In a Perfect World A Novel Online - Laura Kasischke

CHAPTER ONE

If you are READING THIS you are going to DIE!

Jiselle put the diary back on the couch where she found it and went outside with the watering can. It was already eighty-five degrees, but a morning breeze was blowing out of the west, sifting fragrantly through the ravine. She breathed it in, knelt down, and peered beneath the stones that separated the garden from the lawn.

She had been married, and a stepmother, for a month.

In a bit of shade there, a tangled circle of violets was hidden—pale blue and purple. Small, tender, silky, blinking. If they had voices, she thought, they would be giggling.

She’d first noticed them a few days earlier, while raking dead vegetation out of the garden. That splash of color among the washed-out fallen leaves and other summer debris had caught her eye, and she knelt down and counted them (twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five) before covering them up again.

Somehow those violets had managed to stay perfectly alive through the scorching summer weather and all through the drought. The hottest, driest summer in a century. Maybe ever. They deserved special consideration, didn’t they? If God wasn’t going to give it to them, she would have to.

Now, every day, Jiselle took the watering can outside, and was always surprised to find those violets alive and tucked away in their shady crack.

Still, she knew they couldn’t last much longer—even hotter, drier weather had been predicted—so that morning, after watering them, she plucked just one. She covered the others up and brought the plucked one into the house, set it in a little souvenir shot glass from Las Vegas, with some cold water, placed it on the kitchen counter, and stepped back to admire it, deciding that she liked the little feminine gesture it made in the kitchen (Mark would be home in a day, and he would appreciate such a thing, as if she were settling in, getting comfortable, starting to decorate the place as if it were her own), until she turned her back on it, headed out of the kitchen to the bedroom to make the bed, and heard it scream.

A high, piercing, horrible, girlish scream that made all the little hairs on Jiselle’s arms rise and a cool film of sweat break out on the back of her neck. She whipped around, heart pounding, and hurried back into the kitchen, a hand covering her own mouth, to see.

Of course the violet hadn’t screamed. It rested quietly where she had placed it, drooping over the side of the shot glass. If anything, it looked more defeated than it had a few seconds before—head bowed in acceptance over the shot glass, as if waiting patiently for the ax.

It would never have been capable of screaming.

That had been Sara, howling at the news that Britney Spears was dead.

No one had said the word epidemic yet, or the word pandemic. No one was calling it a plague.

The first outbreak had swept through a nursing home in Phoenix, Arizona, over a year ago, leaving the elderly miraculously untouched but killing seven nurses and aides. Some people fled Phoenix after that—taking their vacations early, boarding up their houses, staying in cabins in the mountains, visiting relatives—but they did not evacuate in droves. The Phoenix flu seemed contained, explainable. The new carpeting in the nursing home was blamed, and then the contaminated air ducts, in which a dead bat had been found.

It was mummified. It was ashes. The biohazard men came in their orange jumpsuits and took what was left of it away in a plastic bag.

Then, a few celebrities nowhere near Phoenix died of what seemed to be the Phoenix flu—a soap opera star, Shane McDermott, Gena Lee Nolan, and the daughter of an actress who’d had a small role on The Sopranos years before—and although the non-celebrity deaths weren’t made public, it was said that the nation’s florists could not keep up with the demand for flowers. FTD changed its one-day delivery service to “Only two full days for most arrangements!” and it was reported that people were buying antibiotics and Tamiflu in bulk off the Internet, which resulted in shortages. But only the hysterical pulled their children out of school or left the country.

When a passenger fell ill after flying in a plane in which the body of a flu victim was being transported in cargo, a law was passed requiring airline passengers to be informed when human remains were aboard their planes. But, with the war on, this was such a