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Donnelle's World

LJ Idol Week 26: Crabs in a barrel

LJ Idol Week 26: Crabs in a barrel

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Me me
Kayla turned the TV off and threw the remote onto the couch. Every channel was filled with shots of illness, death and riots. New York was quarantined and under martial law, and she feared it would come to Boston next. She was terrified. On the edge of the couch, her head in her hands, she prayed that David would be home soon.

"Mommy?" A small, sticky hand pressed against her leg, and a blonde head tried to squeeze into the space between her arms. She opened them wide, and helped Noah climb onto her lap. Kayla wrapped her arms around him and held him tight until he wriggled. "Mommy okay?"

"I'm okay, honey." She discreetly wiped her tears away. "Mommy's just a bit sad that Daddy's not home yet."

"Where Daddy?" Noah looked concerned, his little three-year-old face crumpled.

"Daddy's at work. He's helping make medicine for sick people, remember?"

"All sick. No playing," Noah said, paraphrasing the explanation Kayla had given him that morning about why he was at home, instead of going to daycare. There hadn't been any cases officially reported in Boston yet, but Kayla wasn't taking any chances.

"That's right. Mommy doesn't want you to get sick, so we're staying home." Noah slid off her lap, so Kayla stood up and followed him to his room.

"I do blocks now," Noah said. "Mommy play?"

Kayla smiled and sat next to him as he tipped out the bucket of blocks. "Sure thing, kiddo."


Darkness fell, and David found them in Noah's room. They'd had a perfunctory dinner- baked beans on toast- and Noah had splashed through bathtime with his usual glee. Now Kayla sat next to his bed, watching the curves of his pale eyelashes resting on his velvet skin.

"Hey, love," David said softly. He leaned forward and brushed his hand over Noah's blonde hair. Noah stirred, his eyelids twitching, and Kayla suppressed an urge to snatch him into her arms. "How's he been?"

"Good. How was work? Is your team making progress with the vaccine?"

David shrugged and looked away. "Some. Maybe not enough. Have you been watching the news?"

Kayla shook her head. "It was too..." She paused, and shrugged helplessly.

He touched her arm, and looked into her eyes. "There's... been some cases here. Just announced, but I think it's been going on for a few days."

She stood and leaned against him. They held each other for long moments, sharing fear, exhaustion, and comfort. The need for closeness grew, and they moved to their room, to distract each other with familiar rhythms. They slept, though their sleep was punctuated with dreams of loss and uncertainty.


Kayla awoke with a start before dawn, to find the other half of the bed cooling and empty. A moment of disorientation passed before she realised the muffled, familiar sound of David's car door had woken her. She smiled; David wanted to help, and work was how he could.

It was that desire to help others that had drawn him to the pharmaceutical business in the first place. He'd always been brilliant, but it wasn't until he'd met Byron that he'd found the financial backing to really make a difference. They'd founded a company together, and some early successes with malarial medicines had kept the government contracts flowing.

David and Kayla had done well out of it, alright, but the vast bulk had gone to Byron. Kayla knew that Byron had supplied 90% of the initial funding, but David had done more than 90% of the work. David defended the split, out of stubborn loyalty. It still rankled, especially given Byron's family background.

Her dislike of Byron came from more than his greed, though. There was a whole host of other slights. The breaking point had been a dinner party where Byron had made it clear that his financing entitled him to more than David's mind. She'd barely restrained herself from slapping him, and their interactions since then had been limited and of the barest curt civilities.

Kayla sighed and rolled over, huddling the blankets around her shoulders. Might as well try for a little more sleep before Noah woke up.


The day passed much as the previous. Kayla and Noah pottered around together, alternately playing and doing housework. She avoided the TV, preferring to maintain a facade of normality. Noah leaped at the chance to have fish fingers for dinner, and his bath had a double helping of bubbles in it. She laughed as he crowned himself with bubbles, and then made a Santa Claus beard that exploded when he sneezed.

David arrived home early, as Noah and Kayla were mopping bubbles off the bathroom wall. His footsteps were hurried, and the front door slammed behind him.

"It's spreading," he said. He didn't have to say what "it" was. "They might quarantine. The cellphone towers are already down." He looked at Noah, draped in a towel and watching him with wide eyes. "I'll get him dressed, you get your things together."

Kayla dashed into the hallway and stood there for a moment in stunned fear. It was actually happening. Could they get out? Should they? Where would they go?

The phone rang. Kayla stumbled as she ran to get it, and by the time she'd righted herself it had clicked over to voicemail. She gave it a few moments, then with shaking hands dialed the voicemail number.

"You have one new message, received today at 5:13pm. Press one-" She hit the 1 key and listened.

It was Byron. "David. I tried your cell but it's down. They're quarantining, it's done. But the helicopter's at work, meet me there before six and we can get out. There's only room for one, though."

The phone clicked, and the monotonous voicemail came on. "Press one to play the message again. Press two to save. Press three to delete."

In disbelief, she pressed 1, and started to listen to the message again. That slimy bastard.

David called to her from down the hallway, something about Noah's shoes, and Kayla missed the end of the message.

"Press one to play the message again. Press two to-"

Kayla pressed 3.
  • Ooh wow, this is intense!! Wonderfully written!
  • awesome
  • Oooh. This gets to the essence of the prompt!
  • This is timely and frightening. I'm glad Kayla and David have each other.

    I wonder if the helicopter really only seats one other or not...
    • I was thinking the same thing! Or whether it's just Byron's way of getting rid of David's "distractions."

      That so many people are afraid of being quarantined shows how poorly the process is done, because their leaving... is exactly how dangerous diseases spread. But people tend to think of themselves first, and not whom they might affect.
  • the tiny bits of worldbuilding here are really good, and it's really nicely tense in kind of subtle ways. there's a palpable sense of worry and menace.
    • Thank you so much! I hadn't really thought of it as "world-building", but I guess of course it is! I have so much to learn.
  • Very vivid and real and timely.
    • Thanks! I carefully avoided the "E" word - it originally started out as zombies!
  • Hey, my microbio professor makes vaccines! It's really interesting stuff.

    I've been having a lot of arguments lately about quarantining and this really gets across how tense and scary and sudden it is. And counterproductive, even.
    • Hubby and I had a discussion about it, and decided we'd bunker down. Stocked up a few things in the basement (as is good practice anyway).
  • Wow! Great use of the prompt..works for me.."That slimy bastard." Indeed..
  • Scarily believable.
  • wonderful
  • Oh wow!! Loved this. Great job!
  • Oh man! AW
  • I really, really don't like this Bryon character. At all.

    I'm glad Kayla pressed three.
    • Ah, but is she condemning David to death? Or saving him from a horrible choice?
  • (Anonymous)
    Slimy bastard indeed, although a stronger word comes to mind. One of those words you don't use in case people with delicate sensibilities might be around.
    Nice tie in of the topic to topical news of the month :)
  • I did not see that ending coming. wonderful story
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