There once was a boy with skin the world hated. I shouldn’t say the world, however; the world herself didn’t hate anybody. But there was a whole lot of hate inside of the people inside of her.
When he was a kid, he sat with his nose to the television screen looking for people like him. His favorite superheroes were white. They saved the world from evil. The ones that looked like him were in the background, way up in the dusty corners. Or they were in chains; the evil, it seemed, that his superheroes were saving the world from. On days when the sun was shining, the boy tied his blanket around his neck like a cape and tried saving the ants from the crickets. When the sun went down, he tried saving himself.
In the eighth grade, he grew like a beanstalk but he was still wearing his older brother’s hand-me-down clothes, tugging at the sleeves to make them fit. He met a girl in class. She was the brightest thing he’d ever seen. Looking at her freckled shoulder as he tried to focus on the board, he wondered what bad things bad people could say about her skin.
She only wanted to be friends and she also wanted to be a fashion designer, both things translating to going to the mall together and not touching. They went to stores he’d never been in. Employees kept eyes on him even with the girl by his side. He thought that maybe she would be like his bodyguard this time, that they wouldn’t mess with him. But their eyes darted between the two of them and then landed on her. As if saying, Blink if he’s bothering you. The girl wandered through the aisles only concerned with which colors would best make his eyes pop.
His mom, when she got laid off, would be on the couch watching TV when he left for school and still be there when he got back. But she always got up to make his brothers and him dinner just to go back to the couch when they were finished. She was hooked on the home renovation shows. The decor, the flipping, the demolition. The remodeling shows that call on homes with good bones. They’ll tear them down to build them up. Put some paint here and grow some flowers along the front. Nobody will even know. He thought about those shows, those houses, when the girl was dressing him up. In tight jeans and button-down shirts. Nobody will even know.
There once was a boy that became a man and, in the eyes of others, that made him dangerous.
First, it was the water. All of the fish died. It turned a murky brown color in the ocean and then out of their faucets. People were in alarm like they always seem to be, so much so to the point where they are no longer surprised. But they cleaned it, filtered it, drank it, and moved on.
But then the rats not only came up from the sewer but out of drains and sidewalk cracks. There were so many of them that littered the ground it felt like they were falling from the sky. They scurried underneath doors and roamed around houses until you were properly scared just to keel over and die. Traffic had to be stopped and people couldn’t leave without an umbrella just in case. Then they were all dead. And the people went to shoveling them away and scraping them off windshields and out of tires. Some stayed inside after that but most just played hopscotch on their way to work.
It was when the clouds of mosquitos appeared when people got really concerned. The bloodsuckers seemed to rise from the ground like dust. And, like dust, got everywhere. They got on their clothes and stung through the fabric. People walked around looking like dalmatians. They were frightened. But all they did was scratch the itch.
Then the animals started dying. The cows and horses in the pastures, then the beloved cats and dogs in the houses. Vets didn’t know what it was. They ran tests and poked and prodded but were dejected enough to simply retire and sit in recliners rubbing their chins. It was just as if something had come over the animals, the veterinarians considered, a force powerful enough to suck the life out without laying a hand.
For the people that believed in God, they thought He was trying to tell them something. For the people that believed in signs, they thought they were being told something. And for the people that didn’t believe, they started to.
He met another girl but, this time, her bright skin didn’t surprise him. But this girl didn’t change him or his clothes and she loved him so he loved her back.
They didn’t have the same taste in movies. But she made popcorn while they watched his favorites and he did the same for her. She surprised him at work so they could walk home together every so often. He bought her flowers on her birthday, on their anniversary, and when he said something he shouldn’t have said. On the street, he thought people were checking out his girlfriend. He even puffed out his chest a little knowing that he was dating a woman other men wanted. But he looked at those people again and saw they were looking at them. As they held hands and walked home from work.
When the next plague came, the two of them stayed inside. The virus had already taken so many people. All of it seemed invisible, a cough or a sneeze can do it and there were a lot of asymptomatic cases. So instead of messing with masks or hand sanitizer, the two of them just didn’t go outside. Canned food was used as weights to stay in shape. Puzzles were the new fun activity. Staying inside, they tried pretending they were on vacation, that they were camping by putting a tent in the middle of the living room. He was laid off. She was able to work from home. He stayed in bed a lot. When he wasn’t there, he was in front of the TV watching remodeling shows on the home network.
The next plague came on like a thunderstorm. But people wondered if it was really part of the disasters set upon them or if it was inevitable. Words of hate and anger hit one another like hail. And that was after the killing and the shooting and the looting. She didn’t want him leaving the house. She was afraid for when he drove that he might be pulled over or when he jogged that he might be shot down or when he walked home without her that he might be targeted.
And people protested and people yelled and people didn’t go to jail while others did. The plagues kept coming. There was a group of people trying to build a civilization underground. Others were trying to speed up their plan of making it into space. And the two of them, they were staying inside.
He laid in bed in the middle of the day and she came to lay next to him. She put her arm across his chest and her leg wrapped around his leg as if telling him, Don’t go. Then she actually told him not to go, not to leave the house ever again. And they closed their eyes and the world went dark.