Mr. Sable relented, and plans were made. As soon as Julia could stand, she and Stacy would try to convince her congregation to accept the test cure. The first volunteer would be the easiest. Even if he wasn’t answering his phone, at least Stacy knew where to find him. She lifted the heavy gold eagle-knocker on Ethan’s house’s door.
The moment Mr. Stowe opened the door, Blas started to growl and tried to push himself in between the two of them. Mr. Stowe wore rumpled pajamas, and his perfect hair was greasy like it hadn’t been washed in days. Duchess was nowhere to be seen.
“Stacy!” Mr. Stowe exclaimed. “Are you here to see Ethan?”
Stacy nodded, and Mr. Stowe shook his head. “I’m sorry. He can’t take visitors now.”
Stacy debated telling Mr. Stowe everything she knew, but could she trust him? No. She had to stick to the plan. “I need to talk to him. Please? It’s important.”
The deep bags beneath Mr. Stowe’s eyes stood out as he furrowed his brow. “Ok. Maybe a friend is what he needs. Someone his age.”
Stacy nodded again. Mr. Stowe let her in, and his eyes widened when Blas padded ahead towards the stairs. “Blas, stop!” shouted Stacy, “to me!”
“This is where I keep Duchess,” Mr. Stowe said as Blas returned, gesturing towards the door to the library. They maneuvered Blas to it and Stacy pushed him in while Mr. Stowe placed his hand on Duchess’s wrinkly head poking out and shoved her back inside with him. Once the door clicked shut and the whining, barking animals were safely trapped on the other side, Mr. Stowe put a hand on Stacy’s shoulder.
“Ethan isn’t doing well, Stacy.”
“I – well, I told him I had an interview ready for him with a quarantine hotel not affiliated with the Sables and…”
“He hasn’t left his bed since. He won’t even try to speak. I don’t know if he eats the food I leave out or if it’s that little dog of his.”
“Revenant,” said Stacy. Mr. Stowe winced at the name. Stacy didn’t know what to say, so she just moved on. “Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. Stowe. I may be able to help.”
His weak smile suggested he doubted that was the case. Stacy turned to climb the steps, and he called after her. “Stacy!”
From halfway up the high staircase, the man looked small and helpless. A victim to terrible forces beyond his control. He pressed his lips together, fighting with himself about what he would say next. Finally, Stacy prompted him, “Mr. Stowe?”
He let out a sigh. “Ethan may not be…himself. Stay near the door.”
Stacy’s blood ran cold, but she steeled herself. It had been only days since she’d last seen Ethan. His father was acting from an abundance of caution, nothing more. She knocked on the door to his room, and called his name. “Ethan? It’s Stacy.”
No response. She looked back to Mr. Stowe, who shook his head in exasperation and made a “go ahead” gesture. Stacy pushed the door open and saw Ethan. Blankets completely covered him, and his shallow breathing barely distinguished him from a pile of sheets. Stacy saw a computer chair and stepped towards it.
As soon as she committed to grabbing the chair, it seemed much farther from the door than she had first estimated. With each step, the space between her and escape grew. She tried to shake it off. How would Ethan feel if he knew this was how she thought of him now? She strode forward and grabbed the chair, but it was heavier than she expected. As she pulled it back, Revenant jerked awake and lunged at her.
The little dog’s feet slid out from underneath him and he flopped to the floor with a thud. He leapt up again and yapped at full volume, and the bed covers stirred. Stacy’s heartbeat doubled and she sprinted back to the doorway. She would stand. She waited for Ethan to take off his covers, but it didn’t happen. “Ethan?” she asked.
“Urrr…” the bedcovers groaned.
She didn’t know if he had read the texts she’d sent. “Ethan, we have the cure.”
The bedcovers shifted again. “Slides…” it moaned, and sadness mingled with Stacy’s fear. Ethan had read the texts, and he still didn’t want the cure? No, she couldn’t presume. She forced herself to stay positive.
“Yes, we have the slides, and we convinced Sable to make the cure.” This twist on the story made Stacy feel a little more like she had personally been responsible, instead of like she was a pawn in some fourteen-dimensional chess game.
“Send slides…” Ethan groaned. Revenant walked to the edge of the bed and made a heroic leap to the top. He walked to the mound of blankets and whined, scratching at it as if to dig through.
“Ethan, we’ll send the slides if he dares betray us. We have the upper hand. No matter what, once the cure is distributed, the truth comes out.”
“Cure lie.” Ethan’s voice became a little louder and less slurred as the covers shifted, the lump creeping along the bed in Stacy’s direction. She inched away until she was back in the hallway, but she still couldn’t shake the feeling that her reactions might not be enough to save her.
“The cure is real. Julia -”
“Julia bad!” Ethan shouted, “Sable bad!” His breathing came loud and heavy under the covers. A hand reached out from beneath. It wasn’t a healthy peach color, or even white, but grey. It grabbed the sheets and flipped them off.