscreen over every exposed inch of her skin-the snow had begun to fall in earnest. She stepped out into the whirling whiteness, her movements solemn, like an explorer setting foot on some new planet.

"What do you think?"

She tipped her face and stuck out her tongue, an instinctive gesture, to catch and taste the snow.

"I like it," she declared.

They had shelter, food, heat. He'd made two more trips down to Milton's in the autumn, knowing that once winter came the road would be impassable, and had taken all the food that was left there. Rationing the canned goods, the powdered milk, the rice and dried beans, Wolgast believed he could make their stores last until spring. The lake was full of fish, and in one of the cabins he'd found an auger. A simple enough matter, then, to set up fishing lines. The propane tank was still half full. So, the winter. He welcomed it, felt his mind relax into its rhythm. No one had come after all; the world had forgotten them. They would be sealed away together, in safety.

By morning a foot of snow had piled around the cabin. The sun burst through the clouds, glaringly bright. Wolgast spent the afternoon digging out the woodpile, cutting a trail to connect it to the lodge, and then a second trail to the small cabin he planned to use as an icehouse, now that the cold weather had arrived. By now he was living an existence that was almost entirely nocturnal-it was easiest simply to adopt Amy's schedule-and the sunlight on the snow seemed blinding to him, like an explosion he was forced to stare directly into. Probably, he thought, that was how even ordinary light felt to her, all the time. When darkness fell, the two of them went back outside.

"I'll show you how to make snow angels," he said. He lay down on his back. Above him, a sky effulgent with stars. From Milton's he'd recovered a jar of powdered cocoa, which he hadn't told Amy about, planning to save it for a special occasion. Tonight they'd dry their wet clothes on the woodstove and sit in its glow and drink hot cocoa. "Move your arms and legs," he told her, "like this."

She got down in the snow beside him. Her tiny body was as light and agile as a gymnast's. She moved her nimble limbs back and forth.

"What's an angel?"

Wolgast thought a moment. In all their conversations, nothing of the sort had ever come up. "Well, it's a kind of ghost, I guess."

"A ghost. Like Jacob Marley." They had read A Christmas Carol-or, rather, Amy had read it to him. Since that night in summer when he'd learned she could read-not just read but read expertly, with feeling and expression-Wolgast had merely sat and listened.

"I guess, yes. But not as scary as Jacob Marley." They were still lying side by side in the snow. "Angels are ... well, I guess they're like good ghosts. Ghosts who watch over us, from heaven. Or at least some people think so."

"Do you?"

Wolgast was taken aback. He'd never gotten completely accustomed to Amy's directness. Her lack of inhibition struck him on the one hand as quite childlike, but it was often true that the things she said and the questions she asked him possessed a bluntness that felt somehow wise.

"I don't know. My mother did. She was very religious, very devout. My father, probably not. He was a good man, but he was an engineer. He didn't think that way."

For a moment, they were silent.

"She's dead," Amy said quietly. "I know that."

Wolgast sat upright. Amy's eyes were closed.

"Who's dead, Amy?" But as soon as he asked this, he knew whom Amy meant: My mother. My mother is dead.

"I don't remember her," Amy said. Her voice was impassive, as if she were telling him something he must surely know already. "But I know she's dead."

"How do you know?"

"I could feel it." Amy's eyes met Wolgast's in the dark. "I feel all of them."

Sometimes, in the early hours just before dawn, Amy dreamed; Wolgast could hear her soft cries coming from the next room, the squeak of the springs of her cot as she moved restlessly about. Not cries exactly but murmurs, like voices working through her in sleep. Sometimes she would rise and go downstairs to the main room of the lodge, the one with the wide windows that looked out over the lake; Wolgast would watch her from the stairs. Always she would stand quietly for just a few moments in the glowing light and warmth of the woodstove, her face turned toward the windows. She was obviously still asleep, and Wolgast knew better than to wake her. Then she would turn and climb the stairs and get back into bed.

How do you feel them, Amy? he asked her. What do you feel?-I don't know, she'd say, I don't know. They're sad. They're so many. They've forgotten who they were. Who were they, Amy? And she said: Everyone. They're everyone.

Wolgast slept, now, on the first floor of the lodge, in a chair facing the door. They move at night, Carl had told him, in the trees. You get one shot. What were they, these things in the trees? Were they people, as Carter had once been a person? What had they become? And Amy. Amy, who dreamed of voices, whose hair did not grow, who seemed rarely to sleep-for it was true, he'd realized she was only pretending-or to eat; who could read and swim as if she were remembering lives and experiences other than her own: was she part of them, too? The virus was inert, Fortes had said. What if it wasn't? Wouldn't he, Wolgast, be sick? But he wasn't; he felt just as he'd always felt, which was, he realized, simply bewildered, like a man in a dream, lost in a landscape of meaningless signs; the world had some use for him he didn't understand.

Then on a night in March he heard an engine. The snow was heavy and deep. The moon was full. He had fallen asleep in the chair. He realized he'd been hearing, as he'd slept, the sound of an engine coming down the long drive toward the lodge. In his dream-a nightmare-this sound had become the roar of the fires of summer, burning up the mountain toward them; he had been running with Amy through the woods, the smoke and fire all around, and lost her.

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