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Mad World

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Part 1

Zac - October 14th 2015

I remember how it all started - like a nightmare come true.  Thinking back, it almost reminded me of the Paramus Mall incident back when I was eleven. One minute I was holding onto my brother Taylor’s shirt, the next I was suddenly lost in a sea of screaming pre-teen and teenage girls.  I could practically feel them closing in on me as I looked around helplessly.  Thankfully, someone came to my rescue and pulled me out of there, but the fear stuck with me for years.

 

This situation couldn’t even hold a candle to that.

 

I was on stage for our second night at the Cleveland House of Blues for our Roots and Rock n’ Roll Tour .  It was mid-October, almost a week before my 30th birthday.  We always seemed to tour on my birthday, though I didn’t really mind too much.  I knew we would do something extra special, since that was our tradition for any birthdays on the road.  It was just hard at times, being away from Kate and the kids.  It made me miss them a little more.

 

I was playing a solo of Broken Angel .   I was used to random chatter and a shriek or two from fans, during solos especially, but I usually chose to ignore them.  Unless it was something inappropriate, like that one time a couple years ago where I called a fan a ‘drunk bitch’.  But in all fairness, what she’d said to me had been a lot worse.  Regardless, tonight’s interruption was very different.

 

I knew I wasn’t the greatest piano player.  I much prefer hiding behind my drum kit; the piano always leaves me feeling exposed.  Sure I seem outgoing and funny, but I can be quite shy under that mask.  I tend to make a mistake or three on some of the chords, but so far tonight I’d done pretty well.  I was feeling quite proud of myself, and began playing more intensely.  Right up until I heard the bloodcurdling scream, and it was then that my fingers faltered.  I glanced up and into the crowd for a moment, hoping to ignore it and move right on to the next verse, but what I saw stopped me in my tracks.

 

About halfway back, there was some sort of uprising in the crowd.  Possibly an argument between fans, though it was hard to tell from up here.  More people in that area began shouting, and the crowd seemed to swell.  I let my hands fall from the keys.

 

Things like this never happened at Hanson concerts.  I tried to think on my feet and remember what I was supposed to do in a situation like this - the one you plan for but never expect.  It was so rare for us, that I could count on one hand the number of times it had happened.  Usually Taylor or Isaac witnessed things first, being more of the front men.  I looked around for security, so I could give them a signal, but as I looked around, I noticed they had already started pushing through fans towards the problem.

 

Not one person was looking at the stage anymore.

 

“She’s bleeding!” I heard a shout, and I stood up from the piano bench, moving toward the edge of the stage and squinting through the bright lights to see more clearly.

 

It was all so unexpected.  I felt powerless to get the fans’ attention back.  Someone was hurt, and it didn’t seem right to detract from that, even though we’d always been instructed to keep playing and keep our cool.  One question ran through my mind: what was going on back there?

 

I continued to watch as the crowd seemed to part out and away from the area where the scream was heard, which left a small clearing.  It was then that I saw her.  Even from my place on the stage, I could tell something was very wrong with this fan.  Her eyes were extremely bloodshot - almost the way people look in a red-eyed photo, but her angry expression made it worse.  Her hair was wild, and her movements seemed unnatural.  Her body was spasming, making her appear animalistic.  She began gagging and coughing, eliciting gasps from those around her.

 

What the hell?

 

And that was when she looked right at me.  I froze.  Our eyes were locked for what felt like minutes, but really must have been seconds, because the next thing I knew, she projectile vomited a ton of blood…. All over another fan, who shrieked in horror.  

 

I felt my own stomach turn just seeing it, but what happened next was the scariest thing I’d ever witnessed.  The deranged fan had now turned to the security guard that was coming towards her, grabbed him by the shoulders, and bit right into his neck, more blood spurting everywhere.

 

My eyes widened, and my jaw dropped.  I felt even more nauseated, swallowing back the nasty taste of bile that had risen in my throat.

 

What looked like the beginnings of a slasher movie was now taking place in the crowd.  More screaming rang out; the volume quickly rising.  Crowds of people began to make their way toward the back exits, like a human stampede.  Some fans in the rows closest to me were even trying to clamber over each other to get out.  The decibels of sound were higher than I’d heard in years.

 

I felt a hand on my right shoulder, and I practically jumped out of my skin, until I realized it was just my brother.  He must have heard all the commotion and come out to check on me.

“Zac, what the hell is--”  Taylor was shouting close to my ear to be heard, and even then I could barely hear him.  He didn’t even finish his sentence as he looked out at our fans.

 

Following his gaze, I saw the girl who’d been covered in vomit-blood beginning her own spasmodic dance, coughing and gagging.  It was as if she’d been….  I didn’t allow myself to finish the thought.  That would be impossible.  I thought of the catalyst to this whole ordeal - the crazed girl who’d stared me down, but as I scanned the audience, I could no longer find her.

 

I turned back to my brother, shouting to be heard over the noise, “Tay… We need to get out of here!”

 

There was a look of shock on his face from the bloodbath he was witnessing, and he shook his head a little to bring his focus back to me.  Our eyes met, our fear palpable.

 

“Ok, let’s go,” was all Taylor could get out.

 

We both turned and hastily made our way toward the wings, but at the last second, I took a moment to look back.  Sensing I’d stopped, Taylor paused too.  We could actually see some girls trying to climb up onto the stage where we’d just been standing.  The chaos was insurmountable, and it had only been a matter of minutes.

 

“We’d better run,” I warned, breaking into a jog.  I felt Taylor grab onto my elbow and follow me backstage.

 

We came to a stop once we noticed things were not normal here either.  Staff and crew had abandoned everything.  I saw people running by the doorway out in the back hall, shouting and calling out to one another.  You could still hear the deafening screams of the crowd even from here, only slightly muffled by the walls and curtains.

 

I continued looking for the other most important person.

 

“Where’s Ike?” I asked Taylor.  I’d been expecting him to be back here.  Apparently, Taylor had been, too.

 

“I don’t know, he was with me just before I went out to check on you.”

 

We didn’t have much time, and those girls were already closing in.  They’d be back here in minutes, and we’d both be trampled.

 

“I’m right here,” a breathless Isaac said as he jogged up alongside us.  He looked as panicked as we did.  “There’s something wrong--”

 

“We know,” Taylor interrupted. “Where the hell were you?”

 

“I was in the bathroom, and I was almost mauled, thank you very much,” Isaac shot back, defensively.

 

“Guys, we don’t have time for this,” I interjected, sensing an escalating argument.  The initial shock was wearing off of me, and I felt the need to be more in control of the situation. “We have to get to the bus.”

 

That was all the encouragement Taylor needed.  “Zac’s right.  Let’s go,” he started heading to the hall, towards the exit, motioning to us to follow.  I wasn’t far behind him, with Isaac close on my heels.

 

Seconds later, I practically crashed into Taylor, who had stopped short after pushing a door open to the outside.  He didn’t seem bothered by my collision, as he was focused elsewhere.

 

“Oh my gosh,” Taylor said in disbelief.  I peered out over his shoulder, his arm going out to hold us back from going out there.

 

If the inside of the venue was chaos, the surrounding area outside was even worse.  Car windows were broken; I could hear their alarms going off.  Trash was everywhere on the ground.  What looked like blood was, too.  People were running and screaming from every direction, almost all of them covered in blood.  It was hard to tell if they were injured, or just unfortunate victims caught in the midst of blood-spewage, or maybe those crazy-eyed, spastic things I’d seen earlier.

 

“We’re going to have to make a run for it,” I told them, finally finding my voice.

 

“Jesus…” Isaac breathed.

 

“Let’s go!” Taylor urged, heading out into the street.  Isaac and I followed.  I actually grabbed Taylor’s shirt, in fear that we’d be separated.

 

I could hear one of those things off to the left of us, the distinct coughing and gagging sounds seemingly their trademark.  It just served to set fire to my feet, our speed collectively increasing.  We wasted no time turning a right corner, away from the sound and closer to our destination.

 

The three of us continued to move as a single unit.  We were less than a block from the bus now.  All I wanted to do was make it to safety and get the hell out of here.  I’m sure my brothers felt the same.

 

We got to the last corner, pausing a moment to catch our breath.  We were the only ones that had gone in this direction, it seemed.  The noise had quieted down, and the area appeared otherwise deserted.  The bus was just up ahead.  We could make one last sprint for it.

 

Suddenly, a female voice rang out from behind us.  “They’re coming!”

 

We all turned and saw a girl coming towards us at full sprint.  

 

“They’re right behind me!  Go!”  I saw her eyes were wide, and her arms waving.

 

That was all the cue we needed, before we turned and broke into a run ourselves, making for the bus.  I had gotten ahead of Taylor and reached the bus first, so I pulled the key out from my pocket, placing it into the lock.  My hands were shaking slightly, making it harder to get the thing open.

 

“Hurry, Zac!” I heard Taylor’s panicked voice.

 

Normally, I’d have given him a nasty glare. It was obvious I was trying my best to be quick, but there was no time to make an issue of it.

 

Finally, the bus door swung open, and I breathed a sigh of relief, letting my brothers in ahead of me.  I looked behind from where we came, and could see them.  Hundreds of people swarming and heading straight for us.  They were close enough that they’d be on us if we didn’t get moving soon.

 

I was about to shut the door, when a frantic voice rang out again.  “Wait!  Oh, please wait!”

 

It was the girl again.  She had followed us.  I looked behind her at the mob, and then back to her.  In that moment, I made an impulsive decision - I couldn’t just leave her.

 

“Come on, hurry!” I shouted back to her, gesturing with my arm for emphasis.  She was several yards away, and I held out my hand.  It was just seconds before she was close enough for me to grab her.  I hauled her up, and onto the bus steps, just before I slammed the door, locking all of us in.

 

“Zac, who the hell did you just let in?!” Isaac yelled accusingly.  We never brought anyone onto the tour bus.  It only occurred to me now, that she might be one of those things.

 

Ignoring my brother’s question, I immediately turned to the girl.  “Let me see your eyes,” I commanded.  It seemed like the strongest indicator of who was safe.

 

She turned to look at me, her eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights, and I saw that they were two distinctly different colors, one blue and one brown - but not the scary red that I’d seen earlier.  My eyes roamed over the rest of her, looking for any other signs of possible danger, but nothing struck me as alarming.  I noticed some cuts and scrapes, but she otherwise appeared okay.  She must have felt uncomfortable under my intense scrutiny, because she spoke up.

 

“I’m not infected,” she said defensively, crossing her arms protectively over her chest, her breath still heaving from her long run.  Her eyes left mine, and flicked to Isaac, and then Taylor.  “Please don’t make me go back out there,” she pleaded, some of the fight going out of her just as quickly as it came.

 

Taylor ran a hand through his hair and looked at me, but his gaze was unreadable.  I looked at Isaac, who still seemed annoyed.

 

Just then, a pounding began on the outsides of our bus.  The mob had found us.  Instantly, I saw the girl flinch, moving away from the door and up one step closer to us.  Suddenly, I felt protective.

 

“I’m not sending her back out there,” I told my brothers.  I put my hand on her shoulder, as if to emphasize my point, and to silently let her know she was safe.  I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to follow through with my decision, even though I hadn’t thought of the repercussions.  It just wouldn’t be right to pull her onto our bus only to kick her out.

 

“Zac’s right.  We can’t throw her to the wolves,” Taylor chimed in.  I was grateful that he shared my stance on this.

 

Isaac sighed, realizing we were right.  “Fine, but she’s your responsibility,” he said, looking directly at me.

 

I  dropped my hand from the girl’s shoulder, and shrugged in response.  I’d already silently resigned myself to that job on principle.

 

Just then, the pounding grew louder, enough that we all flinched.

 

“We better get driving unless we want to be stuck here,” Taylor called above the noise.

 

Without any time for introductions or protest, being the closest, Isaac quickly went to the front of the bus and turned the engine over.  The pounding sounds slowly subsided as our bus pulled away.  I don’t think any of us cared where Isaac drove to, as long as it wasn’t here.

 

---

Part 2

Zac - October 14th 2015

We’d been driving for a while, but I wasn’t sure how long.

 

Shortly after we’d taken off, we’d made some brief introductions and found out the girl’s name was Lindsey.  That was basically all we knew, because soon after, Taylor had excused himself and went to the back of the bus for some privacy to call his wife, Natalie.  I could hear Isaac up front talking, so I assumed he was already on the phone with his own wife, Nikki.

 

Without having enough privacy for myself, I sat at the table and resorted to sending a text to Kate, asking her if everything was ok back home.  I didn’t want to be rude to Lindsey by being on my phone.  With Isaac’s little outburst, she’d been through enough rude behavior already.

 

She sat on our couch looking lost, her knees pulled up to her chest.  I took a moment study her more closely.  She looked to be around my age, or slightly younger.  Her brunette hair was windblown from her earlier run, and the jeans and t-shirt she was wearing were ripped in several places.

 

I wondered if she had anyone she wanted to call. I wondered if she knew anything more than I did about this crazy horror movie we were now living in.  Earlier she had used the term ‘infected’.  It was the word I’d had on the tip of my tongue, but was unwilling to admit, back when I was standing on stage witnessing the chaos.  Had Lindsey been in that crowd?  If so, how did she make it out?

 

I realized instead of staring at her and wondering, I should just talk to her.

 

I cleared my throat a little, “So um, were you at the show?”

 

Lindsey seemed startled out of whatever thoughts she’d been having.  She looked up at me and nodded slowly.  “I was.  With my friend, Sarah.  She invited me…” she trailed off, her expression growing somber. “It was my first show seeing you guys, which is why I don’t know much about you.  She was more the fan.  Somehow I made it out….. But Sarah didn’t.”

 

Whoa.

 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I told her sincerely, my gaze falling to my hands in my lap.  I felt uncomfortable knowing someone had died - a friend of Lindsey’s, no less.  It brought the reality of the situation crashing down on me like a punch to the gut.  How was she coping?  How would I cope if something happened to any of us?  To Kate or the kids?  Not to mention we still had other staff who were unaccounted for.  There was just no way we could wait....

 

“It’s not your fault,” she responded quietly.  Her words were the perfect response for my thoughts, though I knew she couldn’t hear them.

 

I knew she was right, but I still felt terrible - for our staff and friends, for her, and for her friend.  I wished there was something I could do.  I looked back up at Lindsey, who was still in the same position she’d been in since she sat down.

 

It was then I noticed that her knee had a cut that was beginning to drip blood.  Maybe there was something I could do.

 

“Do you want me to help you bandage that up?” I jutted my jaw in the direction of her bloody knee.  I wanted to help, even if it was just to patch up her wound.

 

She glanced down, as if she hadn’t realized she was hurt, and then looked back at me, a mix of surprise and guilt.  “Yeah, maybe that’d be a good idea.”

 

“Sit tight,” I managed to give her a half-smile, hoping to put her, and maybe myself, at ease.  I went into our bathroom and pulled out the first aid kit.  I came back out, set the kit down on the couch next to her, and began sorting through the array of bandages and creams.  Looking through it reminded me of all the times I’d had to bandage up my kids at home.  Skinned knees from bicycle accidents and tree climbing.  I pushed the thought away, hoping they were all safe and sound, and turned my full attention back to Lindsey.

 

“Here, can you hold this over your knee?  We need to stop the bleeding first,” I explained, standing in front of her and handing her a gauze pad.  As she took the bandage from me, our eyes met for a moment.

 

Her two-toned eyes were so interesting close up.  It was rare to find someone who had them.  Her left eye was light blue, and her right one was chocolate brown.  It almost felt like looking at two different people.

 

“Your eyes are really cool.”

 

“Thanks.  It’s called heterochromia.  It’s inherited - my mom has it too,” she smiled for the first time since we’d met.

 

“Awesome.”

 

I was about to look away, but did a double-take when I noticed the nasty gash on her forehead, just above her left eye.  I wasn’t sure how I’d missed it before.  Maybe her hair had been covering it.

 

“Wait, let me see this?” I asked, and at the same time, pushed a lock of her hair back behind her ear.  My whole family and I were always very physically touchy people - it was like second-nature.  So of course, I didn’t realize what I’d done until I felt her wince, and heard her sharp inhale as my fingers came close to the wound.

 

“Sorry,” I said softly, glancing down at her with concern, but then back up to her cut, which I inspected carefully.  I stood to my full height and put my hand under her chin, tilting her head up gently so I could see it in better light.

 

It didn’t look good.  Possibly a stitching job.  I was just a musician, not a doctor, but I knew a deep cut when I saw one.  I dropped my hand from her.

 

“Is it bad?” she asked, seemingly reading my thoughts.

 

I made a back and forth motion with my hand, and screwed up my face a little, “Might need some stitching, or at the very least a butterfly.”

 

“Damn,” she said under her breath.  If she’d had any reservations about all of my pawing, she didn’t voice them.

 

“How did you get it?” I asked, crouching in front of her.  I put my hand over hers, to indicate I wanted her to take the gauze off her knee.  It seemed the bleeding had cauterized some in the time we’d been talking.

 

“In the chaotic crowd, making my way out, I hit my head on something sharp.  Metal-like, I think.  It stung, but I knew I had to keep going.  And my knee,” she motioned to where I was now squeezing some antibiotic ointment onto it, “got busted when someone pushed me and I fell. Everyone was pushing and I don’t blame them.  You really don’t have much time once someone gets infected.”

 

I set the cream down, and picked up a large square bandage, moving to apply it over her injury.  “You keep saying infected.  With what?” I glanced up at her for a split second before pressing the bandage down.

 

There was a pause as her face scrunched up a bit from the pain.  “Rage,” she said through gritted teeth.  I took my hands away and her face relaxed, “You haven’t seen the news lately?”

 

I shook my head, waiting for her to continue.

 

“I don’t know how it started exactly, but there were a few states where this virus was popping up.  It was literally making people sick with anger.  Everyone called it Rage.  When I saw the report yesterday, I thought Ohio was safe.  They weren’t on the list of quarantined areas - we weren’t even near any.  It must have spread.”

 

“Through blood?” I guessed.  Now that I was done with her knee, her forehead was my next concern, but it wasn’t going to be pleasant.  I moved to sit next to her.

 

“Yes, but only if you’re infected.  You can’t get it from a healthy person.”

 

I nodded, figuring as much, “Good.”  I paused, “I need to bandage that cut on your head.”

 

She eyed me, “Do you have a needle and thread?”

 

“No, actually.  But I can butterfly it for you,” I offered.

 

“You know what you’re doing?”

 

Truth be told, I had never personally done it myself, but I’d had a cut when I was much younger that I’d watched the doctor close up for me with a butterfly bandage.

 

“I’m sure I can figure it out,” I told her honestly.  I was pretty great at fixing things, and this didn’t seem like rocket science.

 

“Alright,” she conceded.

 

I wasted no time switching the supplies out.  If my light touch on her forehead earlier had been painful, this was going to be infinitely worse.

 

“I’m sorry, but this is probably going to hurt quite a bit,” I warned her, taking the bandage out from it’s wrapper.

 

“I’m probably going to curse at you,” she warned back, managing a small smile.

 

I chuckled, and placed part of the bandage on one side of the cut, pressing down just enough to stick it on.  Lindsey bit her lip and closed her eyes.

 

This was going to be the hard part, but it had to be done.

 

“Ready?” I asked her.  She didn’t even open her eyes, just nodded.

 

Here goes…  I used my thumb to push one side of her cut inward toward the other essentially sealing it, as Lindsey released a string of expletives.

 

“I’m so sorry,” I told her genuinely, as I pressed the other side of the bandage down.  And then it was done.

 

I could hear Lindsey exhale a breath, and her body visibly relaxed.  She looked up at me. “That hurt like a bitch, but thank you.”

 

I smirked, and opened my mouth to reply, when I felt the bus coming to a slow, and then a full stop.  Taylor emerged from the back of the bus, and Isaac came down the aisle from the front.

 

“Hey guys, it looks like things are pretty quiet here right now.  I haven’t seen any of those things for miles,” Isaac said, approaching us. “I think we should come up with a game plan.”

I looked at Isaac and gave a nod, packing up the first aid mess I’d made.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Lindsey seemed to make herself smaller in his presence.  Before I could address that, Taylor started talking.

 

“I just got off the phone with Nat,” Isaac and I both looked at him, expectantly.  “Everyone down there is okay - Kate, Nikki, our kids…  But it’s all over the news.  There’s an outbreak of this thing just outside of Oklahoma.”

 

“Shit,” I cursed softly.

 

“What do you say we try to get to our families, before this thing gets any worse?” Isaac suggested.  “Nikki really wants me come home.”

 

“That’s great, but what about Lindsey?” I asked, pointedly.

 

“Where are you from?” Isaac asked, turning to Lindsey.  I hadn’t even thought to ask her that.

 

“Mansfield, Ohio,” she answered flatly.

 

“Is that far from here?”

 

“Bout an hour and a half, southwest-ish.”

 

Taylor spoke up before anyone else could, “Well, that’s actually perfect, it’s in the same direction we’re going.  Is there anyone you can call?”

 

Lindsey chewed her lip for a beat, “My mom.  I’ll try her.”  And with that, I watched as she walked over to the bathroom and shut the door, presumably for privacy.

 

Once she was out of earshot, I turned to Isaac.

 

“Ike, do you have to be such an ass to her?” I asked in an aggravated whisper.  He wasn’t usually such a jerk, but he had his moments, and today seemed to be one of them.  Probably due to the stress, but we were all stressed.

 

“Gee, I’m so sorry I’m not bending over backwards for some stranger off the street, in the middle of some kind of…..something!” he whispered back.

 

“For your information, she happens to be really nice from what I can tell.  And she knows a lot more about what this is than we do,” I shot back, my whisper growing louder.

 

“Alright, Ike - stop being an ass.  Zac - stop riding his ass.  What does she know?” Taylor asked quietly.

 

I explained to them what Lindsey had told me about the news and the virus.  How she’d called it Rage.  I continued on, warning both of my brothers to stay away from any blood from an infected person, as that seemed to be the main way to get the virus.

 

Just then, the bathroom door opened and Lindsey emerged, her face blank.  Her demeanor was entirely different than when she’d been joking with me just a few moments ago.  “No answer,” she said, without any emotion.

 

This was not good.  I quickly glanced at my brothers, gauging their reactions.

 

Taylor, ever the optimist, spoke up, “Well, maybe she’s just not near her phone right now.  We could still go and check.”

 

“We definitely should,” I agreed, quickly.  If roles were reversed, I’d want someone to stop and let me check on my family.  With that thought in mind, it was set.  I wasn’t going to budge on this, even if I had to drive us there myself.

 

Lindsey nodded, and went back to her seat on the couch.

 

“Ok then it’s set.  We’ll stop in Mansfield, and then head to Tulsa.  I can keep driving for now, but we’ll need to take turns after this,” Isaac told us.  “And um, Lindsey, I’m sorry.”

 

I looked at Lindsey again, and saw her nod back to Isaac.  “It’s ok.  Thanks.”

 

My heart went out to her.  She had no one right now.  At least, not anyone familiar.  Taylor had confirmed that Kate and my kids were safe, but I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel if we hadn’t been able to get a hold of them.

 

As if on cue, my phone beeped alerting me to a text message from Kate.

 

We’re ok.  Can you come home?  Love you.

 

I sent her a quick text back: Stay safe, we’re heading there now.  Love you too, tell the kids for me.