The Fort in Vermont
by David A. Simons
I'm at my lab bench in my summer bio class, studying one of Michael Decker's
arm hairs under my microscope. It's round, light brown in color, with scattered
pigment granules and a surprisingly thick cuticle sheath. The cortex is much
thinner than my father's hair -- almost transparent, which surprises me. I decide
to get another sample.
I edge toward Michael, scouring his hairy arms and hands for another loose shaft.
Michael's eyes are fixed on our professor, Dr. Lefebvre, who's giving his pre-lab
lecture, explaining how to run antibody gels without contamination. Dr. L knows
I'm not listening -- the little high school girl, playing with her microscope again.
But he also knows that I've done all the reading, that I'll ace the lab, so he lets it
I spot a curly, dark shaft on Michael's hand that appears loose, and I reach for it
slowly, grasping it between my thumb and index finger.
Dr. L abruptly stops talking, something he rarely does, and I look up.
My father is standing at the door. I pull away from Michael and straighten.
Dr. L chats with my father quietly, his back to the class. Michael turns toward me,
raises his eyebrows, and I shrug. One of the girls at the next bench giggles,
covering her mouth with her fist, her fake pearl rings hanging in front of her nose
like globs of snot. Like I'd care.
"Rachel," says Dr. L, "you're excused. Go with your father."
I pocket the slide with Michael's arm hair, wipe off my bench top, and walk to the
door. Dr. L pats my shoulder twice as I pass, then turns back to his lecture.
My father's in emergency mode: eyes narrow, lips tight, jaw thrust forward, saying
nothing. He walks quickly, navigating through the maze of laboratories as though
he's been there more times than I have. I notice he's wearing gloves, even though
it's June. When we get to the car and turn on the radio, I find out why.
The virus has reached Boston.
It's a hemorrhagic fever, like those Ebola and Marburg viruses that wipe out small
villages in Africa every now and then, only this one's airborne. It emerged from
the Congo a few months ago, raced through a few African cities I'd never heard of,
then spread to Asia, Europe, and Australia. According to the news guy on the
radio, Mass General now has its first patient in quarantine.
My father, of course, is well prepared. When we arrive home, the Odyssey is
already parked by the fountain, and boxes are lined up in the garage, ready to load.
He starts filling the van's tank with his reserve gas supply and sends me upstairs to
My two usual suitcases are sitting outside my bedroom door. I fill one with my
microscope, wrapped in jeans and a fleece, and the other with everything else. I
lug them to the van then go help Stevie.
Stevie had an hour head start, but of course, he's hardly begun to pack. He's
sitting on his bed, bouncing a tennis ball off the Frogman poster on his bedroom
wall. Our German Shepherd, Chase, sits on the floor next to him, snapping at the
ball each time it passes. Clothes, videogames, dog toys, Hostess cupcake
wrappers, and other little boy crap are scattered across the floor, piled around his
empty suitcase. When I open his door, he catches the tennis ball and pretends to
throw it at me, grinning.
"Dad's in emergency mode," I say. "Get packing." Stevie stops grinning and
throws clothes into his suitcase, still holding the tennis ball. Chase thumps his tail
expectantly. I push the dog out of the room and help Stevie pack.
An hour later, we pile into the van. My father and me in front, Stevie and Chase in
back with the suitcases and boxes.
And so, by the time the mayor comes on the radio to reassure the good citizens of
Boston that there's nothing to fear, that the virus won't spread here like it has in all
those poor countries, we're already peeling out of town, heading west on the Mass
Pike toward our fort in Vermont.