Our bags were packed and on the bus, we were eating a breakfast of cereal and toast when Matt ran into the dining room breathless. ”The army, the army…”” he gestured towards the gate. Tim got up, Lily and I kept eating, Matt had spent a lot of time on his own yesterday scribbling in his notebook, that coupled with the game of Risk last night probably meant one thing, over-active imagination. Matt followed Tim out of the dining room, a few other kids got up to follow, but Reuben, another counsellor, yelled at them in no uncertain term,s to sit down and finish their breakfast. We cleared our dishes, as was expected after every meal, and began filtering out of the dining room as Tim and an army officer were making their way across the grass towards us. We were all ushered back in. “Everyone, this is Lieutenant Hobson, please listen carefully to what he has to say. Questions need to be saved until the end.”
Lieutenant Hobsen was tall a man with a flattened nose, he had steel grey eyes and when his gaze fell upon me, I felt the urge to quickly look away. His voice was clipped and authoritative. “The government has called a state of emergency and is restricting all movement. There has been a viral outbreak, currently being referred to as Oceanic Flu. This is the fastest spreading disease epidemiologists have ever seen, you thought Ebola and the Zika Virus spread quickly, well they are nothing compared to the Oceanic Flu. We have reported cases in every city in Australia and many smaller towns. Until the exact means of transmission is identified, all travel except for that of essential personnel is prohibited.”
The room erupted into a sea of noise, all of us calling out questions, “I’ve got time to answer a couple of questions, then I need to leave and brief the locals at the golf club,” Lieutenant Hobsen advised. “You,” he said pointing to Matt who was bouncing up and down with his arm raised.
“What are the symptoms of this flu, how will we be able to tell if one of us gets it?” Matt asked, two questions really, but I think we all wanted to hear the answers so no-one complained.
“Believe me you will know,” said Hobsen. “Initial symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea with severe abdominal cramping with an extremely high temperature, this is followed by bleeding from the eyes and ears and seizures at which point the patient usually has a brain aneurysm and dies. Sorry to put that so bluntly kids, but there is no sugar coating this disease, it is brutal and deadly, of the twelve thousand or so reported cases,” there was a gasp around the room. “There have not been any survivors.”
I stood up, not waiting to be called upon, “If so many people have already died, why we are just hearing about this now?” I demanded.
“That’s just it missy, three days ago, those twelve thousand people were as healthy as you and I and no-one had heard of Oceanic Flu. This disease is as fast moving as it is deadly, that is why it is imperative that people obey the movement restrictions which have been placed upon them. The government had hoped that the outbreaks could be contained to a few isolated areas, but it has spread faster and wider in this short time than anyone could have anticipated and we can no longer keep this under wraps.” The room was quiet as this sunk in. “Any more questions?”
“Are there any reported cases in Moore River?” a younger boy asked.
“At this time there are no reported cases here, “replied Hobsen.
Lily put her hand up and Hobsen nodded in her direction, “Are there any other countries affected by the disease?”
“There are no reported cases of this outside of Australia, however, we are closely monitoring the situation,” Hobsen answered. Lily and I looked over at each other, at least our mums seemed out of danger for now.
The room again erupted, everyone talking over each other. “Okay folks, that’s about all I have time for, as soon as anything changes, I or one of my officers, will be by to give you an update. The government has it’s best minds working around the clock to try and find a cure for this and I have spent my life serving this government, they have never failed me in the past and I have every confidence in them now, you should too.” Hobsen, nodded to Tim and left the dining room.
Tim was up on top of a table calling for our attention. “Now I can see some of you are upset and some of you are going to get upset. That was a lot to take in, I’m still trying to process it myself. You guys are away from home, feel free to phone your parents whenever you like, but please, let’s try to limit phone calls to five minutes. Your parents are going to be worried about you and missing you, it’s important that you tell them that physically you are safe and well. Myself, Rueben or any of the other counsellors will be available at any time of the day if you need a shoulder to cry on, you know where to find us. Older kids, please, I’m looking to you to make sure the younger kids are not feeling left out or sad, I know that is not the camp way and you are a great bunch of kids. I tell you what, if I had hand-picked the people to be stuck with during a state of emergency, why I think each and every one of your names would be on my list!” Tim was doing his best to give a great motivational We are all in it together, against all odds speech, but he was playing to a tough crowd. I started to clap and then a few other kids joined in, soon, we were all clapping and hugging each other. Tim caught my eye and smiled at me, I smiled back and shrugged, we had to look after each other.
Again, a queue of kids waiting to phone their parents formed outside Tim’s office, I figured there was no rush as our parents wouldn’t be on our way to collect us regardless. I decided to wait until the queue died down to phone my dad. As a police officer, he would probably be out working, manning road blocks, or trying to keep the peace. I tried not to think the worst.
Myself, Lily, Josh, and Pet sat at one of the tables discussing what Lieutenant Hobsen had told us. Pet had fixated on the blood coming out of people’s eyes, which had appealed to her. She was quite a macabre child, frog skeletons and wanting nits for pets were just the tip of the iceberg. Lily told us that when she was four she had an imaginary dog whose main feature was its severed neck. I had heard Tan tell my mum some of Pet’s dreams and they were frightening, they joked that she was a psychiatrist’s thesis just waiting to be written. I was beginning to agree. After a while, we had to send her to the kitchen to help Chef. Poor man, we could hear her ordering him about as we talked about the situation we found ourselves in.
“I just wish we could see what was happening in the rest of Australia, or even what people on Facebook are saying,” bemoaned Lily. “I know we aren’t in the middle of nowhere, but I feel so isolated here not being able to get a WiFi signal even if we could use our devices. I think your dad would bend the rules under the circumstances, don’t you Josh?’
“Really Lily? You’ve you been coming to camp how many years and no-one has ever told you about the hill?” asked Josh incredulously. Lily looked at him blankly and motioned for him to continue. “That small hill behind the teenage boy’s dorms is the spot where you can get a signal on your phone without leaving camp. Where do you think Matt spends most of his time? Each time I have been up there he has been there muttering and writing in his notebook, I think he is getting his portfolio ready for a future job in ASIO,” Josh laughed. “I’ll take you guys up there if you like?”
“Sure, just let me go and put my phone on charge, then by the time we have called our dads it should be ready to go,” said Lily getting up from the table. Mine would be low on charge too so I went with her.
“See you back here in a bit,” I said to Josh. He smiled and gave a small wave.